The Ethical Debate of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Ethical Debate of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Stem cell research is often at the forefront of heated ethical debates due to its assessment of human life. If stem cell research cannot be ethically defended, then it should not be conducted. “You cannot defend a study ethically unless the presumed cost is lower than expected benefits. The cost-benefit analysis of scientific research needs to include human/animal discomfort/risks, environmental issues, material costs, etc” which is necessary to support the positive outcome which the research claims to provide (experiment-resources, 2008).

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The two opposing ethical arguments which have to be defended morally are that of utilitarianism and deontology. “Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that determines the moral value of an act in terms of its results, and if those results produce the greatest good for the greatest number. As a consequentialist theory, it is contrasted with nonconsequentialist theories, such as deontology” (Mosser, 2011).

The Utilitarian argument of stem cell research is that, although the most valuable research has been derived from aborted human fetuses, stem cell research can cure multiple diseases and greatly advance science and medicine, so this is what should be done. “Deontology is the study of moral obligation and necessity, finding the source of ethical correctness in the rules according to which one acts. It rejects utilizing the results or consequences of an act to evaluate an act as moral and thus is a non-consequentialist theory.

It is standardly contrasted with the consequentialist theory of utilitarianism” (Mosser, 2011). Skeptics with a deontological view would counter-argue saying that it is unethical to destroy human life to save human life, so this should not be done. Both of these arguments are complex and need to be evaluated to conclude which has the higher benefit. Scientists and others who share a utilitarian stance support stem cell research by claiming the ethical cost is low compared to a high benefit.

The benefits of stem cell research can help find cures and treatments for diseases and ailments such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, cancer, birth defects, spinal cord injuries, and damaged organs (experiment-resources, 2008). Additionally, “there is endless potential for scientists to learn about human growth and cell development from studying stem cells” (Phillips, 2010).

Unethical implications have included use embryo research and aborted fetuses. The controversy over using aborted fetuses for research was much higher prior to 2007. At this time, scientists defend this method on the bases that it would be better to use the fetuses to help humanity as opposed to throwing them away as waist. Scientists defend embryo research on the bases “that week-old blastocysts are not human beings, and that destroying those embryos does not constitute killing.

At one week, embryos are merely a cluster of cells and not deserving of the protections afforded to others, they say. When conceived naturally, a blastocyst has not been implanted in the uterus by that time. Most scientists argue that an embryo is not a person until it is at least two weeks old, when it develops a so-called primitive streak, the first evidence of a nervous system” (FoxNews. com, 2001). Pro-Lifers, Antiabortionists, and others with a deontological stance oppose stem cell research.

Antiabortionists claim research done on human fetuses devalues human life, so the ethical cost of this research far outweighs the advantages. The primary premise of this argument is that it is unethical to destroy human life to save human life. “Use of embryonic stem cells for research involves the destruction of blastocysts formed from laboratory-fertilized human eggs. For those who believe that life begins at conception, the blastocyst is a human life and to destroy it is unacceptable and immoral” (Phillips, 2010). Pope John Paul II has offered one argument designed to address this view when he wrote: Experience is already showing how a tragic coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the womb, leading to accommodation and acquiescence in the face of other related evils, such as euthanasia, infanticide, and most recently, proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos, destined to destruction in the process. A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception until natural death” (FoxNews. om, 2001). There are several new methods that have been developed since the start of the highly controversial stem cell debate which rectifies the major differences on both sides. New solutions such as Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS) acts as an alternate method to embryonic research in that it uses cellular reprogramming of adult skin cells. “The benefit of iPS is that stem cells can be created without the use of embryos, however, the cells resemble embryos in that they can, theoretically and under the appropriate conditions, be made to differentiate into any type of cell found in the body (Phillips, 2010). . There are also techniques being developed that use amnionic fluid, or stem cell extraction techniques that do not damage the embryo, that also provide alternatives for obtaining viable stem cell lines ” (Phillips, 2010). The only caveat to all of these newly developed alternatives is that no solution has been studied long enough to claim that it can be an effective substitute 100%. “To begin with, demand for embryonic stem cells will continue in the near future.

In order to determine that the transformations work properly and the cells are safe for therapeutic use, researchers need to compare the iPS cells to ES cells, which means destroying embryos. In the long run, fewer embryos may be destroyed in stem-cell research as research shifts to iPS cells; but this transition may take years” (Ertelt,2010). With all of this said, I feel that stem cell research is extremely important. I’m in favor of stem cell research and utilitarian ideals, because I believe in striving for the greater good of all mankind.

This research can save millions of lives, and alleviate the vast amounts of suffering; America is morally obligated to actively pursue stem cell research. This good in my opinion does not include human cloning for reasons such as replacing dead loved-ones, but this good could lead to positive human reproduction and many medical discoveries. Skeptics are merely scarred of the unknown, and believe that science will abuse this research by immorally cloning humans (which is highly possible since the cloning of animals has been practiced and documented from the beginning of the century).

With further advancement in iPS, humans will be able to control human reproduction with great precision. Controlling human reproduction could work for the greater good when considering couples with disabilities and genetic diseases. Although abusing this practice is inevitable, it would not be a justifiable reason to ban or hinder research and development. As new advances alter the possibilities of human reproduction, we must develop a morally sound body of law governing stem cell research and tissue donation so that we harness and promote the common good.

Hindering research only postpones talented scientists who are most qualified from accepting these types of scientific opportunities in research development. Further, federal involvement would increase the pool of talented scientists who could study the cells, and thus accelerate the pace of the research” (FoxNews. com, 2001). Currently, American federal funding can only go to research on stem cells from existing (already destroyed) embryos. Similarly, in Canada, as of 2002, scientists cannot create or clone embryos for research but must used existing embryos discarded by couples.

The UK allows embryonic stem cell cloning” (Phillips, 2010). On March 9, 2009, President Obama overturned Bush’s vetoed 2006 bill in allowing US Federal funding to go to embryonic stem cell research (Phillips, 2010). I believe the deontological arguments are weak and commit several fallacies. The first fallacy involves abuse in human cloning. The argument is that stem cells can clone humans successfully and human cloning is immoral, therefore stem cell research is immoral and should not be done.

This is a weak inductive argument which commits a hasty generalization fallacy. “To generalize on the basis of a group of people would be very hasty, indeed. Therefore, the evidence would not adequately support this conclusion, and would not follow from the premise as stated. Often the fallacy of hasty generalization can lead to damaging stereotypes made on the basis of just a few examples. Drawing broad and very general conclusions based on insufficient evidence can therefore lead to harmful results” (Mosser, 2011).

The second argument involves the question of when a fertilized egg becomes a human life. This is a weak inductive argument which commits a begging the question fallacy. If an egg is fertilized then it is a human being, and has rights, therefore destroying a fertilized egg is murder. The problem with this argument is that a fertilized egg is just a cluster of cells without a nervous system or vital signs which a human beings or, in this case, a fetus would possess. To defend this argument on the bases of murder by the destruction of blastocysts cannot be justified.

Basically, an argument that begs the question asks the reader to simply accept the conclusion without providing real evidence; the argument either relies on a premise that says the same thing as the conclusion (which you might hear referred to as “being circular” or “circular reasoning”), or simply ignores an important (but questionable) assumption that the argument rests on (Mosser, 2011). These are just a few unfair and weak inductive arguments that I’ve found in the opposing side’s arguments.

In turn, these fallacy’s make the argument of continuing with research even stronger. “While research using human embryonic stem cells has roused political controversy for almost two decades, little has been done to scientifically assess American attitudes on the subject. New research from the Univ. of Nevada, Reno provides decision-makers with a much clearer picture of how their constituents truly feel about the subject. U. S. attitudes toward human embryonic stem cell research, published this month in Nature Biotechnology, was conducted by Univ. f Nevada, Reno faculty members Mariah Evans (lead author) and Jonathan Kelley, who surveyed a large, representative national sample of 2,295 respondents in 2009. Their most significant findings include: More than two-thirds of respondents approved of using therapeutic cloning (nuclear transfer of the patient’s own genes) and stem cells from in vitro fertilized embryos to cure cancer or treat heart attacks, while only about one in six respondents did not approve. Therapeutic cloning remains banned in the U. S. today. About one in six respondents had mixed feelings or were undecided.

Over two-thirds of respondents also approved of a newer, less-researched method – using modified adult cells as an alternative to using cells from in vitro fertilized embryos – if the use could cure cancer or treat heart attacks. Less than 15 percent did not approve. About one in five had mixed feelings or was undecided. Almost half (43 to 47 percent) of respondents also approve of the use of therapeutic cloning, stem cells from in vitro fertilized embryos and stem cells from an adult to treat allergies, but slightly over one in four do not. And, 28 to 29 percent have mixed feelings or are undecided in this regard.

These findings indicate that while more respondents approve of the use of these methods for treatment of less-serious conditions than disapprove of it, the approval is not as strong as it is for using these methods to treat more serious conditions and diseases, such as cancer or heart attacks. Respondents were not as approving of use of these methods for cosmetic purposes, such as creating new skin to restore someone’s youthful appearance. Almost one-half (45 to 50 percent) disapproved of this use, while only slightly more than one-quarter (25 to 29 percent) approved of this use.

About one-quarter had mixed feelings or were undecided. Respondents did not support human reproductive cloning, neither of themselves nor of a child who had died, with almost three-quarters (71 to 73 percent) disapproving and only about one in 10 approving. About one in five had mixed feelings or was undecided. Respondents were quite evenly divided in their thoughts on animal cloning with slightly over a third approving, slightly over a third disapproving and about one-quarter having mixed feelings or being undecided.

Evans also found it interesting that the majority of respondents trusted their own judgment most when deciding on their approval or disapproval on stem cell research issues, rather than looking to their church or other authorities, such as governmental ethics committees. The vast majority, over two-thirds, says that in deciding whether it is right to allow these treatments, they would follow their own judgment. Only 4 percent gave greater moral weight to the Catholic Church than to themselves, and even among committed church-going Catholics, only about one in five defer to the church on these matters.

The study also revealed that despite the Catholic Church’s firm opposition, support for the use of stem cell research for the cure or treatment of serious diseases was almost as strong among Catholic laity as among Protestants. Even those in the most disapproving demographic group, churchgoing fundamentalist women, were still more in favor than opposed” (Univ. of Nevada, 2011). Although Stem cell research is often at the forefront of heated ethical debates, new alternative methods of research have resolved key disputes amongst both sides.

Stem cell research can be ethically defended, and it should be conducted as the benefits outweigh the immoral implications. “Debates over the ethics of embryonic stem cell research continue to divide scientists, politicians and religious groups. However, promising developments in other areas of stem cell research might lead to solutions that bypass these ethical issues. These new developments could help win stem cell research more support from those against embryonic stem cell research, since they don’t require the destruction of blastocysts” (Phillips, 2010).


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