Many of the great scientific discoveries that have occurred over the course of human history have had their share of controversy for some reason. From “radical” views like the Earth orbiting around the sun to the idea that the planet wasn’t flat, scientists are often at the center of ethical debates. Nothing may be more controversial right now in science, for the general public anyway, than the research of embryonic stem cells.
Facts and Statistics About Embryonic Stem Cells
1. A research process called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer [SCNT] allows scientists to produce embryonic stem cells without using sperm to fertilize an egg.
2. Bone marrow transplants already use stem cells to treat leukemia and have been doing so for over 50 years.
3. 68% of Americans support embryonic stem cell research.
4. The percentage of Americans support federal funding of research on chronic diseases using stem cells taken from human embryos: 64%.
5. In a recent vote, 70% of Kansas residents want to allow SCNT research in their state.
6. Embryonic stem cells were first discovered in 1998 and research on them has not yet been well funded.
7. A single stem cell treatment will not work on a multitude of unrelated diseases or conditions.
8. Embryonic stem cells can be obtained from the blastocyst, a very early stage of development that consists of a mostly hollow ball of approximately 150-200 cells and is barely visible to the naked eye.
9. All the human embryonic stem cell lines currently in use come from four to five day old embryos left over from in vitro fertilization.
10. Some embryonic stem cell lines also come from embryos that a couple has chosen not to implant because they carry genetic mutations like the ones that cause cystic fibrosis or Tay Sachs disease.
11. Embryonic stem cells do not come from aborted fetuses. They aren’t taken from eggs fertilized in a woman’s body either.
12. If embryonic stem cells are allowed to clump together to form embryoid bodies, they begin to differentiate spontaneously.
13. Many of the ethical debates about embryonic stem cells involve when a human being is actually defined as a human.
14. In 2006, President George W. Bush vetoed a bill that would have funded new embryonic stem cell research, saying that he did not want to support “the taking of innocent human life.”
The facts of embryonic stem cells are not up for dispute. Both sides of the equation understand that there can be many benefits to the human race through the research of these cells. What must be defined is a moral question that has individual morality as its answer.
Stem Cell Medical Research
Stem cells are one of the most exciting fields of medical research to explore as the technology of the 21st century is explored. These cells hold the promise of being able to cure dozens of diseases and heal injuries, like spinal cord injuries, that are almost always permanent. We’re not talking about being able to treat the common cold in a better way. We’re talking about finding cures for Alzheimer’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, ALS, and even blindness.
Why are stem cells such an exciting field of research? It’s because they all have two very unique qualities about them. They are able to copy themselves for an unlimited amount of time and they can grow into every cell type in the body. Even when they copy themselves, they can still remain as stem cells or become different cells, like muscles or tendons. Some even grow into bones or help to support the immune system.
Not all stem cells are the same. This is why research into embryonic stem cells is important. Unlike adult stem cells, they are pluripotent, which means they can turn into anything except an egg or sperm. Their potential is virtually unlimited because they are blank cells that aren’t specialized. Many people believe that the destruction of a human embryo is required to get these cells, but as the facts and statistics will show, that isn’t actually the case.
Defining a Human Being
When is a human being actually a human being? Some people believe that the moment of conception is the point in time when a human being has the moral equivalent of a person. Others believe that this definition is reached at some point during the pregnancy, but before birth happens. Others say that a human being does not become a person until after they are born. Where you stand on embryonic stem cells is typically based on where you stand on this definition.
The difficulty in this debate comes down to consistency. If embryos are the moral equivalent of a fully developed human, then it is not just embryonic cell research that should be banned. Think about all of the blastocyst and embryos that are created by the in vitro fertilization process. With over 400,000 embryos frozen in freezers in the United States alone, this would in effect be rampant murder that is out of control if embryos are the moral equivalent of a human.
There’s nothing wrong with having religion in a life. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong faith or rigid moral beliefs. The problem is in the inconsistency of those beliefs. The reason why embryonic stem cell research is essentially on pause is because couples are willing to have multiple embryos created for implantation because of infertility and then freeze them, yet unwilling to allow scientists to take just one cell out of an inner mass of a blastocyst because it is viewed as morally reprehensible.
This means education must become one of the highest priorities in this field of research. It makes no sense to keep a field of research active, yet refuse to fund it for moral complaints. By understanding the facts and statistics of embryonic stem cell research, maybe we can all get back to the work that will allow us to find tomorrow’s great medical discoveries.