Note: Because some of the information in this article may be outdated, it has been archived.
Throughout history, since the beginning of time, varying diseases and disorders have affected humans worldwide. Ever since then, it has been the goal of scientists and doctors alike to try and relieve mankind of any unnecessary pain and or suffering. For this reason, science and scientists need to search for the very best sources of therapies that have the potential to change people’s quality of life. When they are identified, regardless of their sources, researchers need to be able to use them to pursue the development of important therapies.
What are stem cells?
A human embryonic stem cell line derived at Stanford University is seen in this photo released by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, 2009.
Stem cells are incredibly valuable to science and this is because they have the capacity to develop into any type of cell in the body. And therefore, they have the potential to be used for almost anything, organ transplants, a cure for Parkinson’s and much more.
When a woman’s egg is fertilized, the egg (or zygote) is totipotent — it has the capacity to turn into any type of cell in the human body, including the placenta.
About four days after fertilization the cells begin to specialize and form a blastocyst, which is a hollow sphere of cells with an inner cell mass in the center.
The outer layer of cells becomes the placenta and other tissues necessary for the survival of the fetus.
The inner cell mass goes on to form the fetus and eventually the baby. It is these inner cells that are so incredible because they go on to form all the tissues in the human body.
If this inner cell mass was placed in a woman’s uterus, it would not develop into a fetus1 and because of this some people claim that this cannot be considered an embryo.
The controversy comes when the cells are harvested. Harvesting can be done by:
- obtaining cells from the embryos of terminated pregnancies
- getting them from embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics
The politics of stem cells
In 1993, President Clinton banned federally funded research on stem cells and now President Bush has promised that he’ll “not support research from aborted fetuses.”2 Many fear that a lack of federal funding will slow research.
The government’s position reflects the views by others who oppose stem cell research. For example:
- Religious groups and some politicians believe that it’s unethical to harvest these cells because they believe it destroys the embryo.
- One Kansas senator went as far as to say that it’s “Nazism,” saying it’s “illegal, immoral, and unnecessary.”3
- Some religious groups also believe that “you are getting in the way of God’s work.”3
These arguments are only the beginning. There are many more, some of which may cause you to think twice about the issue. It is because of this opposition that this fairly new, revolutionary research has been slowed to less than a crawl.
Alternative stem cells
If a reliable alternative source of stem cells could be found, the controversy over the ethics of fetal stem cell research could end. Recent studies have shown that it may be possible to use stem cells from other adults, or even your own, instead of embryos, thus eliminating the ethical concerns of some people.1 Unfortunately, finding specific multipotent1, or specialized, stem cells in adults has proven to be a challenge in the past. For example:
- Until recently it was believed that the adult nervous system did not contain any stem cells, but since then they have been located in rat and mouse nervous systems, bringing hope for additional sources of these cells.1
- It is also thought that we may someday be able to transplant them back into our own bodies as needed. However, if the disorder you are battling is a genetic disposition then this theory has a few flaws.
- Your stem cells will have the same genetic defect.
- Growing them in a lab will not change that, and they will be ineffective.
- They are found in limited quantities and have not yet been isolated for all cell and tissue types in the body.
- If someone needs a stem cell transplant right away, growing adult cells in a lab will take too long and another source will need to be used.
Thus, the question remains “From where should we get these stem cells?”
A case for the opposition
The organ market is an example against stem cell research used by many anti-abortionist groups.4 They maintain that:
Doctors change abortion procedures and harm living babies in order to obtain “perfect” cell samples. Not only are both these things illegal, but also it’s more painful and dangerous for the patient.
They also say that doctors encourage the sale of babies and baby body parts on the black market. Many sources claim that a single liver sells for between $125 and $150, a brain for between $150 and $999, and that you can buy a whole specimen, unprocessed for $70.
One woman, with the pseudonym Kelly, says that while working for a firm trafficking body parts, she witnessed doctors killing babies that came from late term abortions and were still alive.
Whether incidents like this actually take place or not, they are a sinister reminder of what money can entice people to do.
A case for fetal stem cells
The good that can come of fetal stem cells far outweighs the opposition’s arguments. Potentially, thousands, or even million of lives could be saved from such devastating diseases as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, paralysis, and more.
Parkinson’s is one example of successful stem cell therapy:
- Parkinson’s is a muscle degeneration disorder that affects over 1,000,000 people in the United States alone and each year over 60,000 more a diagnosed (one every nine minutes).5
- The disease works in the exact opposite way as Alzheimer’s does. Parkinson’s begins with tremors and stiffness, eventually leaving the patient unable to move, speak, or even swallow. It leaves a perfectly good mind trapped in a useless body, unable to move.
- In recent studies done on primates who were injected with a neurotoxin that causes severe nerve damage, all symptoms were reversed after fetal stem cells were transplanted into the animals.6
Stem cell research is one of the new frontiers and scientists should have the opportunity to fully explore it, without restrictions and limitations. Fetal stem cells are an incredible discovery and hopefully, someday in the near future, they will be used to save thousands of lives. There are no valid scientific arguments to say that they shouldn’t be used. Overall, there is no reason to eliminate fetal stem cell research.
Christopher Reeves, the actor confined to a wheelchair, asks, “Is it more unethical for a woman to donate unused embryos that will never become human beings, or to let them be tossed away as so much garbage when they could help save thousands of lives.” 3
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