Human embryonic stem cell research has been a hugely controversial subject in the United States ever since its methods were first developed. Many people argue that there is a great potential for therapeutic and other medical benefits as a result of embryonic stem cell research, while others see definite downsides to the research. The main source of the controversy is that many people do not know much about stem cell research, but just follow that they hear and see in the media. To reveal the inside of the embryonic stem cell research, data and tests must be shown to the public. This will help lead them to an educated choice that makes a full understanding of the issue of embryonic stem cell research.
What is a stem cell?
A stem cell is an undifferentiated cell that can divide to produce some offspring cells that continue as stem cells and some cells that are destined to differentiate into any of the other cells of the body (Britannica 2009). There is a growing belief that, through its ability to generate new nerve tissue as well as other cells, stem cells have a huge potential to cure incurable diseases such as leukemia, Parkinson disease, and Lou Gehrig's disease. There are two different types of human stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Human embryonic stem cells can divide and form three primary germ layers: the ectoderm, the mesoderm, and the endoderm, which are the three layers of tissue in human embryos and fetal tissue (Medicine Net 2009). The main job of adult stem cell, which is also known as somatic cell, is to keep and restore the body's tissue. While scientists have directly observed the origins of embryonic stem cells in embryonic and fetal tissue, the origin of some mature tissue of adult stem cell is still under scientific investigation (NIH 2009).
A brief history of stem cell research in the U.S.
In 1975, based on the permission of a national Ethics Advisory Board (EAB) and National Commission's recommendation, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) approved research that made use of embryos (HHS 2009). In October 1987, the National Institute of Health (NIH) received a request of funds for research involving the use of embryonic stem cells as transplants of neural cells (Sprecht 2005). On March 1988, DHHS denied this request (HHS 2009). Then Human Fetal Tissue Transplantation Research Panel was found by NIH, and based on the votes of this panel it was decided that fetal tissue must be distinguished from abortion. On November, Sullivan, a secretary of the DHHS, extended a moratorium on stem cell research (HHS 2009). However, despites Congress' trial to override the moratorium, President George H.W. Bush vetoed these efforts (Sprecht 2005). From January to March in 1993, President Clinton ordered DHHS to remove the embargo on stem cell research, but in 1995 due to massive public pressure Congress prohibited federal funding or support of embryonic stem cell research.
In 2000, NIH's legal department decided federally supported scientists could work with the cells they already had, but should not create new embryonic stem cell lines (NIH 2009). At this time, NIH started a drive to raise funds. On July 2001, the Jones Institute in Norfolk, VA, revealed they created embryonic cell by using gamete donor not in vitro fertilization (IVF). In August in an address delivered on national television, President George W. Bush approved the funds for NIH's research with approximately sixty stem cell lines that already existed at the time. This appeased many of the pro-life advocacy groups that had opposed embryonic stem cell research (NRLC 2009). The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, however, remained strongly opposed to this decision (USCCB 2009). On November, the NIH announced that it had produced seventy-four viable stem cell lines that had been grown in mouse media, not human (NIH 2009). When Advanced Cell Technology cloned human embryonic cell, President George W. Bush coerced Congress to prohibit duplicated cloning (Wertz 2002). On November 2004, the State government of California voted to spend $3 billion dollars on stem cell research with Proposition 71. New Jersey's governor and Connecticut lawmakers announced that their respective state government would allot about $100 to $150 million for stem cell research to support biotech industry (Sprecht 2005). President Barak Obama has even announced in March of 2009 that he is going to support wide research utilizing stem cells and rebuild lost ground (CBS News 2009).
What are disadvantages of embryonic stem cell research?
There are many disadvantages to embryonic stem cell research. First, during the process of obtaining embryonic stem cells, the embryo and the very chance for lif that has been created is destroyed. According to Joseph Panno, author of Stem cell research: medical applications and ethical controversy, "There is no way to remove cells from the ICM of a blastocyst without killing the embryo" (2005, pp. 32). Another disadvantage embryonic stem cell has is the same as for other forms of tissue grafting and implantation, where there is a high chance of rejection. One of the most important things is this stem cell could induce serious diseases into the human body; it is believed that stem cells could be more liable to become cancerous. It could also indirectly promote abortions, as aborted fetuses could be bought for medical use.
What are the advantages of embryonic stem cell research?
Stem cell research has shown that it has the potential to treat or perhaps even cure the more than 100 million Americans who suffer from an array of illnesses and conditions, from heart disease to spinal cord injuries. Scientists have said the cells could be one of the greatest revolutions in modern medicines, and half of American voters support using taxpayer dollar to fund the stem cell research (Kalb & Rosenberg 204, pp. 43-45). According to Sharon Begley, the writer of Cellular Divide, "Although so far the cells have helped only lab animals, one day they may supply healthy pancreatic cells to diabetics as well as new neurons to Parkinson's victims" (2001, pp. 27). The hope for curing numerous currently incurable diseases is seen as a major advantage of stem cell research.
What about the religious aspects of embryonic stem cell research?
The Catholic Church is the major opponent against embryonic stem cell research (Vatican 2009). Catholics strongly believe that embryonic stem cell research destroys the dignity of men makes light of human life. Like most proponents of the "right to life," the Roman Catholic Church has been ethically consistent in this regard (Vatican 2009). Many American Christians question whether it is wise to leave such matters of life and death solely to scientists. In her article "In Over the Pay Grade, author Mollie Ziegler Hemingway comments, "Despite what Obama has said, whether to destroy human embryos for research is not a scientific question -- it is a moral question about how to treat human life" (2009, par. 3). The question certainly must be viewed from human as well as scientific perspectives.
We have a different option: Adult stem cells.
Adult stem cell research provides an answer to many of the moralistic and religious problems raised by embryonic stem cell research. Adult stem cells are already made in the body, as part of every type of tissue, but also have the potential to develop into any other tissue in the body (Lillge 2002). Embryonic stem cells necessarily destroy the potential for life, often life that was created in a laboratory for the express purpose of research, but adult stem cell research does not require this type of destruction or playing with the forces of life (Lillge 2002).
What are the disadvantages of adult stem cell research?
The major disadvantages of adult stem cell research are the practicalities of its use. Extracting adult stem cells is a very tough and sometimes very painful procedure for the patient (Tripod 2009). Though adult stem cells can be cultured in vitro in ways similar to embryonic stem cells, but adult stem cells do not reproduce as well and have far shorter life spans, making it less possible to develop a useful amount of tissue for therapeutic practices (Tripod 2009). These practical issue might be overcome with more extensive research, but as of now it is very difficult to even conduct research with adult stem cells because of how fragile and short lived they are in laboratory settings (Tripod 2009).
What are advantages of adult stem cell research?
The major advantage to adult stem cell use and research is the lack of moral controversy. Once properly cultured and prepared, adult stem cells can cure Parkinson's disease, cancer, and leukemia instead of using embryonic stem cells to do the same thing. Just like embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells will differentiate once placed inside the body to help heal and replace damaged tissue (Lillge 2002). Another important advantage of the adult stem cell over the embryonic stem cell is that, because it came form the person it…