March 12th, 2009
Stem Cell Research
Researcher Douglas Melton utters the words, “I decided I was not just going to sit
around. I decided I was going to do something”(Park 38). Melton, Co-Director at the
Harvard Stem Cell Institute, said this to Alice Park in the article, How the Coming
Revolution in Stem Cells Could Save Your life, which discussed his response to the news
that his six-month-old child was diagnosed with Type I diabetes (Park 38). Few parents
have been able to say this line and then follow it up; Douglas Melton, however, is among
that small percentage. His research with stem cells began with the initial aim to create
insulin-producing cells in order to cure all those individuals, including his son, suffering
with Type I diabetes; now, it is thought that the capability to produce these cells will
exceed expectations and, in fact, cure other diseases as well (Park 38). Stem cell research
has been a highly controversial topic due to the use of embryonic stem cells. However,
funding needs to be provided to continue such study, for a strict set of moral and ethical
guidelines are followed at all times by researchers during procedures. This is not the first
time that medical advancements have been opposed, yet people are still provided with the
necessary medical procedures such as the once controversial blood transfusions they
require. Plus, current advanced breakthroughs in medicine have the potential to eliminate
the use of embryonic stem cells altogether. With the controversy eliminated, there is no
reason that funding should be prohibited.
The age-old question revolving around the issue of stem cell research and the use
of embryos is that of who are we to decide, and how do we decide, when a cellular mass
is considered a person. Determining at which point exactly in the developmental process
something is considered a living individual is a large portion of objection felt with stem
cell research. According to Breda O’Brien, author of the article, Spinning Round the Stem
Cell Research Issue, if the argument for stem cells is that the embryos are just “a blob of
cells,” and therefore do not have their own degree of consciousness, could a rebuttal be
that every living person is in fact made up of cells, and thus, “a blob of cells?”(O’Brien).
If so, where is the cut-off date when this blob’s existence is no longer in the hands of
another? The argument all comes down to morals. In a debate on this very topic, Melton
asked if “a day-old embryo and a 6-year-old [were] moral equivalents,” to which the
response from the representative against stem cell research was, “yes.” Melton, however,
fired back with the question of “why society accepts the freezing of embryos but not the
freezing of 6-year-olds,” to which there was no response (Park 41). This idea presents the
fact that those in opposition to stem cell research turn a blind eye when it comes to the
freezing of embryos even though the same argument against stem cells could be used
against the same idea.
Sean Morrison, Director of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell
Biology, pointedly explains in his medical film clip that obviously, with such controversy
in the public’s eye, research with stem cells that takes place does so under a strict code of
guidelines (Morrison, Sean). The topic has been intensely studied by the National
Academy of Sciences with the goal of a means to go about stem cell research in an
ethically and morally correct way (Morrison, Sean). In addition to this code of guidelines
set out by the National Academy, the March CNN news article informs the public that
President Obama recently passed the policy on stem cell research and is currently
composing another set of ethical rules to be abided by (Obama).
An important aspect to consider when determining whether stem cell research
should be permitted is that of several other procedures that can be considered
questionable for the same reasons; for instance, blood transfusions and organ transplants
(Morrison, Sean). These medical cures are entirely optional for patients and researchers
alike; the same concept should be applied to that of the use of stem cells. Morrison, the
Director of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology, rebuts opposition to
stem cell research, declaring “the fact that there are subsets of people in our society who
believe that those life-giving medical treatments are immoral doesn’t make us prohibit
the patients who need those treatments from receiving them. Rather what we do is we
ensure that research goes forward in an ethical manner . . .” (Morrison, Sean). If stem cell
procedures go in accordance with the guidelines that have been put forth by the National
Academy of Sciences, both sides of the stem cell controversy should be pacified.
Another perspective to consider in this controversy is the thousands of embryonic
cells that are discarded in fertility clinics nationwide (Morrison, Sean. “Five”). These
cells have been thrown away for any number of reasons preventing the effective fertility
of those being impregnated (Morrison, Sean. “Five”). According to O’Brien, those
“blob[s] of cells” are being wasted (O’Brien). If these embryonic cells cannot be used for
their intended purpose, they should definitely be put to good use. They can still be used
for the intention of stem cells; as a result they will advance medicine and put thousands
of people out of suffering. As President Obama emphasizes, “As a person of faith, I
believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe
we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research – and the humanity and
conscience to do so responsibly.” Thus, research is currently taking place in an ethical
manner due to the fact that scientists are not creating embryos for the purpose of medical
use, but are instead using ones that would otherwise be discarded completely.
Luckily, these days so many advances in technology and medicine have been
made that scientists are no longer entirely reliant upon embryos for stem cells. In June of
2006, Scientist Shinya Yamanaka discovered that by taking the skin cells of a mouse and
mixing them with the proper genetics he was able to erase the entire cell’s memory (Park
42). This means, in theory, that the cell can be programmed to become any body part that
a patient requires (Park 42). Years after this discovery was made, Yamanaka’s work was
followed up with great success and thus came about induced pluripotent stem cells, or
iPS cells (Park 43). Because of this research discovery, embryonic stem cells have
become merely the “gold standard,” against which iPS cells must be compared to,
according to Dr. Doug Engel of the University of Michigan Medical Hospital; they still
need to be studied, however, in order to ensure that the iPS cells are functioning in the
same way (Engel). This standard is important to have because for iPS cells to be equally
effective, they need to work in the same way as embryonic stem cells do. Once any
problems are worked out, the use of embryonic stem cells will cease to be necessary.
With iPS cells, the creation of an embryo is entirely bypassed, and thus there
should be no more controversy (Park 43). With this evidence being widely spread around
the world, less and less is being written against the idea of stem cell research. During my
own research process, even, I was not able to find information about opposing arguments
to research on stem cells until I looked at works written over ten years ago. Such works
just do not seem as pertinent now that iPS cells have been discovered. As a result,
diseases such as Type I diabetes and Parkinson’s can actually be observed in their
developing. This will lead to a better understanding of the disease itself, and thus,
hopefully, a cure (Park 43).
With the stem cell controversy waning, why prevent research being done with the
initiative to cure those in need if the advancements are taking place in a moral and
ethically correct manner? Specific guidelines have been set and are followed at all times
by stem cell researchers to guarantee that research is indeed carried out this way.
President Obama, having recently lifted the prohibition on stem cell research, has even
updated these rules to ensure nothing that could be considered unethical will occur
(Obama). Medical procedures, including the use of stem cells and organ transplants, that
research has made possible is not a required decision, and thus should not be denied to
those who opt to be treated this way. On top of this information, the introduction of iPS
cells that could eventually be used in place of embryonic stem cells will cause
controversy to subside even further.
Engel, Dr. Doug. Stem Cell Research: The Road to Cures. UM Film Clip. 25 Feb. 2009
The clip, “Stem Cell Research: The Road to Cures,” is a video of Dr. Doug Engel
talking about the facts on iPS cells. He brings in the idea of “the golden standard” of
embryonic stem cells, and explains that that is why embryonic cells must still be used. He
says how eventually iPS cells may be able to cure diseases, but they are still be
researched. This information is used to bring in the idea that soon we will not be entirely
reliant upon embryonic stem cells, and thus there will be even less controversy.
Morrison, Sean. Five Things You Should Know About Stem Cell Research. UM Film
Clip. 25 Feb. 2009
The clip, “Five Things You Should Know About Stem Cell Research,” is a video
of Sean Morrison, the Director of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell
Biology, states the facts about why embryonic stem cells are used. He explains that
because the cells are taken at such an early developmental stage, they have the capability
to grow into whatever researchers want. He also brings in the idea of using the discarded
embryos from fertility clinics, which is the information that was used in my paper, to
show that these could be put to good use.
“Obama Overturns Bush Policy On Stem Cells.” CNN.com 9 Mar. 2009. 10 Mar. 2009.
This article from the CNN news website, brings the public’s attention to the fact
that Obama has overturned Bush’s policy on stem cell research. Obama states that
he thinks that research should be funded by taxes in order to end human suffering,
as long as it is done in a moral and ethically correct manner. Quotes and this
information is used in my paper to show how the process is definitely done
O’Brien, Breda. “Spinnin Round the Stem-Cell Research Issue.” Time Magazine. 9, Feb.
The article by Breda O’Brien talks about the politics surrounding stem cell
research. She goes on to say how the difficulty lies in determining exactly when a cluster
of cells is considered to have traits of a person. Quotes are brought in to support her claim
that there really isn’t an accurate time that these cells become a person other than
conception. This article ties in other experts’ ideas on the matter, and aid in my argument
by supporting the fact there definitely is a difference between a mass of cells just
developing and a baby on its way.
Park, Alice. “How the Coming Revolution in Stem Cells Could Save Your Life.” 29 Nov.
2003. Lexis Nexis. University of South Florida Library, Tampa. 25 Feb.
Stem Cell Research; “Spinning Round The Stem-Cell Research Issue.”
The article by Alice Park goes over how important stem cell research is, its
benefits, as well as the introduction of iPS cells. It starts with the story of researcher
Douglas Melton who began such research in order to cure his son of Type I diabetes. This
information helped explain stem cells, was the main source in proving my claims for
stem cell research, and served as the emotional hook at the beginning of the paper, itself.
Morrison, Sean. Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Ethics and Morality. UM Video Clip. 25
The clip, “Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Ethics and Morality,” is a video of
Sean Morrison explaining how even though some people view the use of embryonic stem
cells as unethical and immoral, an actual set of guidelines are followed to ensure that all
progress is achieved in an ethical and moral way. He also states that just because a few
people disagree with the idea, we should not prohibit others from being able to choose to
use stem cells as treatment; blood transfusions, for example, are made optional as well
and some people are against them, too. This information helps support my stance pro
stem cell research.