CRT 201 Instructor Eva White
Ethics of Stem Cell Research
In November of 1998, the issue of stem cell research first broke onto the scientific scene when researchers reported the first isolation of human embryonic stem cells. This discovery, made by Dr. James A. Thomson, a biologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, offers great promise for new ways of treating diseases. Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, MS, ALS, juvenile diabetes and spinal cord injuries are just a few of the debilitating diseases that stem cell research could possibly cure. However, the ethical issues raised regarding stem cell research have hindered scientific progress for years. First, let's answer the question, "What are stem cells?" The stem cell is a unique and essential cell type found in all animals. There are many different types of stem cells, some which are more committed to a certain function than others. This means that when stem cells divide, some of the new cells mature into cells of a specific nature, such as heart, muscle, blood, or brain cells, while the others remain stem cells, ready to repair some of the everyday wear and tear our bodies undergo. These stem cells are capable of continually reproducing themselves and serve to renew tissue throughout an individual's life. The most fundamental and extraordinary of the stem cells are found in the early stage embryo. These embryonic stem cells, unlike any other cell types, retain the special ability to develop into nearly any cell type. It is this unique versatility that presents such scientific and therapeutic promise, but the techniques used to derive these cells have stirred many ethical debates. Embryonic stem cells are derived from human fetal tissue following elective abortion or from human embryos that are created by in vitro fertilization and that are no longer needed by couples being treated for infertility. Opponents of stem cell research hold that human...