SOC120: Introduction to Ethics & Social Responsibility
September 10, 2012
Scientific research has come a long way since the first use of human embryos to treat and prevent diseases. The polio vaccine was invented in the 1950’s from the use of human fetal kidney cells, fetuses in uteri were used to develop techniques like amniocenteses and improving knowledge about congenital heart disease in the 1970’s, and in the 1980’s the transplantation of fetal tissue into adults to help with serious conditions like, diabetes or Parkinson’s (Gold, 2004). While there has always been concern and controversy over the use of human embryonic cells, today the debate is ethical. This ethical debate lies within the destruction of human embryos in order to use them for medical research. This paper will talk about how two different theories; utilitarianism and relativism view this ethical issue and the problem it presents, as well as my personal views on use of embryonic stem cell research.
The theory of utilitarianism determines what is best by looking at the results of an act. According to Mosser (2010, section 1.7), “utilitarianism argues that, given a set of choices, the act we should choose is that which produces the best results for the greatest number affected by that choice.” When looking at the use of embryonic stem cells for research, utilitarianism looks at the end result. Embryonic stem cells have the potential to save lives by curing diseases and through the use of transplantation. While some utilitarianism’s may still view the destruction of these cells as the destruction of human life they recognize that their potential is a far better choice, being that this research can potentially help save many lives.
The opposition to embryonic stem cell research may have a relativists view. Although one person may see embryonic stem cell research as right, another may see it as wrong based on their own ethical standards that have been provided by their culture or background (Mosser, 2010). The opposition of embryonic stem cell research view the embryo as a person from the day it is conceived, although it does not have any characteristics of a person, it will one day become a person. The thought of destroying human life has raised many important questions that cannot be answered by science.
When does life begin? Is a human embryo equivalent to a human child? Does a human embryo have any rights? Might the destruction of a single embryo be justified if it provides a cure for countless number of patients? Since ES cells can grow indefinitely in a dish can, in theory, still grow into a human being, is the embryo really destroyed. (The University of Utah, 2012, para. 5) So what moral status does the human embryo have? To the relativist opposition, the question can only be answered by their personal moral views.
To better understand the debate about embryonic stem cell research one must first understand the importance of embryonic stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent cells that are derived from the inner cell mass of the human blastocyst (early embryo) (Hynes, 2008). Many wonder why the use of these cells is so important in scientific breakthroughs. Embryonic stem cells are capable of differentiating into all types of cells in the body. This allows researchers to use ES cells to create any type of cell needed for any patient. Many ask why the use of adult stem cells is not good enough. Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells found within the body. These cells only have the ability to “divide or self-renew indefinitely and generate all the cell types of the organ from which they originate” (Science, 2012, para. 1). Adult stem cell research is not controversial, as it does not require the destruction of human life to acquire them. While adult stem cells have been used to successfully treat things like...