Stem cell research continues to be a controversial subject. Recently the House of Representative in the State of Michigan passed bills that encouraged a bank of stem cells be created, from umbilical cords and donated adult stem cells. The House of Representatives is divided on the topic; it will go to the Senate for their approval (Martin, 2006).
While Michigan is touted for having some of the most restrictive laws in the country, other states are currently examining their laws to determine the best way to handle the issue. The issue has many proponents, as well as opponents that think it is not ethical to utilize stem cells for research. A few organizations that oppose stem cell research are Michigan Catholic conference and Right to Life of Michigan. Throughout the country there are several other organizations that oppose as well as those that are proponents of this research. Proponents say medical waste could become medical miracles, while those that oppose think it is sacrilegious to utilize stem cells for research.
Funding is also an issue that is being reviewed. Who will pay for the research if law allows it? Should those monies come from public monies or be privately funded?
Some also argue that it is unethical to not use stem cells for research if they can help to cure things such as Parkinson's disease or other afflictions.
There are many questions about stem cell research and as much controversy. What are the benefits? What is the downside? Who will pay? Who determines if a person should live or die, can stem cells make that difference?
Stem cells are the "primal undifferentiated cells that retain the ability to produce an identical copy of themselves when they divide (clone) and differentiate into other cell types" ("Stem cell," 2006). These cells have the ability to repair damage to the body by replenishing cells, as long as the host organism is alive. It is this potential that has spurred proponents on in the battle of passing legislation that will facilitate the technical development that still needs to occur.
Proponents note the variety of diseases that could be treated effectively by stem cell technology, from Parkinson's to Alzheimer's to spinal injuries to a variety of other diseases, many linked to heredity factors. Leukemia is another such disease. This disease is heavily linked to genetics, yet through the use of allogeneic stem cell transplantation, it is generally accepted that chronic myelogenous leukemia can be cured (Goldman, 2006).
Even heart patients may benefit from stem cell technology. As Dunlop (2006) notes, researchers now hope to stop the defensive reaction in heart patients, by coating the stents with human stem cells. Currently, animal trials are being conducted, and should those trials be successful, in a few years, human trials can begin.
Proponents must not only focus on the possible good of embryonic stem cell research, but must also address the question of moral status of the embryo. In so doing, it is noted that an embryo, at the stage of development for stem cell cultivation, has "no central nervous system, no brain, no capacity to suffer, they consist of a few hundred cells" ("No problems," 2006). Even when embryos are naturally conceived, there is a high natural rate of embryo failure, which makes the assertion that an embryo is a person even more difficult.
However, more interesting is the line of thinking that many proponents then request that their opponents follow. What if these embryos were protected? Opponents have no suggestion as to what should be done with them if they were saved from research. The answer to the question is that in most cases nothing would ever happen to these embryos. They would remain frozen or be discarded and merely become another statistic for the Medical Waste Tracking Act. Proponents of stem cell research argue that this does the embryo no good whatsoever, while compounding the loss with the denial of allowing people who are suffering, powerful medical treatments ("No problems," 2006).
There are a variety of concerns from opponents, including this as merely a stepping stone to more extensive genetic engineering and are not willing to give scientists this type of licensure. However, opponents of stem cell research often do not view all stem cell research as unethical. For the most part, they enthusiastically support a vast majority of stem cell research that uses non-embryonic (or adult) stem cells that are obtained without harm to the human body, from umbilical cord and placental blood. What opponents of embryonic stem cell research oppose is the harvesting of stem cells from human embryos that destroy the embryo itself (Schleppenbach, 2006).
Proponents often quote hundreds of thousands of embryos sitting in fertility clinics available for research. However, opponents note that this figure is misleading. Although there are approximately 400,000 embryos, only 2.8% (approximately 11,000) have been designated for research by the parents. The remaining 97% are designated for future attempts at pregnancy (Schleppenbach, 2006).
Lastly, opponents note the unethically hyped promise of embryonic stem cell research to treat or cure humans, bordering on fraud, while adult stem cell research has been obscured by the controversy. Most Americans are unaware that 70 diseases have been treated successfully with adult stem cells, yet not one disease has been treated, in humans, with embryonic stem cells (Schleppenbach, 2006). Are opponents willing to be held liable should tens of thousands of embryos be destroyed and yet no cure be successfully developed?
The Hippocratic Oath and Stem Cell Research:
Hippocrates is quoted as saying, "As to diseases, make a habit of two things - to help, or at least do no harm" (cited in "Do no harm," n.d.). It would be Hippocrates sentiments that would evolve into today's modern Hippocratic Oath. However, when one reads the Oath in its entirety, it becomes clear that conflicting messages appear, as is also found similarly in the American Medical Association principles.
Above all, I must not play at God." ("Hippocratic Oath," 2001) This is a strong referral to the principles reminding physicians that they are mere mortals and not placed on this Earth to decide who lives and who dies. This would seem to support the opponent's theory that taking a life to potentially save others is playing at God. However, shortly thereafter it states, "I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure." ("Hippocratic Oath," 2001) it would seem that this is contrary to the first statement. If by taking the life of one embryo a doctor can save the lives of thousands, by preventing disease, is this not the course of action he or she should take? In these instances are physicians covered by some greater indemnity? It is these conflicting messages that only add fuel to the fiery debate.
An Alternative Acceptable to Everyone?:
Robert Lanza recently testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee regarding the controversy surrounding stem cell research. Clearly, both sides of the argument are bitterly entrenched. Lanza, and fellow scientists such as William Caldwell CEO of Advanced Cell Technology, believe they may have a solution, to the conflict of interest physicians face, and that will allow for the medical advancements garnered by the use of embryonic stem cells, while still honoring the beliefs of those who cannot condone the loss of life currently needed for stem cell harvesting. Lanza is the principle author of a newly published paper in Nature, which describes "a technique for developing human embryonic stem cells with a single-cell biopsy technique called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis. This technique is not harmful to embryos"("Advanced cell," 2006). This technology could be the answer to the ethical dilemma that is stem cell research, and could be the medical miracle answer that so many patients are waiting for.
In the end, it is likely…