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The Ethics Of Embryonic Stem Cell Research Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1419 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Since its discovery in 1963, (SC His, 2004) Stem Cell Research has helped the planning and developing of cures which had seemed impossible mere decades earlier. Since then, huge progress has been made in finding better and more efficient ways of utilizing these stem cells, and the benefits they offer. However, as with all revolutionary inventions, stem cell research continues to face opposition on different fronts, with many believing it to be something inherently unethical. Such disagreement on the use of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research based on religious and ethical grounds must become a thing of the past, since the medicinal cures for diseases and disabilities ranging from burns and spinal cord injuries, to Parkinson’s disease and even cancer, make hESC research a miracle therapy that could make current disease a thing of the past.

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Stem cells are essentially primitive cells with the ability to become all or most of the different kinds of tissues in the human body. Stem cells have traditionally been defined as not fully determined to be any particular type of cell or tissue. They can be either “pluripotent” (as is the case with hESC) where they can become any kind of tissue or “multipotent” (which is what “adult” stem cells are) and have the ability to transform only into certain types of tissue. Stem cells are unique from other cell types because they are simply unspecialized cells capable of renewing themselves, sometimes even after long periods of inactivity, and this is the reason that makes them so important (Irving).

Scientists have worked with two kinds of stem cells from animals and humans: embryonic or “pluripotent” stem cells and non-embryonic or “adult” stem cells. It is of significant importance that the leading scientists in the study of adult stem cells present compelling arguments on why we must pursue research on both pluripotent and adult stem cells. While some stem cells are present in adults, there may not be an individual adult stem cell for every type of cell in the body. The most important thing to remember is that pluripotent and adult stem cells also differ in their quality. Pluripotent stem cells have the almost miraculous ability to self-renew and to also form many different cell types, but in contrast the full potential of adult stem cells is uncertain, and a large amount of evidence suggests that they may be more limited. Due to these limitations, it is of extreme importance that research is pursued on both pluripotent and adult stem cells simultaneously (Lim).

The advantages of hESC

There are several different reasons why specific research of human pluripotent stem cells might lead to better treatment, or hopefully even cures, of many diseases.

Firstly, pluripotent stem cells could help us to understand the complex events that occur during normal human development. This research would be able to identify the factors involved in the cellular decision-making process that results in cell specialization. For example why do some cells become heart cells, while other cells become liver cells? A better understanding of the normal processes of cells would greatly increase the database of scientific knowledge whose aim would be to find the errors in these processes and eventually find ways to repair them (Marshall).

Secondly, and most importantly, human pluripotent stem cells have the ability to generate cells and tissue which could be used for “cell transplantation therapies,” These therapies would be aimed at finding ways to cure the diseases and disorders resulting from the dysfunctioning of specific types of cells and tissue. Although donated organs can, and are, sometimes used to replace diseased or destroyed tissue, the sheer number of people suffering from the range of these disorders is far greater than the number of organs or tissues available for transplantation. By stimulating pluripotent stem cells to develop into specialized cells and tissue, we have hope of finding a way to replace cells and tissue and thus be able to treat a wide variety of diseases, conditions and disabilities. (Van Der Kooy).

Ethical Considerations

Ethics is generally defined as “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture”. (Dictionary.com) Ethics, however, cannot be considered as being a specialized body of knowledge. Ethics is quite simply a conversation about questions. In such a conversation, everyone has a place. We all have our own moral intuitions. Concerning embryonic stem cell research, the question that we face is the long standing one of whether the end justifies the means? Opponents of hESC research will likely suggest that it is wrong to use embryos as a mere means to our ends rather than as ends in themselves. This argument claims that since in destroying the embryo we are using this “life” or “human being” as a means towards some other human being’s end, then it is wrong to destroy this embryo. The simple and understandable response by advocates of hESC research is that the embryo will be destroyed anyway, and the reasonable thing to do is to use it to help another human being instead of throwing it away. Why should we prevent the curing of people on the basis of religious morality, it is simply not acceptable for the modern times in which we live in.

A Slippery Slope

The slippery slope objection simply states that once we start down the path of the creation of life only to destroy it for other’s purposes or benefits, then we will never be able to set limits to the dangers imposed on our “right to life.” It is suggested that since the proponents of hESC research justify early embryo destruction and completely disregard the embryo’s inherent moral status, the end result will be a diminishing of respect for all individuals in general. What follows, for this objector, is that such justification of the destruction of early embryos will result in a rationale which could justify harmful experiments on other human subjects. While some slippery slope arguments are valid due to the logical nature of the move from one situation to another, the current argument is significantly a more psychological one than a logical one. It is basically an argument that in taking current actions our emotions will deteriorate and we will not be able to clearly assess our future decisions which may be wrong. This is an argument which has outlasted its practical use. Since even the greatest nations in the world have come to understand that hESC research is essential to the continuation of the flow of human knowledge. The only puzzling factor is the amount of people who still believe that scientific research such as this should be stopped on the basis of morality. It is a paradox that must be resolved if we are to progress into a better tomorrow for society (Lanza, Cibelli).

Future Endeavors

Research on stem cells continues to advance knowledge about the many unknowns related to the creation of human life, as well as other organisms. Stem cell research is a fascinating field of study, but as with many expanding fields of scientific study, it raises questions just as quickly as it generates new answers. A proper understanding must be made, signifying the fact that the destruction of a specified amount of embryos will not alter the future of the whole human race as drastically as some seem to predict. The grave evil that we associate with the destruction of human life-and more broadly with using people as means to an end- seems to reflects the fact that such destruction is either dreadful for the people whose lives are destroyed or used, contrary to their will. Embryos, however, are completely different, since their destruction does not have any meaning for them or anyone else for that matter, unless they are prevented from being treated due to ethical restrictions. We must treat embryos in the way which benefits mankind to its fullest extent. This does not entail using them however we see fit, regardless of the consequences; but there is no logical reason to forgo the large benefits, and the invaluable discoveries that doctors and scientists expect will follow from intensive research on hESCs. There is no reason why the future should not begin with us.


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