Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Stem Cell Research Controversy

What are stem cells?
Stem cells are found in all multi-cellular organisms. They are cells which have not differentiated into specialized cell types. They have not yet decided what type of cell they are going to become (ie. brain cells or liver cells). There are two types of stem cells: i) adult stem cells, which can be found adult tissues; ii) and embryonic stem cells, which are found in a blastocyte.

Stem Cell Uses
There already exist a number of uses for adult stem cells, including adult stem cell therapies (eg. bone marrow transplants to treat leukemia). However, the controversy lies around embryonic stem cell research. After 20 years of research there are no approved treatments involving embryonic stem cells. However, they have many foreseen potential uses in regenerative medicine and tissue replacement.

The Controversy
Human embryonic stem cell research is particularly controversial because it requires the destruction of a human embryo, in order to retrieve the stem cells. These embryos are 3-5 days past conception, and most people argue that they have no consciousness, no self-awareness and no ability to feel pain.
Stem cells are obtained from in-vitro fertilization, which involves the creation of many embryos. It is hoped that one embryo will make it through to birth, but the majority are destined to be destroyed. Stem cell research uses the surplus embryos from this in-vitro fertilization.
Some stem cell researchers believe that even absolute anti-abortionists should be able to support stem cell research, because it uses surplus embryos that are going to be destroyed anyhow. However I disagree, if these embryos are "nothing less than individual beings in the earliest stages of life," then this logic would be parallel with defending Nazi experiments on Jews who were destined for destruction in the concentration camps. I believe that "if the microscopic dot (the embryo) is a human being with full human rights, the answer is easy: no stem cell research," as said by Michael Kinsley, Time magazine reporter.
However, if you don't believe that the microscopic embryo has feelings and deserves human rights, then there shouldn't be much argument against embryonic stem cell research. Many scientists and disease sufferers see embryonic stem cells as a life saver.

Therefore, I believe that your opinion on stem cell research should be based on whether you view the 5 day old embryo as something with human rights or without them.



Dominic B. said...

Some stem cells can now be derived from skin.....no more controversy!