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From scientific obscurity to moral and ethical pre-eminence, stem cell research; or more specifically embryonic stem cell research, has risen to become one of the major ethical and moral hazards in the 21st century. The controversies are linked to the potentialities carried by this highly advanced technology. At the basic, the controversies are driven by the fear that stem cell research may be used to clone human beings as a way of providing designer stem cells whose uses are as wide as the potential of the technology (Lind & Tamas 50).
Controversies range from the need to offer protection to the sanctity and respect for life together with a set of associated ethical and legal considerations. On the other hand, the technology possesses the ability to conquer so many debilitating diseases and conditions. It is on this latter basis, that I’ll pose my support for the need for the government to allow stem cell research to go on.
Just four years ago, Mr. Steve Rigazio was a normal, happy young man operating his business with the enthusiasm and ambition so common among young successful entrepreneurs. Now he forms the statistics of people diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease; a devastating disease that affects the spinal cord nerve cells, causing muscles to wither and die off quickly. Just like everybody else diagnosed with this condition, the doctors gave him 18 months of life. Two years after diagnosis Steve is still alive and his doctors are baffled. No need to mention he quit his job and even though the disease is ravaging his body, his mind is contact.
His vibrancy is a stark contrast to his gradual deterioration unto death. Just in the same neighbourhood in which Steve lives are two beautiful girls; twelve years of age struggling with juvenile diabetes since they were barely four years old. With thousands of pricks on their skins, life is completely unbearable. Miles away in New York is Anne; a twenty three year old young woman buoyed down with Alzheimer’s.
Steve, Anne, the twins and millions of Americans suffering from these genetic degenerative diseases has been forced to watch their approaching deaths with utter hopelessness. Yet hidden in this hopelessness is the understanding that despite the moral, ethical and political undertones, stem cell research may offer them the only remaining hope for a meaningful life. We should allow stem cell research to offer relief to millions of Americans suffering from these diseases.
These stem cells are pluripotent and in some cases totipotent primordial cells. Embryonic stem cells have the ability to differentiate into many different human cell types. Their cell lines are immortal implying that scientists can culture them indefinitely hence creating a limitless supply of cells for different purposes. It is no secret, owing to the avalanche of scientific literature, that stem cells are greatly instrumental in the treatment of genetic degenerative diseases. Alzheimer’s, juvenile diabetes and Lou Gehrig’s disease are just a few of these diseases.
However, for embryonic cells to be fully exploited for therapeutic purposes they have to be destroyed and their destruction, elicits mixed reactions with regard to the personhood of the embryo. A majority of opposition to stem cell research is driven by the understanding that embryos are human beings and their destruction is a violation of the respect and dignity to life. Thus, embryos are defenceless human beings. Destroying them for the benefit of other human beings is unethical and immoral.
Even though embryos and fully developed human beings are arguably genetically similar, they do no in essence possess attributes and capacities that are considered in the definition of personhood. Embryos cannot be defined in terms of consciousness, sentience and reasoning and yet the existence of these attributes in the realm of humanity is what defines personhood. The position that stem cell research mercilessly destroys defenceless human beings fails to recognize the inevitability of the wastage of embryos in the natural process. It is thus ironical, that we should leave such embryos to go into wastage if there is in existence a beneficial use to humanity.
Considering the broad objective of scientific research as a tool of offering humanity relief from such diseases, it is extremely unethical to prevent such a technology from meeting the therapeutic demands of this age. The fears that it may be misused hence leading to disastrous consequences for humanity is null and void in the presence of strictly instituted legislations. Many scientists predict that stem cell research present as the only option in the treatment of damaged cells, tissues and even organs. Additionally, stem cell research is useful in studying embryo development, testing pharmaceuticals for safety and developing new techniques in gene therapy.
All these potentials are halted by the governments cut on funding and overall restriction of stem cell research. Stem Cell Research Foundation (STRF) predicts that if fully legalized, stem cell research create novel treatment for the 4 million Alzheimer’s disease patients, 8 million cancer patients, 250,000 patients with spinal cord injuries, 43 million with arthritis and 58 million Americans suffering from heart diseases (Hayry et al 101).
Despite the restrictive nature of federal funding and the current nature of the US policy on stem cell research, stem cell research is underway as various sets of federal regulations regulate facets of the research (NRC 79). In many other countries, the therapeutic potential of stem cell research is being appreciated by permitting and public funding stem cell research projects. This is not only detrimental to the global leadership of American researchers but the fact that the research is being carried elsewhere, in some cases without proper regulatory and standards, poses as a threat to the same supposed moral or ethical considerations that slow down the pace of research in America.
Since the therapeutic potential of stem cell research has been proven and reproduced by a multitude of researchers, the United States should instead focus on instituting regulatory framework necessary for the full operation of stem cell research. The tide of current controversy should be stopped as it has only served to pert attention from the real issues. Without ignoring the gravity of the ethical and moral questions, analysis should instead focus on the fundamental issue: that of saving millions of human lives from debilitating diseases.
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