When James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin and John Gearhardt at John Hopkins University were able to culture human embryonic stem cells in a lab in 1998, they opened up an entire world of controversy now known as the stem cell debate. The importance of embryonic stem cells to modern science and medicine rests largely on the fact that they are pluripotent. This means that they have the ability to form into any cell necessary within the body; they can be encouraged to become skin cells, brain cells, etc. Organs could be grown in a lab and transplanted into patients, and these cells could be used to test new drugs, rather than a live human subject. This technology, according to scientists, could foster the ability to cure any disease, illness, or injury, but at what cost? Opponents of stem cell research believe that the practice of embryonic study and culture is immoral, while proponents suggest that this technology is necessary for the advancement of medical research.
In 2001, then President George W. Bush quickly sided with those believing the research to be immoral. During his primetime address, he advocated only to allow research on cell lines already in existence. Much of this side of the argument is based on the idea that human eggs are fertilized with sperm to create an embryo, and then destroyed to harvest the stem cells within the blastocyst. Many religious and pro-life groups – including, the Catholic Church, Christian Medical Association, Family Bioethics Counsel, etc. – believe that life begins at conception, and feel that this involves the destruction of human life. They consider it equal to abortion, which they also oppose.
A few years after this controversy emerged, in 2006, two bills were passed through the House and the Senate. The first, Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, H.R. 810, requested increased federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and the ability to utilize donated cells from in vitro fertilization clinics. The second, S.3504, prohibited the creation of human embryos specifically for research purposes. The president vetoed H.R. 810 and passed S.3504. In his stem cell veto and executive order announcement, he states, “destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical – and it is not the only option before us” (par. 11). With the backing of President Bush, embryonic stem cell research was halted, while federal funding was allotted to adult stem cell research and the search for more ethical methods of advancement.
With these options, opponents of embryonic research suggest that there are ways to employ stem cells without harming a living being or creating life only to destroy it. They see the positives of this research and hope only to be patient with its study in order to come to solutions or scientific discovery by ethical means.
It wasn’t, however, until the election of now President...