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Embryonic Stem Cell Research – Ethical Or Not?

1183 words - 5 pages

Few advances in modern science have generated as much excitement and public debate as the discovery of human embryonic stem cells (hESC). The debate over the use of embryonic stem cells in research has polarized the global community along the lines of those who argue that such research holds the promise of medical breakthroughs which can bring about possible cures for such ailments as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes for example, while opponents condemn such research as it involves the destruction of a potential human life and is seen as mankind “playing God”. There are no clear cut answers to the ethical debate surrounding this particular aspect of stem cell research. The ethical question of which is the more valuable; the life of a human being suffering from a fatal disease or life threatening injury, or the life of a potential human being?, lie at the core of the debate . These are tough questions faced by both the scientists engaged in the research, as well as the legislators who define the laws governing such research. Although many would agree that embryonic stem cell research holds the potential of developing cures for a number of illnesses that affect humankind, if such research is performed at the cost of destroying a life it should therefore not be pursued.
As noted earlier few scientific advances have generated as much controversy as human embryonic stem cell research, but why is this? This controversy exists as noted by Kristen Monroe; “because the current technique to harvest these cells involves destruction of the human blastocyst, a pre-embryo, whether obtained by in vitro fertilization or by therapeutic cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer)” (Monroe, et al, I). According to Medical News Today, these embryonic stem cells are considered the most useful for research due to their pluripotent nature. Pluripotent cells are master cells which are considered “undifferentiated” (qtd. in MNT). What this means is that embryonic stem cells can ultimately become any type of body tissue. Thus embryonic stem cells have the potential to cure a vast number of diseases, physical and neurological ailments including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, spinal cord injury and heart disease for example. This is the opposite of human adult stem cells (hASC) that can be found in fat cells, bone marrow, skin cells and some nerve tissues for example, which must undergo a complicated process of de-differentiation prior to their use; human embryonic stem cells are capable of undergoing directed differentiation. In direct differentiation, scientists can directly manipulate the culture in which the embryonic stem cells are grown or directly alter the genetic content of the cells themselves which leads to their destruction. It is this destruction of a human embryo in order to derive embryonic stem cells necessary for research or treatment that lies at the center of the ethical debate over conducting embryonic stem cell research.
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