A Look into the Future of Medicine

December 4, 2011

Political Theory


Last Spring, an important ban was lifted on stem cell research. Government financing for stem cell research will restart with a victory from the Obama Administration. Stem Cell research has been a heavily debated topic not only through scientific mediums, but also politically. Should the government fund stem cell research? Or is it morally unacceptable to perform research that damages or destroys human embryos?

Let’s start with what stem cells really are. Stem cells are essentially, where we begin. Embryonic stem cells are unspecified, undifferentiated cells that have the potential to create other types of specific cells such as blood, brain, tissue, or muscle cells. Recent research suggests that there is possibility that these stem cells, upon injection into a patient’s diseased tissue, can regenerate and create new healthy tissue curing many degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease.

How we attain Stem Cells?

Although stem cells are found in all tissues of the human body, but are most potent in a fetus. These embryonic stem cells develop four days after a female egg is fertilized and can now be harvested. Stem cells are taken from donated human embryos, or those that are left over from fertility treatment such as abortions. In the process, these embryos are destroyed leading research opponents to link the research to abortion and murder.

The various cell types that a stem cell can differentiate into.

Should the government fund Stem Cell Research?

Yes.

Proponents of stem cell research argue that this research has the potential to treat and cure a variety of health issues. Among these issues are Alzheimer’s, birth defects, spinal cord injuries, and many cancers. Proponents have two main arguments:

  1. The potential benefits are so great that they outweigh the moral complications.
  2. Stem Cells are only taken from aborted fetuses, so why not use the fetuses for research that could benefit humanity?

No.

Opponents of stem cell research argue that the ethical issue of destroying potential life outweighs any possible benefits that could result. Opponents argue that there is too much uncertainty surrounding stem cell potential, and it would be irresponsible to further research until better methods are available. Also, they believe that a fertilized egg, no matter how far into development, is a life and compromising a life to potentially save another is unethical.

An issue of Dirty Hands?

Should government officials pass legislation funding stem cell research knowing the immoral consequences? Do you believe that the benefits of stem cell research outweigh the immorality?

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4 Comments on “A Look into the Future of Medicine”

  1. nluongo Says:

    If we assume as true the claim that life begins at conception and by using these stem cells we are compromising existing life, then it seems that this is a case of Dirty Hands. An immoral act is committed in order to benefit the rest of society in the form of new cures for numerous diseases.

    I think that this is a situation that we have not fully encountered before because of the placement of the victim in relation to society is different. In our first encounter with Dirty Hands, we analyzed the situation of slaughtering other tribes in order to protect a society that is removed from these tribes. In this situation, the immoral act is committed on people who are not a part of the society that benefits from the act. This is also true of our debate about torture. To protect America, we debated whether or not it was justifiable to commit these acts against foreigners who may want to harm us.

    With regard to stem cells, the potential victims of the act are a part of the society that the act would benefit. This means that we must weigh the costs and benefits to society as a whole. Before, when the victims were outside of our social contract, we did not worry ourselves with the magnitude of the atrocities we commit, because the end result is all that mattered. However, we must now make sure that the benefits gained from the act outweigh the harm done. However, even if we can guarantee this, we then find ourselves in a utilitarian society, in which anything can be done as long as society as a whole benefits.

    Because of this, I think that this is more complicated than a case of Dirty Hands because the victims of our act are also a part of the society that would benefit.

  2. mjgeis Says:

    The source for most of these embryos being used for stem cell research are in vitro fertilization clinics, clinics that allow couples to conceive many embryos outside the womb for future implantation. The embryos used in research are left over, unused, un-implanted–however you want to slice it, they aren’t getting used. The alternative to being used in research is to be discarded. There is absolutely nothing immoral about stem cell research; if you believe in life at conception, however, you should shudder at the thought of embryos being thrown away after it is known that they will not be used. Unless you believe that a human life being discarded is better than a human life being used to search for ways to save other lives, there is no possible way to justify discarding those embryos instead of having them used in research. There are no dirty hands here.

  3. ywjpeter Says:

    I feel as though stem cell research is a very touchy subject. For all the points you’ve brought up, and then some. Stem cell research is undoubtedly one of the few ways medicine advancing. A breakthrough in areas can truly be monumental, and may cure a lot of the diseases you’ve pointed out. I think though, stem cell research may have gone too far and if sacrificing fetus’ that can be born is the route in which stem cell research will gain victory it will not be worth it. I feel as though we can truly use stem cell research from just taking stem cells from existing bones, bone marrows, and tissues from already born humans and cure the diseases related to those areas of the body rather than trying to perform a miracle and lose many lives.

    The government will have dirty hands after this episode because of the fact that lives will be lost. They may not be named and be called “Peter” or “John” but in it a life form can be created. Government has a lot of questions to deal with this issue, and to say when is going too far, really too far will be always brought up. If you can kill babies then whats the next step for medicine to advance?

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