Healing the Future
In a diverse nation like the United States there are many ideologies, philosophies, cultural “norms,” and belief systems, it is not really surprising that people are not always going to agree. There are many legal, political, and social issues that raise ethical questions that the public cannot agree upon how best to approach and address the debated issues. One of the most heatedly debated issues that exist today is the concerns surrounding stem cell research. Stem cell research has the potential to change the field of medicine and how people are healed. However, all of that potential is paled, for many, due to the most commonly associated means of acquiring stem cells, the tissue of aborted fetuses. Women having the procedure can volunteer and donate these tissues to science (Susman 2012). However, there has been a lot of misinformation about stem cells that has pervaded the public and tainted that public opinion. Despite arguments to the contrary, stem cell research could end the threat of certain diseases, eliminate the need for invasive surgeries, and limit drugs and drug side-effects in many medical instances. Supporting stem cell research is the best means to innovate healthcare for generations to come.
Imagine being diagnosed with a disease and your only salvation is a risky heart transplant. Even if you are fortunate enough to receive the transplant there are still continuing risks. There is always the possibility of infection and rejection. If one has cancer there is always the possibility that the treatments will not work. What if a small child was in a tragic accident that rendered him quadriplegic with little hope regaining any meaningful movement and the only hope is a lifelong confinement to a chair? Would you want to see them aided if it was possible? Most Americans would answer yes. Well, stem cell research has the potential to offer exactly that in all of these possible cases. Stem cells have the potential to restore, rebuild, and heal a patient from a number of illness, diseases, and injuries.
What exactly is a stem-cell? The simplest definition is that stem cells are, essentially, “blank” cells. While the majority of cells in the body are coded for a certain purpose or to be part of a certain organ to body structures, stem cells have no prewritten blueprints as to what it should do in the body. The stem cells can be placed in different locations throughout the body and the stem cells will become whatever cell environment they are introduced to (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). Once stem cells are introduced they can effectively heal damaged tissues, rebuild diseased organs, and restore a person to good health. However, while stem cells have all of these great potential applications it is their implications that raise a number of ethical questions. These ethical question have stagnated much of the research into the field.
Stem cells are presently legally banned from any meaningful research. The two sides of the argument continue to stand their ground. Those in opposition to stem cell research are bothered by the sourcing of stem cells and the implications that would come with it. The richest source of stem cells has been found in the developing tissues in aborted fetuses. This raises “red flags” among Pro-Life organizations all over the country and across the globe. However, supporters of stem cell research argue that stem cells and aborted fetuses have been inappropriately intertwined, which has lead to a great deal of misinformation and misleading data circulating among the public. There is a need for the reeducating of the public and changes in policies are needed concerning stem cell research and their medicinal applications (Nisbet, 2005). Once the public is aware of the truths concerning stem cell research, then they will see that the most unethical thing that society could do is deny Americans the benefits of stem cell research and subsequent therapies.
There are a number of myths concerning stem cells that need to be addressed in order for public reluctance toward stem cell research to change. Most of these ethical conundrums center on the issues and ethical implication of stem cells and aborted fetuses. First and foremost, embryonic stem cells are the only type and source that stem cells can be harvested from is a complete and total myth (Pacholczyk, 2009). Opponents to the research feel that by creating a “market” for stem cells, and then abortions will increase as well. Women who may have been undecided on whether or not to have an abortion, many opt for the abortion under the impression that at least the tissue will go to a good purpose when donated to the medical community. They also fear the conception of embryos just for the purpose of aborting the tissue for the sake of research. There are, also, concerns raised about the “personhood” of the embryos, after all Pro-Life supporters believe that life begins at the moment of conception (Wood, 2005). These are myths and are neither is part of the plan or potential practice of stem cell research. There have been no studies to confirm the relationship, after stem cell research is prohibited in general in most places, but because no researchers intend to offer a profit, then the statistics of abortions realistically should not change. Secondly, no one wants to develop embryos, simply, for the purpose of destroying them (Friedrich, 2000). In fact, researchers would much rather discover other means and sources of stem cells, which would then make embryonic tissues an unnecessary option.
The stem cell black market is, also, not a realistic concern. While researchers have optioned fetal tissue as means of studying stem cells, no sicknesses or illnesses have ever been cured from embryonic sourced stem cells. However, adult stem cells have been used and have provided positive data (Pacholczyk, 2009). The truth is, is that each and every one of us carries our own cache of stem cells, which linger in bone marrow and often in the blood cells throughout the body. That said once the full potentials of stem cells treatments are known it will be plausible for individuals to harvest their own stem cells in case they need them throughout their own lifetime (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). This negates the ethical and moral concerns associated with abortion and stem cells. The two need not be synonymous.
There are others, members of medical communities, as well as, the general public that have helped perpetuate and the fears related to stem cells research and the truths concerning hat research. If stem cells have so much potential, one may ask, then why would the medical community be opposed to its study and application? The answer to that question is money. Medicine is a business, like any other industry. Specialists in fields, like infectious disease, chronic illnesses like cancer have a great deal to lose if stem cell therapies become commonplace. No longer would society be dependent upon invasive procedures, risky transplants, expensive rehabilitations, and excessive pharmaceutical solutions any longer. Stem cells make it possible for individuals to have access to a means to naturally use their own body’s stem cells to facilitate their own good health (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). This would completely undermine the “monopoly” on life and death that medical industries currently have.
Another oppositional aspect, of relevance, regards the ethical implications of the intentions of the scientific community and applications of stem cells research can be used to allow cloning of human “parts,” or worse, actual people. While this fear may sound more like science fiction, it is a commonly perpetuated fear. However, the primary research involving stem cells has absolutely nothing to do with cloning (Pacholczyk, 2009). Stem cell research is considered for its therapeutic and healing potential. The assumption that stem cells and human cloning are synonymous is the same “scare tactics” being used by “naysayers” when they associate stem cells and abortion.
The final oppositional argument commonly argued has to do with moral and social implications of innovating healing to the point where disease and injury are no longer a concern for mankind. The fear centers on the premise that when people do not fear disease and injury, they will be reckless and have less regard for their own mortality and that of others. They fear that life will mean less when it is so easily salvaged and saved. However, this raises ethical red flags for the others side of the argument. These are individual people, American citizens, carry within their own body the means to heal themselves and yet legal roadblocks prevent those individuals from accessing those life-saving cells. This could be perceived as a violation of these patients’ rights to their own bodies (Nisbet, 2005). Does the government or society have the right to prevent Americans from removing something that is “of their body” and transplanting it someplace else in the same body? Supporters feel that the answer to that question is no, they do not have that right. Supporters of the stem cells research argue that to deny therapies that can cure illness and ease suffering when such means are possible is far more unethical and immoral than any research that stem cell research supporters could ever conduct.
The philosophy of much of the opposition also argues that if stem cells, even those that already live within each of us, were intended to heal all injuries and save lives from disease, then why do the stem cells not already do that naturally? If stem cells are supposed to be an active part of our immune system, then why do they remain essentially dormant? This is a valid question, however, if we are going to argue that only our own natural defenses can be used to save our lives, then all of medicine as a whole must be brought into question. We give blood transfusions, exchange organs, and implant synthetic parts, like pacemakers; these things all interfere in the natural course of things, and prevent death. Why should stem cells be any different? Stem cells may be able to provide therapies that are less invasive, have zero likelihood of rejection, and an elimination of the need for synthetic or prosthetic interventions.
In reality the bulk of what the public understands about stem cells has been created and perpetuated by the media, anti-abortion groups, and opposition in the medical community, and ‘fear oriented” science fiction. All of whom have an interest in seeing stem cells remain on the periphery of medical science. Whether for political, religious, cultural, or economic reasons these oppositional arguments have been misinforming the public about stem cells for a long time (Ho, Brossard & Scheufele, 2008). It is imperative that Americans are provided with accurate information from reliable and less biased sources that create a clearer picture of the stem cell research, its implications, and potentials.
There are lot of “what ifs” being argued in the debate of stem cell research, with little fact being shared between the scientific community and the general public. The opposition to stem cell research in the medical community vehemently denies the potentials of the research and even accuses supporting scientists of falsifying data and “padding” their research results (Wood, 2005). However, the only way to prove once and for all the research’s validity and possible applications is with unbiased and in-depth research conducted. In order for that to happen the bans must be lifted and science must be allowed to delve into stem cell research in order to determine its value and to honestly educate the public on those results. As mentioned, no one, wants to see stem cells research misused or abused in any inhumane ways, but preventing misuse should not be solved by denying its positive, potential applications.
People, throughout the ages, have often dreamt of an idealized world, where diseases and sickness were, essentially, a thing of the past. Disease, pain, infection, and suffering have been a huge part of the human paradigm. We have made many technological and scientific strides in healthcare and lifesaving endeavors, but stem cells offer the most innovative and meaningful means by which such an idealized disease free society could be realized. Again, while opposition fuels debate with scare tactics, questions of ethics, and associations with even more controversial issues, like abortion and cloning, the reality is quite different. Stem cells can be found in each and every one of us, adult stem cells can and have offered successful therapies for a number of conditions, and could revolutionize medicine that will have positive ramifications for society, as a whole, and for generations to come.
Friedrich, C. (2000). Debating pros and cons of stem cell research. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 284(6), 681-682.
Ho, S. S., Brossard, D., & Scheufele, D. A. (2008). Effects of value predispositions, mass media use, and knowledge on public attitudes toward embryonic stem cell research. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 20(2), 172-192.
Nisbet, M. C. (2005). The competition for world views: values, information, and public support for stem cell research. International of Public Opinion Research, 17(1), 90-112.
Pacholczyk, T. (2009). The ten great myths in the debate over stem cell research. The National Catholic Bioethics Center, 1-2.
Susman, C. (2012). Stem cell use remains tough topic science must be weighed against different beliefs. Palm Beach Daily News, 1-2.
Wood, A. (2005). Ethics and embryonic stem cell research. Stem Cell Reviews, 317-324.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Stem Cell (Bone Marrow) Transplant. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1-3. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dba/documents/508-dba-stem-cell-transplant-fact-sheet.pdf