Ethics Surrounding Human Embryonic Stem Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :

Although these stem cells are only a few years old, they possess unlimited potential in terms of clinical research. Specifically, scientists are focusing their potential uses in transplant medicine in order to significantly reduce the level of both infections and overall organ rejection in organ transplant surgery.

The potential for using stem cells is of vast clinical and medical importance. These cells could potentially allow scientists to learn what occurs at the cellular and molecular levels of human development and use this information to identify certain molecular pathways that contribute to a variety of conditions. Furthermore, using these stem cells could also allow scientists to discover the genes that are triggered in response to certain cellular conditions that cause rapid, unchecked cell growth or irregular cellular patterns. Additionally, using stem cells to discover certain genetic conditions will lend immense amount of information to the scientists and afford researchers the opportunity to enhance their understanding of various disorders caused by genetics. However, despite this growing potential there are obstacles associated with the utilization of these cell lines in the pursuit of medical advancement. The use of stem cells comes attached with a variety of legal, ethical, moral and philosophical issues. The remainder of this discussion will focus on these issues.

Those who assert that killing human embryos is morally reprehensible usually assert the maxim that all individuals were once embryos, deserving of all the respect that other human beings are accustomed to. This argument blends the ethical, religious and philosophical elements of the concept of the commencement of human life. This maxim has two main branches: (1) the embryo is the earliest stage of development in the existence of a human being and (2) Human beings have the same moral standing at all stages of growth and development, including the embryonic stage (Degette, 2008). These two branches are inherently philosophical in nature in that it portends to make distinctions regarding human nature. These maxims seem incompatible with the moral reasons used to justify treating individuals in varying manners dependent on their nature. If an individual was once an embryo it would logically flow that that individual's nature was different. Therefore, it would permissible to treat you in a manner that would be inappropriate as this individual became older. It appears implausible to assume that radical changes in an individual's nature can never affect that individual's moral status.

The major counterpoint to the religiosity of the anti-stem cell research argument is to posit the question "Are six-day-old embryos human organisms?"(Fox, 2007). Although modern science has not clarified or lent any assistance in determining if a six day embryo is a human being, there is certainly room to create reasonable doubt. There are two competing attitudes regarding what happens once conception occurs. The first constructs assumes that subsequent cell division is but the first steps in the life span of a single individual possessing differentiating characteristics that will make up their essential self and allow the individual to develop into a rational adult. The second construct does not treat the combination of the female and male gamete as a human organism (Friedman, 2009).

With respect to the first premise, although it is true that all the cells are in a single unit- they are held together by a singly cellular membrane it is difficult to determine what makes all these various cells parts of an individual. This logical premise leads yet to another question, or requirement, in order to determine what makes these cells a single human individual, there must be the determination about what, exactly, a human organism is -- a "first principles" approach to examining this question. Human organisms are entities with human genes that compose living organs that function together in harmonious concert; however these organs in and of themselves do not constitute living organisms (Green, 2001).

The second construct regarding what occurs after the combination of male and female gametes holds that this combination and the inevitable delegation of cells does not constitute a human organism. According to this philosophical premise, once this single cell begins to divide,...
...When the first cell divides, it ceases to exist, although its offspring is two daughter cells. Likewise, when these cells divide they cease to exist leaving in its wake the offspring cells. Therefore there is not a single individual that remains throughout the transformation. Only when there is a substantial differentiation in cellular function, position and structure that the claim about integrating components of an organismic structure being present. Scientifically, this type of distinctive presentation is not present until roughly two weeks after fertilization it seems logical this is the period where human beings are said to exist.

Those who seek to assert that the very first levels of embryonic development constitute a valid human life, worthy of the highest levels of protection bear a foreseeable objection that lead to yet another philosophical question that must be addressed when considering the ethical issues that would have to be resolved to allow embryonic stem cell research (Herold, 2007). The issue of cellular specialization appears to be a critical component of those that seek to say the embryo is a human life. However, the question that must be answered is, at the time these individuals claim an embryo represents a human life; does the embryo at this time represent a higher order of life? This question ventures from the purely biological to the metaphysical (Holland, 2001).

If the minimal degree of cellular interaction is to be determined as the beginning of human life, then brain death should not be considered both the legal, ethical and biological standard of when a person cease to live. Brain death is compatible with the essential premise of cell-based interaction between neural cells and other tissues and cells within the human body (Humber, 2004). However, modern science and for that matter all relevant practicality has defined this state as a state wherein individuals have ceased to live- in a more philosophical sense they have lost all essential self qualities and have simply become an amalgamation of different cells, tissues and organ systems- in almost all cases; those individuals in this predicament are sustained by artificial means, i.e. life support. Even the most ardent defender of the rights of an embryo would be hard pressed to define an individual possessing the same level of cellular interactions and operations as that of a six day embryo as a viable, living human being (Juengst, 2000).

The arguments underlying the need for human embryonic stem cell research incorporate various philosophical and metaphysical principles to establish the maxim that embryos are not individuals based on the logical premise that although the embryo is a collection of cells working in concert at a level higher than they would exhibit in singularity; their concerted effort does not lend itself to define the embryo as a "higher order of life"-a human being, therefore this leads to the logical conclusion that if the embryo is not an individual by not being a "higher order of life" then the embryo is not deserving of any additional protection or the equivalent protections afforded to traditional human beings (Kass, 2002).

The arguments against embryonic stem cell research are deeply rooted in ethical, moral and religious grounds and theories. All forming an overarching construct that will serve to bolster their premise that embryos represent the most innocent of human life and needed to be afforded the maximum amount of protection under the law.

The arguments against embryonic stem cell research begin from the proposition that the embryo is undoubtedly the most complex entity known to man. The argument acknowledges that the embryo does not even closely resemble in the slightest bit the makings of a human being, in the traditional sense. However, the fact that all human beings start as embryos brings into context the gravity of each and every individuals origins and the need to value those origins as sacred human life. The embryo commands a certain level of respect and it is imperative that this respect is maintained.

The main philosophical tenant of this argument is the fertilization of a female gamete by a male gamete represents the union of a man and a woman to foster the development of a human life (Korobkin, 2009). Therefore, the embryo is a human life in its most basic of forms. According to this purview the embryo is not just a collection of cells but rather a cohesive unit working together in concert to perform those vital functions that render human life in existence (Lanza, 2005). This argument seeks to remedy the position taken by those who argue in favor of stem cell research regarding the distinguishing characteristics between a fully developed human being and a gesticulation phase embryo (Marzili,2007). Accordingly, an individual is an individual regardless of the stages of development.

All human's are afforded the basic protections of their morality and…

Sources Used in Documents:


Bellomo, M. (2006). The Stem Cell Divide: The Facts, the Fiction, and the Fear Driving the Greatest Scientific, Political, and Religious Debate of Our Time. New York: Amacom.

Bevington, Linda K., Ray G. Bohlin, Gary P. Stewart, John F. Kilner, and C. Christopher Hook. Basic Questions on Genetics, Stem Cell Research and Cloning: Are These Technologies Okay to Use? Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002.

Carrier, Ewa, and Gracy Ledingham. 100 Questions & Answers about Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2004.

DeGette, Diana. Sex, Science, and Stem Cells: Inside the Right Wing Assault on Reason. Guilford, CT: Lyons, 2008.

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