Since the beginning of medicine, individuals have tried to think of new ways to treat different diseases with different methods. One way this has been discovered is through stem cells. These cells are remarkable in which they have unspecialized functions and can transform into any kind of cell based on its location and function. For example, within tissue reparation, stem cells are able to take form of other tissue cells and divide indefinitely. As these cells continue to divide, they then take form of the system it is in. The reason for their value is in the fact that these cells have been found to contain high levels of telomerase, which means the telomeres allow for the cells to continue to divide. Specifically, embryonic stem cell (hESC) has become particularly valuable but many unresolved controversies are associated with this research.
One study was tested on individuals with Parkinson’ disease. This ailment causes the neurons in the midbrain to deteriorate and synthesize the neurotransmitters for dopamine, a chemical that helps control movement, decision making, mood, and many daily behaviors. Embryonic Stem Cells were then injected to several patients and the cells multiplied rapidly, generating dopamine. With very little research but beneficial results from the few therapies that have been conducted, hESC seems to serve as a promising field for curing diseases.
In regards of federal laws and regulation on hESC, there have been two major changes. In 2009, during President Obama’s term, he lifted restrictions on all embryonic stem cell research funding which had been originally been restricted by President Bush. In order to gain funding for this research, programs must follow certain requirements, including: the cells must be derived from vitro fertilization and was not from a mother’s womb; or from people who donated their eggs and sperm- giving full, written consent for their embryos to be used in researching.
However, this had not always been the case (embryonic research was not always allowed.) In 1996, the Dickey-Wicker Amendment was created—banning all Embryonic Stem Cell Research. The Congress banned any forms of funding to further this research, which included money that went to creating vitro embryos, research materials, and anything that involved the destruction or injury of human embryos. Four years later, the National Institute of Health created their own guidelines in which research had to be derived from private funding, the embryos had to be frozen and taken from fertility clinics and were only donated with consent. This gave researchers hope in which they were able to further their curiosity and find ways to make the most out of the spectacular cells. However, a year later, President Bush declares a ban on ESCR again, in which it is immoral. The problem with his ban, was that it did not prevent research form continuing, due to the fact that funding was continually provided by private businesses. As states above, when President Obama took office, he allowed for government funding to be provided again but under certain requirements. This is still in place today.
HESC usage is extremely beneficial, however, there has been debate over this topic for many years. One major reason this research can be debated as unethical is due to political, religious, and moral beliefs and the destruction of the embryo. Many people believe that life begins when the egg and sperm come together, whether it be in vitro fertilization or within a woman’s womb. When hESC are being extracted, the embryo gets destroyed—therefore leading some individuals to think that a child is killed. However, others believe that life begins after a different period of time, and when the initial conception occurs, the cells are not accounted as life. With this line of thought, many people do still believe that though they are a clump of cells, there should still be rules and regulations to follow in order to test on these embryos. Those in favor of this research believe that using hESC provide greater respect for human’s due to their healing abilities. However, there are people are both pro-life and supporters of stem cell research. An example of this is Nancy Reagan and Senator Orrin Hatch. Hatch claims, “the support of embryonic stem cell research is consistent with pro-life, pro-family values. I believe that human life begins in the womb, not a Petri dish or refrigerator…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” (Lo, Bernard 271). Individuals like this Senator demonstrate that supporters come from all different beliefs and backgrounds and exhibit the complexity of this topic.
Not only do many social groups oppose hESC but so does the Catholic Church. The major issue of this is the destruction of the embryo. The Church has Ten Commandments that are strong Catholic laws. The Fifth Commandment is, “though shall not kill.” With this in mind, under article 2258, the Catechism states, “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.” This means that regardless of what is at hand, whether it be beneficial or with malicious intent, one has no right to kill or destroy another life. This includes embryos. The Church is also extremely against abortion. The Catechism also states in 2274, “since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.” From just these points alone, the Church’s view points on hESC are strongly negative for the protection of human life and dignity. However, the Catholic Church does not go against any other form of stem cell research, such as embryonic germ stem cells form babies from miscarriage, umbilical cords, placentas, or amniotic fluids because the retrieval of these cells do not harm the individual and are morally taken.
Though the Catholic Church may be against hESC research, the Presbyterian Church is not. In fact, this group of people claimed to support this movement in hopes of “restoring health to those suffering from serious illnesses.” The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church congregated in 2004 in Louisville, KY. Their reasoning for this support is that they believe that organ donation will be less depended on, and the fact that these unspecialized cells have “far-reaching possibilities including ‘cell therapies,'” according to the Presbyter of Baltimore. The General Assembly believe the extraction of these cells are also morally and ethically just, as compared to the Catholics. They claim to continuously be supporters of women’s rights, and that abortion is justifiable based on the women’s circumstances. Therefore, the extraction of cells from fetuses is seen as acceptable as long as there are proper regulations being followed. They also do not see hESC as unethical because the tissue that is donated comes from the terminated life of an embryo. Though the material received from clinics were originally seen as equal to humans, Presbyterians believe that the tissue should be put to proper use with their potential of having lifesaving properties.
As a Catholic, I am very open minded about different social debates and scientific advancement. In fact, I even support it, though sometimes it can contradict the opinion of the Church. I am against abortion, but I do support hESC research. I have given this topic great thought and have come to the conclusion that the benefits of this research and therapies that it may provide, outweigh the dispute of when life begins after or during conception. With this in mind, I support those embryos that were developed under vitro fertilization but not those taken from an abortion or miscarriage. I believe that regardless if the embryo is considered a clump of cells or a human, it deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Especially if the aborted embryo or baby of a miscarriage wants to be tested on.
I personally think it is unacceptable to destroy or use embryos that are being tested on without consent and I am firmly against the destruction of embryos for instrumental purposes. My reasoning for this belief is the fact that this research will help many individuals who are already fully developed and are suffering, especially those who suffer from Parkinson’s, heart failure, diabetes, and spinal cord injuries. Though I believe this way, I also do understand with the reasoning of opposition groups. Respecting the dignity of life should be a basic principle in one’s life and groups like the Catholic Church form their beliefs based on that, something that I respect. It is hard to distinguish when the beginning of life starts and I think that is a debate that will never get solved.