The ethics of using stem-cell research has become a great issue in the past few years. The advocates for both sides of the issue have many reasons to conduct the research or not to. This issue arose after the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1996. After this, the question “Can we use stem-cell research to clone human beings?” shifted to “Do we want to clone human beings?” Many people are scared of the idea that we can just copy ourselves; it’s not natural. The debate and discussions have been very emotional. Stem-cell research has become a hot topic as technology advances, but because of the risk factors, the way society will react to the research, and the fact that scientists are toying with the laws of nature, it should be banned worldwide.
History of Issue
The stem-cell controversy deals with research ethics that include the development, use and destruction of human embryos. This controversy is more often focused on embryonic stem cells. It’s not just human embryos that are involved in stem cell research. For example, different stem-cell research like adult, induced pluripotent, and amniotic do not involve the use, creation, or destruction of human embryos. Other sources of less controversial stem cell research includes the use of umbilical cord, breast milk and bone marrow cells.
Stem-cell research was first conducted on Dolly the sheep. The first mammal in history was cloned by Ian Wilmut and his colleagues from the Roslin Institute in Scotland (1996). The successful clone was a sheep, named Dolly. But what really happened during the experiment? The experiment began with 277 fused eggs, 29 of which were fertilized. The fertilized embryos were then reallocated to 13 sheep, but only one of them became pregnant with Dolly on 5 July 1996. There were several dead fetuses from the remaining twelve sheep(Trefil and Hazen 66). Later it was concluded that the methods and the technology used were not very efficient. Dolly eventually died of an abnormal disease in sheep of her age in early 2003. Should we continue with stem-cell research to clone just so more sex cells will be sacrificed? Thomas E. Lovejoy quoted, “Genetic engineers do not make new genes, they simply rearrange existing ones” (Lee, Turnpenny. ‘Is ‘Cloning’ Mad, Bad and Dangerous?’). Genetic diversity can be lost due to these gene rearrangements. A species may become extinct due to inbreeding within the population. Stem cell research should therefore not be carried out for cloning.
Overview of Sources
The ability to create human embryonic stem cell lines from the inner cell mass of blastocysts has led to considerable debate on how to regulate these scientific developments. Many scholars and commentators have expressed their opinions on the subject of stem-cell research. The biggest concern is that this research involves ‘playing God’. Also, gene diversity may be lost because of gene alterations of an organism’s genotypic composition. Aside from all the negative impacts of stem-cell research, the main beneficial use of it would be used for infertility which is caused by genetic defects.
Summary of Source 1
Peter Dabrock, a professor at University of Marburg, argues against stem-cell research in an article called “Playing God? Synthetic biology as a theological and ethical challenge.” This article was published on October 10, 2009. Dabrock provides a convincing reason in support of his position. Dabrock, and other critics, view the innovation of stem-cell research as morally suspect because it is viewed as ‘playing god’. To conduct this particular research, embryos must be destroyed when stem cells are harvested, and the outcome is equal to the taking of life, which many believe that only God has the power to do. Dabrock states:
“The heart of many religions, including biblical tradition, is touched when science questions the privilege of the deity or God to decide on the transitions between life and the inanimate. Hence, it seems for many religious people plausible to identify synthetic biology with a new and formerly unknown overstepping of this boundary.” (Dabrock)
Dabrock explains the situation very well. This argument reflects the view that divine creation is perfect and that it is inappropriate to alter it in any way.
Evaluation of Source 1
Besides cloning organs and tissues, the subject of taking a human life is what generates the most controversy of all. People believe that it is not ethical to kill an innocent life for the sake of scientific research. These beliefs are based on the assumption that God created human beings in his own image and that God gives them their souls. Therefore, it is not our place to create nor destroy a human being; it is God’s. We would be ‘playing God,’ in their opinion, and that should not happen. This is the main argument that sets the boundary for the majority of people who are against cloning.
Summary of Source 2
According to Ehud Isacoff, gene diversity may be lost because of gene alterations of an organism’s genotypic composition. Genetic diversity prevents a single pathogen from ‘ wiping out ‘ the whole population. “Gene mutations occur naturally. Thomas Hunt Morgan discovered and described the first gene mutation observed in a fruit fly in 1910” (Isacoff, Ehud Y. ‘Isolation and characterization of the Xanthine dehydrogenase gene of the Mediterranean fruit fly, Ceratitis capitata.’). When gene diversity is lost, people suffer from diseases (genetic diseases in most cases) due to their genetic composition. Nettie Stevens and Edmund Wilson (1905) described the XX genes in females and the XY genes of males (Reich. ‘Cloning crisis goes from bad to worse: amid claim and counterclaim, the apparent triumphs of Korea’s stem-cell stars are rapidly unraveling.’). When cloned by using stem-cell technology, an organism has identical genes and is high risk to acquire recessive diseases from both parents. There are 15,500 genetic diseases according to a 1994 “Genetic diseases stats sheet” release (Ponciano. “Hierarchical Models in Ecology: Confidence Intervals, Hypothesis Testing, and Model Selection Using Data Cloning”.Ecology 90.2 (2009): 356–362). Due to the same genotypes in cloned people, breeding is very likely to occur.
Evaluation of Source 2
Ehud Isacoff presents a valid argument against stem-cell research. A species may be extinct due to inbreeding within the population, i.e. only if cloning occurs in the population. Inbreeding, also defined by the University of Utah, involves the mating of genetically related individuals (Fritz 47). Since clones have identical genes, inbreeding will occur. But how is extinction possible? While some propose that inbreeding is beneficial to a population, statistics and studies have shown that they there are more than 7.3 million infertility cases in the United States of America (Lee. ‘Is ‘Cloning’ Mad, Bad and Dangerous?’ EMBO reports 8.1 (2007): 2. ProQuest). If stem-cell research is practiced, there would be more genetically related individuals to mate, but who would reproduce if the infertility rates are maximized? Humans with animals? I didn’t think so.
Summary of Source 3
Besides all the negative impacts that stem-cell research would have on society, there are many beneficial uses of it as well. One of these is a treatment for infertility. Infertility is caused by genetic defects, reproductive organ injuries, congenital defects, toxic substances and radiation exposure.
“Many assisted-reproduction technologies have been developed. This includes surrogate mothers for women without a functional uterus, intracytoplasmic sperm injection for males who can’t produce viable sperm, and IVF for women with blocked or missing fallopian tubes. However, these treatments have proven to be highly inefficient and they can not help people whose reproductive organs have not developed or have been removed. Twelve million Americans are infertile at childbearing age” (Reich. ‘Cloning crisis goes from bad to worse: amid claim and counterclaim, the apparent triumphs of Korea’s stem-cell stars are rapidly unraveling.’ New Scientist 188.2531-2532 (2005): 4.Expanded Academic ASAP).
They will use painful and costly treatments for years to have little chance of success. Another extremely useful application of the stem-cell technology would be the cloning of organs or tissues for the body. With that, we could not only cure suffering and death, we could extend our lives for decades. It would not be uncommon for people to live to one hundred and fifty years old, or older. If a kidney fails in old age, take the few good cells left and clone a brand new kidney. Clone a new heart when someone suffers a massive heart attack. After more development of stem-cell research, there is even the possibility to repair brain and spinal column damage. If you really think about it, these life-prolonging procedures would probably be reserved for the rich and famous, and not on everyone, as discussed before. Numerous of remarkable benefits can come from stem-cell technology, but not all of it is guaranteed. My mother always told me, “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”
Evaluation of Source 3
Reich raises some good points on how stem-cell research could be used to benefit the health of suffering individuals. The excitement of stem cell research primarily results from the medical advantages in regenerative medicine and therapeutic cloning. Stem cells provide huge potential for finding treatments and cures to a vast array of medical issues like infertility, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and much more.
The Writer’s Position and Reasoning
As a biology student, I attempted to approach both sides with an unbiased opinion. I personally think that the world of genetics is fascinating, but after learning of what is now possible through technology, I changed my mind about pursuing a career in the field. I see stem-cell research as a wonderful advancement in technology and knowledge. I do not think it should be used to reproduce humans though. I do not believe that we should try to develop other ways beside the natural way to bring life into this world. Cloning tissues and organs falls under a different category then cloning human beings. I believe that cloning tissues and organs would be beneficial for science and medicine. The research involves fetal tissue, however, which is an entirely different ethical debate. So, with my present understanding I would allow stem-cell research for cloning tissues and organs only.
Today, the topic of stem-cell research generates more argument then it has ever created before. The controversy over using stem-cell research for cloning is based, in part, on the fact that there are extreme opposing viewpoints on the subject. Also a major factor in the debate over stem-cell research is a fear of new technology. Considering the fact that scientists are uncertain about their own methods and technology, the lost loss of genetic diversity and the possibility of extinction of a population, should stem-cell research even be practiced? “Positively, in 2001 Bill Clinton banned cloning. However, research was allowed to be continued so that scientists, perhaps, will be able to promise and prove that their methods and technology are safe to be practiced” (Fritz 68). For now, they should not practice stem-cell research because they will put the entire population of planet earth, both humans and animals, in jeopardy. A new evolutionary period would have to restart. We would enter an entirely new evolutionary period that could be more catastrophic than progressive. Is that something you’re willing to risk? Think of cloning as plagiarism – copying and pasting, it’s wrong, hence the title!