The Ethics of Stem Cell Research: Embryonic Stem Cells

The ethical debate over the use of human embryonic stem cells continues. In June 2007, the House passed legislation to loosen President Bush's six year restriction on human embryonic stem cells research by a vote of 247 to 176. How did Epigee readers vote when asked about the ethics of human embryonic stem cell research? Fifty-eight percent of readers support stem cell research that involves human embryos, while a remaining forty-two percent are against this type of research.

The Embryonic Stem Cells Debate
The major controversy in stem cell research and particularly when it comes to embryonic stem cells lies in the ethical conflict between the respect and right for human life, and a desire to minimize human suffering.

In the case of embryonic stem cells, several ethical questions arise. The first is not unlike the concerns raised in debates about abortion in that the question of what constitutes human life comes into play. Groups that are opposed to embryonic stem cell research may believe that human life begins at conception, or at the early stages of fetal development (usually, fourteen days following conception).

Another concern that arises in the stem cells debate is the ethics of using cloning technology for the production of embryonic stem cells. In these cases, a genetic clone of a nucleus donor would be created with a specific purpose for the use of stem cells research or stem cells transplants. Some find this prospect unethical, since upon implantation in the uterus, this same embryo would develop into a human being.

In contrast, proponents of embryonic stem cells research, and particularly of the recently passed bill, support federally funded research of stem cells derived from donated, frozen embryos set to be destroyed by fertility clinics. The benefits and potential of embryonic stem cells for treating certain diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes and certain types of cancers are, in these individuals' opinions, immense.

While opponents of embryonic stem cell use often support stem cells derived from other sources, embryonic stem cells are considered of unique interest to scientists since they have the potential to give rise to any type of cell or tissue in the body.

The Politics of Embryonic Stem Cells Research
On June 20, 2007, President Bush vetoed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act that would allow federally funded scientists to experiment on stem cells obtained from human embryos. This was Bush's second veto of a stem cell bill, following restrictions placed on embryonic stem cells research in August 2001. The latter policy allowed scientists to work on human embryonic stem cells in existence as of that date. Since August 2001, hundreds of new colonies had been created and studied by scientists in other countries and by privately funded researchers in the United States.

President Bush vetoed the bill suggesting that American taxpayers should not support the deliberate destruction of human embryos, despite embryonic stem cell research support from 500 organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Diabetes Association. The director of the National Institutes of Health and 80 Nobel laureates are among other noted supporters of embryonic stem cells research.

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