In the last few days, the controversy on whether embryonic stem cell research should be federally funded reached a defined stage. Such stage is represented through the federal court overturning an injunction that banned federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (MassDevice Staff, 2010). Whether this stage is final or not, is not yet known, but one thing is certain for sure, the controversy will continue, and the polarity in public opinion on this issue will remain in the society. On the one hand, arguments are presented that support the need for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. On the other hand, there is an opposing opinion that supports banning such researches. One of the aspects of controversy is related to the stage at which embryos are used. The types of cells used in researches are developed in a pre-implantation embryo, while the term embryo itself might refer to different stages of the fetus. In that regard, it can be stated that embryonic stem cell research is a controversial topic that divides the scientific community.
The medical benefits of embryonic stem cell research as well as the governance provided by federal funding are based on several facts. Taking a position supporting the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, all indisputable facts should be presented on such scientific progress. A simple definition of stem cells can be seen in viewing them as a building pool for different types of cells that form the human body. The definition of the National Academies states that stem cells produce specialized or differentiated cells, carrying specific body functions, e.g. “skin, blood, muscle and nerve cells” (The National Academies, 2010, para.1). Stem cell research can be defined as the process of studying stem cells, their types, their characteristics, and their use. Although embryo refers to many stages, from fertilization to the stages when it is called a fetus, the stem cells which can differentiate into all cell types of the body, called pluripotent, are contained in a pre-implantation embryo, and developed 5 days after of the fertilization (The National Academies, 2010).
However, it should be mentioned that stem cells are found at all stages of human development, not only embryonic. Weighing the limitations of each type of stem cells, embryonic stem cells proved to be the most promising. Such fact is related to that the embryonic stem cells can produce all types of body cells, unlike adults stem cells which are limited to “producing only certain types of specialized cells” (The National Academies, 2010). Such fact makes the comparison between using embryonic stem cells and adult stem cell certainly not in favor of the latter.
Therefore, the aforementioned overview gives an idea of the nature and the origin of the stem cells. Yet, it is not the origin of embryonic stem cells that serves as a support for the federally funding research. The scientific and medical benefits from embryonic stem cell research indicate the need for such researches to continue. In that regard, the present paper states that the government should continue funding embryonic stem cell research, considering such medical benefits as finding a cure for Parkinson, Alzheimer, and other diseases, as well as potential scientific benefits such study shall bring to society, when enough data is gathered under the supervision of the government.
Scientific and Medical Benefits
There are many scientific and medical benefits from stem cell researches. A part of such benefits is being utilized already, while others have the potential to be utilized in short and long terms. In that regard, scientists did not initiate stem cell researches just for the process of research. Due to the controversy of the subject and the ban that was set on federal funding of embryonic stem cell researches, most of the benefits of embryonic stem cell research are potential. One of the most prominent expectations is the potential of embryonic stem cell research in curing Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease, in particular, can be seen as a special case in the arguments for stem cell research. In Langston (2005) the author indicates that Parkinson disease cannot be cured totally, where the cause of the disease is a “progressive loss of cells in a small area known as the substantia nigra, which sits atop the brain stem” (Langston, 2005, p. 23). Repairing the brain was one of the dreams of the scientists, where embryonic stem cells research can be seen as one of the steps forward toward that direction (Langston, 2005). The benefits in perspective can be seen through the solution in finding organs for transplantation, removing the needs to wait in waiting lists. Accordingly, Parkinson is not the only disease that will benefit from embryonic stem cell research. In Tomkins and Thomson (2009), the authors argue that stem cell research might help in other medical cases, where those who “suffer from cardiovascular disease, auto immune diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and much more may be recovered” (Tompkins & Thomson, 2009). Thus, such medical benefits justify continuing with embryonic stem research.
There are benefits from the support that comes from the government in relation to stem cell research. The federal funding for stem cells in general and embryonic stem cells in particular is rationalized by the need for strict legal framework and guidelines that will govern such sensitive and controversial subject. The existent regulations in the field of embryonic stem cell research can be seen influenced by the fact that federal support was existent. For example, in order to fund or regulate research, certain states referred to the National Academies’ Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research. The existence of standards and regulations can be seen as an important factor in removing the myths and the guesswork on the way stem cell research might harm the society. In that regard, the involvement of the government in funding will give the research the necessary transparency which will make the findings of researches known to the public.
Government funding of stem cell research will be beneficial to the inventory of stem cell lines. The continuous federal support of the embryonic stem cell research will lead to increasing the national and international inventory of embryonic stem cell lines. The latter will lead to the accumulation of new data on the characteristics of stem cells, and thus, facilitate the utilization of the findings of such researches in practice.
There is a rationale for banning federal funding of stem cell research. The rationale for banning federal funding of embryonic stem cells research is not completely based on moral and ethical concerns. Accordingly, such rationale is not always composed of the allusions to a future in which earth is filled with human clones. Embryonic stem cell research should be banned due to the ethical nature of destroying human embryos, the dangerous medical consequences of using human cells, and the possibility of using adult stem cells instead.
The Status of an Embryo
One of the arguments against embryonic stem cell researches is related to the necessity of respecting the sanctity of life. The argument of deeming abortions illegal can be used here. There is no defined status for the human embryo and thus, it can be stated that there are many moral and ethical arguments that stand against supporting federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. One argument is that the embryo has a certain right to be born. The mere fact of ascribing human and ethical values to the embryo in the society is enough for the embryo to deserve respect. Such respect implies that the reasons and the justifications to destroy embryos should be significant an important (Corrigan, Liddell, McMillan, Stewart, & Wallace, 2006). Considering that most of the achievements of embryonic stem cell research are at the potential stage of investigation, there are no important and significant justifications created yet for destroying embryos, neither with, nor without federal funding. With federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the ethical issues related to the status of the embryo unlikely to be resolved.
The argument against stem cell research is in the medical consequences of such researches. As stated earlier, not only the moral factors are important in taking a stance against embryonic stem cell research. There are medical and scientific hindrances as well. One of such hindrances can be seen in that the usage of embryonic stem cell at the current stage provides unstable results, to say the least. One of the examples of instability can be seen in the rejection reaction that can be witnessed in the case of using embryonic stem therapeutics. In a research by Wu, Boyd and Wood (2007), the authors clarify the reason for such rejection where genetic differences between donor and recipient at polymorphic loci give rise to histocompatibility antigens, which in turn lead to immunological response (Wu, Boyd, & Wood, 2007, p. 4530). In order to manage the immunological rejection by the host of the transplanted cells, an option of diction of immunological tolerance can be considered. While being an option, it can be stated that the potential of such possibility is not promising, where such option involves taking medication that will moderate the effect of the rejection. The period for taking such medication can last for the whole life, or at least until a solution can be found for the immunological rejection. Specifying the side-effects of the rejections, it can be stated that sometimes they are not less severe than the initial medical problem, curing which embryonic stem cell researches were conducted. For example, it was found that the complications of transplantation, i.e. graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), might include infections, the most dangerous of which are “meningitis, pneumonia, cytomegalovirus, and hepatitis” (Nowlin, 2005). The aforementioned cases indicate the nature of the medical problems that might occur when implementing stem cells in medicine, where the findings of stem cell research might be dangerous to use.
Adult Stem Cells
The argument against using embryonic stem cells can be seen in the possibility of using adult stem cells instead. The applicability of adult stem cells as a substitute for embryonic stem cells in research was one of the leading arguments of George Bush’s administration prior to putting a ban on federal funding (The White House, 2001). The argument that adult stem cells are limited in the types of cells they can differentiate into is mostly weak. The weaknesses, in that regard, are related to that the results of embryonic stem cells researches are virtually lacking, holding mostly an unknown potential for the future. On the other hand, the results of adult stem cells research are initially present and utilized in clinical settings.
The latter can be acknowledged through comparing the results of the researches in both directions so far, i.e. adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. The field of researching adult stem cells has shown potential, and being thoroughly explored, there are many possibilities to utilize such materials for future investigation. In Fenno and Cowan (2008), the authors pointed out to that the characteristics of adult stems are not less important for the research, including “being long-lived and self-renewing and able to differentiate into multiple terminally differentiated cell lineages” (Fenno & Cowan, 2008). At the same time, they do not contain the same controversial concerns of the embryonic stem cells.
The controversy of embryonic stem cells is caused by the viewing the topic from different perspectives, without making considerations to the rationale of the other party. In that regard, such issues can be solved if the opposing party allowed stem cell research to prove or fail its promise. Such period will allow answering the claim of unproven medical benefits, establishing guidelines and monitoring the ethical aspects of researches, and comparing both directions of researches, i.e. embryonic and adult cells.
Medical Benefits and Bans
The lack of many medical benefits from embryonic stem cells research is caused by the ban on such research in the first place. In supporting the position for continuing federal funding of embryonic stem cell research several factors should be kept in mind. One of the factors is the fact that the medical benefits expected from the stem cell research could have been used as an argument, if not for the bans and restrictions. The aforementioned statement can be supported by the fact that in the case of Parkinson’s disease, transplantation as a treatment was at the stage of human trials already. Additionally, such stage was reached over 20 years ago. The cause of remaining at this stage without moving forward is largely linked to “a number of roadblocks since then, both political and scientific” (Langston, 2005, p. 23). It can be assumed that the ban put on embryonic stem cell research in 2001 contributed to the occurrence of the political “roadblocks” in question.
Federal Funding: Governance and Ethics
The lack of government funding is one of the reasons that hinder the development of a cure for Parkinson. The federal funding argument is one of the roadblocks that kept embryonic stem cell research at the stage of trials for Parkinson disease, mainly due to the lack of funding. Accordingly, it can be seen that regulations are largely attached to funding. In general, there is a complex relationship between federal and state policies, research capacities, and demands (McCormick, Owen-Smith, & Scott, 2009, p. 107). Thus, it can be stated that the involvement of the government in funding can be seen as an important factors in shaping favorable policies for research.
Focusing only at the ethical side of the problem does not facilitate its fast solution. Answering the ethical questions on the essence of the embryo, it can be stated that looking on the example of the legal state of abortions, such questions are not to be resolved any time soon. The involvement of the government as a funding source might be seen as a factor that will erase the ethical concern, according to Barack Obama’s statement, “We will never undertake this research lightly…. [w]e will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse” (Nasaw, 2009). Such statement indicates the intentions of the government to govern the ethical aspects of stem cells research.
Embryonic and Adult: Two Directions
The use of adult stem cells research as a substitute can be perceived as a totally different direction to pursue. Nevertheless, despite the limited possibilities of such cells, they are being utilized at the present time as well. Limiting the possibilities of research to adult stem cells only will hinder the scientific progress in curing specific diseases. As stated in Fenno and Cowan (2008), “An adult stem cell is multipotent and completely restricted to a specific tissue lineage, whereas an embryonic stem cell is pluripotent and able to differentiate into many different tissue lineages, including adult stem cells” (Fenno & Cowan, 2008). Accordingly, it cannot be stated that funding and continuing research in the field of embryonic stem cells implies limiting the possibility of using other sources of stem cells, e.g. induced pluripotent stem (IPS) (Hyun, Hochedlinger, Jaenisch, & Yamanaka, 2007). Similarly, it cannot be stated that “recent developments in IPS cell research (or, for that matter, any other so-called “alternative” source of pluripotent stem cells) avert the need for ongoing research on hES cells” (Hyun, et al., 2007, p. 367). Additionally, it should be stated that funding embryonic stem cells researches does not imply that no possibilities will be sought to eliminate any ethical concerns, either justified or not. Supporting the latter, Leshner and Thomson (2007) argue that there are developments in reprogramming “skin cells into multipurpose stem cells without harming embryos” (LESHNER & THOMSON, 2007). Thus, there are many possibilities to avoid some of the ethical concerns of embryonic stem cells, although the support for researches should continue to achieve such stage.
It can be concluded that funding embryonic stem cells research is a better option, and holds more potential for the future. There are many current and potential medical benefits of embryonic stem cell researches, for which government support is needed. Adult stem cells can used in researches as well, although as it was shown in the paper not as a substitute for embryonic stem cells. In that regard, the medical and scientific benefits indicated in the paper demonstrated that the government should continue funding embryonic stem cells. The arguments against using such researches are not sufficient to ban federal funding, caused by the absence of federal funding and government restrictions that were previously in effect.
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