High School High School Biology and Chemistry

Stem Cell Ethics

Are the usage of stem cells an ethical practice?

 

Even though stem cells have been used in human embryonic stem cell research to help revolutionize healthcare and cure disease; it is an area of science which raises ethical debates. This is because of the stem cells used in most research are extracted from embryos and fetuses, which makes it an area of science which is difficult for the law to regulate. Stem cell research should continue because of the many benefits of successful stem cell usage, such as the ability to cure disease, fix organs, and identify birth defects.

Many people find that stem cell research is ethical and helpful to the society. Embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos that have not yet been fertilized in a woman’s body. The embryos are fertilized in the in vitro fertilization clinic and donated for research purposes. Stem cells are important to living organism because they have unique regenerative abilities. If scientists can directly differentiate the embryonic stem cells into specific cell types, they can use them to treat certain diseases like diabetes, traumatic spinal cord injury, and heart disease in the future. Driven by these prospects, lab scientists are already making an effort to use stem cells to screen new drugs and identify the cause of birth defects by developing model systems. The stem cells used to treat the disease are now referred to as regenerative or reparative medicine in cell-based therapies. Research on stem cells have not yet been fully developed, but it is an expanding field of scientific inquiry. There has been legislation passed and corrected to please both sides of the Stem Cell debates. Political parties debate about how to fund stem cell research, but many do not want taxpayer dollars to be used in funding unethical embryo and stem cell research. However, there are some senators like Orrin Hatch who agree with stem cell research. He says that “to me, the morality of the situation dictates that these embryos, which are routinely discarded, be used to improve and save lives. The tragedy would be in not using these embryos to save lives when the alternative is that they would be discarded”(Hatch). Even though Senator Hatch is pro-life, he agrees that embryos could “be used to improve and save lives” and should not be “discarded”. However, each president has their own ideas and agreements and create different laws. Different governments around the globe have passed down different legislations to regulate stem cell researching.

Many critics of stem cell research that the use of stem cells is not ethical because of the extraction of stem cells of fertilized human embryos. The critics believe that these embryos are living and breathing human beings since all life begins and starts as a single cell. However, opposing sides argue that life technically begins after the zygote becomes an organism. Stem cells and organisms are both alive, yet organisms have differentiated characteristics that distinguish them from the stem cells. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, organisms are “an individual constituted to carry on the activities of life by means of organs separate in function but mutually dependent: a living being” (Merriam-Webster). In this definition, another name for a human organism is a human being, because the dictionary definition states that organisms are “…a living being”. This definition stresses that parts interact with others to form an organism. By definition, life begins when the stem cells become an organism, so it proves that the opinion is false.

In addition, people against stem cell research would argue that it goes against ethics because the fetus will be able to feel pain. However, according to research done by Dr. Anne Davis, who is an OB/GYN and the consulting medical director for Physicians for Reproductive Health, “the neurons that carry pain signals [has a system that] isn’t developed until the third trimester of pregnancy… “(Davis). This would mean that the fetus would not be able to feel pain until the “third trimester of pregnancy”. Furthermore, in a JAMA review, researchers tracked the process in receptor and spinal cord development. It proved those skin receptors that sense injuries develop between “7.5 and 15 weeks of pregnancy, depending on the location of the receptors on the body”(JAMA). That would mean that the fetus does not sense pain yet, but between “7.5 and 15 weeks of pregnancy”, the receptors are developed and can sense pain, therefore the body is now able to work together in order to repair itself. However, the growth of the fetus would be too far along by that period of time for stem cell research. Lastly, as another point to contradict the belief that the fetus would be able to feel pain at the point of stem cell extraction, JAMA makes another statement that informs readers of when the neurons in the spinal cord would be developed. The review states that “the neurons in the spinal cord that transmit that signal up to the brain must be developed… [which was] reported that this happens at around 19 weeks”(JAMA). This would mean that the pain signals, if they are strong enough, would not be able to be registered in the brain. These three arguments as listed above are enough to contradict the belief that stem cell research is not ethical since the fetus would not be able to feel pain.

Others believe that stem cell research would only be ethical if the donors had consent and were informed, as they believe that the extra cells are taken away to be experimented on without permission. This is a false statement due to the fact that there are guidelines and rules that researchers have to abide by. Research laboratories like the National Institute of Health and the California Institute of Health have an extensive consent process to ensure that the stem cell research and donation are not fraudulent. Policies vary to whether or not a woman is compensated for her egg donations, but most jurisdictions allow donors to be reimbursed for direct costs like traveling whereas some laboratories allow payments or extraction services to be provided free of cost to egg donors.   Since people have expressed concern about the monitoring of research and penalties, the National Institute of Health provided guidelines to reassure the public. The NIH has guidelines that must be followed “(1) Under 45 CFR 74.14, the NIH can impose special conditions on an award, including but not limited to increased oversight/monitoring/reporting requirements for an institution, project, or investigator; and (2) under 45 CFR 74.62 the NIH may impose enforcement actions, including but not limited to withholding funds pending correction of the problem, disallowing all or part of the costs of the activity that was not in compliance, withholding further awards for the project, or suspending or terminating all or part of the funding for the project”(NIH). Under these guidelines, all stem cell research must abide by rules like 45 CFR 74.14 and 45 CFR 74.62 so there is “increased oversight/monitoring/reporting requirements” and that the institute can “impose enforcement actions”. This way, anyone who did not comply with the terms would cause NIH to take different enforcement actions. NIH can do this by limiting funds, conducting investigations, and suspend the research.

Stem cell research is ethical because it is helpful to the society. With successful stem cell usage, it is possible to cure disease, fix organs, and identify birth defects. There would be a greater good to the country well-being if stem cells were used to help cure people.


References:

CIRM. “Myths and Misconceptions about Stem Cell Research.” California’s Stem Cell Agency, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, 16 Feb. 2015, http://www.cirm.ca.gov/patients/myths-and-misconceptions-about-stem-cell-research. Accessed 6 Feb. 2018.

EuroStemCell. “Embryonic stem cell research: an ethical dilemma.” EuroStemCell, European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, http://www.eurostemcell.org/embryonic-stem-cell-research-ethical-dilemma. Accessed 6 Feb. 2018.

ISSCR. “The Value of Stem Cells.” A Closer Look at Stem Cells, Stem Cells and Research, http://www.closerlookatstemcells.org/from-lab-to-you/stem-cells-and-research. Accessed 6 Feb. 2018.

Lee, Susan J., JD, et al. “Fetal Pain- A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Evidence.” JAMA, American Medical Association, jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/201429. Accessed 13 Feb. 2018.

Lo, Benard, and Lindsay Parham. “Ethical Issues in Stem Cell Research.” US National Library of Medicine  National Institutes of Health, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Grant 1 UL1 RR024131-01 from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) and NIH Roadmap for Medical Research and by the Greenwall Foundation, 14 Apr. 2009, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2726839/. Accessed 6 Feb. 2018.

MNT Editorial Team, editor. “What are Stem Cells?” Medical News Today, Healthline Media UK Ltd, Brighton, UK., 19 July 2017, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/stem_cell. Accessed 6 Feb. 2018.

NIH. “National Institutes of Health Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research.” National Institute of Health, HHS.gov U.S. Department of Health & Human Service, 2016, stemcells.nih.gov/policy/2009-guidelines.htm. Accessed 6 Feb. 2018.

—. “Stem Cell Basics I.” National Institute of Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/1.htm. Accessed 6 Feb. 2018.

—. “Stem Cell Basics III.” National Institute of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/3.htm. Accessed 6 Feb. 2018.

University of Utah. “The Stem Cell Debate: Is it Over?” Learn. Genetics, University of Utah, learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/stemcells/scissues/. Accessed 6 Feb. 2018.

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