Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

May 14th, 2011 | By | Category: Ethics

I am on the advisory board of The Nebraska Coalition for Ethical Research (NCER), which opposes the derivation and use of stem cells from human embryos.  Such derivation and use involves the direct destruction of a human being in its embryonic stage of development and treats such humans as mere physical objects that can be harvested for their parts.  However, NCER supports and applauds the use of stem cells obtained from umbilical cord blood or adult sources that do not involve the destruction of human life.

Human embryonic stem cells are the master cells of the body.  They have the capacity to produce the over 200 different specialized cells that make up the adult human body.  There are two sources for human embryonic stem cells:  (1) human embryos created through in vitro fertilization and (2) human embryos produced through cloning.  Non-embryonic or adult sources of human stem cells include the placenta, umbilical cord blood, bone marrow and a number of other tissues.  A human embryo is created sexually when an egg is fertilized by a sperm, or is produced asexually through cloning.  An embryo begins as a single cell zygote that starts to divide within hours after fertilization or, with cloning, after the fusion process.  After about five days of development, the embryo is called a blastocyst and is comprised of two parts and two kinds of cells.  One part is the outer sphere of trophoblast cells that becomes the placenta and other tissues necessary to support the growth and development of the human embryo/fetus throughout pregnancy.  The trophoblast cells surround the second part, the body of the embryo, an inner cell mass of about 100 stem cells.  The cells of the early embryo (probably up to its 8-cell stage) are totipotent.  That is, each totipotent cell, if separated from the embryo, can develop as a new and complete embryo.  As the totipotent cells continue to divide, they differentiate and become more specialized cells called pluripotent stem cells.  Unlike totipotent cells, pluripotent cells cannot produce a new and complete embryo; they can only produce the various specialized cells and organs of the body.  Researchers seek to obtain the approximately 100 pluripotent stem cells of the body of the embryo at the blastocyst stage.  To do this, they must separate the body of the embryo from its trophoblast shell or covering, a process that destroys or kills the embryo.

Human stem cells are important for a number of reasons.  First, embryonic stem cells are responsible for development of the human body during its embryonic and fetal stages.  Second, adult stem cells maintain the health of the human being at each subsequent stage of life.  For example, bone marrow stem cells continually replenish the body?s blood supply.  Some researchers want to use pluripotent stem cells from human embryos because these cells have the capacity to produce any of the specialized body cells and might be useful to treat or cure human disease.  However, their ability to do so has not yet been demonstrated convincingly in human beings.

Human embryonic stem cell research is immoral and must be banned because it violates the life, dignity, and rights of human beings.

·      Every human being has a right to life–The harvesting of human embryonic stem cells deliberately destroys embryonic human beings.

·      Every human being has a right to be protected from discrimination–Human embryonic stem cell research discriminates against human embryos on the basis of developmental immaturity.

·      Every human being is an end to be loved, not a means to be used for another?s end–Human embryonic stem cell research treats the embryonic human being as an object to be valued for its parts.  To categorize so-called spare embryos as ?having no future? or as ?going to be destroyed anyway? is to rationalize the destruction of one human being to possibly benefit the health of another.

·      Every human being is of equal value to every other human being–Human embryonic stem cell research treats the embryonic human being as less valuable than a fetus, a neonate, or an adult.

  • Research involving human subjects requires that proxy or presumed consent can be given only if the research does not harm the subject–Human embryonic stem cell research is, by its very nature, destructive.  Therefore, proxy or presumed consent for such research is not ethically valid.
  • The goal of research involving human subjects is to serve humanity by curing disease and relieving suffering–Human embryonic stem cell research destroys, rather than heals, the human embryos involved.  Any therapies developed from human embryonic stem cells are ill-gotten gains because the benefit to some human beings requires the death of other human beings.
  • The rules of ethical human research demand that scientists pursue the least morally controversial of available options when these prove to be equally beneficial–Most of the goals of human embryonic stem cell research can be obtained through the use of non-embryonic stem cells, without any destruction of human life.
  • Failure to protect embryonic and fetal human life, the most vulnerable of human beings, erodes the moral fiber of our society–Human embryonic stem cell research does not accord embryonic human beings the protection that is their due as human subjects of research.  An assault against any innocent human being is an assault on humanity in general.  Since respect for human life is a cornerstone of civilization, human embryonic stem cell research will weaken the moral foundation of our society.

See the position paper by the Nebraska Coalition for Ethical Research on ?Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research.? PRINT PDF


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