Stem Cells, Ethical or Not?

The versatility of pluripotent and multipotent stem cells means that there are many diseases that can be hindered by the use of stem cells in medicine. Multipotent stem cells can develop into a number of cells in the body, and they can come from the bone marrow, be epithelial stem cells, or osteoblasts. Stem cells that are collected from the bone marrow develop into blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and/or plasma.) However, stem cells, in general, develop or differentiate into the constituent types of cells in the tissue or organ where the stem cell is located. (Journal of Stem Cell Research, n.d.)

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In relation to the ethics of using stem cells (specifically embryonic stem cells), many believe that it is wrong and that it is a violation of human life. They believe this because many people argue that an embryo is a human life, and due to the fact that when stem cells are extracted from the embryo it is destroyed, using embryonic stem cells is considered unethical and wrong by some people. (Their case is furthered by stating that induced pluripotent stem cells, which are normal liver, skin, fat, or muscle cells which are changed to behave like embryonic stem cells. It is stated that since the embryo has the ability to develop into a human, it should be treated as one. (TED-Ed, 2013) This is a fair point, especially because everyone around us once started out as an embryo, and if those embryos were destroyed by extracting the stem cells from them, then they wouldn’t be alive today.

Embryonic stem cells are taken from in vitro fertilisation facilities and are donated with full consent from a couple. However, the embryo (by some) is considered a human, and much controversy has ‘stemmed’ from the debate on whether or not the embryo has legal human rights and status, and whether we have a moral responsibility to provide those rights.

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There are some cultures and traditions that believe that embryos are of the same status as a developed human, while others believe that this is not so. There are many factors that influence this – one such factor is religion. In certain systems of faith, it is believed that human life is sacred and has a greater meaning and that the natural cycle of life should not be disrupted by ‘artificial’ factors, such as technology. There are also cultures which are of the belief that human life commences at the moment of conception (when the sperm meets an egg), and that the extraction of the inner cell mass of the blastocyst and the essential destruction of the embryo is commensurate with murder, or that the two things are virtually the same.

However, another way to look at this is that the embryo is not a human yet and that there should be a more specific ‘milestone’ that dictates which stage of fertilisation should mean that it – whatever ‘it’ is, whether an embryo or a foetus – is considered human and is given human rights. Many suggest that it should be the foetus, which is in the prenatal stage that is located between being an embryo and being born – a stage in which some of the organs (such as the lungs and liver) have developed because it is believed that humans that are fully developed and need some sort of stem cell transplant take priority over a blastocyst. Researching these cells to cure illnesses that seem incurable today will take some sacrifices, such as overlooking ethical and moral differences. This is a clear example of differences in priorities when it comes to ethics, because some believe that already-developed humans and medical research take priority over embryos and not-yet-developed cells, whereas others take the stance that this should not be the case, because they are of the opinion that embryos, too, hold the status of a human. Due to the controversy over the use of embryonic stem cells, research in this field has been suppressed.

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However, pluripotent stem cells are an invaluable source of research in the field of studying human development and gene regulation, as well as new drugs and vaccines. Another use of this is for monoclonal antibody production, as well as treating many diseases that are considered incurable today. In addition to this, in vitro fertilisation facilities (which is where embryonic stem cells are extracted) only take stem cells from fully consenting couples, who are made aware of the fact that the embryo will be destroyed. Some go so far as to state that since the embryo has not yet developed a brain, it is still the ‘property’ of the couple and that if the couple’s consent is given, there should not be any more debate about it. This point is also quite a strong one, due to the fact that it is correct it its scientific knowledge – the embryo, although containing stem cells which have nuclei, does not have a human brain, or any human organs, and is basically just a lump of cells, and people who are in need of stem cell transplants, or who would benefit greatly from further research in this field, are fully developed and shouldn’t be placed as lower in status than an embryo, and especially not a blastocyst. Pluripotent stem cells are an invaluable source of research in the field of studying human development and gene regulation, as well as new drugs and vaccines. Another use of this is for monoclonal antibody production, as well as treating many diseases that are considered incurable today. In addition to this, in vitro fertilisation facilities (which is where embryonic stem cells are extracted) only take stem cells from fully consenting couples, who are made aware of the fact that the embryo will be destroyed. Some go so far as to state that since the embryo has not yet developed a brain, it is still the ‘property’ of the couple and that if the couple’s consent is given, there should not be any more debate about it. This point is also quite a strong one, due to the fact that it is correct it its scientific knowledge – the embryo, although containing stem cells which have nuclei, does not have a human brain, or any human organs, and is basically just a lump of cells, and people who are in need of stem cell transplants, or who would benefit greatly from further research in this field, are fully developed and shouldn’t be placed as lower in status than an embryo, and especially not a blastocyst.

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