Last week for our moral/social/ethical issue, we covered abortion and how it is undeniably wrong. Although it is not as much of a pressing issue as abortion, the stem cell debate, in particular the embryonic stem cell debate, is very relevant and important. The whole debate bills down to the value and worth of a human life. We face many of the same problems in this debate as the abortion one. When is the “cluster of cells” really human? Do those cells have rights? Is it morally acceptable to perform embryonic stem cell research? Are there alternative methods of research? All these questions will be addressed in this blog post for scientific conservatism.
What are stem cells?
In biology, the basic unit of life is the cell. In multicellular organisms, all the cells work together in astounding ways to aid its organism in survival. Cells constitute tissues, tissues make up organs, organs are parts in organ systems, and all organ systems working together constitute multicellular organisms. But stem cells are special. Unlike normal cells, such as heart or liver cells that perform specialized functions in the body, stem cells have overwhelming potential. They can change into any other cell type through a process called “differentiation”, which allows them to specialize into any normal, somatic cell, and they can also multiply into more stem cells. Although I will refrain from going into the specific genetics of stem cells, they are truly remarkable. But how can we use them to our benefit? Because of their potential, stem cells open up a myriad of doors for medical advances in curing thousands of diseases. But there are different types of stem cells.
Embryonic stem cells are acquired when scientists artificially fuse a human sperm with a human egg (from donors) in a petri dish. This raises many ethical concerns which will be dealt with later on in this post. However, these stem cells are extremely useful due to them being “pluripotent”. This means that they can differentiate into any cell type, whether it be neurons, heart or liver cells, or even insulin-producing beta pancreatic cells. They are harvested when the tiny human being is 3-5 days old and is an embryo in the “blastocyst” stage.
Adult, or somatic, stem cells are cells that are obtained from grown humans. These cells are undifferentiated, but they are “found in many organs and differentiated tissues with a limited capacity for both self renewal (in the laboratory) and differentiation. Such cells vary in their differentiation capacity, but it is usually limited to cell types in the organ of origin.” (National Institutes of Health) Thus, they have limited abilities and less potential for curing diseases; but they are far from useless.
Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs) are stem cells that were originally somatic stem cells, but were “reprogrammed” by scientists to be pluripotent, just like embryonic stem cells. They can differentiate into almost every single cell type without the destruction of a human embryo. Obviously, these present an effective alternative that doesn’t raise as many ethical concerns as embryonic stem cells, as they are acquired from adults.
Although I could present all the wonderful things that stem cells could do for science and medicine, such as curing diseases and aiding organ transplants, our goal here at the Liberty and Logic blog is to present information from a conservative and reasonable perspective. Below you will find the conservative perspective on stem cells that will be supported by logic and reasoning.
We are defined as human once a sperm and an egg unite to form an individual cell with a complete and unique human genome (genetic code, DNA). There is no other logical moment, because we do not just magically turn human once we reach a certain stage of life. We are a human being right from our very beginning. This is undeniable. But what if someone makes the claim that by using embryonic stem cells, they are just a “cluster of cells”? I’m a cluster of cells. You’re a cluster of cells. Barack Obama is a cluster of cells, and so is every other human or animal that has ever existed. That does not justify exterminating the cells for science. The point is that by using embryonic stem cells, scientists immorally harvest and kill human lives. In that sense, it is very identical to abortion; the embryo is denied the right to life. Despite its clear potential to help science, the value and worth of the embryo trumps research. You simply cannot kill a human life no matter what you plan to achieve. So yes, embryonic stem cell is the immoral extermination of human life and should therefore cease to exist. It is undeniably wrong. Our research should shift to utilizing somatic stem cells, but more importantly induced pluripotent stem cells. They provide almost all the benefits of embryonic stem cells without the moral concerns. They can differentiate readily and efficiently, and they are obtained from adults and then later reprogrammed. In the end, this debate brings science, politics, and ethics all into one, and each side of the debate should know of the costs and benefits of stem cells.
Author: Joe Schmid
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“Stem Cell Basics.” Stem Cell Information. National Institutes of Health, n.d. Web. 29 June 2016. <http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/pages/basics1.aspx>.
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