Life or Death?: Stem Cell Debate between the Patient and the Embryo

“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them…” – Psalm 111:2
Scientific discoveries continue to amaze the world and improve the lives of those living in it. Scientists have found a way to take a cell from an organism and develop it into many different kind of cells in the body to promote organ reconstruction by the cell developing into a brain cell, red blood cell, or even a muscle cell. This remarkable discovery has spurred controversy because many people argue that stem cell research is immoral because it involves using embryonic stem cells, and the world has yet to come to a consensus on when life for a human being truly begins. Stem cells have the ability to change the medical world and save many lives that would have perished, but with many people rejecting the study of embryonic stem cells this commonly puts research at a halt. So all of this controversy brings about the question, do we save the life of one by possibly denying the life of another?

Much of the controversy for stem cells arises from ignorance on the subject. Many people assume that stem cell research includes taking fertilized eggs from a woman’s womb and developing the cell into a muscle or brain cell instead of its intended human body. But there are actually two types of stem cell: somatic stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Somatic stem cells are undifferentiated cells in the body that are found in the brain, bone marrow, peripheral blood, blood vessels, skeletal muscle, skin, teeth, heart, gut, liver, ovarian epithelium, and testis. These cells have the ability to “renew [themselves] and can differentiate to yield some or all of the major specialized cell types of the tissue or organ. The primary roles of adult stem cells in a living organism are to maintain and repair the tissue in which they are found” (What are Adult Stem Cells?). Embryonic stem cells, derived form embryos, can differentiate into all types of tissues and other cells. Embryonic cells are considered more useful since they are pluripotent and and have no differentiation restrictions like adult stem cells do. Since both stem cells have the ability to differentiate into new tissues, they both have value in the scientific and medical community and they provide a lot of opportunity for further gene research. Stem cells allow for research in discovering how genes can be transformed into cells that differentiate, they are to test on new pharmaceutical drugs, and they also. “offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat diseases including macular degeneration, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis,” as stated by the National Institutes of Health (Stem Cell Basics). Along with providing the medial community with more ways to research, stem cells also greatly impact the lives of those who receive reconstruction of organs and tissues through stem cells.

statsThe most studied and extensively used stem cell therapy is, “hematopoietic (or blood) stem cell transplantation, for example, bone marrow transplantation, to treat certain blood and immune system disorders or to rebuild the blood system after treatments for some kinds of cancer” (Nine Things to Know about Stem Cell Treatments). Even using just one type of stem cell can provide many people with treatment for multiple disorders, including cancer, one of the most diagnosed and deadly diseases in the country. By allowing stem cells to be researched further scientists and doctors can discover new ways to differentiate cells and create new tissues and organs for patients who need transplants for vital organs in the body. “More than 123,000 people in the United States are currently on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant,” (Facts and Myths). Besides over a hundred thousand people currently waiting for vital organs, “on average 21 people die every day from the lack of available organs for transplant,” (Facts and Myths). With more stem cell therapy in progress there would be less need for transplants since tissues could be rebuilt for a patient’s own cells. Less people would be forced onto a waiting list where the chances of receiving a viable transplant are dependent upon the death of another human. Stem cells give the medical world more control over the ability to save a patient’s life since the answer is present within the patient’s own cells or a close donor like a close relative. Few statistics on stem cells exist since the research on stem cells is so restricted.

With stem cell research comes the argument that embryonic stem cells, although extremely versatile, are unethical. To obtain embryonic stem cells, the early embryo has to be destroyed. People frequently argue that this denies the rights of the potential human being, therefore stem cell research is heavily debated. In order to still perform stem cell research, scientists present the argument that, “An early embryo that has not yet implanted into the uterus does not have the psychological, emotional or physical properties that we associate with being a person. It therefore does not have any interests to be protected and we can use it for the benefit of patients,” and that the chances of an embryo successfully transplanting to a women’s uterus is low, so, “something that could potentially become a person should not be treated as if it actually were a person,” (Embryonic stem cell research: an ethical dilemma). Another argument is that up until fourteen days after fertilization the embryo has no central nervous system, therefore no senses. If a person declared brain dead can donate organs, then an embryo with no central nervous system should also. Another cause for embryonic stem cells comes from unsuccessful pregnancies and aborted embryos that can be put to better use through stem cell research instead of just disposal.Stem_Cell_Research

Although stem cell research and therapy brings large debate in culture, its ability and potential to improve many lives cannot be ignored. Those who argue against stem cells may believe that the rights are stripped away from an unborn human, but by denying the use and research of stem cells comes the price of many more already living humans. Preventing those patients in need from receiving stem cell transplants or preventing scientists from discovering new life-saving pharmaceutical drugs would result in more deaths than one stem cell embryo has the potential to save.

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