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Stem Cell Research, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

The average life expectancy for both sexes in America has increased significantly over the last century which demonstrates the tremendous progress that has been made in medical science. It is reasonable to assume that the progress over the last century pales in comparison to the expected progress that may occur in medical science over the next few decades. Few developmental technologies in medical science have currently been attracting as much controversy as the stem cell research. Critics primarily argue that stem cell research violates the ethical and moral values of the society but much of the opposition has also been due to lack of understanding of the technology. But this controversy is not unique to stem cell research because most revolutionary technologies, even those outside medical sciences, usually carry potential social costs or dilemma. Nevertheless, stem cell research should be promoted because the potential benefits to the society far outweigh the potential costs.

Before delving into the stem cell research debate, it is important to have a basic understanding of stem cells. Stem cells carry the potential to develop into different cell types in the body during early life and growth. Stem cells also serve as internal repair system in many tissues. When stem cells divide, they can either remain stem cells or become a cell with other specialized functions such as muscle cell, red blood cell, or a brain cell. Thus, it is no wonder that stem cell research enjoys widespread support in the scientific community because of its potential in the treatment of wide range of health conditions including diabetes and heart disease. It is important to note that stem cell technology is still a work in progress (National Institutes of Health) but further progress is not possible without substantial allocation of public research funds which is why stem cell research is a major public debate topic.

The opposition to the stem cell research has mostly been from the conservative elements whose views have been shaped by their religious beliefs. The most commonly-cited argument is that embryos are human beings and, thus, possess the same rights as a living person. The critics argue that life starts at conception when a sperm fertilizes an egg. Anti-abortionists argue that stem cells are derived from aborted fetuses and they argue the fact that aborted fetuses are otherwise disposed off is irrelevant to the debate. The opponents of stem cell research also look to powerful religious figures such as Pope John Paul II who also argued that life starts at conception and condemned stem cell research. Some oppose stem cell research because it violates the ethical principles they subscribe to and similarly, there is a group which opposes it on financial groups that stem cell research is an unnecessary waste of tax dollars (Armonk, 2010).

The critics fail to realize that most of their opposition to stem cell research is not grounded in actual facts but in their religious beliefs and there is clear separation of church and state in the U.S. The critics have the right to freedom of speech but they are not justified in expecting public policies to take into account their religious sentiments. Stem cell research is a public issue that has vast implications for the future of healthcare in America. The decisions regarding stem cell funding should be made on the basis of cost vs. benefits analysis and scientific community is mostly united that stem cell technology holds tremendous promise and is worth the investment. Even United States appeals court took similar view when it upheld the legality of federally funded research on human embryonic stem cells (Kaiser, 2012). In other words, the U.S. judicial system has sent a clear message to the critics that public interests and not religiously-inspired ethical values should shape public policies.

Stem cell research should continue to be publicly funded because the tremendous progress to date should convince us that the promise of the field is real and the overall returns will be huge. Researchers have already safely injected stem cells into patients with neurodegenerative diseases and spinal cord injuries and expect the patients to make some progress over time (RTE, 2012). Similarly, researchers are optimistic stem cell research will also help them make significant progress in the area of cancer treatment. It is hoped that endothelial progenitor cells may be useful in treating primary and metastatic tumors (Elsevier). Stem cells are also currently being used to promote tissue repair and regeneration for patients with burns or non-healing wounds. Likewise, researchers have used stem cell to correct the genetic defect that causes sickle cell disease in a lab setting (Harder, 2013). Researchers at the Technical University of Munich were able to create working heart muscle cells from human skin cells (Wehrwein, 2010).

Even expert testimonies also lend support to the stem cell research and the wisdom of public funding. Francis S. Collins, Director of National Institutes of Health told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies in his testimony that stem cells carry potential to become nearly every one of the different types of cells in the human body. Similarly, stem cells are not only helping us better understand normal human development but also enabling us to study the origins of many diseases that affect babies and young children (Collins, 2010). Robert Goldstein, chief scientific officer of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, also argued that embryonic stem cells show more promise in treating diabetes than adult cells (Goldstein, July 14, 2004).

Those who oppose stem cell on the grounds that it is a waste of tax dollars should take note of the fact that majority of Americans support stem cell research. A poll by Harris Interactive/Healthday found that 72 percent of the adults support stem cell research. This poll took place around the time of U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth’s ruling that federal funding of embryonic stem cell research violated a 1996 law though the ruling was later suspended by an appeals court (Harris Interactive). Stem cell research is not only publicly funded in the U.S. but also other countries which demonstrates its promise. Other countries/regions that provide public funding for stem cell research are Canada, Finland, Israel, Japan, Singapore, and U.K. (National Institutes of Health).

Stem cell research is arguably the most promising technology in the field of medical sciences but it has its fair share of opponents who believe the technology violates ethical and moral standards of the society. But the potential benefits of stem cell research far outweigh the potential costs and even American public overwhelmingly supports it. The U.S. judiciary system has also sent a clear message that stem cell research is a public issue that cannot be decided on moral grounds but only on the basis of its benefits to the society. Stem cell research should be publicly funded because the benefits will flow to the entire population in the form of improved national healthcare system.  

References

Armonk, M. S. (2010, October 1). Stem Cell Research. Culture Wars: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints, and Voices, pp. 536-538. Retrieved from https://login.library.sheridanc.on.ca/login?url=http://www.credoreference.com.library.sheridanc.on.ca/entry/sharpecw/stem_cell_research

Collins, F. S. (2010, September 16). The Promise of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health .

Elsevier. (n.d.). Stem Cell Research: What Progress Has Been Made, What Is Its Potential? Retrieved July 30, 2013, from http://www.elsevier.com/about/press-releases/research-and-journals/stem-cell-research-what-progress-has-been-made,-what-is-its-potential

Goldstein, R. A. (July 14, 2004). Adult Stem Cell Research. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee — Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space.

Harder, L. (2013, January 3). Progress and Promise: The State of Stem Cell Research In Maryland. Retrieved July 30, 2013, from http://www.mdphysicianmag.com/2013/01/03/progress-and-promise-the-state-of-stem-cell-research-in-maryland/

Harris Interactive. (n.d.). Embryonic Stem Cell Research Receives Widespread Support from Americans. Retrieved July 30, 2013, from http://www.harrisinteractive.com/NewsRoom/HarrisPolls/tabid/447/mid/1508/articleId/579/ctl/ReadCustom%20Default/Default.aspx

Kaiser, J. (2012, August 24). A Legal Win for Stem Cell Research, but Case May Not Be Over. Retrieved July 30, 2013, from http://news.sciencemag.org/2012/08/legal-win-stem-cell-research-case-may-not-be-over

National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Other Online Soures. Retrieved July 30, 2013, from http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/pages/resources.aspx

National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Stem Cell Basics. Retrieved July 30, 2013, from http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/pages/basics1.aspx

RTE. (2012, August 22). Science Friction: Stem Cell Research. Retrieved July 30, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPy7NFkJ-TQ

Wehrwein, P. (2010, October 6). Stem cell progress: Turning skin cells into heart cells. Retrieved July 30, 2013, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/stem-cell-progress-turning-skin-cells-into-heart-cells-20101006587

 

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