Tiny Cells, Giant Hope


A few days ago, my biology professor distributed an article regarding embryonic stem cell research for us to discuss about bioethics. For those of you who might not know what stem cell is, stem cells are what we begin with: primordial cells that can divide and differentiate into more than 200 types of adult human cells.

Stem cells with growing nuclei (credit: guardian.co.uk)

The controversy of the embryonic stem cell research reminds me of the lawsuit that had been brought to Obama’s funding of embryonic stem cell research in 2011. According to Fox News, research funded by the National Institutes of Health was accused of violating the law that bans payments for projects that harm an embryo using tax revenue. However, as the defendants intelligently interpreted the research they are conducting is not “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed,” the lawsuit was likely to fail.

In the case, many researchers and political leaders like President Obama support stem cell research because stem cells can be used to cure debilitating diseases. Since stem cells are precursor cells that can be differentiated in to a broad array of cells or even organs, they can be used to cure fatal diseases, such as brian damage, Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia, diabetes and heart disease. Proponents also emphasize that the stem cells used in research come mostly from the embryos and aborted fetuses discarded by clinics. They would die anyways if not used in research.

On the other hand, some people condemn stem cell research because the collection of stem cells in one of its branches – embryonic stem cell research – requires the destruction of the embryos or the aborted fetuses, which to them is no different to killing a human. Considering the immorality of embryonic stem cell research, opponents insist that the research should be suspended.

John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) (credit: http://www.utilitarian.net)

The controversy can be justified by utilitarianism, which “holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain , and the privation of pleasure.” By utilitarianism, it is ethically acceptable to destroy a few cells for the sake of billions of patients suffering from various fatal diseases as it promotes general happiness of the society. Comparing to the “more ethical” adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells do not cause as much immune-incompatibility in organ transplantations and they can be differentiated into more types of human tissues. Embryonic stem cells cure diseases without causing as many drawbacks as adult stem cells do. Therefore, conducting the research would promote general happiness and pleasure of human beings. However, John Stuart Mill would response to the controversy by raising the problem of “tyranny of the majority.” He would argue that even though stem cell research maximizes the overall benefits of the entire society, the voice of the minority should not be oppressed. Apart from considering the benefits of those suffering from incurable diseases, we should also be aware of the opinions of those who oppose stem cell research. No one would know whether the aborted fetuses or the embryos agree to donate themselves to the research or not.

Statistics of the poll (credit: U.S.NEWS)

According to the latest embryonic stem cell research poll published by U.S.News, most Americans (72%) support the use of embryonic stem cells for research. Only a minority (12%) of people opposes the use of embryonic stem cells.

Despite the fact that many of us are backing embryonic stem cell research, the issue remains controversial. So, what do you think? Do you approve or disapprove of conducting medical research using embryonic stem cells? Do you support or oppose using federal funding for the research? Do you think we should sacrifice a few embryos to cure millions of patients just like the proponents of utilitarianism would?

, , ,

Subscribe

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

12 Comments on “Tiny Cells, Giant Hope”

  1. ianbaker2041 Says:

    Since I’m in favor of abortion and am socially liberal in general, it makes sense from a political perspective that I would support stem cell research. More importantly, however, are the implications for people with debilitating diseases.

    Adult stem cells are good. They can be made into various types of cells and have shown some promise towards curing certain diseases. The problem is that embryonic stem cells have absolutely no degree of specialization and can thus be crafted into basically any type of cell, including the hard to repair nerve cells that, when damaged, can cause paralysis. The potential to take people out of wheelchairs and enhance the lives of those suffering from deadly diseases makes embryonic stem cells just too good to pass up.

    As you mention, however, some oppose this on moral grounds, to which I think you reply very well. These embryos are going to die anyways; why not use them for something good? I equate it to organ donation. If I die tomorrow in a freak car accident, I want someone else to be able to live. I’m going to die anyways; to not help someone else out would be somewhat selfish. The same goes for embryos, which are not being killed simply for the purposes of science but rather are serving a useful purpose (research) out of a sad situation (abortion). How is there anything immoral about creating good out of something tragic?

    To even propose that embryos should be able to choose is sort of silly. They’re embryos; it’s not like they can talk and just tell us what they want. As long as they are in the womb, I see them as a part of the mother and thus are subject to the will of the mother. If the mother wants an abortion and opts for the baby to go towards research, I don’t think that anyone should have the right to call that decision into question. Once the baby is born, I agree. At that point, it would be unfair to simply kill the baby for research, but as long as the baby is going to die anyways and is a part of the mother, it is the mother’s choice, both legally and morally. Even if we accept that this is the killing of a human, I don’t see that it matters because this human is going to die anyways at the hands of an abortion clinic. I reiterate the point: why not create something good out of a horrible situation? See the silver lining on the could, people.

  2. clinthng Says:

    I don’t think anyone doubts the potential of stem cell research. The promises that it holds in furthering the field of medicine is something that everyone can agree upon. The problem is the moral justification of stem-cell research. No matter how you look at it, a life was given so we can conduct these experiments and come up with possible treatments. That being said, stem-cell research will never be truly justified.

    For the most part, I am pro-life because I believe life starts at conception. Most, if not all people alive today would say they are glad that they weren’t aborted as an embryo. However, you didn’t have a chance to say that when you were at that stage in your life, and because of that it’s not at all silly. We’re all glad to be alive, it’s safe to assume that the embryo wants to be alive as well.

    I know personally, I’ll never be able to accept the idea without guilt. I know that abortions will still occur, legal or not, and I can agree with the above poster; why not make the best out of a bad situation?

  3. adamstillman2011 Says:

    I agree that this can be considered an issue of Utilitarianism. I believe finding cures to these diseases benefits the greater good in society. Many Americans are diagnosed with Diabetes including people in my family, and if there is a way to cure it then by all means I think that it should be done. In my opinion the people against stem cell research for religious reasons need to take a step back and look at the possibilities of this technology and the number of people that could be benefitted or even saved because of this technology. Finding ways to save lives is always in the best interest of the greater good. These diseases kill many people every year and if we can cure them we should.

    I am definitely a supporter of Stem Cell research; however, I am not from a religious background that objects to the use of stem cell research so I admit my argument is a bit biased, but from a Utilitarianism stand point I believe that this research benefits many people and saves lives so it should be implemented

  4. adamstillman2011 Says:

    I agree that this can be considered an issue of Utilitarianism. I believe finding cures to these diseases benefits the greater good in society. Many Americans are diagnosed with Diabetes including people in my family, and if there is a way to cure it then by all means I think that it should be done. In my opinion the people against stem cell research for religious reasons need to take a step back and look at the possibilities of this technology and the number of people that could be benefitted or even saved because of this technology. Finding ways to save lives is always in the best interest of the greater good. These diseases kill many people every year and if we can cure them we should.

    I am definitely a supporter of Stem Cell research; however, I am not from a religious background that objects to the use of stem cell research so I admit my argument is a bit biased, but from a Utilitarianism stand point I believe that this research benefits many people and saves lives so it should be implemented.

  5. springsteen1 Says:

    This is a widely-debated topic, which of course ties to many other sociopolitical issues. The problem / issue I have with this is that some people’s views are geared / hinged by religion, something which mine are not, but which I cannot argue against – that is their right. Similarly, many people hinge various beliefs on ethical, moral culturral, or other backgrounding factors – most of mine are independent of each other – something I pride myself on- but I do not fault those that do.

    As I have mentioned, I work, have worked, and continue to work for two campaigns (whenever I get the political staffer / campaign bug / itch to work) at he same time — two different parties. While I generally am opinionated enough to work for one / to choose one candidate, to support / back, this proves that I’d prefer to be fully educated on a given issue / topic / candidate / etc. than support one whole-heartedly when I may or may not know the issue.

    Tie back to embryonic stem cell research – I see the point that people do not want these used. I cannot, however, justify those who morally, ethically, religiously, or culturally support or do not support this research. In my opinion, ESC research is fine. It is particularly, if not specifically / especially fine if it is benefiting a specific purpose. In other words like the abortion / rape issue, under certain circumstances, if something can save a life, go for it. Keep it away from me, unless I can help, but save the people.

    Power to the people.

  6. goldman13 Says:

    According to some people, stem cell use/research is immoral. The only thing immoral is having the intelligence and ability to save the lives of thousands of diseased patients and not doing anything with it. Moreover, the materials that are used to create embryonic cells (as the author states) come from useless matter that is about to be discarded anyway. Using medical waste to save lives, incredible. The fact that there are any opponents to this advancement blows my mind.

    The author applies John Stuart Mill’s idea of tyranny of the majority to this issue. Sure, we shouldn’t suppress their views (no matter how ludicrous). But this doesn’t mean we have to follow them. 12% of the population opposes embryonic stem cell research. For this small minority, they need not be forced to do anything regarding this branch of science. If they oppose it, they should stay away from it. Don’t contribute to hospitals or research institutions that support it, don’t use it to benefit themselves/their families. But they shouldn’t destroy the opportunity to save lives for the rest of us.

    Also, for the opponents of stem cell research, I’m curious as to what they would say if them or their children were diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc. If embryos were the best method of treatment, i wonder how against it they would be then.

  7. djavolio8 Says:

    This post, as well as the comments that have been left thus far, offer some legitimate arguments and valuable perspectives. Being that I identify myself as Pro-life, and also as one that supports stem cell research I believe I can offer a unique perspective.

    First, allow me to clarify how I am both Pro-life and Pro-stem cell research. I personally believe under no circumstances should abortion be committed. A commenter preceding me made an excellent point in that just about everyone is happy to be alive. Who is to say that these fetuses would not share our opinion? I believe life begins at conception, and I am a big supporter of the “It’s not a choice, it’s a child” belief. However, despite my opinions, there will undoubtedly always be abortions performed around the world. Therefore, I agree with the poster in saying why not find the silver lining in this never-to-be-resolved dilemma. I have a grandmother with Alzheimer’s and an uncle with Parkinson’s disease, and I would like nothing more than to see them restored to a healthy physical state. If abortions are indeed going to be committed, then we might as well use the stem cells to preserve the lives of those already living.

    This all being said, I find myself time and time again being disappointed by many of my fellow Americans. I am, of course, referring to the pie chart at the end of the post. 72% of Americans support stem cell research yet, according to the NY Times, only 38% of registered license holders are organ donors. Furthermore, 50% of people believe that doctors will not try as hard to save their lives if one is indeed an organ donor, and 44% of people believe their organs will wind up on a black market. How can 72% of Americans be willing to rob a potential human from having a wonderful life, yet not be willing to part with their organs after they die. In response to the other beliefs, many people in need of organ transplants do not have the greatest chances of survival so the thought that a doctor would purposely allow a patient to die, so that another person can have a chance is an absurd statement. Additionally, organs have a short life span after one dies, how can 44% of people honestly believe that a doctor is going to remove one’s organs, call up the local drug cartel, and organize a place for the organs on the black market. If you are pro-choice and/or pro-stem cell research then there is absolutely no excuse not to be an organ donor.

    In response to your final two questions, I definitely do not support the idea that stem cell research be federally funded. I know many many pro-life people and they are not pro-stem cell research simply because it is a direct result of abortion. These beliefs and viewpoints should not be ignored. Why would someone who holds the above beliefs want their tax money to fund such projects. This is an absolute insult to pro-life and anti-stem cell research supporters. As I have stated throughout this comment, I support the sacrifice of few to benefit the many but your final question is extremely biased. “…sacrifice a few embryos to cure millions of patients.” I’d be very interested to find factual support stating that 3-4 fetuses can cure the ailments of 3-4 million people.

    On a final note of clarification, I noticed that the first comment makes the argument that until a child is physically born, the mother has the choice and right to have an abortion. This, however, is simply not true. The only area of compliance that Republicans, Democrats, Pro-life, and Pro-choice supporters have been able to agree on, is that once a mother has entered into her third trimester, she has by law forfeited her rights to have an abortion. Life inside the womb has simply progressed too far at this point for anyone to make a viable argument that the fetus is not “alive.” This was signed into law by president Obama’s administration.

  8. dcmiller93 Says:

    There are a few claims in your post that I, as a pro-life conservative, take issue with. First of all, you write, “On the other hand, some people condemn stem cell research because the collection of stem cells in one of its branches – embryonic stem cell research – requires the destruction of the embryos or the aborted fetuses, which to them is no different to killing a human.” Most people would probably breeze right through and accept this sentence without giving it much thought, but I take major issue with it. What you’re doing here, whether intentional or not, is implying that those opposed to embryonic stem cell research are against stem cell research of any kind. This is simply not true. I applaud and encourage any kind of stem cell research that doesn’t include ending human life and I don’t know of any other pro-life group that feels differently. This is an important distinction, especially when you realize that adult stem cell research is the only endeavor that has actually yielded any kind of cure.

    This leads me to my next issue, with your statement, “Embryonic stem cells cure diseases without causing as many drawbacks as adult stem cells do.” I would love to see what references you have for this statement, but from what I can see it’s a complete fabrication. Again, I will give you the benefit of the doubt on this, but a quick web search of mine of “embryonic stem cell cures” yielded no results outside of one preliminary trial. Here’s one interesting source I found, from 2007:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5376892

  9. Connor Baharozian Says:

    Scientists tend to agree that the potential of embryonic stem cells is much greater than the potential of adult stem cells in terms of providing cures to certain diseases. The problem with adult stem cells is that, even though they are stem cells, can only become certain types of cells in the human body. Adult stem cells have limited ability to divide as compared to embryonic stem cells. Therefore, though it is often much more controversial, I believe that embryonic stem cell research must be allowed. We have all lost people close to us from one disease or another. Embryonic stem cells offer potential ways to slow or stop these diseases.

    I believe that the perfect option for conducting embryonic stem cell research was touched on by the poster. Why not use stem cells taken from aborted fetuses? These fetuses, without a choice, are sentenced to death. However, they can still be of use to society. We do not know what these fetuses would like us to do, but why not have them contribute to our world. I know it is hard to fathom the idea of ‘using’ something and then killing it, but I believe that this is better than just simply going through with an abortion.

  10. shmily4k Says:

    In response to dcmiller93’s comment, what I meant by the sentence “On the other hand, some people condemn stem cell research because the collection of stem cells in one of its branches – embryonic stem cell research – requires the destruction of the embryos or the aborted fetuses, which to them is no different to killing a human” is some people would oppose stem cell research because one of the types of cells used in the research is embryonic stem cells, which has to be destroyed prior for use. It does not necessarily imply that those people would oppose to any kind of stem cell research. What I mean is even though some people might think stem cell research is a good idea, as it helps with human medical progress. However, destroying an embryo is immoral to them, therefore they oppose the use of the embryonic stem cells in research. I’m sorry for causing any confusion because of the way I structured my sentences.

    Besides, you claimed that you have failed to find any medical cure performed by the embryonic stem cells. However, according to an article by Robyn S. Shapiro, the director of the Center for the Study of Bioethics at the Medical College of Wisconsin, fortunately, “embryonic stem cell research holds out great promise to those suffering from Type I diabetes. . . .Use of embryonic stem cells that are instructed to differentiate into pancreatic islet cells has the potential to overcome the shortage of effective material to transplant” (1). Therefore, particular illnesses like diabetes can be cured even without waiting for the suitable organ to be transplanted. In addition, the article “The Gift of a Cure: Donating Your Newborn’s Umbilical Cord Might Someday Save a Life” published by U.S. News & World Report revealed a real-life example on how embryonic stem cells could cure people who are desperately in need of organ transplantation without doing the operation. As mentioned in this article, the 6-year-old girl who could not find a matching bone marrow for transplantation recovered from leukemia by stem cell therapy using a donated umbilical cord (2). As a matter of fact, stem cell research has confirmed that embryonic stem cells can now be used to treat permanent brain damage. For example, they can make nerve cells that are responsible for synthesizing a chemical named dopamine, which is essential in treating Parkinson’s disease, as well as the cells which can produce neuro-transmitters to cure Alzheimer’s disease (1). Besides, they can also be used to treat Epidermolysis bullosa (EB), which is an agonizing disease: “It’s the worst skin disease that I know of” according to Dr. Alfred T. Lane, a pediatric dermatologist who was recruited to Stanford University Medical School 19 years ago to look for treatments for EB (Russell A29A). People suffering from this disease will end up with their fingers and toes curled and fused together and encounter painful sores that are comparable to third-degree burns. However, with the progress of stem cell research, new healthy skin can be formed to cure this disease through the formation of collagen gene by stem cell engineering.

    (1)http://www.drinkerbiddle.com/files/Publication/7af9909b-1479-4581-b02d-21f3a10eeb5d/Presentation/PublicationAttachment/b2b7fbb1-2b8d-461e-9238-234bf0143483/HCBioethics&theStemCellResearchDebate.pdf
    (2) http://health.usnews.com/usnews/health/articles/070513/21cord.htm
    (3) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/health/14sfblister.html?pagewanted=all

  11. hannahlevitt Says:

    I support both embryonic stem cell research and federal funding to do so. As mentioned in the above article, the embryos used in this research are mostly from aborted fetuses discarded by clinics. It’s not as if those conducting the research are killing humans in order to do so; this claim by those who oppose stem cell research seems like abortion opposition taking slightly different form. If the research is done on embryos from aborted fetuses discarded by clinics, those fetuses have already been aborted, which makes the underlying issue of stem cell research abortion. In my opinion, there is no reason to create two issues out of this. If one is going to oppose abortion then fine, by all means, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However, granted abortion is legal in this country at the moment, these discarded fetuses will exist so those conducting stem cell research are not doing anything wrong by utilizing what is available to them.

    As a species, we are currently dealing with countless diseases that don’t yet have a cure. I do not think that using available means to try and find cures for these diseases can be considered tyranny of the majority. In fact, the majority of humans do not have any one given disease, and therefore preventing research such as stem cell research can be considered tyranny of the majority.

    I agree that utilitarianism supports stem cell research because sacrificing a few unborn fetuses (that have already been aborted anyways so it’s not actually sacrificing anything) for the common good of humanity promotes happiness. The possibilities presented by stem cell research, such as finding cures for a multitude of diseases, outweigh the negative effects.

  12. briank726 Says:

    This embryonic stem cell research issue is so controversial because it has to do with the lives of humans. There are many pros and cons to the research, and I think that since it would benefit the world as a whole, it should be allowed. There doesn’t seem to be a feasible compromise for this controversy; embryonic stem cell research can only either be allowed or not. So what can we make of Mill’s potential view of raising the problem of “tyranny of the majority?” In many issues such as this one, where there is no possible perfect compromise, I think it makes sense to go by the majority. In my opinion, the minority who oppose the research are irrational in failing to see that the potential benefits would outweigh what their moral beliefs say. Embryonic stem cell research can lead the way to many medical breakthroughs that would aid everyone so it would make sense to conduct research on already dead fetuses to reach that point. However, I think that people, especially the mothers of the fetuses, should be given a choice of whether their fetuses can be used for research. Other than them, I think no one else should have a say in the matter.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 115 other followers

%d bloggers like this: