Stem cell research promises great good and is a worthy scientific priority as long as it is pursued ethically. Obtaining stem cells from people without harming them can be ethical. The question is whether to fund embryonic stem cell research, which requires destroying embryos in order to obtain the stem cells. The prospect should cause us all to consider the implications of furthering medical science at such a cost.
What are embryonic stem cells?
Each of us began life as an embryo. The early embryo (fertilized egg) is almost entirely made up of stem cells, which researchers want to extract for experiments in repairing and regenerating human tissues and organs. However, harvesting embryonic stems cells (usually obtained from so-called "spare embryos" created in fertility clinics) always involves the destruction of the human embryo. Laudable intentions do not justify immoral means.
Won't the embryos be discarded anyway? Why not use their cells for improving the life of another person?
Because human embryos are just that --human-- it is never ethical to sacrifice one class of human beings to benefit another. Clearly, no government should requisition innocent human beings for deadly experiments on the grounds that they are "unwanted." It is immoral to cause their death by harvesting their stem cells.
In addition, to say that these embryos will be discarded and have no potential for life is untrue; they are living, developing human beings. In some cases these embryos are "adopted" by infertile couples. Their death will be certain only if federal funding for harvesting is approved.
So, is stem cell research itself unethical and immoral?
No! Many avenues of stem cell research that do not involve the use of embryonic cells exist. Techniques exist to stimulate growth and specialization of cells found in adult tissues, in bone marrow and in umbilical cord blood.
So, harvesting stem cells from human embryos isn't even necessary to the research?!
That's correct. Recent scientific breakthroughs have demonstrated that the destruction of embryos may indeed not be at all necessary to achieve the benefits promised by stem cell research. Actually, stem cells extracted from human embryos have never been used successfully to treat any disease in humans.
What's the worst that could happen?
We probably can't even imagine the worst, but history offers examples of what happens when groups of humans are treated as mere objects for others' use and destruction. Slavery, Nazi medical experiments and China's policy of harvesting and selling organs from prisoners should serve as reminders of the consequences of doing evil in the name of science.
The Bottom Line
Are these little human embryos-tiny as they are-people or property? Are we going to create a class of human lab rats just for research, experimentation, harvesting and destruction, or are we going to view them as life? There is no room for compromise on this issue!
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