Ethical Issues in Healthcare and Research Ethical Issues in Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Ethical Issues in Research: Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

As everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, there is certainly much controversy sparked over human embryonic stem cell research and has promoted a series of ethical and un-ethical concerns. Medical breakthroughs, treatment of illnesses, and cures for the incurable are for the benefit of all. However, where should the line be drawn when research raises the question of ethics?

Stem Cell Research

According The National Institutes of Health (2009) website, in the 1950s researchers discovered bone marrow contained two types of stem cells. (1) hematopoietic stem cells, which forms the blood cell types and (2) bone marrow stromal stem cells, which forms bone, fat, cartilage, and cells that support formation of blood and tissue.

Stems Cells are cells that have the ability to divide for indefinite periods and contribute to the repair of cells such as tissues and organs; also, they can serve in the creation of other specialized cells such as muscle cells and red blood cells. There are two types of human stem cells (1) Embryonic stem cells, which derive from embryos and (2) somatic or adult stem cells, which derive from adults (The National Institutes of Health, 2009). In 1981, scientist discovered ways to obtain embryonic stem cells from mouse embryos. In 1998, scientist discovered a way to obtain stem cells from human embryos and grow the cells in laboratories, called human embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells, grown in laboratories are called ‘cell cultures’ and adult stem cells are called ‘culture mediums’ and are isolated by transferring the inner cell masses into laboratory cell dishes. Stem cell research offers scientist insight on how organisms develop from a single cell and how healthy cells replace damaged cells (The National Institutes of Health, 2009). Although Human Embryonic Stem Cell research presents to offer potential benefits to patients, medical research, and society, some are against the practice of studying Human Embryonic Stem Cell research because it involves destroying human life. For the sake of research, medical science, and potential gain, many are willing to turn their heads and acknowledge to the fact, an Embryo, is an entity of human life, and are willing to go against the moral principle that should respect the boundaries of life. An Embryo, is defined as a baby that is in the early stages of growth and development, and has a right to life. An Embryo is not a thing, an opportunity, or tool to be used at the convenience of society or medical science.


According to Johnson and Williams (2008), “There is consensus throughout a wide array of viewpoints about ESR that embryos should only be obtained for research with the consent of their biological donors. This consent requirement necessitates that embryos be taken only with donors’ knowledge, understanding, and uncoerced agreement.” (Consent of Donors, para. 16).   The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the medical and behavioral research representative for the Nation. The organizational purpose is to obtain knowledge about the nature and behavior of living beings and apply that knowledge to extending the quality of life for those who are affected by illness, disease, and disability (The National Institutes of Health, 2009).

According to The National Institutes of Health (2009) website, donor guidelines have been updated to reflect appropriated information as a result of President Barack H. Obama’s issuance of Executive Order 13505, on March 9, 2009, which removes Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells (The National Institutes of Health, 2009). These complex guidelines ensure the donor informed consent process includes statements that define the nature, behavior, and expectations for transaction. For example, some guidelines statements indicate: (1) monetary inducement for the donation of embryos is prohibited. (2) Consent must specify whether identifiable donor information will be retained. (3) Stem cell research will be used to derive human stem cells and may include human transplant research. (4) Stem cells will be used to create or contribute to a human embryo. (5) Stem cells derived from human embryos are created for research purposes. (6) Stem cell research is not intended to provide direct medical benefit to donors. (7) The stem cell derivation process will not transfer donated embryos to a woman’s uterus and will not survive the derivation process. (8) Stem cell research may include commercialized activity and donors will not receive any benefits from such activities or development (The National Institutes of Health, 2009).

Guidelines enforce ethical responsibility, adherence to policy and procedures that protect the interest and welfare of its donors and scientists. Without such guidelines, the organization of stem cell research could become a sector of abuse, misuse, and capitalism as many other sectors of the healthcare system have already become. In addition, the enforcement of such guidelines help to ensure research is conducted in an ethically responsible manner and operations are in accordance with the law.

Benefits, patients, medical professionals, and society

Human Embryonic Stem Cell research is believed to offer researchers the opportunity understand more about the human anatomy in order to develop potential medications that will cure many of the diseases that plague thousands, and hold victim to suffering. Stem cell research offers opportunities that may lead to treatment or cures for ailments such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and diseases or injury of the nervous system (The National Institutes of Health, 2009).

Therapeutic Research

Is intended to create embryonic clones of a patient for the harvesting of stem cells, then once the extraction of stem cells is completed, the clone is destroyed. The purpose for this process is to avoid the potential obstacles that have previously occurred, such as embryonic stem cells not being compatible and rejected immunologically. The process of creating and destroying clones for the purpose of stem cell extraction, has been termed, therapeutic cloning (The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, n.d). The conflict arises when society begin crossing the lines that define the boundaries that distinguish humanity.

Research Outcomes

Researchers have been successful in using non-embryonic stem cells to improve diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune, immunodeficiency, stroke, cancer, anemia, corneal damage, blood and liver disease, heart attack, and diabetes; therapies derived from adult or umbilical cord stem cells (The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, n.d).

Use of embryonic stem cell research has not been as successful due to obstacles, which include the formation of tumors, unstable gene formation, and inability to form the intended types of tissues (The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, n.d).

According to The New York Times (2007) website, Oregon Scientist, obtained stem cells from the skin of an adult monkey, and successfully cloned monkey embryos that looked like the adult monkey. Stem cells extracted from the clone, were grown into heart cells and nerve cells, and may be usable to replace damaged cells. Scientists believe this method may also work for humans. The continued focus in moving forward is to study diseases in monkeys that are similar or closely resemble the diseases in humans and develop potential treatments (The New York Times, 2007).

Role of Institutional Compliance and Ethics Committees

To ensure institutional compliance, stem cell research institutions are using committees such as (ESCRO) Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight to provide appropriate monitoring of the science. The ESCRO committee, established in 2005, formed in response to the recommendations included in the National Academies of Science Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research (The National Academies Press, 2005).

ESCRO committees are responsible for upholding and maintaining areas such as (1) oversight of issues related to the use of human embryonic stem cell lines. (2) The development of guidelines and procedures, (3) scientific and ethical review of research protocols, (4) maintain registries, reports, and documentation as it relate stem cell research, (5) to monitor, educate, and communicate ethical laws, policies, and procedures to scientist and make recommendations to modify as needed. Organizations such as ESCRO act also as a median between the research organizations and the law. ESCRO is also like a type of accountability partner. It serves in the best interest of science, research, and society as a whole (The National Academies Press, 2005).   

Responsibilities of Management

Medical management responsibilities include maintaining and upholding ethical standards, commitments, and guidelines as it relates to stem cell research, medical practice, and the business of science. However, his or her role is not limited to only the management of stem cell research and science. Management is also responsible for managing areas such as ethical codes, compliance, policy and procedures, guidelines, regulations and laws that govern the industry and business.

Managerial Approach

Although some people view human embryonic stem cell research as medically necessary for the breakthrough of sickness and disease. We as a society have to ask, are these practices morally unacceptable? Are they violating religious beliefs such as creation of life, reproduction, spirituality, and eminence of death? Can we confirm scientists are able to accomplish such studies without the destruction of life?

As everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, the controversy remains undeniable, the study of Human Embryonic Stem Cell research presents, as ethically sound and socially responsible for the consideration and well-being of society as a whole, yet remains as a morally wrong and unacceptable practice in the opinions of many.  


Johnson, J. A. & Williams, E. D. (2008). CRS Report for Congress. 
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The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity. (n.d). An Overview of Stem Cell Research.  
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The National Academies Press. (2005). National Academies Guidelines for Research on Human Embryonic Stem Cells. 
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The National Institutes of Health. (2009). Stem Cell Basics.
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The New York Times. (2007). A Stem Cell Achievement . 
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