It is nobody's case that stem cell research is a bad thing. Each one of us hopes for a day when no disease will be categorized as incurable', and the potential in this line of work to realize that dream is plain for all to see. The controversy that stem cell research has provoked - sharply dividing public opinion and placing the government and President Bush in a quandary -- has to do with an ethical concern over the use of embryos.
Why must embryos be utilized Why not depend on adult stem cells instead and get on with the research without causing any harm to the subject Scientists have good reason for this. Stem cell research has at its core a kind of cell called pluripotent' -- essentially an innocent' cell which has not begun to develop into any specific tissue - such as blood or brain or heart cells. But this state of innocence lasts only three to five days, and if scientists can seize on this small window of opportunity, they can isolate and coax it to develop into any of the 220 types of human cell lines. Which in turn can be used to repair or replace specific tissue and treat any disease that involves tissue degeneration - such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, afflictions in the central nervous system, Type 1 diabetes, liver malfunctions etc. Adult stem cells do have some relevance in this research, but they are not so pliant and therefore they cannot be programmed to differentiate into more than a few of the necessary 220 cell lines.
Scientifically, an airtight argument in support of the use of embryos - which, alas, does nothing to address the moral and ethical concerns. What right do we have to play God, snuff out a life and willfully deny it of its potential to grow into a healthy human being Life, according to Christian belief, begins at conception, and no matter whether that life is sparked off in a womb or in a Petri dish, its destruction amounts to murder. So, are we willing to commit murder in the name of science And if we are, then where does it end By pushing the limits of morality, we are only helping to create a society where life is so cheap that one person can use another without compunction or accountability. As the late Pope John Paul II pointed out to President Bush (2001), "In defending the right to life . America can show the world the path to a truly humane future in which man remains the master, not the product, of his technology."
Scientists counter this charge by pulling cold facts out of the trash can. Stem cells, they reiterate, can be extracted from the surplus frozen embryos left over at fertility clinics. Typically, these embryos - numbering in hundreds of thousands -- are discarded as medical waste after an infertile couple's desire for a child has been fulfilled. So where's the sense in arguing on behalf of an embryo which is destined to perish anyway
It must come as a relief to stem cell researchers that more and more people are shaking off their knee-jerk response to the emotionally-loaded issue and finally buying into this view: the results of a Harris Poll (2004) showed that 73 per cent of the people interviewed approved of the research, compared to 61 per cent in 2001. Celebrities too - a major voice in these media-driven times - have mostly come out in support of stem cell research, and the involvement of actors such as the late Christopher Reeve, Michael J. Fox,