Embryonic stem cells are non-differentiated cells derived from developing embryos (blastocyst stage). This means a stem cell can give rise to any type of cell, such as a muscle cell or nerve cell. They are also very long-lived and self-sustaining. These cells are of particular interest to scientists because they have incredible potential in treating conditions such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and juvenile diabetes just to name a few (Thomson, 1998). However, these cells are harvested from embryos developed by in vitro fertilization (egg and sperm are united outside the body in a laboratory). These embryos are donated for research by couples who have excess embryos after undergoing in vitro fertilization (National Institutes of Health, 2010). This poses an ethical dilemma regarding when life starts (Author, date). Do these potential human beings have the moral, ethical, legal, and religious rights?
There are many possible diseases that could be treated by using stem cells. For example, Parkinson’s disease, an extremely debilitating condition of the central nervous system, could potentially be cured using stem cells. It is second most prevalent central nervous system disorder, only second to Alzheimer’s disease. Parkinson’s disease affects approximately one in 500 people world-wide (UCB, 2013). But does the potential of reducing the suffering of over four million people justify the use of a developing embryo to treat them? Scientists see a developing embryo as a biologic resource that can be utilized to treat patients, the same as using different plants and animals to develop lifesaving pharmaceuticals. There are ethical issues however. When does life start? A developing embryo, even in a petri dish is the potential for a new human being. In the United States, this issue is particularly linked to the issue of abortion. Religious and moral beliefs affect an individual’s opinion on when life starts. Let us consider a hypothetical example. If your mother is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and there is the potential they could get treatment or even potentially a cure by using stem cells, would you support it? Continuing the example, let us say your mother cannot get stem cell treatment in the United States, but she could travel to a foreign country such as South Korea to get the treatment. Should the procedure be banned for Americans based on legal, ethical, moral, and religious grounds? This is a question of faith and tests our belief and values. Should we sacrifice our religious and moral beliefs to alleviate the suffering of your family? The answer is a personal one, based on your religion and ethics. Even if you do not believe it is the correct choice to utilize stem cells to alleviate the suffering of millions of people with the disease worldwide, it is also important to be tolerant of different viewpoints.
The use of embryonic stem cells is a very difficult dilemma. Do you stand by and watch your child suffer with juvenile diabetes or your mother with Parkinson’s disease, both which could be treated or cured by using stem cells, because of religious or moral grounds? We are confronted with many challenging decisions in our life and each one is unique. We cannot judge other people for their decision regarding the use of embryonic stem cells, even when we do not agree with them. We need to rely on the support of our family, community, and church to support us in making this decision. It is important to show respect and consider all viewpoints. Stem cell research is a powerful tool in treating the suffering of millions of people. Ultimately, however, it is up to the individual to decide what they personally believe. Legally, barring the use of stem cells is based on the consensus of the citizens of any country. The legalization of abortion in the United States made a precedent for the consensus of using stem cells for research and treatment. An individual still has the right to their own religious or moral beliefs as to whether to support or utilize stem cells if they are ever confronted with the dilemma either generally or personally.
National Institutes of Health. (2010). What are embryonic stem cells? General format. Retrieved from http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/pages/basics3.aspx
Thomson, J. A., Itskovitz-Eldor, J., Shapiro, S. S., Waknitz, M. A., Swiergiel, J. J., Marshall, V. S., & Jones, J. M. (1998, Nov. 6). Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Derived from Human Blastocysts. Print. Science, 282(1145), 1145-1147.
UCB. (2013). Parkinson’s Disease. General format. Retrieved from http://www.ucb.com/patients/conditions/cns/parkinsons