WHAT ARE STEM CELLS?
Before I can explain the cons of stem cell research, I must explain what stem cells actually are. Stem cells are defined as essentially the beginning cells of a human being, which are capable of becoming all or many of the 210 different kinds of tissues in the human body. 1 These cells divide, generating two "daughter cells", one of which will become something new and another which will replace the original cell. That is where the term "stem" comes from, meaning stem cells give rise to other more specialized cells.2
Stem cells come in three basic types: totipotent, pluripotent, and multipotent. Totipotent means the cell's potential is "total."3 These are referred to as embryonic stems cells because they are found in the human embryo up to about the 4-day beginning stage.4 Pluripotent means that the cells can give rise to many types of cells but not all types of cells. These are referred to as fetal stem cells. 5 Multipotent cells are more specialized.6 These are also often referred to as adult stem cells. Now you know the basics of what stem cells are. It is not what they are, however, but how they are obtained that is immoral.
WHAT HAPPENS TO EMBRYOS USED IN RESEARCH?
There is nothing wrong with experimenting on stem cells, even embryonic stem cells, that is, if the cells could be obtained without intrusion. If that were the case, there would be no debate, because there is no moral value attached to a cell. The problem is that for embryonic stem cell research to take place, stem cells are extracted from an embryo, or should I say from a human bodies, and the extraction results in death.
Many who support human embryonic stem cell research adhere to the ethical position that it is okay to destroy a few human beings for the benefit of many. Others believe that since they are sentenced to death anyway (the human remains are flushed down the toilet) there is nothing wrong with bringing some good out of their deaths. Still others do not accept the embryo's humanity and justify themselves by pretending that humans are not persons until they are born.
The first argument is similar to a widely accepted principle, namely, that if we have to decide between losing two lives or saving one we should save one life. However, in the case of embryonic stem cell research, we have no such situation. Even if we assume that the sick or injured person will die without such research, the embryo will not. The choice here is whether to pursue cures which do not involve the death of innocent lives or to sacrifice innocent lives for research which may or may not produce a cure. Utilitarian arguments that we should put the benefit of many over the lives of a few are what led bin Laden to destroy the World Trade Centers.
The second argument is convincing at first, but fails under analysis. "...if impending death were the criteria for being allowed to kill human beings, then we could also kill terminally ill patients, death-row inmates and military service personnel facing combat for their organs and stem cells too - for the 'greater good.'" Furthermore, I would like to add that these children should not be slated for death in the first place. These embryos are created under immoral conditions as well. There should be no "spare" embryos at all.
The third argument is that of cloning. . "Therapeutic cloning" has also been proposed, but such cells would likely be abnormal. Not to mention the moral issues involved in cloning. How far do we go? Where will it end?
The last argument is common in the abortion debate, but it doesn't work here any more than it does there. We have no authority to bestow the rights of personhood on certain human beings and deny them to others arbitrarily. The word person is a synonym for human being, and embryos are scientifically recognized human beings.
WILL EXPERIMENTS WITH EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS YIELD BENEFICIAL RESULTS?
Perhaps some may be persuaded to oppose embryonic...
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