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Ethics in stem cell research

Scientists hope to relieve humans of suffering occasioned by injury and disease by way of experimenting with human embryonic stem cells (HESC). HESCs have the quality of being able to differentiate into all kinds of body cells. Although this is a noble course, the notion of use of embryos is a highly contentious topic. HESC involves the obliteration of laboratory –developed donor embryos. The question is whether this is the correct approach to achieving medical progress. Religious literature sheds limited light on this moral issue.

Early societies couldn’t foresee what is being done by scientists today as regards embryonic research. Laboratory experiments cannot decisively determine whether indeed an embryo is a person. Moral queries with no proper and authoritative direction persist (http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/stem-cells/). How an embryo should be treated is a persistent moral issue. Divergent views on the worth of human embryonic life are very prevalent. The dilemma arises where scientists are required to distinguish among different embryos in diverse circumstances.

Scientists have been unable to categorize embryos with a view to avoiding unjustly killing those which are deemed to be persons. The debate on embryonic stem cell research is deeper than the mere ethical considerations of destruction of embryos. Questions have been put forward as to whether scientists who utilize but don’t develop stem cells are parties in the annihilation of human embryos. There exists a thin moral line between developing embryos for reproductive or research purposes. The acceptability of human cloning with a view of deriving embryonic stem cells is another moral dilemma.

The question of whether it is morally okay to develop human and non human chimeras also comes to the fore (Bellomo, 2006, 23). The Roman Catholic Church argues that experiments that involve destruction of embryos would only be morally acceptable if sometimes society allowed the killing of some people in order to assist others. This is an immoral notion. Protagonists of this view point out that embryonic stem cell experimentation only involves non-humans (embryos) as a means to a justified end.

The argument against destruction of innocent human life is insufficient since a majority of scientists in stem cell research don’t develop stem cells but rather utilize cells developed by scientist who derived them. To prove the complicity of scientists who utilize but don’t develop stem cells in immoral actions, it would be necessary to illustrate their participation in the annihilation of embryos. Viewed at from a pragmatic stance, the demerits of embryonic stem cell research outweigh the embryo destruction and associated suffering. Opponents argue out that killing innocent persons to achieve social utility is wrong.

Proponents have to argue out that non-consequential impediments on human murder involve human embryos. Opponents of human embryonic stem cell (HESC) research argue that human life commences at the stage of a unicellular zygote at fertilization. This assumption is negated by the fact that monozygotic twinning occurs 14-15 days after an embryo’s emergence. An identical twin is not identical to a unicellular zygote because both twins have similar relationship with the zygote. Transitivity involves numerical identity (Bleiklie, Goggin & Rothmayr, 2003, 34).

Not all human life begins at the zygote stage. The emerging embryo cells are homogeneous and exist in the same membrane but don’t form a human entity since they function in an un-coordinated version to govern and maintain a single life. Although alive, the cells develop into a human entity after considerable coordination and differentiation and this happens at the 16th day after fertilization. Demolishing the 5-day embryo cells to extract embryonic stem cells does not thus amount to annihilation of human life. Opponents argue that there exists coordination among the zygote cells.

Early development calls for some cells to form a portion of the trophoblast and others the inner cell mass. The cells would differentiate in a similar version if there were no differentiation. It has not been proven whether the scope of cellular activity is enough to accord the human embryo a human entity status http://www. isscr. org/public/ethics. html. Opponents of stem cell research propose that humans posses similar moral statuses at throughout life. It has been argued that. The human embryo is a human entity without moral status necessary for right to life. Membership to a species doesn’t amount to acquisition of moral status.

Animal are assumed to have moral status in situations where they demonstrate traits similar to those of humans. Thus higher-cadre mental capacity, including self-awareness, reasoning and agency, accords the right to life. Those who advance mental ability as the yardstick for right to life face the dilemma that human infants don’t have these capacities. Many animals that human see it fit to kill them also don’t have these capacities. A challenge thus surfaces for proponents that non-consequentialist impediments to killing human adults and infants apply to infants.

Some dismiss these impediments and hold that situations may compel infant sacrifice to achieve greater good. Others propose that, because infants are devoid of inherent traits relevant fro a right to life, they ought to be regarded as though they have a right to life with a view to boosting concern and love for them since this impacts positively on their future life. The assertion that the embryo is rational implies that it can develop into a reasoning entity. Having this potential does not mean that an entity has similar status to entities that have attained some or all their potentials.

Cloning has problems in identifying potentially-human entities. One somatic or human embryonic stem cell can develop into a grown human in the correct environments. The nucleus is placed into an enucleated egg which is induced to from an embryo. The embryo is placed into a human womb and matured. If embryos are guarded owing to their potential to develop into rational humans, then an elevated moral status ought to be accorded to other similar innumerable cells to facilitate their attainment of potential (David, et al, 2008, 49).

Stem cell research proponents point out that embryos have a unique potential as opposed to somatic cells. An embryo possesses an active disposition and inherent power to develop into a full-grown human. Without interference with its development, an embryo can develop. A somatic cell is devoid of intrinsic capacity or disposition to develop into a human being. The relevance of this difference has been questioned. A somatic cell can attain its potential only with external influence. An embryo also requires many outside interventions for it to achieve its potential.

In utero embryos have to be implanted, nourished and protected from harmful substances. In vitro embryos are thawed and place in a uterus. Since external influences affect an embryo’s development, the moral relevance of the differential between a somatic cell and an embryo is questionable. Taking potentiality as the basis of right to life is also questionable.

Work cited

Bellomo Michael. The stem cell divide: the facts, the fiction, and the fears driving the greatest scientific, political, and religious debate of our time. New York: AMACOM. 2006, pp. 23

Bleiklie Ivar, Goggin Malcolm L. & Rothmayr Christine. Comparative biomedical policy: governing assisted reproductive technologies. London: Routledge, 2003, pp. 34 David Eve et al. Stem cell research and health education. American Journal of Health Education, vol. 39, 2008, pp. 49 Ethics of stem cell research (Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy). Retrieved on 21st February 2009 from, http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/stem-cells/. ISSCR: Public: perspective: Ethics of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research. Retrieved on 21st February 2009 from, http://www. isscr. org/public/ethics. html.

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