Stem cell research is conducted in order to obtain advanced knowledge on how an organism will develop from one cell and how healthy cells can be used to replace damaged cells in an adult. Stem cell research has paved the way for scientists to conduct investigations on the likelihood of cell-based therapies in the treatment of diseases, which is often called regenerative or reparative medicine (National Institutes of Health [NIH] 2).
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Despite the belief that it can be useful in saving many lives, stem cell research is bad and should not be done because there has been no findings yet about its effectivity in treating certain diseases.
Stem Cell Research Concepts, Issues, And Origin
Before explaining the negative implications of stem cell research, it is important to understand first the concepts and issues involved in this field of study as well as its origin. First of all, there are two important attributes of stem cells that set them apart from other kinds of cells. First, they have the capacity to rejuvenate themselves for extended periods through the process of cell pision because of their nature as unspecialized cells. Second, by placing them under certain physiologic or experimental circumstances, stem cells can be transformed to become cells with specialized functions such as the beating of the heart muscle or producing insulin for the pancreas (NIH 2).
Generally, scientists utilize two types of stem cells from animals and humans: embryonic and adult stem cells, which have varying functions and qualities. There are various reasons why stem cells are deemed important to human beings. In a blastocyst (a 3-5 day old embryo), for example, they are helpful in the development of several specialized kinds of cells that constitute the heart, skin, lung, and other tissues. In the tissues of some adults, stem cells help in the generation of replacements for cells that are damaged because of wear and tear, injury, or diseases (NIH 3).
During the latter portion of the 1990s, scientists found out many attributes of stem cells. According to investigations, even the mature stem cell from a single tissue is enough to produce cells of another tissue variety, such as neurons for the brain. A research conducted by Fred Gage at the Salks Institute for Biological Studies shows that the brains of human adults can produce new neurons. Prior to Gage’s findings, scientists assumed that the human brain does not have the capacity to produce new cells after birth (“Stem Cell”).
In 1981, the first cultures of stem cells were cultivated by scientists from mice embryos. Although the experiment spearheaded extensive research, developing human stem cells remained an elusive goal until 1998 (American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS]). Nevertheless, it was on November 1998 that the isolation of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) was first discovered by Dr. James Thomson, a biologist at the University of Wisconsin. hESCs can be used in the differentiation of any kind of human cell, which can range from blood to skin cells. For scientists, they were aiming to utilize them in repairing damaged tissues (AAAS).
However, the work of Dr. Thomson was not qualified for funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) because of an existing ban on human embryo research. Congress placed a prohibition for funding on such kind of research. The bill, authored by Rep. Jay Dickey, disallowed funding for research on hESCs until 2001 (AAAS). Due to the great promise of Dr. Thomson’s findings, the NIH sought legal help from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) concerning the ban to hESC. In 1999, the HHS reached the conclusion that public funds can be used on hESC on the premise that derivation of the cells would be conducted with private funds (AAAS).
On August 9, 2001, President George W. Bush granted Federal funding on hESC research on the condition that the cells that will be used will be those that currently exist. President Bush allowed funding for such because the destruction of an embryo had already occurred. He did not permit the disbursement of public funds on future cell lines in order that they would not act in such a way that it would promote the destruction of human embryos (AAAS).
On May 24, 2005, the United States House of Representative passed House Resolution 810 entitled Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act by a vote of 238 in favor of the bill against 194 opposing the bill. Ninety three percent of Democrats supported the bill while 79% rejected the bill (White, “Text of H.R. 810”). Two days later on May 26, 2005, the Senate voted 63 to 37. However, President George W. Bush vetoed it on July 2006 based on ideological and religious grounds. If the Stem Cell Research Enactment Act had been approved by Bush, it would have provided Federal funding for the conduct of stem cell research. However, in other countries, such as South Korea, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, and India, stem cell research is already being conducted (White, “Text of H.R. 810”).
Arguments Against Stem Cell Research
The issue of stem cell research has been met with both support and criticism. Here are some of the arguments against stem cell research:
Human Life Begins at Conception.
One of the basic arguments is the fact that an embryo is already considered a human being because during fertilization, an egg has the potential of becoming a full-grown adult. This is in compliance with the assertion that human life begins during conception. Another issue in question when it comes to this argument is viability, which is defined as the ability of a fetus to “potentially live outside the womb of the mother, albeit with artificial assistance” (GE Team).
Instead of pursuing embryonic stem cell research, alternatives should be considered.
Research conducted by pro-life supporters claims that using adult stem cell for research is more promising instead of the embryonic stem cells. Critics of using embryonic stem cell research argued that it has no practical treatment (GE Team).
Scientific errors in conducting an embryonic stem cell research
Utilizing embryonic stem cell in therapies may contain fundamental flaws. For example, it was determined in one study that embryonic stem cells applied to therapeutic cloning may still be prone to immune rejection. On the other hand, there have been indications that adult stem cells can be successfully reintegrated into an autogenic animal. Likewise, embryonic stem cells have the tendency to create tumors (GE Team).
Exaggeration Of Research Potential
Scientists have vowed promising results from using embryonic stem cell research, and so far, this has not yet happened. In fact, majority of the criticisms have been made by the researchers themselves. The past president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science Lord Winston has even issued a warning that there is a potential backlash against stem cell research (GE Team).
Even the late Pope John Paul II was very much against embryonic stem cell research. According to the late Pontiff, man must learn from previous experience which showed the negative effects of destruction of human life through acts such as euthanasia and infanticide (“The Cases For and Against Stem Cell Research”).
In addition, many ethicists and scientists are likewise against embryonic stem cell research. In a statement issued on July 1999, a group composed of bioethicists, legal scholars, and scientists stated their objection against stem cell research because they were against human ethics and is unnecessary (“The Cases For and Against Stem Cell Research”).
Another major argument by opponents of stem cell research is that there has been little attention given to adult stem research which has proven successful in the treatment of various diseases. Likewise, the opponents of embryonic stem cell research claims that therapeutic approach using stem cells have no proven cure yet (White, “Pros & Cons of Embryonic Stem Cell Research”).
Likewise, opponents of the stem cell research have instead pushed for funding adult stem cell research in order to get around the moral issues surrounding the use of human embryos (White, “Pros & Cons of Embryonic Stem Cell Research”).
Stem cell research is a method of using human embryos in producing new cells as well as in replacing damaged cells. The method was discovered in 1998 by Dr. James Thompson. However, he could not proceed further because such kind of undertaking was not given Federal funding. One of the main arguments against stem cell research is that using a human embryo for research can destroy the life of the unborn infant already conceived in the fertilized egg.
Another negative argument about stem cell research is that it has yet to produce conclusive evidence of being an effective cure. Opponents of stem cell research is instead pushing for an adult stem cell research which has already a proven record of effectivity.
House Bill 810 or the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act was approved in both Houses of Congress but was vetoed by President George Bush for ideological and ethical issues.
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