Embryonic stem cells have the promise to be a cure to a myriad of medical conditions and other potential benefits. However, the creation and destruction of embryos is involved in this process. For this reason, not all are supportive of embryonic stem cell research and the controversy surrounding it is still so much in the picture.
What Are Stem Cells?
These are unspecialized cells found in living things and are able to renew themselves and develop into other cells by means of growth and repair so long as the host is still alive. They can also be manipulated to become tissue or organ specific cells.
What are embryonic stem cells?
Basically, these are cells derived from blastocysts which are 3-5 day old embryos. Most of these sources come from unfertilized in vitro eggs and are used in research studies. These eggs are taken with consent from donors and brought to laboratories for scientists to use.
Embryonic stem cells are important because they have several potential uses, from getting information about cell development to creating new drugs for medical disorders such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Embryonic Cells and Research Studies
When an egg is ready for fertilization, it shapes itself to allow for the sperm’s chromosomes to enter. During this stage, the egg divides into smaller cells and become what is known as blastocyst. This is then harvested and grown on a petri dish and divide to become embryonic cells. This process wherein cells are grown in an artificial environment is known as cell culture. This is used in cell engineering, molecular biology and stem cell.
How Do Embryonic Cells Differ From Adult Cells?
Although both can become differentiated cell types, cells from embryos are pluripotent. Adult cells have limited capabilities to differentiate into other cell types. Moreover, adult stem cells are not as available as embryonic stem cells, making them hard to culture in laboratories. When it comes to transplantation rejection however, embryonic stem cells are more likely to be rejected as opposed to adult stem cells, according to scientists especially that there have only been few clinical trials done to test the effect of human embryonic stem cells on transplantation.
Despite the potential benefits of embryonic cells, there are also possible setbacks surrounding its applications. Supporters and critics continue their debate on this controversial issue and express their views on different forums. Scientists are also divided based on ethical and moral concerns.
Here is a look at some of the pros and cons of embryonic stem cell research that are worth looking into.
List of Pros of Embryonic Stem Cell Research
1. They are not to be considered to have life.
On the issue whether embryos have moral status, proponents claim that at this point, these embryos should not be considered as persons because they lack physical and psychological properties human beings have because they have not yet been implanted in the uterus. Moreover, even if they have, as in the case of in vitro fertilization, it is not yet certain that they can become human beings, given that success rates are low. Thus, these embryos are not to be regarded as if they were living persons.
2. At the time an embryo is harvested, the central nervous system is still not yet formed.
Another point of supporters is the age of the embryo when it is used for stem cell research, which is around 2 weeks. At this stage, an embryo has not yet developed a central nervous system. Also, there is still no concrete evidence it can develop into a fetus. Since this is the case, embryos are not yet capable to feel anything since they don’t have senses. Supporters maintain that if organs from brain dead people are allowed to be donated, this should also be the same with embryos.
3. Human embryos for stem cell research can help a number of patients.
With the potential of embryonic stem cells to be used as treatment to several medical disorders such as heart diseases, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, destroying them is not actually doing them harm. For advocates, there is nothing wrong with the process because it results to helping hundreds of patients whose lives are in danger.
4. They come from unused embryos for in vitro fertilization and are not taken without consent.
Advocates for embryonic stem cell research say that there is nothing unethical or morally wrong with using the fertilized eggs which were not chosen for in vitro. They also posit that these eggs will be discarded anyway and it would be better that they be used for the common good and benefit of the majority. Also, they reiterate that these embryos are given with consent from donors.
5. They can be used by scientists to find cure for several medical conditions.
Another claim of proponents about the importance of embryonic stem cell research is the application of such cells to treat ailments like cardiovascular diseases, spinal cord injury, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as well vision impairment and diabetes.
6. They can be possibly used for organ transplantation.
Since embryonic cells have the capability to divide into specific cells and are always available, they are good candidates for organ transplantation application as opposed to adult cells. Even if adult cells can be used to repair tissues and for organ transplantation, they are only few viable cells in adults capable of doing such.
7. Embryonic stem cell therapy is the next best thing to happen after the discovery of antibiotics.
Scientists who support the use of embryonic stem cells to treat numerous diseases say that for so many years, patients suffer and die from different ailments. With stem cell research, including this one, hundreds if not thousands of patients’ lives are prolonged, making this medical science breakthrough a great discovery since antibiotics.
8. Embryonic cells can be used for further research by scientists.
Advocates also say that discarded cells can be used by researchers to study more about cell properties, structure and growth. This way, they will understand better how cells function and will be able to apply these researches in finding other ways to cure diseases in the future.
List of Cons of Embryonic Stem Cell Research
1. Human embryos deserve respect as any other human being does.
Opponents of embryonic stem cell research argue that these embryos, regardless of their properties or the lack thereof, should be considered and treated with the same respect just like any other person. They add that these embryos have the possibility to develop into fetuses and human beings. Thus, they also have life.
2. There is no evidence that embryos have lives or not so they should not be destroyed.
With the issue whether embryos already have a status of life, critics of embryonic stem cell research say that there is no concrete evidence. An example used is that of a patient who is comatose. Just because he or she is not responding from stimulation is not a proof that there is no life. Critics say that the same logic should be applied in embryos. And since it is unsure that life exists in an embryo or not, no one should destroy an embryo without any concern or consideration.
3. Embryonic stem cell research takes away the chance of an embryo to become a human being.
On the argument that an embryo is just like any part of the human body, an organic material and not a person, opponents say that embryos are in a stage that they have the possibility to develop into human beings. Since this is the case, using them for research is taking away this possibility and therefore, it is something unethical.
4. The use of embryonic stem cells had not yet been proven to be successful.
Groups against this research contend that there have been very few success stories of embryonic stem cells to cure diseases. In fact, there have been reports of difficulty of these cells to new specific types as well as tumor formation. There is also the concern of organ transplantation rejection of recipients that critics believe to be reason enough to stop stem cell research.
5. Taxpayers’ money is used to fund researches like this.
Another issue that stirs the minds of opponents is that the Federal government fund researches like these at the expense of the American people. Despite some scientists who appealed against this, the government has already spent $500 million in human embryonic stem cell research, according to reports. Despite the passing of legislation in 1996, prohibiting the use of taxpayers’ money for stem cell research, there are still private groups who were funding researches as well. Groups who are against this, however, continue to fight for the cause.
6. There are alternative ways to culture cells.
Aside from embryos being used in stem cell research, adult cells can also be used as well as non-embryonic cells. Opponents posit that scientists should turn to these alternatives to save lives and look for remedies instead of the destruction of embryos. Scientists are already conducting studies on creating induced pluripotent stem cells and attempting to have human skin cells to go back to the embryonic state. With these developments, scientists should consider these options, according to critics.
In the middle of the controversial issue about using human embryos for stem cell research, groups remain divided. However, with new developments and options, perhaps, a time will come scientists can let go of using human embryos. If this happens, supporters are most likely to concede. After all, their concern is not on embryo destruction but on finding treatments for medical disorders.