Should Stem Cell Research Be Permitted

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Should Stem Cell Research Be Permitted

Stem cell research is the most controversial and passionately debated topic to arise from the scientific and medical fields in the 21st century. These stem cells have the potential to develop into theoretically any cell in the human body thus having the potential to save lives, treat and cure diseases and ailments. It is hotly debated because the stem cells that are used are derived embryos, which when removed kill the embryo. The surplus embryos from fertility clinics that are no longer needed and are destined to die are the source of embryos. The pro-life movement claims that stem cell research is not permissible because it involves taking the life an embryo, which they regard as a person. Pro-choice supporters believe that embryos are not people and that instead of the embryos being casually discarded they should be used to help others.

Before an argument can be made as to the moral permissibility of embryonic stem cell research we must firstly define and understand exactly what it is. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the potential to develop into different cells in the human body (Campbell 2003:409). By taking stem cells and coaxing them scientists have been able to create further cells, tissues and organs of different kinds to repair and replace cells that have been destroyed or damaged.

Some examples of the benefits of stem cell research are providing insulin-producing pancreatic cells to diabetics or certain kinds of brain cells to people with Parkinson's disease or Huntington's disease could conceivably cure these diseases. There are a significant number of children and adults who are in need of an organ transplant such as liver, kidney and heart, but the large demand for organs are insufficient. Producing new organs from stem cells would increase the availability of organs for people needing an organ transplant.

The stem cells used currently for research are derived from embryos. Stem cells derived from embryos have the ability to develop into theoretically any cell in the human body. Adult stem cells can also be extracted from the brains of cadavers, placenta, umbilical cords, bone marrow and skin. Unfortunately research to date indicates that stem cells from these alternative sources are very limited in potential, grow slower and are less robust compared to cells extracted from embryos (Robinson 2002: 17). Another point to be made is that stem cell harvesting will not continue forever. Because the embryonic stem cells are immortal the cells can reproduce indefinitely (Campbell 2003:409).

Pro-life supporters consider embryos persons because they possess a soul, have a unique DNA and have the potential to be a human being. Pro-life supporters generally believe that human personhood begins at conception. Thus a just-fertilised ovum is considered a human being, with a soul, a right to life, and all other legal rights of any other citizen (Robinson 2002: 2). Their belief is largely founded on their theological belief in the existence of a soul and the fact that a unique human DNA is created at ...
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