The benefits to society by the introduction of new medical technologies have been considerable. For example, the introduction of vaccines and antibiotics has significantly improved the well-being of people all over the globe. The science of stem cell treatments, potentially as or more significant as these other innovations, is beginning a new stage of exploration and growth that could be the forerunner of unprecedented cures and therapies. The present enthusiasm over prospective stem cell produced remedies radiates from the new innovations of genetic biology. Though one cannot forecast the results from basic research, there is enough information available to suggest that a good deal of this enthusiasm is justified.
Definition of Stem Cells
Stem cells are basically building block cells of a human being which are capable of becoming 210 different types of tissue. Adult stem cells are found in minute numbers within most tissues, but the majority of stem cells can be obtained from the umbilical cord. A more precise term is “somatic stem cells” (Sullivan, 2004). There are numerous potential sources for stem cells. Embryonic stem cells originate from the inner cell of an early stage embryo. Embryonic germ cells can be collected from fetal tissue at a later stage of development. Adult stem cells can be obtained from mature tissues. The three main objectives given for pursuing stem cell research are obtaining vital scientific information about embryonic development; curing incapacitating ailments such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and testing new drugs instead of having to use animals Stem cell research is also expected to aid victims of stroke, spinal cord injuries, bone diseases and diabetes. The scientific techniques for obtaining stem cells could lead to unparalleled advances and even cures for these and other ailments. (Panno, 2006 p. 112)
Argument for use of aborted fetuses
Whatever moral or political position, the fact is, all these fetuses could have served advance scientific and medical knowledge in immeasurable ways. Those who believe they are taking the moral ground when it comes to the ‘unborn’ are perfectly willing to allow those who are breathing to suffer needlessly without hope of the possibility for quicker cure through the efforts of stem cell research. Abortion laws vary state by state but the vast majority allow for abortions to be performed at least through the second trimester, 24 weeks into the pregnancy. This limitation was derived from the neurological point of view, which conforms to our society’s distinctness for the death as the absence of a cerebral EEG (electroencephalogram) pattern. This same definition must therefore also define life as there are no alternatives to these two options. The presence of the EEG pattern of a fetus can be detected approximately 27 into weeks into the pregnancy. An embryo is referred to a fetus at about seven to eight weeks following fertilization. At about four to five weeks, embryonic germ cells, about 2 mm long, are developing (Morowitz & Trefil, 1992 p. 53, 54).
More than half of European countries and others around the world such as Japan allow for embryonic stem cell research in various degrees. Australia followed the UK in allowing the use of tissue from aborted fetuses, with the parents’ consent, for scientific experimentation. “Here in Australia we would be allowed to use it [aborted fetus for embryonic research]. There would be no impediment to that” (Robotham & Smith, 2002). According to Health-Day, a daily news service reporting on consumer health, Swiss physicians at the University of Lausanne discovered that a two and a half-inch piece of skin from a fetus, which was aborted at 14 weeks, provided several million grafts that were used to treat burn victims. The study also found that skin cells from an aborted fetus healed burns faster than standard grafts. Patrick Hohlfeld, the prime author of the study said “the use of fetal skin has tremendous potential because taking just one skin graft gives you the potential to treat thousands of people” (Strode, 2005).
The U.S. restricts the use of any new embryonic cells to be used. It has been suggested that only fetuses of stillbirths be used. However, the collecting of embryonic germ cells would be extremely challenging as there is only a small amount of time to collect these cells. There would also be problems using these cells for research as stillbirths might have resulted from a genetic irregularity. Embryonic germ cells can be derived from a five to eight week old fetus, four months prior to having an EEG pattern. (The distinction between embryo and fetus is the end of the 8th week) (Sullivan, 2004).
Because abortion is legal the ethical question is not in the status of the fetus as it has already been aborted, but rather the immorality of those who would stand in the way of scientific research that would greatly benefit all of humanity. Religion has historically attempted to keep information from the masses and to thwart scientific research. In this age of communication, science will prevail in at least in some parts of the world. (DeGette, 2008 p. 18). When stem cell research becomes widely accepted, the U.S. will eventually participate but will then be well behind the curve of technological and structural systems. This industry will pump money into many economies while the U.S. is catching up. Many people will be presented with the possibility of being treated for horrific diseases in other countries while the U.S. lags behind as its citizens continue to suffer. Religious zealots are again attempting to slow scientific advancement by advocating dogma over science and reason. Proponents of abortion rights and stem cell research recognize that if the moral status of embryos and fetuses is exclusively a religious matter, it should be kept in the private dominion of faith, not a matter of political debate. The moral majority is morally bankrupt on this issue.
Chapman, Audrey; Frankel, Mark S.; & Garfinkel, Michele S. Stem Cell Research and Applications: Monitoring the Frontiers of Biomedical Research. November American Association for the Advancement of Science and Institute for Civil Society. (1999). Web.
DeGette, Diana “Sex, Science, and Stem Cells: Inside the Right Wing Assault on Reason.” The Lyons Press (2008)
Morowitz, H. J. & Trefil, J. S. “The Facts of Life: Science and the Abortion Controversy.” New York: Oxford University Press. (1992).
Panno. Joseph, Ph.D. “Stem Cell Research: Medical Applications and Ethical Controversy” (The New Biology) Checkmark Books; 1st edition (2006)
Robotham, Julie & Smith, Deborah. “Abortions Set to Fuel Stem Cell Research.” The Sydney Morning Herald. (2002).
Strode, Tom. “Life Digest: New Stem Cell Research Encouraging but Problematic; Researchers Find New Use for Aborted Babies.” Baptist Press News. (2005.)
Sullivan, Patricia. “Frequently Asked Questions: Do Stem Cells Come From Aborted Fetuses?” International Society for Stem Cell Research. (2004.)