Limitations of Stem Cell Research the Primary Term Paper

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Limitations of Stem Cell Research

The primary objection to stem cell research in the United States is based on the belief that commonly held social, moral, and ethical boundaries will be breached in the effort to ensure adequate supplies of embryonic stem cells (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) Because of the potential medical and economic implications of stem cell research, executive level governmental decisions have been made regarding acceptable limits for stem cell research (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) These limits have changed as the national executive leadership has changed (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) Presidents have issued Executive Orders regarding stem cell research that reflect their personal beliefs and the beliefs expressed by voices dominating the American press at any given time (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) Representation of stem cell researchers and those who potentially would benefit from stem cell research have been less well reflected in the national debate about how to provide oversight and how to legislate the issue of stem cell research (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) What is most often disregarded in the debate is that embryonic stem cells can be harvested from embryos produced in assisted reproductive technology (ART) laboratories to provide viable embryos for women experiencing fertility problems (Robinson, 2007) The debate about whether embryos should be permitted to be developed in laboratories for eventual implantation in infertile women does not attract the attention of the media or particular interest groups to the same degree that stem cell research, taken as a singular issue, does -- but perhaps it should (Robinson, 2007) Given the inconsistencies in the arguments presented by different stakeholder groups with regard to regulation of stem cell research, it is reasonable to expect any limitations placed on stem cell research reflect the actual praxis and not the imagination or rhetoric of its opponents (Robinson, 2007) Embryonic stem cell research that uses stem cells derived from undifferentiated mass of cells called blastocysts -- pre-embryos less than 14 days old -- for in-vitro fertilization shall be considered a viable source of stem cells for medical research to prevent or cure human diseases and disorders (Robinson, 2007)

Part Two -- Argument

The public treats stem cell research as a special ethical and moral case while largely ignoring parallel ethical and moral issues related to the treatment and use of embryos in the practice of artificial human reproduction (Robinson, 2007) Ethical and legal implications exist for extracting new stem cells from embryos, from research performed on descendents of stem cells, from the problem of surplus embryos in ART clinics, and for developing methods of obtaining embryonic stem cells with fewer moral and ethical concerns (Robinson, 2007) The current emphasis on restricting embryonic stem cell research creates a disjoint between press coverage and protests related to other ethically challenging practices that is unduly constraining promising science (Robinson, 2007)

The approximate number of in-vetro embryos that died, were killed, and were eventually discarded by fertility clinics each year runs in the hundreds of thousands (Robinson, 2007) Despite that fact that members of the pro-life movement consider embryos to be human beings, pro-life groups seem focused on the few dozen or so embryos that have been killed through stem cell extraction while inexplicably ignoring the masses of embryos destroyed by ART clinics (Robinson, 2007) Controversy over stem cell research is in part a function of the many different ways that human life can be defined at the cellular level (Robinson, 2007)

Stem cells are a distinct form of human life that contains human DNA, and can exist for a time outside of the human body under very particular and customized conditions (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) Three types of stem cells exist: Embryonic, adult, and pluripotent (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) Embryonic stem cells can be coaxed into further development that results in the formation of some or all of the human body's 220 distinct cell types (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) Adult stem cells are not as useful from a research perspective since they have begun to specialize to the degree that they can only develop into a very few cell types (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) Specially treated cells called pluripotent stem cells have the potential to behave in ways that are similar to embryonic stem cells (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001)

Religious groups and social conservatives who hold pro-life beliefs are the main opponents to stem cell research (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) Their opposition is based primarily on a belief that the pre-embryonic cells from which embryonic stem cells are harvested is at that point already a human being -- an individual person (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) Their logic dictates that when cells are extracted from the pre-embryo, that human being -- that person -- is murdered (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) This argument represents one of several from the range of positions that people may assume when considering stem cell research (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001)

The embryonic stem cell debate tends to fall into several camps: (1) Those who object to any research or practice that alters the natural occurrence of human fertility; (2) those who accept practices and research that address problems with human fertility, but exclude abortion; (3) those who accept practices and research that address problems with human fertility and stem cell research to address human diseases and disorders, but exclude abortion as a source of stem cells; and (4) those who accept practices and research that address problems with human fertility and stem cell research to address human diseases and disorders, but hold that abortion is a separate issue and should be considered separately (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) Many stem cells used in research derive from discarded or excess embryos stored at ART clinics, but stem cells are also removed from aborted fetuses from patients who previously and independently decided to terminate pregnancy (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001)

Those individuals who would theoretically be placed in the first category -- those who object to any research or practice that alters the natural occurrence of human fertility -- present the most complex configuration of beliefs because of the apparent omissions in their logic or their inattention to contradiction (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) Few people in this group give evidence of objecting to practices and research that involves artificial fertilization to solve fertility issues for couples (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001) With most of the opposition to stem cell research coming from pro-lifers, objections seem to be misplaced since practically no protests occur at ART clinics where masses of embryos are destroyed or left to die when they are not used for fertilization (Hoffman, et al., 2004; Reeves, 2001)

Part Three -- Counter-Thesis and Counter-Argument

Pro-life supporters and social conservatives argue that using embryonic stem cells should be moot because stem cells currently can be harvested in ways that would allow science to move forward without triggering irresolvable ethical dilemmas (Holden, 2009; "NIH Final Guidelines," 2000; Vogel, 2008). In fact, unfertilized eggs can be used to harvest stem cells, but any medical or therapeutic application could only be applied to the woman who donated the eggs for research ("Stem Cell Breakthrough," 2009) The legislation governing stem cell research on embryos (the Dickey Amendment of 1996) lumped parthenogenesis in with embryonic stem cell research -- this, even though no human parthenogenetically activated eggs have ever been known to develop into embryos ("Stem Cell Breakthrough," 2009) The problem has been the insistence on a narrow classification of all forms of embryonic stem cell research which has precluded research on parthenogenesis as a controllable, ethical means for conducting important research ("Stem Cell Breakthrough," 2009)

Parthenogenesis is the term for the spontaneous activation of an unfertilized egg, which can be / has been a source for vital and versatile stem cells ("Stem Cell Breakthrough," 2009) Essentially, this means that a woman's own eggs can be used to harvest stem cells that can be used to improve or cure diseases or disorders she may have ("Stem Cell Breakthrough," 2009) Therapeutic techniques using stem cells derived by parthenogenesis would be limited to women who are not yet menopausal and would not apply to men at all ("Stem Cell Breakthrough," 2009)

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS cells) are converted from mature cells that exhibit many of the properties of embryonic stem cells, giving rise to research to utilize the iPS cells in the same way that embryonic stem cells might be used (Ertelt, 2009 Current techniques have involved the use of viruses and DNA transposon-based systems to induce pluripotent stem cells, neither of which has yet produced pluripotent cells comparable to embryonic stem cells, but both of which show promise for the development of alternative methods (Ertelt, 2009 Researchers are developing alternative techniques and sources of pluripotent stem cells with the potential to be medically significant (Ertelt, 2009

Part Four -- Response to Counter-Thesis…[continue]

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