What if there was a way to cure previously in-curable diseases with the help of something in the very first stages of human life, but thousands upon thousands of lives had to be taken to perfect the use of this material? That is exactly what is happening with embryonic stem cells around the world. Pro-life activists, who originally organized to stop the abortions of unborn fetuses, were most angered with the process of actually destroying an embryo solely for research purposes. However, scientists, such as Dr. Andrew Yeager of the University of Pittsburgh, argue that embryonic stem cells are the future of medicine.
This is really where, I think, so much of biomedicine is going to be going in the twenty first century, states Yeager. Embryonic stem cells are a new and exciting medical advance that should be researched, but the biomedical technology of the future is not worth the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives now. Although the actual procedure of retrieving stem cells from embryos is highly complicated and scientific, the ideology is quite simple. The study of stem cells that were taken from human embryos has been around since the early nineties, but until the summer of 1998, a majority of the country had been none the wiser.
The countrys non-knowledge of this very promising medical technology may have been a blessing in disguise. With the story rapidly hitting newsstands and telecasts around the country, pro and anti-research rallies were the top headlines. Literally defined, embryonic stem cells are undifferentiated, or unspecified cells that are unlike any other adult cell(Stem Cells: A primer). They are unique because they are totipotent, or have the ability to form into almost any of the 220 cell types in the human body.
Embryonic stem cells are taken from the blastocyst, the name given to the stage of the embryo when it is four to six days old. The blastocyst consists of two cell masses; the first is an outer wall of cells that are already specified and will grow to become placental tissue and membrane. The inner mass, however, is a large group of unspecified stem cells that can be manipulated and eventually used for the treatment of diseases such as Parkinsons, Alzheimers, and Diabetes. Not only do stem cells show promise for cures to these diseases, but also they also offer hope for the sufferers and their families.
The method of taking stem cells from embryos has proved to be quite the controversy. There are other less controversial methods of obtaining stem cells, however none of those methods seem to retrieve stem cells with the same vitality and versatility as those taken from embryos (Reaves). Umbilical cord blood has proven to be effective in some cases. Keone Penn, a fifteen year old from Atlanta, Georgia, was cured of his sickle cell anemia by receiving a stem cell injection. Although stem cells from umbilical cord blood are high proportioned compared to are own bone marrow and circulating blood (Dr.
Andrew Yeager), they are still pluripotent, meaning that they can develop into many of the 220 cell types in the human body, but not all, therefore limiting their usefulness. Another and most obvious alternative would be to take stem cells from already grown adult stem cells. However, scientists around the world soon discovered that there were many setbacks to using adult cells. The first is that adult stem cells are already specified, meaning that if a biomedical technician were to take out a blood stem cell, it could only be used for the replacement of blood cells.
Embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, are not specified, or have not yet developed into a certain type of cell. The process is controversial because of the cloning that takes place in a culture. First, the nucleus from an unfertilized egg is extracted. The nucleus contains the chromosomes of the cell, and in this case, the chromosomes of the egg. An egg alone only contains half of the chromosomes necessary to grow into an embryo. After the nucleus from the egg has been successfully extracted, the nucleus from a somatic cell (cell that already has all of its chromosomes) is introduced into the egg.
The now fertilized egg is then placed into a culture to grow into an embryo. If the embryo survives in culture long enough, the stem cells are extracted for research. However, according to Jason Fowler, a third year student at the University of Minnesota Minneapolis Medical Department, a great majority of the embryos that are put into culture do not survive long enough for the stem cells to be extracted. This is where the debate gets really heated. Most pro-life activists believe that an embryo is the a human being, and as such, creating and killing an embryo solely for research purposes is the same as aborting an unborn fetus.
Some have suggested that the leftover embryos from in-vitro fertilization be used instead of creating new ones. Only one problem presents itself: those embryos from the in-vitro fertilization can only be used to create stem cell lines and not actual stem cells (Fowler). Many pro-life activists point out another method that has been used as an alternative to embryonic stem cells that does not seem to be any less immoral than the use of embryos. This alternative is the use of stem cells from aborted fetuses, however stem cells from the unborn babies are pluripotent.
Pro-life activists often use this argument to open peoples eyes to the reality and immoralities of the scientists research (Reaves). When telling anyone about the use of an unborn baby, they have the ability make a mental picture of that unborn baby: small, pale, and lifeless. However, when telling people about embryos, all they can picture, if anything, is a microscopic blob. The idea of a baby is more personal, and helps people realize the magnitude of this research. Most religious orthodoxy consider an embryo human life (, even though scientifically, it is just barely an embryo.
Considering an embryo as a baby is technically correct. As stated earlier, the outer wall of the blastocyst, or embryo, consists of stem cells that will grow to be placental tissue and membrane. The inner cell mass, however, will grow into everything needed to create a human body; tissues, (including neural, gut, and muscle) skin cells, blood and marrow cells, etc. The embryo is being destroyed and is robbed of any chance to become a fetus. The fact that the inner cell mass is extracted from the embryo, taking the essential part needed to grow to a fetus, is murder, plain and simple.
It is the same as taking someones liver or kidney without their consent. Many scientists and Pro- Research activists argue that it is for the better good of the human race. Then again, that was Hitlers excuse for killing eleven million people. As you may have guessed, embryonic stem cell research is not cheap. This past summer on August ninth, 2001, President George W. Bush gave the go-ahead for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. However, this federal funding and the prohibitions that go along with it do not affect the practices of private labs and clinics (Reaves).
One such clinic, Clo-tech, based in Massachusetts, has taken advantage of the exemption from the law. This private clinic has recently cloned an embryo for use in stem cell research. In a recent speech to the public by President Bush, he clearly stated that he does not condone the cloning of embryos for research purposes. When seriously considered, President Bush should feel responsible to carefully and closely monitor where federal funding of stem cell research is going and assure that all clinics and labs receiving funding are properly and currently licensed and are willing to follow the regulations of the funding.
Human life is a controversial topic, whether the topic is people fighting for their own rights now or people fighting for the future rights of those who have no voice now. Embryonic stem cells are an important part of science today, shedding new light on the dark secrets of the human body, but the research alone is not worth scientists playing God or thousands of innocent lives being lost.