Embryonic Stem Cell Research by hcj



Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Final Paper 370 Embryonic Stem Cell Research Caitlin Fitch

2 Embryonic Stem cell research has been a controversial issue in the United States since the discovery in 1998 when James Thompson and coworkers derived the first human embryonic stem cell line at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Institute of Medicine, p. 7). This research on embryonic stem cells poses numerous ethical debates and many people oppose the use of embryos and the creation of embryos for research. Others especially those who have life threatening diseases and could benefit from this research support it. I defend the latter and support the use and creation of embryos for research to relieve suffering, to prolong life and for the development of new therapies for the treatment of disease. Stem cells are unspecified cells that under certain conditions can be induced into becoming special cells of the body. There are many different types of stem cells each of which can differentiate into different cells. Totipotent stem cells are created from joining of the egg and sperm and the first divisions of the fertilized egg. These cells can differentiate into embryonic cells giving them the potential to develop into an entire human organism (USDHHS, 2006). Pluripotent cells from the blastocyst part of the embryo can differentiate into any of the two hundred different cell types in the human body except for placental cells and extraembryonic cells (UHDHHS, 2006). There are also adult stem cells known as unipotent and multipotent cells that have limited abilities and can only differentiate into specific cell types (USDHHS, 2006). According to Devolder (2006) ―the embryonic stem cells hold the most promise for particular and important therapeutic and research aims‖ (p. 366). The research on these types of cells is often called regenerative or reparative medicine because this research has the potential to develop therapies to replace lost

3 tissues, to repair damaged tissues, to aid in organ transplantation and therapies to treat millions of people with certain diseases. In 2001 President Bush gave limited funding for the research of embryonic stem cells while at the same time enacting a restrictive policy. This policy states that the derivation process or the destruction of the embryo had to occur before August 9, 2001, and that the stem cells must have been derived from an embryo that was created for in-vitro fertilization and was no longer needed. President George W. Bush also vetoed a bill on July, 19 2006 that would have allowed for federal funding of stem cell research by the destruction of embryos. It is disturbing to see that President Bush will allow the creation and discarding of embryos no longer needed for in-vitro fertilization but will not allow for researchers to create them for the potential therapeutic discoveries to improve and possibly save millions of peoples lives (USDHHS, 2006). Every day embryos are created for the use in in-vitro fertilization. Devolder (2006) states that these embryos are created and sacrificed ―to benefit infertile people with a child –wish‖ (p. 366). After in-vitro fertilization or the infertile people give up on having a child, these embryos are destroyed or used for research. In typical in-vitro a patient or couple can end up with 6 to 10 embryos and usually only 2 or 3 of those are implanted in each attempt to impregnate a woman (Somers, 2006). That leaves numerous unused embryos per each couple or patient. Many of these get destroyed or never get sent to researchers. Why is it okay to use surplus embryos created for in-vitro fertilization but not create embryos for research? In either case, for research or in-vitro fertilization ―embryos are created as a means to alleviate suffering and increase human well being‖ (Devolder, 2006, p.367). President Bush is choosing which type of suffering in America

4 is significant. Many argue that human embryos are human and we must respect human life and not violate human dignity by destroying these embryos. In this case multiple embryos should then never be developed for use in in-vitro fertilization on the chance that even one may be discarded and destroyed. R. Alto Charo ―proposes to bypass entirely the issue of the embryo’s moral status‖ and states that ―although it is clear that embryonic research would offend some people deeply, the potential health benefits for this and future generations outweigh the pain experienced by opponents of the research‖ (Meilaender, 2001, p.13). Another issue arises that warrants giving human status to the embryo which is weather or not sacrificing human life is permissible. Many would argue that you can never sacrifice a ―human life.‖ Others argue that for the interest of the community weather or not the embryo has human status it is acceptable to sacrifice the embryo. McGee and Caplan (1999) say in regards to sacrificing a human life for the common good that ―no need is more compelling that the suffering of half the world at the hand of miserable disease‖ (p. 154). Instead of sacrificing life for research, in-vitro fertilization clinics store ―life‖ having over 400,000 embryos sitting in freezers and only 2.8% of them have been donated to research (Somers, 2006). Imagine the number of embryos that get destroyed from the surplus of frozen embryos that never get donated to research when there is no longer an in-vitro need for them. One mother who used in-vitro and donated her embryos to research says ―My embryos may not be the potential third child in my family, but they may be the potential for some other mother's child to walk again, or to live without diabetes or some other terrible disease‖ (Somers, 2006).

5 Many life threatening and debilitating diseases have the potential to be treated and possibly cured by embryonic stem cell research. Increases in quality of life, years of life and decrease in suffering of millions are also possibilities of this research. Mcgee and Caplan (1999) agree that this ―research promises to relieve incalculable suffering‖ (p. 151). Listed below in Table 1 shows the number of Americans that could likely gain from stem cell therapies based on potential target diseases of stem cell research. Table 1

Condition Cardiovascular disease Autoimmune diseases Diabetes Osteoporosis Cancers Alzheimer’s disease Parkinson’s disease Burns (severe) Spinal-cord injuries Birth defects
(Institute of Medicine, p. 8)

Number of patients 58 million 30 million 16 million 10 million 8.2 million 5.5 million 5.5 million 0.3 million 0.25 million 0.15 million/year

Many of these diseases, The Institute of Medicine (2002) states ―such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and spinal cord injury—have few or no treatment options, so millions of Americans are currently looking for cures‖ (p. 8). This research can give hope to these Americans and their families. It is due to these embryonic stem cells differentiating into ―hematopoietic (blood-making) cells of the bone marrow and heart, blood vessel, muscle, and insulin-producing tissue‖ (Institute of Medicine, p. 8) and many other cell types that give rise to this hope. Also, gaining knowledge about these cells through research and understanding how they differentiate

6 could yield information about cancers and birth defects which occur form a problem with cell development and transformation (USDHHS, 2006). There has been preliminary research on animals and laboratory mice that have yielded positive results. One cell culture study was able to produce cardiac muscle, smooth muscle and "pacemaker" cells of the heart using embryonic stem cells of mice (USDHHS, 2006). The institute of Medicine (2002) also points out that ―Other studies have demonstrated that mouse embryonic stem cells can be successfully transplanted into rodents that have Parkinson’s disease symptoms and partially relieve these symptoms‖ (p. 35). Another showed that insulin producing cells of the pancreas could differentiate from human embryonic stem cells in a cell culture and later be transplanted into a human pancreas to replace lost cells due to type I diabetes. Human embryonic stem cell experiments using cell cultures have also expressed genes of liver and pancreas function, cardiomyocytes, and epithelial cells (Institute of Medicine, p. 33). Human stem cells could also be used to test new drugs. By using specific differentiated cells to test drugs researchers could see how the drug interacts with those specific cells of the body. The possibilities of embryonic stem cell research are seemingly endless. Suffering and premature deaths of millions of people could be avoided if this research is conducted. No one can know what the future holds for embryonic stem cells and the medical advances that could arise until the research is performed and carried out with embryos created for research and excess in-vitro fertilization embryos. Mcgee and Caplan (2006) said it best, ―You think of the lives that will be lost because of serious diseases such as Parkinson’s a staggering number of lives and you that god for stem cell research‖ (p. 158).

7 References

Devolder, K. (2006). Creating and sacrificing embryos for stem cells. Journal of Medical Ethics, 3(1) 366-370.

Institute of Medicine. (2002). Stem cells and the future of regenerative medicine. National Academy Press: Washington, DC.

Mcgee, G., Caplan, A. (1999). The ethics and politics of small sacrifices in stem cell research. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 9(2) 151-158.

Meilaender, G. (2001). The point of a ban: Or how to think about stem cell research. Hastings Center Report, 31(1) 9-16.

Somers, T. (2006, March 7). Lab in secret location banks donated embryos. UnionTribune. Retrieved November 26, 2006, from http://www.signonsandiego.com/ news/business/biotech/20060307-99991n7embryo.html

United States Department of Health & Human Services. (2006, November 19). Stem cell research. Retrieved November 26, 2006, from http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/ basics/


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