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.
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.
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.
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?