The use of stem cells to treat injury or disorders by introducing healthy cells to damaged tissues has been considered a medical breakthrough, what with the possibilities of it treating a wide range of disease, including those where treatments have yet to be discovered. So why all the fuss and controversy?
The controversy stems from the consideration of ethics, revolving around the research process of embryonic stem cells that, simply put, involves creating and killing a human life. In stem cell research, human embryos are created, used and then destroyed, depending on whether or not they have served their purpose. It starts with the eggs developed from fertilized in-vitro that are donated for the purpose of research. Some of these eggs where originally created for reproductive purposes, but when they are no longer needed for the intended purpose they are donated for research.
There a different stem cells used for research. Two of the most popular are embryonic and adult stem cells that are distinguished by the way stem cells are harvested. As previously mentioned, embryonic stem cells are derived from human embryos. Adult stem cells, on the other hand, are undifferentiated cells that are found throughout the body and multiply by cell division so they can help replenish dead cells and repair damaged tissues, which is why there are less controversial than the embryonic kind.
This shows that the real concern of opponents of stem cell research is the ethics behind the process that can be likened to abortion. Ever since the use of stem cells was discovered in 1998, moral ethical questions have doggedly followed it through the years.
List of Pros of Stem Cell Research
1. Offer lots of medical benefits
The very discovery of how stem cells are extracted from human embryos is in itself a medical breakthrough with such promise. But the real highlight is the stem cells’ amazing ability to differentiate into any type of cells. This offers a world of possibilities in terms of the development medical treatments. Scientists and researchers strongly believe that the use of stem cells will provide potential cures for multiple sclerosis, diabetes, spinal cord injury, cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, and a host of rare genetic and immune system disorders. Suffice to say that the role of stem cell research will be most beneficial in the therapeutic sectors of cloning and regenerative medicine.
2. Come in different types
Apart from embryonic and adult stem cells, there are also amniotic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells that do not involve the creation, use and destruction of human embryos. This means not everything about stem cell research goes against ethics or comes at a cost of a human life. Even if you are against abortion, you can accept other forms of stem cell research.
3. Provide insights to the growth and development of human cells
By understanding everything about human cells, scientists and researchers would also have a better grasp and understanding of how diseases work, or what damages the cells that would lead to illness. Whatever data gathered in the research will arm the world with the right weapon to combat disease, extending life expectancy to a certain extent and reducing incidents of hospitalization.
List of Cons of Stem Cell Research
1. Can be likened to murder
When one part of an embryonic stem cell research has been completed or another specimen is required, blastocytes would have to be destroyed. These refer to the structure that are formed as a human egg is fertilized in the laboratory. Opponents consider them as a human life, considering that they are derived from embryos. So, destroying blastocytes is no different from murder.
2. Question of efficacy
Stem cell research has the potential to provide answers in the field of medicine, but the actual cures are still years away. Until any of the techniques are proven effective and widely accessible, research will remain as that — research. In other words, no one really knows if any of the stem cells will work. Opponents would rather use the knowledge and skills of researchers to focus on problems that already exist and can have realistic solutions. Between ending world hunger and finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease, the former is more feasible.
3. Unknown long-term side effects
Along with the discovery of a potential cure is the discovery of the side effects in the long-term. Unfortunately, these too are unknown until someone receives medical trials and suffers through the negative results of the treatment used. Can we really sacrifice one life for the greater good of everyone? If the patient volunteers, however, the sacrifice would be worth it.
4. Has limitations
In the use of adult stem cells, generation of cells are limited to a particular type where the specimen was extracted. That is, when the cells come from the brain, it will only generate a similar type. Isn’t that how the system works usually? But stem cells would have been more amazing if the cells can morph into something else.
5. Potential rejection
In the case of embryonic cells, the cells that will be used on one human being will be derived from another. If donated organs get rejected by the recipient’s body, the same thing could happen to the cells. Again, it all boils down to not knowing exactly how the body will react to the stem cells. And so the research will continue.
6. Potential use in negative activities
While stem cell research operates in the desire to provide cure for what are considered incurable disease, the knowledge acquired may also be used for evil plans. Human breakthroughs have been used the wrong way at every opportunity. What are the odds that stem cell research will be used in the same way? It is easy to see it being used to create bio-weapons or some weapon of mass destruction. Some people can use it to play god. Is it really worth it?
The potentials of stem cell research are too huge to be ignored, but it has its share of pros and cons that can’t be ignored as well. So which side are you on?
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.