Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) hold an enormous amount of potential to unlock many mysteries of the human body, as well as treat or prevent illnesses. Yet, despite the potential benefits of studying this issue, there is strong opposition to it. The primary argument against hESC research is that it is unethical. Many people think that life starts at conception; therefore, interfering with and destroying an embryo equates to murder. However, the destruction of some unformed organisms for the good of humanity outweighs the moral issues related to hESC research.
Scientific Significance of hESC Research
The research into embryonic stem cells began in the early 1980s. In 1981, scientists learned to obtain early embryos from mice, studying of which led to the possibility of extracting early embryos from humans seven years later (National Institutes of Health [NIH] 2). Embryonic cells provide an incomparable amount of information on early development. Biologists have vehemently studied these cells to try to understand how a single cell multiplies into trillions of cells with a vast variety of functions (NIH 2). Thanks to hESC research, huge advancements have been made within the medical community to cure and treat diseases, as well as prevent miscarriages, and improve infertility. These studies allowed scholars to invent the process of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) (NIH 2). From then on, this procedure has helped many infertile couples to become parents. Scientists also use hESCs to test new drugs and identify the causes of congenital disorders (NIH 2). Thus, the exploration of this research area helps scholars to gain insight into the development of a human organism and discover various useful applications of stem cells for medical care.
Some people argue that little advancement in this field has been made. Given the excessive restrictions placed on hESC research, it has been difficult to make significant progress. According to Poulos, 77% of countries having specific legislation related to this kind of study either prohibit or restrict such explorations (2). Furthermore, because ethical issues arise around the use of hESCs, governments cannot provide enough funding for researching this question (Poulos 5). Consequently, the imposed restrictions and a lack of financial support hinder medical advancements concerning stem cells.
The Use of Embryonic Stem Cells for Treatment
Despite numerous impediments, scientists succeeded in using stem cells for treating several diseases. The first stem cell therapy was a bone marrow transplant used to treat leukemia (Genetic Science Learning Center [GSLC]). Perhaps, most people know someone who has been affected by this commonly diagnosed cancer. This disease is usually treated with chemotherapy, but when it fails to destruct all abnormal cells, bone marrow transplants are used (GSLC). Since hESC research has helped patients to overcome leukemia, scientists are working on applying stem cells to curing other types of cancer (GSLC). If researchers obtain a chance of conducting their studies freely, they are likely to find the cure for a large number of oncologic patients.
Cancer is not the only illness that has the potential for being treated with stem cells. Thanks to hESC research, physicians have managed to partially repair spinal cord injuries by restoring limited feeling and movement, which are characteristic of such traumas (Cyranoski 429). Great strides have been made in understanding fertility and miscarriages, as well as treating diabetes and Parkinson’s disease (Cyranoski 429). The ability of stem cells to multiply and differentiate has led to researchers’ efforts to grow organs from stem cells (NIH 15). If they succeed, it will be a significant advancement since it will solve the problem with a lack of donated organs (NIH 14). Thus, the use of unnecessary embryos in research could help scientists to cure diseases that cannot be treated by already existing methods.
Even though embryos might be the key to solving various medical problems, the issue with stem cell research boils down to a moral and ethical dilemma. It is difficult to find a way out of this predicament because it is impossible to prove unambiguously whether an embryo can be considered a person from the moment of conception (Poulos 4). If the initial set of cells formed right after fertilization is regarded as a human, then one will be certain that destroying an embryo is murder. If it is assumed that an embryo becomes a person at a later point, for example, when the central nervous system is created or when the heartbeat begins, then one will see no harm in experimenting with early embryos.
Although the ethical dilemma seems to be unresolvable, there is an argument in favor of not regarding an early embryo as an individual. Generally, hESCs are derived from 3-5 day old embryos that turned out to be unnecessary after IFV, and the parents gave their consent to use them for research purposes (NIH 2). If these unwanted embryos are not utilized for a scientific benefit, they will either remain frozen or be destroyed one day. It is unreasonable to say that these organisms will once become humans in the future because they are unlikely to develop outside of a womb in a frozen state. Therefore, people should agree that utilizing unwanted embryos for scientific purposes is much better for humanity than wasting such a precious resource.
To conclude, destroying embryos for research is justified since the benefits of studying them outweigh moral conflicts. The ability of hESCs to differentiate into various types of cells provides an opportunity of using them for treating many severe diseases. Even if embryos are considered individuals since conception, it is more beneficial to utilize unwanted specimens for research rather than keeping them frozen or destroying them.
Cyranoski, David. “How Human Embryonic Stem Cells Sparked a Revolution.” Nature, vol. 555, no. 7697, 2018, pp. 428-430.
Genetic Science Learning Center. “Stem Cells in Use.” Learn.Genetics, Web.
National Institutes of Health. Stem Cells Basics. 2015, Web.
Poulos, Jordan. “The Limited Application of Stem Cells in Medicine: A Review.” Stem Cell Research & Therapy, vol. 9, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1-11.