The Pros and Cons of Stem Cell Research

The focus of the stem cell debate is whether the research destroys life, or could save it. Embryonic stem cells are harvested from developing embryos when there are about 140 cells in a hollowed balled structure called the blastocyst. In order to get to the stem cells, the outer layers of the blastocyst are peeled away, the inner cells are cultured (grown on a dish), and the embryonic stem cells are identified and grown to a pure stock. So traditional methods of obtaining embryonic stem cells ultimately require the destruction of an embryo.

Destroying embryos argument against?

Is the destruction of an embryo a loss of life? If you believe that life begins at conception, then yes, this is the loss of a life. But if you truly believe this, then one must consider the multitude of unused embryos that are lost everyday from in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics. When couples no longer need their excess embryos, they are destroyed (the embryos, not the couples). If people are adamant that the harvesting of embryonic stem cells for research is murder, then destruction of unused embryos from IVF practices must also be viewed as murder. The only way that I can think of preventing this “murder” is to adopt the embryos and bring these snowflakes to term.

Inevitable loss of embryos argument for?

An argument that can be made in support of the research is that since excess embryos from IVF will be largely destroyed anyway, why can’t they be used for research that may benefit people suffering from life threatening or debilitating disorders?

Therapeutic cloning argument for?

The beauty of embryonic stem cells is that they can be “driven” to form any cell-type of the body. During development, the process of differentiation leads to all our tissues and organs and commits cells to their roles of muscle, skin, brain tissue, blood cells, and so on.

So imagine what could be done if a patient with spinal cord injury has access to their own batch of embryonic stem cells? To get a tailor-made batch, a human egg would need to have its DNA removed and replaced with the patient’s DNA. This newly created embryo can be grown in the lab to the blastocyst stage, where the embryonic stem cells are harvested. These may be used to regenerate the damaged tissues of a spinal cord injury. Having a patient use cells with their own DNA means that rejection of the cells by the body is greatly limited.

Reproductive cloning argument against?

Theoretically, the embryo created with a patient’s DNA could be implanted into a woman to develop into a baby, a clone of the patient. All sane scientists have condemned the practice of human reproductive cloning. But, the possibility makes people uneasy, where calls of “playing God” poll strongly for arguments against embryonic stem cell research.

The technique of repairing spinal cord injuries has not been demonstrated in humans, but it has been shown in animals. Yes, the benefits will be a long time coming, but that’s the story of medical science. Breakthroughs take time and money to be a part of society. There is little doubt that if scientists were allowed to conduct research then the therapeutic applications for humans would be immense.