Human Embryonic Stem Cells Debate: Science, Ethics and Public Policy


Today, Stem cell research is one of the most interesting areas of biology. The research makes use of two types of cells namely; embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Like any expanding and fascinating scientific field, stem cell research is surrounded by many questions, as the research continues to generate more discoveries.

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The 1960s scientific finding by two Canadian scientists, Earnest A. McCulloch and James E. Till formed the basis for Stem cell research. It wasn’t until 1998 when researchers led by Dr. James A. Thomson of University of Wisconsin, successfully isolated human embryonic stem cells. After this breakthrough, scientists hypothesized that stem cells could be used in future in treatment of diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease.

To understand the controversies and questions surrounding stem cells research, it is important to have a closer look at the two types of cells used in stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells are derived from few days old embryos through a process which causes death to the embryo. These cells are coaxed to develop into virtually any type of human cell ranging from skin cells to blood cells. On the other hand, adult stem cells are derived from adult tissues. They have same characteristics as embryonic stem cells although they have one main limitation in that they are not flexible like embryonic stem cells. In this regard, modern stem cell research is based on embryonic stem cells.

Those who are opposed to stem cell research base their argument on the fact human life starts at fertilization. The process of obtaining the cells leads to the killing of the embryo, thus ending human life. In principle, an embryo has the potential to develop into a person, but it can never be a person in itself. The embryo has no brain, it is not sentiment, no consciousness, it does not have internal or external organs and it can not think, thus the argument put by those opposed to stem research is not valid and has no basis. Besides, excess embryos created for use in in-vitro fertilization could be donated for stem cell research.

Opponents of stem cell research argue that the practice is equivalent to human cloning, which leads to devaluation of human life’s worth. While this point may be valid, the fact that the resultant technologies derived from stem cell research have huge, significant medical potential can never be ignored.

Many pro-life argue that embryonic stem cell research should be abandoned and instead the research be centered on adult cells. It is evident that those opposed to the research ignore the fact abortions are legal in many jurisdictions and countries across the world. It would be more logical to use these embryos for stem cell research than destroying them.

The fact that embryonic cells may suffer immune rejection is another point used by those opposed to stem cell research to further their argument. This is a possibility but it is not a valid credible argument as further research on stem cells will eventually lead to finding solutions to this shortcoming. It is important to note here that the embryonic stem cells are capable of growing and differentiating into more than 250 types of body tissues.

As more research is done on stem cells, possibilities are very high that one day it will be possible to use the cells not only in treating diseases through cell-based therapies, but also in understanding birth effects and screening toxins and drugs.

The fact that the economic, personal and social costs of diseases that can be treated by embryonic stem cells are far much greater than the cost incurred in destruction incurred in destructions of embryos is another advantage of stem cell research.


While there is a group of people who are opposed to stem cell research, it is evident that the benefit of such research far outweighs the detriments. Through stem cell research, it will be possible to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s diseases, cancer and heart diseases in future. Stem cell researches have huge potentials in terms of economic and social benefits in that besides cell-based therapies, stem cells research forms the basis of understanding birth defects and in understanding new drugs and toxins. Thus stem cell research should be continued and more funding made available to facilitate further researches.


Judith A. Johnson. 2004. Stem Cell Research. Web.

Stem Cells Information. 2008. Web.

Suzanne Holland and Karen Lebacqz (2001) Human Embryonic Stem Cells Debate: Science, Ethics and Public Policy, Chicago, MIT publishers.

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