Embryonic stem cells are produced from embryos, human or other animal embryos
.most of such cells have developed from embryos that develop from eggs which have been
fertilized in vitro fertilization clinics. Such embryos have been donated for the purpose of
research with the informed consent of the donors, and they are certainly not developed from
eggs fertilised in a woman’s body. (Bethesda, 2015)
At the outset it has to be accepted that the embryonic stem cell research is a modern
day scientific marvel which can change the ways the various presently day incurable human
ailments, are treated in the future. Diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s,
premature aging, stunted growth may altogether be eliminated in the distant future.
Moral and Ethical issues of Stem cell Research
However, there are moral and ethical issues which have to be debated and whether
such research should continue and should there be commercial applications of the results.
While it is certain that such research would work towards alleviating human sufferings, the
condition is whether a human life or a potential human life in embryonic stage be destroyed
Let us discuss the moral status of an human embryo :
After the fertilization of the egg :
Here too there are two thoughts. Should human embryos be protected,
considering them as persons or should they be considered as potential persons.
Medically a fertilized embryo can definitely be given a legal human
tag after the 14th day of fertilization when it attaches itself to the uterine wall.
Any destruction of such an embryo should be given a criminal status. Further,
if an embryo before this stage is destroyed for medical science benefits,
there is a very valid point that a human life has been stopped from
developing for the purposes of medicine. I shall quote “Human embryos differ
development. A human embryo is a human being in the embryonic stage, just
as an infant or an adolescent is a human being in the infant or adolescent
stage” (Sandel, M J 2004)
Having moral status beginning with fertilization and advancing as the embryo
becomes more human like.
Here the main argument is that as an embryo matures, it beomes more
like a human being, developing senses, feelings and understanding gradually.
Essentially there are various stages of life and a minimum respect should be
accorded to every stage of life.
There may be some arguments that in case of natural pregnancy, most
of the fertilized ages are lost, and so some destruction in course of the stem
cell research should not worry us. Again , should high infant mortalitiy worry
or affect us and should some destructions in stem cell research be connected
we compare it to a situation that “a hunter will shoot an animal only when
there is a specific benefit to him”.
An embryo has no moral status and should be regarded as an organic material body
A fertilised egg or embryo potentially has all the cells of a human body before
pre-implantaion. In course of this research, we are not destroying it but only directing
it to become certain different cells which still retain their capability to multiply into
But we may counter argue that are we not interfering with the natural process
of the human cycle and taking the nature in a different and dangerous direction.
Different religious faiths have arguments in favour of or against such research
processes. Roman Catholic and the Protestant Churches are totally against such
activities. Less conservative Protestant Churches may agree to some research only
up to the 14th day post fertilisation. The Jewish religious traditions do not find it
acceptable. The Islamists offer some relaxation, but I find that they are not very
competent or knowledgable on the issue. Buddhism and Hinduism are against such
practices and research.
Contributions to biotechnology and medicine
The current and the potential contributions of the stem cell research is infinite at the
moment. So many treatments are not possible or are so costly, that a sizable portion of the
world’s population in the developed world are deprived of appropriate treatment. The
condition in the underdeveloped and developing countries can be well imagined. Such
research is trying to find and develop ethical methods to develop new organs, stop cancer
cells from developing or to arrest the growth, develop new nerve systems in the brain to treat
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The research process can be used to test the new drugs
and their toxicity by applying the research on the artificial organs developed. Thus this
technology also contributes to the new drug related research.
Another new potential importance of this is the research into the development of the
nerve tissues. Such tissues can be made in vitro labs, and help to research and develop new
drugs and also to investigate past failures of various drugs. We can just imagine the potential
and the economic benefits !! If new researches are conducted with the availability of
artificially developed tissues, a lot of past knowledge can be brought into the current stream.
So many alternative treatments, reduced costs etc. can benefit the whole mankind. This may
take some time, but in due course a whole lot of past researches will be brought into the result
The recent changes in the legislation and enhancement of budgets in the stem cell
research means that more pharma companies will have the confidence of initiating, entering
and conduct of the stem cell research (Welch, 2010). As quoted by Welch "This should
accelerate the development of safer, more effective treatments for diseases such as cancer,
diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s”
While the future and the benefits are painted in rosy colours there are certain
challenges too. But as we have advanced only partially, such challenges are yet to be
visualised. We have to definitely evolve a safety net regarding the stem cell driven products
into the treatment system. If any fallacy or error is allowed to occur, then such effects will not
only be felt in the coming future but also in the future generations. We can even expect
serious mutations and alteration of the gene structure, thus negating the whole effect of the
stem cell and create a dangerous future.
Promises of Stem Cell Research for the Future
As this subject is a very highly scientific, some matters have to be presented with the
views of some of reputed pioneers and authorities in this field. “Stem cells are our bodies
repair kits. They are pluripotent meaning that the can transform themselves into all types of
cells in our body ( Solomon, 2012).
Should the political and financial siege be lifted, as it is currently, we shall be able to
understand in the near future why we get sick and can easily develop appropriate drugs. Such
is the importance, enthusiasim and potential of the stem cell research, that we are already in
advanced stages of another study of Pluripotent stem cell (called iPS cells). This research will
help us, in the future, to understand why diseases develop in human beings.
Also let us consider the time and costs of developing a new drug !! Accoring to Susan
Solomon, the renowned researcher, “it is on the average 13 years, costs USD 4 billion and
has a 99 % failure rate”. Further it may be impossible to test a new drug on a representative
population, and and even if it is done there may be side-effects making the whole effort
There are some alternatives suggested by some other scientists. Susan Lim advocates
the transplant of the cells rather than the organs. Her work is significant for the East Asian
economies. Eva Vertes, a microbiologist interprets that cancer is a way the body fights back
the damaged stem cells in different parts of the body. Can we use cancer in the future as a
tool !! Juan Enriquez, thinks that with the changes coming, can the subsequent generation of
human beings be considered an altogether different species !!
Works cited :
Bethesda. National Institute of Health, USA. 06/17/2015. What are Embryonic Stem
Cells (online) ( accessed on 01/16/2016)
Human Embryonic Stem Cells Research and Ethics .03/03/2011.
www.eurostemcell.org (online) (accessed on 01/16/2016
Prinsloo, Earl, Rhodes University . Stem Cell Biotechnology – The Now and the
Future Science in Africa.
Frosberg, Erik & Hei, Derek . The Problems and Promises of Stem Cell Research. 05/14/2010.
Torgovnick May, Kate . Soloman, Susan. Talks on the Future of Stem Cell
Medicine. 09/13/2012. TED Global 2012.
Sandel, M J . Embryo Ethics: The Moral Logic of Stem-Cell Research. New
England Journal of Medicine. 2004. Page 351.