Stem Cell Research -- Ethical Term Paper

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but, Cuomo continued, Bush's position "…remains a minority view" (Hurlbut, 822).

Christine Todd Whitman, who served Bush as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in Bush's first term (she served from January 2001 to May 2003), and was the first female governor of New Jersey, supported embryonic stem cell research. Whitman noted in her book that right after Bush was re-elected in 2004, Christian conservative organizer Phil Burress was heard to say, "The president rode our coattails" (Whitman, 2006).

Whitman believes the support of the Christian conservatives (i.e., evangelicals and others) for Bush was exaggerated; to wit, just twenty million of the fifty-nine million who voted for Bush indicated "moral values as their most important issues" -- which is just a third of the Bush victory vote.

Author Gary Scott Smith examines the great lengths the Bush campaign went to in 2004 to identify Bush as anti-abortion and anti-stem cell research. The campaign built a website to attack Democrat candidate John Kerry ( and distributed 300,000 copies of a documentary called "George W. Bush: Faith in the white House" directly to churches (Smith, 2006, p. 377). Moreover, the Bush reelection campaign attempted to get its hands on the membership directories of 1,600 churches in "the swing state of Pennsylvania"; this provoked a controversy because it "violated campaign finance and tax laws" that require congregations to remain non-partisan if they truly expect to retain their tax-exempt status.

It became clear by 2004-2005 that a majority of American supported embryonic stem cell research; according to a poll in 2005 "…two-thirds of Americans approved of the research" (Burgin, 2009, p. 4). Hence, a bill to basically overturn Bush's executive order (H.R. 810) began working its way through the House of Representatives with the proviso that the embryos had to have been donated by fertility clinics, that they were created specifically for fertility treatment, and that otherwise the embryos would be discarded if not used. These provisions were built into the bill so it would remove serious potential ethical issues.

The House took a full year of negotiations to come up with a final vote, but on May 24, 2005, the legislation passed the House, 238-194. The breakdown was 187 democrats and 50 Republicans (plus one independent) voting for, 180 Republicans and 14 Democrats voting against. By the time the U.S. Senate began debate on the legislation, a Gallup poll reflected that 61% of respondents believed embryonic stem cell research was "morally acceptable" (Burgin, 4). On July 18, 2006, the Senate approved H.R. 810 by a vote of 63 to 37 (43 Democrats, 19 Republicans voted yes). Very quickly, on July 19, Bush, remembering his important constituency of conservative Christians and evangelicals, vetoed the legislation. There were not enough votes to override the veto, and so important tools for conducting research were not to be made available during the Bush eight-year presence in the White House.

Additional Ethical Approaches to Stem Cell Research

To Philosophy professor Phillip Montague's (Western Washington University), the proposition that individuals who are now full-grown adults "…once existed as embryos from which stem cells could have been removed" is a flawed argument (Montague, 2011, p. 308). That argument implies that in the developmental history "…of every adult human being" there was, at the beginning, "an embryo to which the adult is numerically identical," Montague writes. But "…there is no such numerical identity" and in fact no adult human being "ever existed as an embryo (or any part of an embryo) from which stem cells could have been obtained" (Montague, 308).

Montague finds it interesting that opponents of stem cell research claim that "all human beings once existed as zygotes"; he goes through an esoteric explanation that is difficult for the layperson to understand, but basically he points out that albeit adult human beings can be traced backwards, to childhood and infancy "and well into the prenatal period" (Montague, 318). But to go deeper into the genesis of humans would require investigating the embryonic discs, which comes into existence "early in the third week following fertilization," he explains (318). The embryonic disc is created as a result of the "differentiation on the part of cells from the inner cell mass"; and though the embryonic disc may well form a fetus, and in time an adult human, the same can't be attributed to the inner cell mass, which is nothing but a "cluster of cells" (318).

Scientific evidence through empirical study shows that during mitosis, the zygote fails to survive. Additionally, he asserts that no human ever existed "as an embryo from which stem cells" could practically have been harvested; and given that fully proven aspect of science, there is no reason to suggest that "…these embryos are human beings with the same moral status as adult human beings" (Montague, 319). And hence, the main moral objection to embryonic stem cell research "…is therefore eliminated" (Montague, 319).

What Successes have Stem Cells Researchers Achieved Thus Far?

A story in the peer-reviewed journal Lancet points to two "legally blind women" who have "appeared to gain some vision" after they have received embryonic stem cells in an experimental treatment (Chang, 2012, p. 1). This is reportedly the first research that has done with humans that had vision problems.

Dr. Paul Knoepfler of the University of California at Davis was quoted saying the study with sightless patients has provided "reason for encouragement" albeit there is no firm finding that this application would be successful across the board with blind patients (Chang, p. 2). The way this research was done involved injecting each patient in one eye with cells the came from embryonic stem cells, Chang explains. One of the patients had an "age-related macular degeneration" which is the most common form of blindness; the other patient had a disorder called "Stargardt disease" that results in losing one's vision. No cure exists for either malady, Chang reports.

Four months after getting the injections of embryonic stem cells, both patients could actually read some of the progressively smaller letters on an eye chart; the patient with Stargardt disease -- who is a graphic artist -- could read "five of the largest letters" on the eye chart. Before the injections, that patient could see none of the letters. One of the positive outcomes of the research on these two patients was that the eyes did not reject the embryonic stem cells, Chang continued (p. 2).

An article in USA Today (Ritter, 2010) that was published by the Associated Press presents the news that transplants of adult stem cells have become "…a standard lifesaving therapy for perhaps hundreds or thousands of people with leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood diseases." This gives "…us all hope…[that] if we can recreate that success in other tissues, what can we possible imagine for other people?" commented Dr. David Scadden of Harvard University (Ritter, p. 2).

Also, echoing research referenced earlier in this paper, the article in USA Today reports that stem cell applications "can ease symptoms" in heart failure and increase blood flow in limbs where artery blockage has caused pain and otherwise amputation would be required (Ritter, 3).

In conclusion, there has been sufficient research and experimentation with stem cells to show that a wide range of medical problems can potentially be aided or perhaps even cured through these strategies. The fact that the president of the United States (George W. Bush) held up progress on stem cell research for political and ideological purposes for eight years is, from the point-of-view of this paper, contemptible. Still, President Obama has now changed those policies and the research and experimentation has grown and succeeded to the degree that there is genuine hope for cures for cancer, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's and a number of other serious diseases.

Works Cited

Burgin, Eileen. "Deciding on Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research." Politics and the Life

Sciences, 28.1 (2009): 3-16.

Chang, Alica. "Stem Cells Shown to Aid Vision in Blind People." Lancet. Retrieved February

4, 2012, from

Doerflinger, Richard M. "Old and New Ethics in the Stem Cell Debate." Journal of Law,

Medicine & Ethics. 38.2 (2010): 212-219.

Hurlbut, William B. "Science, Religion, and the Politics of Stem Cells." Social Research, 73.3

(2006): 819-830.

Hyun, Insoo. "The bioethics of stem cell research and therapy." The Journal of Clinical

Investigation, 120.1 (2010): 71-75.

Montague, Phillip. "Stem Cell Research and the Problem of Embryonic Identity." The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 15 (2011): 307-319.


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