The main aim of this study is to explore the advantages and disadvantages of stem cell technology and ethical considerations. Stem cell technology is considered a breakthrough in the field of medical science. However, the use of stem cell technology has faced high criticism because of the use of embryos in their experiments. Both science and religion considers embryos as living human and therefore their destruction is tantamount to killing a living human being. Stem cell technology comes with a lot of benefits in the field of medicine but is also exposed to myriad challenges.
Research about stem cells has attracted a lot of attention in many societies globally since the debate over the use of nuclear weapons and power in the early 60s to 70s. Stem cells can be defined as a bunch of unspecialized cells which can divide and reproduce themselves to generate an assortment of additional specialized cells (Maitra et al. 2005). Medical scientists have been using stem cells to produce other specialized cells used to repair human tissues, treat diseases and reduce suffering (Kathy et al. 2005).
Stem cell research has raised many issues that go past the acceptability of the study using the Human embryo, even though the debates have purely concentrated on the present disagreements (Pecorin, 2009). Stem cell research has raised a lot of questions about the priorities in the medical research, intellectual property rights’ treatment, partly played by religion and scientific research institutions in the society, the tension between the state and private medical research institutions, the well being of the volunteers in the research project, revitalization of the eugenic improved genetic practices and ideas, and the effectiveness of the international and national bodies regulating the mushrooming field of biotechnology (Banin, 2006).
Stem cells from the adult s otherwise known as the adult stem cells can be acquired devoid of any ethical problem thus have greatly shown high hope in the field of medicine (Banin, 2006). On the other hand, embryonic stem cells which are obtained by destroying embryos within the first week have intrigued many scientists. Human rights activists term this as a purposeful killing of selfless human beings and therefore a highly immoral practice. But some scientists justify this act by arguing that the cells are used for the future advantage of the living (Correja et al.2005).
Religious leaders have condemned embryonic stem cell extraction as lack of respect for human life. They state that the extraction of stem cells from an embryo is seriously wrong since it directly attacks the life of an innocent human (Williams & Johnson, 2009). Some quarter argues that what is destroyed is not a human being or a person with elementary rights. Pro-lifers term embryonic stem cell extraction as utilitarian ethics which is catastrophic when used to authenticate the deadly experiment in fellow humans.
They also argue that the policies that support embryonic stem cells undermine respect to human life and can also jeopardize the life of the patient the stem cell tender helps when the issue of tissue incompatibility arises (Kathy et al. 2000). They support their argument using biological facts that human life begins at conception to old age, thus an embryo is a living human species just as any other person.
Embryonic stem cells have very unique capabilities and these are infinite reproduction and development into diverse types of cells, tissues, or organs as they fully develop. The latter process is described by biological scientists as pluripotency (Maitra et al. 2005). All together, stem cells extracted from an embryo can not develop by themselves into a mature organism. Their capacity to reproduce limitlessly while remaining undifferentiated means that they offer a prospective infinite source of cells or transplantation of organs, a model system for the discovery of drugs, and the study of the development of mankind (Pecorin, 2009).
Advantages of stem cells
There are three breakthroughs presented by the research in stem cells. The first one is the development of ground-breaking replacements or transplantations to treat heart diseases, diabetes among others. Stem cells have played an important role in the development of regenerative medicine which has profoundly enhanced the ability to prevent and treat diseases (Pecorin, 2009). Secondly, stem cell research has offered a profound understanding of the process of cell differentiation and development, thus helping in treating rigorous ailments such as cancer. Lastly, stem cell research has been used as surrogates in vetting and testing drugs (Maitra et al. 2001).
Stem cell research has aided researchers in following processes by which ailments and mutilations resulting from the genetic deformities exhibit themselves biochemically and structurally in the human cells and tissues (Kathy et al. 2005). The use of stem cells in producing great numbers of genetically homogeneous cultures of organ tissues for instance liver, heart, brain among others has allowed controlled assessment of the effects of the drugs or chemicals on these organ tissues (Correja et al. 2006).
On the other hand, stem cell research provides an opportunity for analyzing drugs against tissues of different genetic make up thus allowing for the development of tailor-made drugs for specific patients with particular genetic traits and with lower side effects. Besides, use of the stem cells in research entails human cultures thus minimizing the use of animals for the same purpose (Kathy et al. 2005).
Stem cells are widely used for therapeutic purposes- repair and replacement of the damaged or tissues infected by diseases. The conditions that stem cell technology can considerably tackle include Parkinson’s disease, spine injuries, kidney diseases, heart diseases, diseases of the bone marrow, and blood diseases among others. Scientists predict that stem cell technology will one time permit the replacement of entire organs by growing and transplanting those (Correja et al. 2005).
Challenges facing stem cell technology
Stem cell technology is still at an infancy stage, therefore a lot of assessment and appraisal needs to be done before this technology becomes widely accepted in the medical field (Maitra et al. 2005). Some of the problems that need to be addressed before embracing stem cell technology entirely are: the problem of instability of the embryonic stem cells and their outstanding propensity to create irregular chromosomes. Weeding out of these abnormal cells that might reproduce may become very difficult. The abnormal cells may cause de-differentiation of gene expression to the patients leading to harmful effects (Williams & Johnson, 2009).
Even when the above problems are addressed, another problem may be realized when therapeutic cells are implanted into a living human. The cell must first be integrated with the recipient’s tissues and organs and adjust themselves to the functions of the body’s natural cells. An example is the cultured cardiac cells may not beat in unison with the patient’s heart cells (Maitra et al. 2005). Another example is the neurons injected into the patient’s brain which have to be wired into the complex brain network to function properly.
Another challenge facing stem cell technology is the efficient and proper culturing of stem cells. Before using the stem cell in any treatment, one has to be trained how to reliably create the cells to reproduce extensively, differentiate into the appropriate types of cells, be compatible with the recipient, and function properly for the rest of the patient’s life without causing any harm (Williams & Johnson, 2009). Another major challenge in the therapeutic use of stem technology is the expected rejection by the immune system. Cells or tissues acquired from an IVF embryo are bound to be easily recognized and rejected by the patient’s immune system.
To avoid this situation scientist proposes the use of adult stem cells obtained from the patient’s body (Maitra et al. 2005). Use of stem cell lines more or less compatible with the patient’s immunity enhanced with rejection restraint drugs can also work. Stem cell lines can be obtained in the vigilantly supervised stem cell bank. Stem cells can be chemically or genetically altered to avoid rejection. Last but not the least, stem cells obtained from a cloned embryo created using can be used (Pecorin, 2009).
Disadvantages of stem cell technology
The debate about stem cell technology is mainly based on the controversy related to the ethical status of the human embryo and a range of elementary values and beliefs. These encompass the significance of healing, the role of democracy in society, and the vital balance among the dedication to human anatomy, social justice, and universal acceptability (Maitra et al. 2005). There is a high status attached to human embryos both from the ethical and religious points of view. Science, as well as religious literature, recognize an embryo as a living human and therefore destruction of an embryo is tantamount to killing. Therefore, the use of stem cells from embryos is widely condemned from the social divide (among the pro-lifers) and the religious entities (Williams & Johnson, 2009).
In most countries, the use of human parts for commercial purposes is banned. This is because of the fear that some people may exploit this venture as a result of its incentives (Maitra et al. 2005). Likewise, some laws prohibit or regulate the use of human subjects for experimentation even if the knowledge to be acquired may be lifesaving. Therapeutic application of stem cell technology is likely to be very expensive contrary to the UN World Health Organization’s and other country’s policy of accessible and affordable health care (Deborah & Benjamin, 2008). Analyst projects that stem cell treatment for an individual might cost roughly over 100,000 dollars. This may cause panic among the public who are struggling to pressure their governments to lower the cost of healthcare (Deborah & Benjamin, 2008).
Stem cell technology may compromise the integrity of medical science. Prospect of high financial gain and escalating competition, researchers may be tempted to publish incomplete experiments to lure people thus compromising the integrity of science as a whole (Engelberg et al. 2009). Stem cell technology is also causing anxiety among the public with their excess promises of treating almost all types of ailments while this has not been achieved yet plus there is a lack of evidence on its success (Williams & Johnson, 2009). Women used as guinea pigs (egg providers for the embryos) are also raising ethical concerns.
Stem cell technology provides extraordinary opportunities for the development of new therapies for devastating ailments for which there are limited or no cures at all. Stem cell technology also presents novel ways of exploring basic questions in biology for instance determination of the fundamental mechanism of cell and tissue development. This has been used to develop new treatments and drugs.
However, the use of embryos in stem cell technology has raised heated debate. Confrontational and conflicting arguments about the use of this technology have surpassed the corridors of science to religious institutions, society and even within the legal corners. Besides the opportunities that are yet to be accrued from the use of stem cell technology, there are many challenges still facing the technology that is yet to be resolved.
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