Stem Cell Therapy and Embryonic Human Cells: Ethics

Introduction

Admittedly, Vitro fertilization leads to more effective fertilization as lots of eggs are usually fertilized. Therefore, it is often important to destroy superfluous cells. Logically, this act can be regarded as quite inappropriate since such cells are useful in research activities. It is indisputable that stem cell therapy requires the use of embryonic human cells. It goes without saying that such an act raises various ethical questions to be addressed. For instance, the act of destroying pre-embryos evokes a lot of discussions. There are many different opinions on the matter. In my view, using embryonic human cells does not imply that stem cell therapy is unethical.

Arguments and counterarguments

In fact, stem cells can be found in almost all tissues of the human organism. However, embryonic stem cells (which are used in cell therapy) are found in fetuses. It is believed that it is better to take embryonic stem cells from the initial zygote which is formed shortly after conception. Therefore, frozen pre-embryos are used for in-vitro fertilization. Admittedly, the use of pre-embryos for research is the major subject of the ongoing discussion. In other words, people try to decide whether it can be considered to be ethical to use embryonic stem cells during various experiments which can lead to important discoveries which, in their turn, can help to save people’s lives (De Wert 465). Holland, Lebacqz, and Laurie Zoloth (7) argue that stem cell research is central to making new discoveries in medicine. Hence, using stem cells does not contravene ethics.

The most important peculiarity of stem cells is that these cells can substitute any cells in the human body, they are universal, so to speak. Logically, they can also form a fetus (De Wert 470). It goes without saying that scientists try to understand the nature of the process (cellular differentiation). If researchers manage to learn to influence this process, they will be able to create new healthy cells, and what is more, researchers will be able to create organs. There is no need to stress that the ability to create new cells (or organs) can be crucial in curing diabetes or such serious disorders like Parkinson’s disease as Savulescu (490-97) observes.

The issue concerning the use of stem cells in research is one of the most disputable issues in deontological studies which concentrate on important moral issues (Rainbow 1). Of course, it is essential that everyone should follow accepted rules and conventions while making ethical choices. The deontological school promulgates the following idea: acting in accordance with conventions means making correct moral choices. Of course, if people fail to act in accordance with rules, they fail to make the right ethical choices. It is important to note that the deontological conceptions are similar to the major conventions of religion which also promulgates the ideas of following certain essential rules (Naaman-Zauderer 15). However, Hall (3) argues that people are free to make choices. As a result, if people allow their cells to be used in stem cell research then ethical concerns do not arise.

Nonetheless, many other viewpoints exist. For instance, utilitarianism concentrates on outcomes or consequences. Therefore, this approach is often called consequentialism (Rachels 1-15). Thus, consequentialism takes into account possible outcomes of certain actions, rather than concentrating on some rules. Such values as happiness or welfare are regarded as most important. The approach promulgates the idea that people should try to reach the greatest aim: to become happy, healthy, etc. Basically, the principle of hedonism is brought to the fore as consequentialism suggests that people should strive for becoming happy. Therefore, the paradigm of this approach is as follows: everything is ethical and moral until it can lead to reaching the greatest aim (becoming happy) and, vice versa, actions that do not lead to reaching the goal are unethical and immoral (Bentham 1-10). Hansen (86-88) supports the notion by affirming that a bigger number of people stand to gain out of stem cell use.

Admittedly, according to the utilitarian approach using stem cells in experiments is moral and ethical as this act leads to the happiness of many people. It is possible to think of many reasons which can prove that the use of stem cells is appropriate for various studies. First of all, it is argued that these acts can lead to important discoveries which can help scientists to develop new cures for incurable diseases. More so, the use of stem cells can be applicable in cloning which can lead to many fruitful discoveries as well (Jones and Thomson 219-223). It can be useful to consider a particular example. For instance, a patient can die because of liver failure. One stem cell can be cloned. This cell can differentiate into a liver which will be, logically, absolutely identical to the organ of the patient. Thus, the patient will obtain a perfect transplant that is identical to his liver. This will minimize the risk of rejection (Ehrich 115-21; Haimes and Taylor 334-341).

As mentioned above, there are different viewpoints on the use of stem cells in research. Some people argue that it cannot be ethical that stem cells are taken from pre-embryos even though this can lead to some scientific discoveries as these discoveries are rather hypothetical. Besides, many claims that the use of embryonic stem cells is equal to abortion. However, many people agree that an embryo cannot be regarded as a potential human being until it is implanted in a female’s womb. Thus, if an embryo is implanted in a female’s body, it can develop into a human being. At the same time, if an embryo is not implanted in a woman’s body, it can never develop into a living being. Therefore, it cannot be regarded as a potential human being, so there is nothing unethical in using stem cells.

Furthermore, many people still argue that an embryo cannot have “moral status” (Dickenson 45). According to this assumption, the embryo is often regarded as simply a part of a human body or a part of an organ (Holland 50). In other words, this approach is based on the idea that an embryo is only a part of a human body like any other organ until it can develop into an organism that can survive separately. In reference to this, it is believed that the embryo cannot have certain desires or aims. Consequently, there is no harm in destroying embryos (Annas, Caplan, and Elias 1329-32). However, Robertson (121) rejects this idea by affirming that embryos should be left to develop normally.

Conclusion

On balance, the use of embryonic stem cells in various experiments is still disputable. On the one hand, many people believe that such a use can be beneficial for lots of individuals as researchers can cure many serious diseases. On the other hand, the process of development of life is still unexplored and it is impossible to define when exactly it starts. Therefore, it can be immoral to interfere with this process. Thus, it is possible to state that all actions in pursuit of this goal are commendable. As far as I am concerned I agree that the use of embryonic human cells does not imply that stem cell therapy is unethical.

References

Annas, Gertrude, Caplan, Andrew and Elias, Silas. ‘The Politics of Human Embryo Research—Avoiding Ethical Gridlock’. New England Journal of Medicine 334 (1996): 1329–32.

Bentham, John. Utilitarianism. Charleston, South Carolina: BIBLIOBAZAAR, 2009.

De Wert, Ger. The use of human embryonic stem cells for research: An ethical evaluation. Progress in Brain Research 138 (2002): 465-470.

Dickenson, Donna. ‘Property and Women’s Alienation from Their Own Reproductive Labour’. Bioethics 15 (2001): 45.

Ehrich, K. Farsides, B. Williams, C. and Scott, R. Constructing an ethical framework for embryo donation to research: Is it time for a restricted consent policy? Human Fertility 14 (2011): 115-121.

Haimes, Einstein. and Taylor, Kennedy. (2011). The contributions of empirical evidence to socio-ethical debates on fresh embryo donation for human embryonic stem cell research. Bioethics 25 (2011): 334-341.

Hall, Wayne. Democracy and Embryonic Stem cell research: resolving Contentious Ethical Issues in a Pluralistic democracy. University of Queensland: Institute for Molecular Bioscience, 2002.

Hansen, John. ‘Embryonic Stem Cell Production ThroughTherapeutic Cloning has Fewer Ethical Problems than Stem Cell harvest from Surplus IVF Embryos’. Journal of Medical Ethics 28 (2002): 86–88.

Holland, Suzzanne. ‘Beyond the Embryo: A Feminist Appraisal of the Embryonic Stem cell Debate’ in Holland, et al., The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Debate, op. cit, 2005.

Holland, Suzanne, Lebacqz, Karen and Zoloth, Laurie. The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Debate. MIT Press, Cambridge, 2001.

Jones, Mountford and Thomson, James. Human embryonic stem cell technology. Seminars in Reproductive Medicine 18 (2002): 219-223.

Rachels, James. Ethical theory. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Rainbow, Catherine. Descriptions of Ethical Theories and Principles. 2002. Web.

Savulescu, Julian. ‘The Ethics of Cloning and Creating Embryonic Stem Cells as a Source of Tissue for Transplantation’. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Medicine 30 (2000): 492–98.

Robertson, John. ‘Ethics and Policy in Embryonic Stem Cell Research’. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 9 (1999): 126.

Naaman-Zauderer, Noa. Descartes’ Deontological Turn: Reason, Will, and Virtue in the Later Writings. London: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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