Embryonic Stem Cell (ESCs) Research is back in the news again. Unfortunately, it is under the political and religious pressure. ESC is moving at a slower pace at the expense of, as stated by the White House, “millions of people who suffer from life destroying diseases.” Unlike abortion, the purpose of ESC research is to cure potential diseases and disabilities such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, stroke, and spinal cord injuries.
Despite its good intentions, ESC research was considered manipulation and destruction of a life form; as Pope John Paul II clearly stated, “embryonic research is morally unacceptable.” This ongoing debate is one of the most controversial topics does not seem to be ending any time soon, but time is running out for those suffering from the diseases. While some are lying in bed, others are in wheelchairs waiting in hope that one day they will have a chance to live their lives with more certainty. To them, ESC research is a possible hope, and hope is sometimes all expecting patients have.
The Invaluable Embryo There are various ways to obtain stem cells: blood cells (extracted from the umbilical cord blood, after a baby is born), bone marrow donation (from existing human beings), and the ESCs from the fertility clinics. Among those, ESC is the most questionable and objectionable by various parties because of ethic issues involved. Why should we support ESC's research? The answer is straightforward. Because embryos are flexible and more potential than the adult cells, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), "Embryonic stem cells can become all cell types of the body because they are pluripotent. Adult stem cells are generally limited to differentiateing into different cell types of their tissue of origin," once introduced into the human body, it has the ability to repair the damaged tissues; this unique characteristic may be a promising avenue to cure the dying patients.
Is Embryo A Life Form? It is not the advance technology that has made ESC research controversial, but because we each hold different value systems. These belief systems then transcend into measuring sticks -- either visible or invisible ones.
Conflicts arise when two people interact with each other trying to measure up with their own sets of measuring sticks. Often times, we impose our views towards counterparts and fail to look at issues from a larger standpoint. Physicians, for example, had to adopt the Catholic Church’s view on life. According to Richard Doerflinger, the Deputy Directory of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, physicians are bond by the code of ethic stated in the “Declaration of Geneva,” practicing physicians had to swear “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of conception” and “No experiment should be conducted where there is a prior reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur…”
What is Life? So, what is life? Let’s take a look at Aristotle’s epigenesis and preformation theories. His theories had a great influence in our society. Although Aristotle’s belief “a form of an animal emerges gradually from a relatively formless egg” according to Dr. Campbell, Reece, and Mitchell, authors of Biology, has been completely discarded by modern biology. However, Aristotle’s concept on preformation for “something is preformed in the zygote” is credited with having a profound influence on popular opinion in this area. Similarly, the Catholic churches also recognize that each human being is created by God at the moment of conception or fertilization.
Scientists, on the other hand, have a different view on what is life, they argue that ESC’s are pluripotent, ESC’s hold the possibility of developing into any organ of the body, yet, according to National Institutes of Health (NIH), “[ESCs] are typically four or five days old and are a hollow microscopic ball of cells called the blastocyst.” In addition to that, Dr. Richard Maurice in his article titled “Key Ethical Issues in Embryonic Stem Cell Research” published for the Department of the Parliamentary Library in Australa, “the probability of IVF embryos developing into full-term successful births is low. There is a high rate of fetal loss in early embryos-up to 73 percent in pre-implantation embryos.” Thus, I do agree with Dr. Richard, “[E]mbryos do not have the psychological, physiological, emotional, intellectual properties that we tend to centrally associate with personhood.”
Of course, one must not under mind the Catholic churches efforts trying to reserve the dignity that of a human. The intention of the Catholic churches was to prevent human beings from becoming subject matter for science, much like what happened during the holocaust in the World War II. Nonetheless, I found it hard to support Pope John Paul II, "Human embryos obtained in vitro are human beings…” Because I am side with Dr. Richard, “Embryos, particularly the very early pre-implantation blastocysts…do not…have consciousness, individuality, the ability to reason, or the ability to form courses of action in life and to choose between them.”
Whose view of life: Taking lives or saving lives? Proponents have raised a philosophical question if it is moral for one to save life; you have to destroy another, or whether an existing living life has more intrinsic value than that of a cell. I would like to touch on the eudaimonism; the infamous and the well-known relationship between virtue and rightness philosophy proposed by Aristotle.
I personally believe life has its purpose, and the entire system is in circular form – birth, growth, mature, decease, and eventually return back to the earth, the whole cycle then, repeats itself. To complete this cycle, many living organisms were involved along the process. Some may live for a full cycle, many don’t, just as depicted by Aristotle that some things were done for their own sake, and some things were done for the sake of other things.
Many of the “artificially” created embryos from the laboratory have the potential to save lives that already demonstrate physical traits as human beings. Instead of supporting the life saving technology that benefits many, opponents, particularly the religious party made it clear that by harvesting embryonic stem cells is by all means killing other human beings, and stated their position that they will not make compromise nor be tolerated on stem cell research regardless that the lifesaving science has great potential to save lives. I don’t see it as morally acceptable to dispose of ESCs instead of using it for saving lives and possibly keeping the dignity of those who suffer.
Living Well: A Hope for the Hopeless Life is all about making choices. Our ability to make choices allows others to hold us responsible for those decisions. In order to achieve something; we have to give up something. That’s the opportunity costs we are facing and cannot avoid; the best we can do is just simply make the best choice.
Now ESCs research is moving at a slower pace due to lack of federal funding. Many celebrities including Nancy Reagan, Michael J. Fox and the deceased Christopher Reeves are the best spokespersons and supporters for the future of ESC funding. In September 2005, there will be a roll call vote on a bill to provide federal funding for ESCs. If President Bush vetoes this bill, the fate and the future of ESC research will be in the hands of the House and Senates. Without two thirds of the House and Senates to enact the bill, it will be just like those discarded embryos, never had a chance to see the light.
While people pray for the unborn, and the Vatican prays to stop this research, people suffer. Alex Kassorla, for example, the 7-year-old-girl who suffered a spinal cord injury at age 3 is sitting on the wheel chair, and among those to promote stem cell research. ESC research will help to stop the suffering of the living and of the many unborn generations who follow us into life. Let’s not let our generations down.
Footnotes 1. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos that develop from eggs that have been fertilized in vitro—in an in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic—and then donated for research purposes with informed consent of the donors. They are not derived from eggs fertilized in a woman's body … are typically four or five days old and are a hollow microscopic ball of cells called the blastocyst. Blastocyst is 5-6 days after fertilization, the egg develops into the cell ball pictured in the image, which is called blastocyst by developmental biologists. At the depicted stage the ball is hollow, consisting of an envelope of cells, surrounding the inner cell mass (ICM) from which the embryonic stem cells are gathered. 2. According to National Institutes of Health (NIH), pluripotent includes three structures: the trophoblast, which is the layer of cells that surrounds the blastocyst; the blastocoel, which is the hollow cavity inside the blastocyst; and the inner cell mass. 3. Aristotle’s epigenesis recognized the organism was not yet formed in the fertilized egg, but that it arose as a consequence of profound changes in shape and form during the course of embryogenesis. 4. According to Campbell, Reece, and Mitchelle, preformation is a “homunculus” inside the head of a human sperm. According to one version of the preformation idea, a sperm contains a preformed, miniature infant, which simply grows in size during embryonic development. This engraving was made in 1694. 5. Eudaimonism: Actions are not pointless; they have an aim, a goal. Every action aims at some good … some things are done for their own sake (ends in themselves) and some things are done for the sake of other things (means to other ends).
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