More than thirty years ago, in 1981, scientists were able to successfully extract embryonic stem cells from mice, effectively opening a door to new discoveries in scientific and medical fields. Stem cells are unspecialized cells meaning that they have no set function in the body. Scientists have also found ways to influence these cells into becoming tissues, organ-specific cells, and other specialized cells. In addition to this, they are also capable of replenishing themselves through cell devision. However, this research has since moved onto human testing, essentially creating some major moral issues. The biggest dilemma being: in order to obtain the embryonic stem cells, potential human life must be destroyed. However, the stem cells can alleviate the suffering of living people. In order to find a practical solution looking through a cultural lens will help see the beneficial and inimical effects on people within the U.S. Though research on these cells is still being conducted, these moral problems are hindering funding. Yet, it is important to find a solution because stem cells hold the potential to fix a plethora of health issues. While this experimentation creates difficulty in America’s culture, it is important to continue the research so the process can be perfected in order to help meet citizens’ medical needs.
One reason why this research is struggling is lack of experience and practice with these cells, meaning some embryos are not being used fully, and their lives are ending unnecessarily. In America this brings up many problems due to the many religions that believe in preserving life, and assert that life begins when conceived. However, one possible solution would be developing adult stem cells in order to have as much flexibility as embryonic stem cells. Dennis Hollinger, president as well as distinguished professor of Christian Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, argues that Healing is regarded as the ‘greatest good’ which will usher in the most happiness or pleasure for the greatest number of people. Though he thinks embryonic stem cells are still the way to go, he is not wrong about health bringing happiness. In an article by University of Notre Dame on alternative stem cell sources they suggest using Induced Pluripotent Stem cells. These are taken from somatic cells and adding small amount of specific genes into them, thus, iPS cells do not result in the death of any embryos or require the use of unfertilized eggs. This substitute could be a good a sturdy solution to using stem cells from embryos, and help the overall health of U.S. citizens.
Adding to the issue of ending life unnecessarily, another ethical or theological problem is that this can be seen as playing God. Peter Dabrock is a German theologian as well as a university teacher at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, explains this well by saying If human beings try to conquer the position of the one who embodies the most fundamental difference from mankind, namely God, they are suspected of exceeding the limits of man and thus of responsible behavior. Though according to John Tierney, writer for the New York Times, this has now spread to cloning was well as genetic engineering making critics on the right and the left fret about the morality of stem-cell research. Of course this is unsettling and only adds to the negative connotation associated with embryonic stem cell research.
While the stem cells are thought to be developed in the future, it is also thought to be very expensive. The process of procuring the cells is very challenging, so having them used in medical practices would be costly. Though it is slowly becoming more affordable, it still coasts a few thousand for treatment. According to Paul Knoepfler, regular contributor to the Niche as well as professor at Davis School of Medicine, reduced prices start at $7,000 to $8,000. Knoepfler also states that Whether inside or outside the US, insurance does not cover the costs of these potentially dangerous, unproven treatments. This is concerning considering a survey from The Commonwealth Fund shows about 79 million Americans struggle to pay medical bills for basic healthcare.
In addition to these cells conflicting with religious and moral beliefs, and common healthcare they have also started effecting American politics. Within the past few decades the pro-life movement has had great influence in the U.S. However, policy debates over embryonic stem cell research during the Presidency of George W. Bush exposed deep, moral fissures amongst American conservatives. states Alexander smith, Senior Leverhulme Research Fellow and Assistant Professor in Sociology at Warwick University. From this debate of medical v.s. the religious right, the dickey-wicker amendment was made, stating that federal funding for research pertaining to human embryos is no longer legal. Yet, during Bill Clintons presidency the law was interpreted to allow research onstemcells that were obtained, to begin with, using private funds. Says Peter Grier regular writer for The Christian Science Monitor, as well as co-winner of the Society of Professional Journalists National Reporting Award. This is important of course because politics lead people, and presidents guide the citizens.
Despite the loss of possible life, many still favor the stem cells for their versatile uses. According to a pie chart, put out by Your Congress” Your Health Survey Charlton Research Company for Research! America in 2009, 39% of Americans strongly favor the expansion of this research. Though these stem cells provide promise for cures to many ailments there are many other solutions. According an article by Krista Conger, a science writer for the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs, Vice President for Research and Economic Development at Montana state university Renee Reijo Pera says that only about 30% of embryos develop to the blastocyst stage. This is crucial three to five day period after fertilization because it is when the stem cells are extracted. Even when they do reach this phase seven out of ten embryos will have abnormal chromosomes. Though some make it through this process they are also capable of triggering responses within the human body, as mentioned before, because they are unrecognized. They may also struggle with their set function within the body, essentially meaning they failed. Thus, it is simply wiser to develop other types of stem cells, even if they are not as multifaceted.
In the end, it is important Americans take action to protect all life no matter how young and no matter how small. The research started all those years ago started with mice, and has now spread to politics, religion, and medical debates within the U.S. Though this research can help alleviate suffering of people we must be aware of the cost. At the end of the day, this experimentation and research the forbidding expansion of medical cures rises from the lost lives of these embryos.
Americans Favor Expanding Federal Funding for ESC Research Your Congress” Your Health Survey Charlton Research Company for Research! America, June 2009. newvoicesforresearch.blogspot.com/2009/08/where-do-americans-stand-on-stem-cell.html. Accessed 14 December. 2018.
Cha, Ariana Eunjung. How Religion Is Coming to Terms with Modern Fertility Methods.The Washington Post, WP Company, 27 Apr. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/national/how-religion-is-coming-to-terms-with-modern-fertility-methods/?utm_term=.9f397129e2b4. Accessed 14 December 2018.
Conger, Krista. Earlier, More Accurate Prediction of Embryo Survival Enabled by Research. EHR National Symposium, Standford School of Medicine , 28 Oct. 2009, med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2010/10/earlier-more-accurate-prediction-of-embryo-survival-enabled-by-research.html. Accessed 14 December 2018.
Dabrock, Peter. Playing God? Synthetic biology as a theological and ethical challenge Systems and synthetic biology vol. 3,1-4 (2009): 47-54. Accessed 14 December 2018.
Grier, Peter. In Stem-Cell Debate, a Culture War. (Cover Story).Christian Science Monitor, vol. 93, no. 155, 6 July 2001, p. 1.EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=4762641&site=ehost-live. Accessed 14 December 2018.
Hollinger, Dennis P. Stem Cells & Our Moral Culture.The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, Trinity International University , 15 Nov. 2001, cbhd.org/content/stem-cells-our-moral-culture. Accessed 14 December 2018.
Holt, Nathalia. The Case for Fetal-Cell Research.The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 July 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/07/30/opinion/the-case-for-fetal-cell-research.html. Accessed 14 December 2018.
Jensen, David. Stem Cell: Feds’ Crackdown Could Affect California.Capitol Weekly, 3 Oct. 2018, capitolweekly.net/stem-cell-feds-crackdown-california/. Accessed 14 December 2018.
Knoepfler, Paul. How Much Do Stem Cell Treatments Really Cost? The Niche, 22 Feb. 2015, ipscell.com/2015/02/stemcelltreatmentcost/.Accessed 9 December 2018
Smith, Alexander Thomas T. Faith, Science and the Political Imagination: Moderate Republicans and the Politics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research.Sociological Review, vol. 58, no. 4, Nov. 2010, pp. 623“637.EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.1467-954X.2010.01943.x. Accessed 14 December. 2018.
Stem Cell Division: Abortion Law and Its Influence on the Adoption of Radically Different Embryonic Stem Cell Legislation in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany.Texas International Law Journal, vol. 39, no. 3, Spring 2004, pp. 479“519.EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=13663931&site=ehost-live. Accessed 14 December 2018.
Stem Cells: Frequently Asked Questions about Stem Cell Research.Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 24 Oct. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/bone-marrow-transplant/in-depth/stem-cells/art-20048117. Survey: 79 Million Americans Have Problems with Medical Bills or Debt. Commonwealth Fund, www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/newsletter-article/survey-79-million-americans-have-problems-medical-bills-or-debt. Accessed 14 December 2018.
Tierney, John. Are Scientists Playing God? It Depends on Your Religion . The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Nov. 2007, www.nytimes.com/2007/11/20/science/20tier.html?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=39F729F1AC3AFA2ADFFCA657444CF4F3&gwt=pay. Accessed 14 December 2018.
University of Notre Dame. Alternative Stem Cell Sources // Center for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine // University of Notre Dame. Center for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine, stemcell.nd.edu/research/alternative-stem-cell-sources/. Accessed 14 December 2018.