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The field of science and technology is ever-changing and continuously evolving. New discoveries and inventions are being devised by the minute. Old discoveries are revised, edited, deleted and updated. Scientists are working all across the world to improve the lives of people by experimenting with different drugs, medicines and technologies, as well as, using organic materials. Their particular focus over the past 50 years has been on stem cell technology.
The concept of stem cells dates back to the early 1900s. However, detailed experimentation and examination of stem cells started in the United States in 1963; when stem cell technology was first applied in bone marrow transplants between siblings. However, stem cell research remains one of the most controversial and poorly understood topics, with various human rights and religious groups questioning its legal and ethical implications. This paper caters both the scientific and religious views and offers a common solution.
The scientific community examines stem cell research on two different levels; the Human Embryonic Stem Cells (HESCs) and the Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (IPSCs). The former are obtained from zygotes and used extensively for the process of in-vitro fertilization while the latter are genetically engineered dermal fibroblasts that behave similar to HESCs. Both stem cell types can cure multiple diseases. Examples include the discovery of Human Enteric Neuronal cells for Hirshsprung’s Disease. .
The use of stem cells has raised concerns amongst the conservatives, who consider the use of HESC as a tool to destruct lives. The Fundamentalist Christian community is of the opinion that embryos can transform into a living, adult human being and, therefore, deserves all the basic human rights. They consider the use of HESCs to be morally apprehensible. It must be noted, however, that there are different religions offering different interpretations of what is life and when does it commence. There are no globally accepted religious standards that can be applied in determining the ethics of stem cell research. Buddhism allows stem cell research. Islam states that embryos have complete moral status after 120 days in the womb while Judaism provides the same status after birth of the child. .
Since stem cell research is primarily funded by the Federal Government in the USA, Americans feel uncomfortable that their tax money is invested in “unethical” activities. Similar objections are observed in other federally-funded initiatives, such as Planned Parenthood. Hence, the conservative groups oppose stem cell research. .
Given that the objections raised by the opponents are valid, they are not demonstrably representative of what stem cell research is all about. The Fundamentalist community considers extraction of HESCs from blastocysts and the murder of human beings the same. To be more specific, a blastocyst can only develop into a human being if it is implanted in the uterus. The blastocysts used in stem cell research are not designed to be implanted; it is impossible for them to fully develop into people. Even if it were to be implanted, many zygotes made through in vitro fertilization have certain genetic defects, rendering them impossible cause pregnancy. This clearly proves that the use of HESCs does not equate to murder. .
The opponents also argue that IPSCs should be used for stem cell research, instead of HESCs. While this is a good idea in theory, it has practical limitations. In order to determine whether IPSCs and HESCs have identical behavior and can serve as substitutes, actual HESCs would have to be used for comparison with IPSCs. Since scientists do not have enough evidence about human development and because IPSCs have not been fully tested on human beings; the use of IPSCs as a substitute for stem cell research remains impractical, for now. .
There are political factors involved as well. President George W. Bush made federal funding for HESCs research illegal. Federal funding was legalized again during President Obama’s tenure, causing a six year gap in research. Due to such time delays, it is difficult to fully research and understands stem cells and address issues raised by opponents.
Burns, Alan J and Nikhil Thapar. "Neural stem cell therapies for enteric nervous system disorders," 10 December 2013. Nature Reviews.
This paper discusses the treatment of Hirshsprung's Disease by stem cell research and provides specific cases.
Daley, Russell T and Shirley J Wright. "The Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Finding Common Ground." The Institute for Applied & Professional Ethics (2009): 4-5. Report.
This article discusses the impact of using embryonic cells in stem cell research and addresses the ethical issues raised by human and religious right groups.
Knowles, Lori P. Religion and Stem Cell Research. 2009.
This report explains the validity and applicability of stem cell research as permissible under different faiths. It focuses on Catholic and Protestant Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.
Nazworth, Napp. "Analysis: In Defense of Planned Parenthood, Conservatives Should Avoid Inconsistent 'Fungible Funds' Argument." The Christian Post 12 March 2014.
This paper talks about the criticisms faced by family planning initiative in USA.
Sinnecker, Daniel, et al. "Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell–Derived Cardiomyocytes." 2013. Circulation Research.
This report discusses the feasibility of IPSCs in stem cell research and treatment.
Snyder, Evan Y, Lawrence M Hinman and Michael W. Kalichman. "Can science resolve the ethical impasse in stem cell research?" 2006. Nature Biotechnology.
This paper provides a solution to the controversy surrounding stem cell research by providing solutions that are acceptable to the scientific community, the conservatives and the middle people.