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Embryonic stem cells have been used over the years to treat or reduce chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiac ailments. Stem cells have the potential to save millions of lives by using them to grow body parts for people in need.
However, its use has stirred ethical debates with many arguing that the use of stem cells does not give reverence to the sanctity of life. The discussion in this paper will show that despite the opposition, the use of embryonic stem cells has played a central role in saving lives of people in need unlike other regimens, which have been used and failed.
The use of embryonic stem (ES) cells is one of the important medical innovations of the 21st century. Studies indicate that this technique can be used to treat over seventy major ailments, which millions of people are diagnosed with across the world. ES cells have won great support from most organizations such as the American Medical Association (AMA).
Currently, about 68% of Americans supports the ES cells research. Additionally, 64% holds that the federal funding on studies examining ES can be used to eliminate or control chronic ailments. Nonetheless, ES has not been immune to controversy with critics questioning the moral logic behind the damaging of human embryos to get the ES cells. This paper defends the use of ES cells by countering the claims raised by the critics.
Overview of Embryonic Stem Cell
ES cells refer to undifferentiated cells that have the potential to cure various ailments and conditions due to their ability to develop numerous kinds of cells in human beings. They are pluripotent, which implies that they can form the various types of cells that are required for proper functioning of the body.
A huge volume of ES cells can be developed from stem cell lines, which are also pluripotent and they can help in the development of tissues though they are unable to inculcate existence in an organism. For instance, when stem cells are administered to a patient suffering from cardiac attack, they will shift to the area that has been destroyed, multiply, and separate to develop new cardiac muscles.
In another case, if the stem cells are introduced to a patient with tumor, they can induce the growth of new neurons that can then kill the shifting cancer cells. Most patients and medical practitioners believe that replacement cell treatment can be the ultimate solution for eliminating chronic cases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes (Friedman et al., 2012).
Nonetheless, the sources through which these stem cells are retrieved have been a point of departure for most of opponents of this medical technology. ES cells are retrieved from human embryos, which are referred to as blastocysts. The process entails disassembling the embryo to get stem cells that are located in the internal parts of the mass.
Subsequently, this aspect has led to the emergence of two opposing sides – those who support unconditional reverence for life and those who oppose the idea (Lachmann, 2001). According to Murrell, et al. (2013), there is a common miscomprehension between these two groups regarding the actual sources of stem cells.
Further, the media exacerbates these misunderstandings by giving a general definition of stem cells without considering the various types of stem cells, viz. adult and embryonic as well as placental stem cells (Stachowiak & Tzanakakis, 2011). This miscomprehension is dangerous for the debate as those who advocate for ES cell research may ignore some remarkable achievements that are made by other non-embryonic cells.
Conversely, the opponents may also end up opposing other researches that do not involve ES cells. Hence, it would be of significance to define some of the other sources of stem cells to have a centered argument.
Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells located all over the body. They are responsible for the replacement and maintenance of tissues. For instance, the stem cells “located in the bone marrow are responsible for the production of red blood cells, platelet, as well as white blood cells” (Hunt, 2008, p.221).
Adult stem cells reside in the heart as well as brain, and thus if regulated properly in the laboratory, they could be used for transplantation-oriented treatment. The human placenta contains a huge volume of stem cells that can be easily retrieved and they have the ability to renew and maintain plasticity.
In support of Embryonic Stem Cells
One of key advantages of ES cells is that they are totipotent, and thus they have the capability to form any type of cells. They also have a higher rate of multiplication than the adult cells when in unspecialized condition prior to research. The process of deriving adult cells is complex and most of them posses DNA aberrations unlike ES cells.
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Though most adult cells are successfully accepted when administered in the body, ES cells are generally flexible and they can be applied for the treatment of various ailments (Lachmann, 2001). ES cells do not reverse sanctity of life despite embryos being complete human. One should question whether parents have the ethical responsibility to develop the embryos- being aware that some embryos might die.
If the development of extra embryos is ethically wrong, then the issue of if parents have the authority to remove embryos from cryogenic tanks so that they die is debatable. A number of facts can affirm that parents have an ethical responsibility to develop extra embryos (Stachowiak & Tzanakakis, 2011).
The right to procreate is arguably one of the most significant rights of human beings. It sustains the human race. It creates a feeling of identity and distinction. Moreover, doctrines of personality and identity are central in the description of moral responsibilities.
However, it can never be inferred that procreation is an unconditional right. Like many other rights, at times, the right to reproduce is subdued by other demands and pressures in the society (Zhao et al., 2013). In the absence of these limitations, human beings have a moral responsibility to reproduce.
Considering that the right to reproduction is fundamental, what happens to the barren people or those that face complications during birth? Medical practitioners have developed other assisted-reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination to help in such scenarios. Furthermore, arguably, it is a moral right for such patient to seek any type treatment that will help in having children safely.
In essence, society will endorse any means that help in protecting human life. There is minimal difference between infertility treatment that involves administration of drugs or corrective surgery and one that entails non-coital conception (Stachowiak & Tzanakakis, 2011). Indeed, they all involve the interference with of human reproductive system in pursuit of saving life and moral distinction the processes are minute.
If the use of ART allows parents to enjoy their moral right, then it should be fully endorsed, and it then follows that In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) processes should also be endorsed. However, various cases of IVF have failed and doctors have been forced to do egg retrieval, fertilization, as well as implantation tests before they have one successful embryo.
However, in the medical field, any type of treatment that is dangerous to a non-consenting third party should be avoided. Nonetheless, this principle is debatable. For instance, if a woman cannot have children due to anatomical problems hindering embryo implantation, should the woman be morally prevented from having sex following her complication? In line with such thoughts, it would also be morally right to prohibit her from using IVF.
Hence, the woman would live a sex and childfree life. Essentially, this move would be denying her ethical right to reproduction. Therefore, this position will be wrong. Under IVF treatment, medical practitioners are aware that they are developing embryos that have scanty chances of developing, but that should not be the reason to denying one the right to procreate (Schuurhuis et al., 2013).
Since assisted reproduction technologies help infertile women and those with reproduction complication to get children, it can be considered as morally acceptable. Moreover, if the creation of extra embryos increases the chances of having a successful child, then parents should have the liberty to create the extra embryos to be used in deriving ES cells (Stachowiak & Tzanakakis, 2011).
Indeed, it would be important for the opponents of ES cells’ research to respond to questions such as – if IVF is permitted to be morally right, why is ES cell research unethical?
Patients have a moral right to determine the treatment of their choice. For instance, patients who are suffering terminal illnesses such as cancer should have the right to decide if they want to go for euthanasia or not. The concept of bodily dignity and respect has been a key principle in the American law.
For instance, under the tort law, treating patients without seeking their authority is considered unethical, and it amounts to battery. This assertion implies that it become a social norm for people to refuse a type of treatment that they do not desire. This norm is not limited to the legal field as it is widely accepted in the medical field (Whittington, 2012).
In the medical profession, the American Medical Association (AMA) allows patients to refuse treatment, if in their discretion, it is likely to injure as opposed to benefitting them. The religious society also preach a similar view by emphasizing that if the patient conceives that the treatment does not give realistic hope, then s/he should have the liberty to forfeit it.
The secular society has a popular consensus that patients should not be mandated to medication if the treatment is simply life sustaining, but not curative (Zhao et al., 2013). In any case, withdrawal from such treatment would not be depicted as the cause of patient’s demise.
If patients have the liberty to withdraw from non-curative treatment, does it mean that third parties can make that decision on their behalf? Amazingly, legal, moral, and secular views indicate that a third party can make a medical decision on behalf of the patient in certain circumstances after considering the association between the two as well as the condition of the patient.
In making the decision, the third party may take one of the two approaches – surrogate or interest of the patient. Under the surrogate approach, the third party “expresses the wishes of the patient earlier explained to him or her” (Friedman et al., 2012, p.506). If the patient had earlier been in a situation to make a rational decision before being incapacitated, s/he might have had his/her desires.
The third party expresses these desires. On the other hand, in some situations, the patient is unable to make discreet decisions, and thus s/he relies entirely on other individuals to make decisions on his/her behalf (Sweetman, 2010). The third party thereby makes a decision in best interest of the patient.
The third party must be somebody who is closely related to the patient – possibly the next of kin. In the case of children, the next of kin is the parents. Conventionally, parents can make decisions on whether their children can proceed on with or stop taking life-sustaining medication.
Nonetheless, parents have no right to prevent their children from getting fundamental healthcare. Conventionally, “life begins at conception” (Atala et al., 2011, p.84); hence, embryos are living beings, and thus they are similar to children. Therefore, parents can make decisions on their behalf (Kelly, 2007).
Embryonic stem cells are not expensive. There is a popular notion among the opponents of ES cells research that it is costly; hence, the poor cannot afford it. This presumption can be easily overruled. ES cells, being pluripotent as stated earlier, are flexible, and thus they can be administered in various tissues such as bone and skin.
Their brilliant capability of transformation has been the main reason why stakeholders urge the federal government to fund ES cell research. The numbers of embryonic cells that can be created in a given laboratory are infinite (Lanza & Atala, 2013). This aspect indicates that ES cells can easily be obtained unlike other types of stem cells such as adult stem cells, making it a cheap and easily accessible resource of cells.
ES cells have no huge difference from organ transplantation. Various groups in the society view organ transplantation as an ethical practice. Heart transplants had initially faced opposition, but over the years, the practice has come to gain acceptance from a section of society.
Similarly, if it can be proved that ES cells have some concepts similar to organ transplantation, then it would right to annul all the ethical questions that have emerged in modern times. Transplantation often occurs in two forms, viz. cadaveric and living-donor transplantation. The latter involves those who willfully accept to share their body organs such as kidney with other people.
Conversely, cadaveric transplantation entails the donation of organs from victims of brain death (Clevers, 2011). The patient is not completely dead during brain death until when the life-supporting treatment is terminated whereon the required organ is removed. This exercise takes place following the procedures set up by a hospital.
Consequently, patients are not viewed as a source of retrieving various organs, but as human beings who are equally important as other individuals. The decision to terminate the life-support system is made by either the patient or the next of kin.
On the other hand, frozen embryos are composed of undifferentiated cells rather than organs. However, these undifferentiated cells are similar to organs as they help in the development of the organs. Moreover, the retrieval of the cells leads to the biological demise of embryo just the same way the removal of organs from patients causes their demise.
Embryonic cells are like the small parts of tissues such as skin that adults donate. In other words, ES cells are similar to organs retrieved from children who depend on their parents to make a decision for them. Hence, just as parents can decide if the organs of their children can be harvested, they equally have a right to decide on behalf of embryos to give the embryo cells.
Medical research is rapidly creating new ways of treating chronic ailments, comprehending physiological procedures, and enhancing medical knowledge. Even though science has helped people to accomplish a number of seemingly impossible feats, it does not make such actions utterly ethical. ES cells provide a remarkable opportunity for assisting people in need such as cancer and diabetes patients.
However, if not handled carefully, it may raise ethical issues. Hence, it is necessary to seal all loopholes that may stir ethical criticism. Strict policies should be imposed to regulate the funding of ES cells research. Nonetheless, this aspect does not imply that the ES cell research should be banned.
The ES debate should be approached with moderation. Biomedical scientists should focus their ideas on how to use different types of stem cells that are more flexible than the ES cells, which will be a vibrant idea for the medical field. Meanwhile, the ES cells should be used to help those in need.
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