Stem cell research is the future of medical and biological research and remedies, and it is fascinating to watch the progression of this new and important science as it unfolds. These cells were discovered in mouse embryos in the 1980s, and are remarkable because of their potential to grow into a variety of different kinds of cells within a body. Common in fetuses, and more rare in adult animals of all kinds, stem cells can be manipulated in useful ways to repair many tissues, dividing limitlessly for therapeutic purposes. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or to differentiate into more specialized tissue, such as nerve, pancreas, bone marrow, or unique blood components. Initially unspecialized, they can survive certain kinds of processing to reactivate and replace damaged or malfunctioning organs. Controversy surrounds the use of these cells since they initially were thought to exist only in embryos, and some people felt the use of aborted fetal tissue to be repugnant, whether for research or healing purposes. In the last few years, it has been discovered that medically suitable “somatic” (or adult) stem cells can be used for similar purposes, which lessens some of the disagreement surrounding their use. (NIH http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/pages/basics1.aspx)
In short, the neat and amazing thing about these stem cells is that they can be manipulated to treat or replace nearly any organ
No one seems to doubt the value of medical therapy in general, but since stem cells were originally harvested only from human embryos, their use was repugnant to some people on the grounds that the moral, spiritual, and legal standing of fetuses was questionable. The best method of acquiring stem cells has been from human blastocysts, only a few days after conception, or from “abortuses”. According to Bjerkvig, et al, in “The origin of the cancer stem cell: current controversies and new insights,” researchers typically collected blastocysts from selectively discarded in vitro fertilization treatments. This generated the idea in the public’s imagination that 16-celled pre-people were heartlessly destroyed for the amusement of researchers, or for specious therapies. While it is true that all people began as blastocysts and embryos, and that we agree a formed person has moral standing, this led to a gray area in ethical reasoning. At what point do we consider a person to be a person? Did the parents of the embryos knowingly contribute their potential offspring for research? If a blastocyst is merely undifferentiated tissue, this is no problem. But if it is a person, then is it even legally possible for its parents to donate one person in the service of other people?
The rational solution to this quandary is to recognize that while fetuses may or may not have moral standing as people, they unquestionably can be utilized to help the lives of those that we KNOW to have moral standing. Laws...