The functional and structural unit of any living organism is the cell. A stem cell is a type of cell found in most multi-cellular organisms. Their ability to renew themselves through different-tiating and mitotic cell division is their distinguishing characteristic. Cellular biologist Ernest Armstrong McCulloch and biophysicist James Edgar Till, both from Canada, are credited with initiating stem cell research. Stem cells can be divided into three categories – embryonic, adult, and induced pluripotent. Embryonic stem cells are “cultures of cells derived from the epiblast tissue of the inner cell mass (ICM) of a blastocyst or earlier morula stage embryos (Associated Press).” Consisting of 50 to 150 cells, these early stage embryos are four to five days old in humans. Through cell culture, stem cells can be “grown and transformed into specialized cells with characteristics consistent with cells of various tissues such as muscles or nerves (Tuch). ” With stem cells potential to regenerate tissue over a lifetime, such research has gained ground/popularity in the medical field because of its supposed benefits to regenerative medicine and therapeutic cloning. Researchers believe that stem cells could be useful in treating a vast array of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s, MS, Huntingtons, Parkinsons and more.
Controversy concerning embryonic stem cell research revolves around the destruction of the human embryo. Blastocyst or embryos are considered human life at conception argue pro-lifers. Destruction of what they consider life at this stage is immoral and unacceptable. Detrimental technologies devalue human life, ambiguously support abortion and are a slippery slope to reproductive cloning. On March 9, 2009, President Barack Obama, in a land mark executive order ending an 8 year ban on federal funding for such research, authorized US Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. “At this moment,” Obama stated “the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown and it should not be overstated. But scientists believe these tiny cells may have the potential to help us understand, and possibly cure, some of our most devastating diseases and conditions (Childs).”
With an economy in shambles due to rapacious greed and 1/6 of the U.S. population without health care, in addition to potentially encouraging abortions and human cloning, support of such research paid for with federal/public funding and no such restrictions on private funding, would be morally/ethically and financially unsound. “After nearly ten years of research, there are no approved treatments or human trials using embryonic stem cells (Thomson).” Who will benefit from such treatments- the general public or the wealthy few who can afford it? Is the government going to partner (e.g. the public) in the patent rights, or as usual will the private/corporate sector such as the Medical/Pharmaceutical Industry (e.g.Big Pharma, etc.) take control? Further this type of research emphasizes treatment and possible cure over prevention. Cure is better than treatment but prevention is by far better than cure. With the exception of spinal cord injuries and other relatively rare ailments, prevention of many of these more prevalent chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, possibly even Alzheimer’s lie in lifestyle changes – consuming a wholesome healthy diet including enough pure water, regular exercise, etc; and preventing public exposure to toxins and carcinogens (e.g. cigarette smoke, mercury, excess &/or artificial hormones, air-land-water & food pollution, radiation, etc).
President Obama stated he will “make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology (Childs). ” Shows promise, possibly, may have, remains unknown are words used to describe the potential of stem cell research. This casts a certain level of uncertainty/doubt concerning its validity and benefit. What is almost certain, however, is that this research will channel scarce public funds from where it should benefit the many [45 to 50 million without access to health care], to possibly benefit a wealthy few (e.g. Michael J Fox, the late Christopher Reeves) as the government is lobbied by Big Pharma – which is at the fore-front of biological/genetic research and holds most of its patent rights. Big Pharma is a $100 billion international business which can and should be willing to fund this research itself, if it is so promising. Public funding, however, would socialize its cost while privatizing/coporatizing its possible benefits. Haven’t we seen enough of this with the Wall Street ‘bankster’ bailouts?
Childs, Dan and Lisa Stark. “Obama Reverses Course, Lifts Stem Cell Ban – President Signs Executive Order Approving Federal Funds for Stem Cell Research.” March 9, 2009. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Politics/story?id=7023990&page=1
Thomson J, Itskovitz-Eldor J, Shapiro S, Waknitz M, Swiergiel J, Marshall V, Jones J (1998). “Embryonic stem cell lines derived from human blastocysts”. Science 282 (5391): 1145-7.
Tuch BE (2006). “Stem cells-a clinical update”. Australian Family Physician – 35 (9): 719-21. PMID 16969445.
“New Stem-Cell Procedure Doesn’t Harm Embryos, Company Claims.” Associated Press. Thursday, August 24, 2006. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,210078,00.html