One of the most heated political battles in the United States in recent years has been over the morality of embryonic stem cell research. The embryonic stem cell debate has polarized the country into those who argue that such research holds promises of ending a great deal of human suffering and others who condemn such research as involving the abortion of a potential human life. If any answer to the ethical debate surrounding this particular aspect of stem cell research exists, it is a hazy one at best. The question facing many scientists and policymakers involved in embryonic stem cell research is, which is more valuable – the life of a human suffering from a potentially fatal illness or injury, or the life of human at one week of development? While many argue that embryonic stem cell research holds the potential of developing cures for a number of illnesses that affect many individuals, such research is performed at the cost of destroying a life and should therefore not be pursued.
Stem cells are pluripotent cells of the body which are “undifferentiated.” This means that stem cells can ultimately give rise to any type of body tissue. Thus stem cells have the potential to cure a vast number of diseases and physical ailments including Parkinson’s, diabetes, spinal cord injury, and heart disease. Consequently, stem cell research and the development of associated medical applications are of great interest to the scientific and medical community. The area of stem cell research involving human embryonic stem cells is of particular interest in that embryonic stem cells are derived from week-old blastocysts developed from in vitro fertilized eggs. As opposed to adult stem cells, which must undergo a complicated process of de-differentiation prior to application, embryonic stem cells are capable of undergoing directed differentiation. In the second process, scientists solely manipulate the culture in which the embryonic cells are grown or directly alter the genetic content of the cells. Herein lies the heart of the ethical debate over the morality of destroying a human embryo in order to derive embryonic stem cells for treatment.
Those in support of embryonic stem cell research claim that the week-old blastocysts from which embryonic stem cells are derived are merely a cluster of cells and thus do not constitute a human being. Because these cells are “not human,” the embryos should not be afforded the same human rights as are granted to other more advanced stages of cell growth. Many liberals and conservatives alike argue that the potential benefits far outweigh the moral concerns, and for this reason, embryonic stem cell research should be pursued. President Obama issued an executive order revoking President Bush’s previous order that limited funding of research involving human embryonic stem cells for its violation of human rights:
Research involving human embryonic stem cells and human non-embryonic stem cells has the potential to lead to better...