Stem cells are a set of immature cells that are capable of being metamorphosed into any type of cells present in the human body to perform its functions with all its abilities. In stem cell research these stem cells are extracted from the embryonic sources, or from adult tissue, including those of the blood and the brain.
These cells are then altered using various engineering techniques, that help in development of various types of human cells. Since most attention is paid to embryonic stem cell research, there is a lot of controversy surrounding it, which have been discussed here.
There are mainly two sources of stem cells. One is from the embryos extracted during the blastocyst phase of embryo development, and the other is from adult tissues. Major focus is on research related to human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) because embryos are easily available than adult SC.
Due to the ability of stem cells to metamorphose into all kinds of cells that are present in the human body, it is believed that research on these may lead to the development of treatment methods for cancer, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease, to name a few. Now the issues that are raised regarding ethics of this field of research are as follows.
Death of Potential Human Life
In case of hESCs research, it is believed that research conducted on an embryo involves killing of a potential human life. This is termed unethical in the name of humanity. However, the biggest question is, 'when does the human life begin?'
The argument here is that human life begins right from the conception of the embryo, and therefore, using this embryo to carry out research is inhuman. Also, is it ethical to kill an embryo for the cure of countless number of patients.
However, the answer to these questions is the research on naturally aborted embryos, that anyway do not have the capability to develop into human lives. While much can't be said on the availability of such embryos, it is definitely a better alternative to put an end to the controversy.
Further, though it may be slightly more difficult to extract stem cells from adult tissues, this is not a closed option, and can be utilized for the purpose of research. Apart from this there is question about the rights of the embryo also.
The next concern regarding the controversy of stem cell research is the possibility of human cloning. With animal cloning already being successful, the day when human cloning will be made possible does not seem far.
It is believed that if humans are cloned, it will lead to the development of a completely new race of super-humans with high IQ levels and superior abilities. This will result in a whole new form of discrimination against those who have not been genetically designed.
As aforementioned, the concern regarding death of a potential human life has been refuted by a lot of researchers. They believe that embryos extracted at the blastocyst phase of development, are just potential human lives, and not human lives in effect.
In fact, they are cells equivalent to skin cells, and not distinct, which is why it is ethical to utilize these for stem cell research. Also, a large number of embryos are not utilized when it comes to the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF). These embryos are destined to be wasted, and therefore, can be better used for the purpose of research.
Another case where embryos are easily obtained are in cases of abortion (natural or deliberate). Since abortion is legal in several countries, these embryos, instead of being destroyed can be used for stem cell research.
Finally, controversial stem cell research and its issues narrow down to the death of a potential human life. While cloning is also a cause for serious concern, it is the former issue that is hotly debated among the common man, scientific researchers, governments, and religious groups.
Though there are several arguments in favor of this process, the controversy about stem cell research is not going to end soon. Stem cell research requires a lot of funding, which is being provided only recently. How soon its effects will manifest, and the advantages and disadvantages become apparent, is for time to tell.
Only when the research progresses, and the implementation of its results are governed under specific laws and guidelines will the safety regarding this process be assured. It is true that the promised benefits of stem cell research will be a great boon to humanity, provided this sensitive issue is dealt in the right manner.