Would stem cell research be responsible for taking or saving a life?
Stem cell research; may be there hasn't been another topic, which has sparked more controversy for being so ethical. It has been debated about in the scientific community ever since it made to the spotlight for its claims for having the ability to revolutionise medicine. And YES, looking at the evidence and where the research is leading to, it certainly has the capacity to take suffering away from millions of people's lives. There will be permanent solutions for genetic diseases like Parkinson's and major killers in the western world such as heart disease.
So then why is it being accused of taking lives, instead of saving? This brings us right back to why stem cell research is ethical in the first place. The main reason for this controversy is due to the kind of stem cells that are being used in research. There are two main types of stem cells and namely they are adult' and embryonic' stem cells. Stem cells are significant for its ability to be differentiated into any type of cell in the body, giving it the name pluripotent'. Embryonic stem cells are preferred more than adult stem cells, as they are more flexible and have the ability to divide unlimitedly. But it is their source: living human embryos that are causing all the concern. The main reason behind the dispute about embryonic stem cells is how we define what they really are. Most embryonic stem cells come from either harvesting living embryos in the lab or from aborted/miscarriaged foetuses. Some say they are just normal cells and they should be used for medical research like other human cells. The others say that it is morally wrong to use embryonic stem cells, because even if they are just a ball of cells, it would have developed into a human being if given the opportunity.
So let's look at both sides before we decide on which we can support. Embryonic stem cells are a ball of cells that the zygote' (the cell that forms after the ovum has been fertilised by the sperm) divides into. Every cell in the body has got the same genome, but function' is what distinguishes between them. For a stem cell to become differentiated into a cell, they have specific genes in the chromosomes being switched on. So stem cells are very useful, as we can switch on the genes that we want and study them to find cures for numerous diseases. This would mean that we could see a dramatic improvement in many people's lives. This is not just the people who suffer from a specific disease itself, but also the people who care for their loved ones and go through an emotional rollercoaster ride with them. It would mean paralysed people can walk again and we might rarely find any one with genetic defects in the future. We would have our own special repair kits' as they are called, which can be used to generate healthy tissue and allow us to recover from injuries very quickly. There are examples where stem cells have been proved to work in people with spinal cord injuries, leukaemia and Parkinson's disease. It is certainly true that we are still at the primary stages of developing these cures, but the possibilities of stem cell research are endless. Scientists are slowly but steadily progressing towards those ultimate goals.
So someone might then argue, if so much good is going to come out of this kind of research, then why not go ahead with research? This is where it is very important to consider the other aspects of using embryonic stem cells. Looking at it in another perspective, an embryo is not just a ball of cells. After all we all started off as embryos, before we became full-fledged humans. If a crumb of bread is still bread, wouldn't a ball of human cells still be human? As most of the embryos are killed in the process it has even been referred as being equivalent to cannibalism. It is not just the moral issues that should be addressed in this matter, there are many religious issues concerning this. In fact most of the opposition has come from the religious community.
So then what can we actually believe in? Some say that it is certainly not worth it, as thousands of embryos have to be destroyed to study one disease and it is almost equivalent to killing thousands of human beings. But looking at all the benefits, it is also worth to go ahead with the research due to the overall good that will come out. So the only compromised solution that we can come up with is continuing with stem cell research, but using adult stem cells instead of embryonic. The only point that makes embryonic stem cells special is their potential of developing and dividing. In order to find a less controversial option, scientists have carried out experiments to develop stem cells from adult human cells. There have been recent developments, where stem cells have been produced from skin cells. These stem cells are equivalent to embryonic stem cells, because they have the same potential without all the controversy. In the future even more options will be available where we don't have to use embryonic stem cells for research. So after all, stem cell research can be responsible for saving lives, not taking them!