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Emma de Groot

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One of my English Assignments . .

Emma de Groot                                                                                             
English 121, Section 020
Ms. Cook 
                                                                                        

Could Science Bring to the World a Future Free of Disease?

My grandfather is a great man; he is energetic, full of life and vitality.  However, over the past year his condition has taken a rapid turn for the worse.  My grandfather has Alzheimer’s disease, and his memory loss has been rapid.  He can no longer perform simple tasks without confusion, he gets baffled in large groups of people, and he struggles to hold a conversation with someone.  As sad and heartbreaking as it is to see this, I know that it is a part of life.  However, is it possible that through embryonic stem cell research, and the eventual potential use of stem cells, these effects could be treated or possibly cured altogether?

                             What is the process of stem cell research?

         Stem cells are the building blocks for all organs and tissues within the body.  They are special and unique in the sense that unlike regular cells, which are designated a specific duty within the body; stem cells have the ability, if manipulated, to differentiate into specialized cell types as they multiply (Prince).

It is this ability of stem cells to transform and multiply that makes the possible use of these cells such an exciting promise in the world of medical science.   These stem cells have the potential to replace any type of cell that may be damaged or diseased.  Most cells within the body that perform specialised functions cannot replace themselves naturally if damaged, and although organ donation is a popular

option, waiting lists are long and too often lives are lost in the process.  Although studies are being done to attempt to transplant organs from animals, this has not yet been perfected.   Therefore, continuing research with embryonic stem cells is likely to continue (Prince, Levin, Goodman).  An ability to replace damaged cells with new healthy cells could be a huge step towards a future free of many debilitating diseases.

         The moral debate about embryonic stem cell research

       As with almost any new development, but especially one as controversial as embryonic stem cell research, there are two sides and there are always going to be objections.   In this case the objection is based not on technical issues, but on moral grounds.  The moral stance of those questioning current stem cell research is based on the fact that, with the research techniques developed so far, to obtain the stem cells needed to carry out on-going research an embryo must be destroyed (Clark).  They believe that to destroy an embryo on the basis of research and experimentation violates the basic premise of the “right to life” since in their eyes an embryo is a “living being.” 

            Pro-life and many religious activists believe that life should be valued and that all human life is sacred and should be treated equally, and this means all forms of human life, regardless of size.  One opponent of embryonic stem cell research put forth the argument that if a coma patient were guaranteed to wake up in nine months time, doctors wouldn’t remove his organs; they would provide the environment he needed that would give the best medical support, and they would welcome him back at the end of the nine months.  In the same way, then, it should be no different for embryos (Levin).  They should be treated with the same respect as a developed human life.

              On the other hand, scientists today believe that time is of the essence and that we need to act now in order to make a significant impact on the medical problems in future years (Prince.)  Those working in the field, despite valuing the feelings of the public and respecting their moral beliefs, feel that the time has come to temper the moral debate and focus on building upon what could be the one of the most significant medical advances in history.

Stem cell research has shown promising advancements in the treatment of what once seemed like incurable diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, and scientists believe that these advancements are too great to ignore (Prince).  The moral issue is important in their eyes, also.   However, in their view if it is possible to provide a world free of some of the most debilitating diseases, can this possibility be ignored, and isn’t allowing people to continue to suffer such horrendous medical problems when a soluble might be possible in itself a moral issue?

                   Alternative forms of stem cell research

            Experts in the field of stem cell research have come up with various new possibilities for achieving the same results that embryonic stem cells can provide by using different types of stem cells or different material; nevertheless, these are far from reaching the promising results that embryonic stem cells are beginning to show. 

Research has been done, and promising signs have been seen when scientists have attempted to obtain stem cells from adults and children and manipulate them in order for them to function in the way embryonic stem cells function.  These stem cells can be taken from bone marrow or other organs in the body, and even from the placenta, which remains after a live birth.  Promising progress has also been made in the creation of what is known as a pluripotent cell.  These cells will be flexible, with an ability to transform into any type of cell in the body, just as embryonic stem cells have the ability to do.  In August 2005, scientists in Britain announced they had found a way to derive embryonic-like stem cells from umbilical chord blood.  Dr. William B. Hurlbut, a consulting professor at Stanford University’s Neuroscience Institute says, “I believe we could get the equivalent of embryonic stem cells through technological solutions that do not require the creation and destruction of embryos.”  However, he also adds that “had we acknowledged this possibility early and put our energies to the task, we would probably have found an answer by now.”  (Prince)

       Dr.  Hurlbut’s optimism regarding a morally viable alternative is shared by Dr. Markus Grompe, head of the Stem Cell Research Center at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland who believes “an alternative is going to happen.”   Because of his moral objections towards destroying human life, Dr. Grompe studies the embryonic stem cells from mice (Prince).

      Many scientists believe it is crucial to keep looking for alternative solutions because even if embryonic stem cell research is opposed, “the technology will find its way into the marketplace regardless of ethical or moral discussion.”  The fear of unregulated embryo factories is of huge concern when it comes too the possible banning of embryonic stem cell research.  Scientists have come too far to let all their work go to waste and therefore the unregulated storage and use of unfertilized eggs is a major possibility if scientists are forbidden to study embryos anymore (Clark).   A possible solution to this problem would be to allow the use of these factories, and the countless number of frozen embryos found in IVF clinics.   However, the federal government should set and monitors strict laws to regulate the creation and use of such embryos, and there should have heavy penalties for their abuse.  

            It can be difficult to find a position regarding stem cell research, because both sides of the argument hold so much merit.  The moral debate over killing a potential human life holds valid points and poses issues that go far beyond basic science and fact.  Nonetheless, it is difficult to ignore the facts.  Stem cell research and in particular embryonic stem cell research is an area that holds such promise for the future that it is difficult to ignore. 

                            How do we cope with the moral dilemmas?

       At the beginning of writing this paper, it was difficult for me to find a position I am comfortable with.   It is easy to say that the technical benefits of such a scientific breakthrough are so immense that the moral issues need to be ignored now, but one  must remember we are talking about the destruction of a potential human life.  There would be nothing better in the world for me than for embryonic stem cells to be the cure to my grandfather’s illness, but what right does anyone have to deny someone else a chance at life?          

I believe embryonic stem cell research is always going to be a controversial issue, and the two opposing sides to this argument are so set in their ways that it becomes difficult to find a suitable middle ground.  The debate on both sides has been fierce at times. Chap Clark, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary vividly characterizes one type of the exchanges when he says, “Bumper sticker slogans are lobbed across the ideological battlefield like hand grenades.” (Clark)

         Perhaps it will be possible to find a compromise between the two opposing sides with the continued advancements of new treatments potentially offering the same results, yet this is far from being the case now.  The facts cannot be ignored that the destruction of an embryo at this point in time is giving scientists the best chance at possibly curing diseases that have plagued mankind for centuries. 

            I do not believe in the destruction of human life and I believe that all human life, despite its stage of development, is precious, sacred and something that is worth protecting.  But on the other hand I cannot ignore the facts. If these breakthroughs one day can be perfected to lead to a future free of these diseases, so that no one has to feel the pain I feel when I see my grandfather, or no one has to lose a mother or a father in the battle with cancer, then I can’t bring myself to oppose that.  I feel that greater funds should be attributed to these alternative methods that are being explored so that possibly the destruction of these embryos is no longer necessary, but I do not believe that embryonic stem cell should be ignored all together.   The progress has been too great and the risks of discarding this progress are far too significant.

As president George W. Bush stated in May 2005, “When historians look back on these years, how we balanced the benefits and risks of new biotechnologies might just be judged second in importance only to how we handled the threat of radical Islamist terror.”  (Levin)  This is why I feel that we cannot simply disregard all the advancements made by modern day scientists in this field simply on the basis of morals, ethics, and personal religious beliefs. 

            As technology continues to improve, and medical breakthroughs become more significant, the debate of morals versus technology is only going to grow stronger.  It is something too substantial, and people are too set in their own views for this matter to simply fade away with time.  Thus it needs to be addressed now, and solutions or compromises need to be discussed in an attempt to eliminate some of the negative feelings towards the new yet controversial medical breakthroughs. 

            At the end of the day, it comes down to saving lives.  Both parties are trying to save lives; there is simply a difference in that one party is looking at the present, and protecting the lives that are developing now, and the other party is looking ahead towards the possible lives that could be saved in years to come.  Both are noble and valid points, yet if we do not address the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cell research, not only are the embryos which have already been destroyed going to waste, but the significant progress made will not have a chance to yield its potential benefits in the future. 

 

Works Cited

 

Clark, Chap. “Stem Cell Choices” Sojourners April 2007, 22 November 2007,           

http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com/hww/results/results_fulltext_maincontentframe.jhtml;hwwilsonid=24IDZYT0GQMGBQA3DIKSFF4ADUNGIIV0

Goodman, Ellen. “Politics and stem cell research” Chattanooga Times Free Press 2            

December 2007, Section F, p2

Levin, Yuval “An ethic of equality: as the debate over stem cell research rages, some

worry that we’re losing focus on the question at the heart of the issue, a moral concern that embodies the very ideals our founding fathers embraced in establishing this country.: Science & Spirit 18.1 (March April 2007): 44(4). Academic OneFile. Gale. University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. 28 Nov. 2007 http://galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodld=AONE.

Prince, Joyce Howard. “Stem cell researcher’s look beyond the embryo.” The

Washington Times 11 Feb. 2007. The NewsBank NewsFile Collection, 22 November 2007  http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/InfoWeb?p_action=doc&p_docid=117555AD168A1F88&p_docnum=1&s_doc_type=doc&p_queryname=800&p_product=NFCC&p_theme=newcat&p_nbid=K4BF55IIMTE5NjY1MTM3NS40MTU1OTM6MToxNToxNTAuMTgyLjE2Ni4yMzQ

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