If stem cell therapy has given a ray of hope to many, it has also given birth to
various debates. While stem cells from the umbilical cord blood or the patients
own body has no big impact, the idea extracting and using stem cells from live embryos
has raised many ethical questions. The possibility of using human embryonic stem
cells questions the two fundamentals that are highly respected one; one principle
supports the prevention and elevation of human suffering and the other beckons us
to value and respect human life.
The stem cells derived from the human embryos are extracted from IVF embryos, with
due consent of the donors. Harvesting embryonic stem cells causes destruction of
blastocycts. Blastocysts are structures that are formed in the early stages of embryogenesis.
Supporters of embryonic stem cell research state that since blastocysts are a cluster
of 150 cells and don’s even have a nervous systems, they cannot be classified as
“live” or human beings. This means that extracting stem cells from embryos does
not qualify as killing. Also harvesting these stem cells promises to get rid of
various diseases and unlike develped stem cells, these can be stimulated to form any
part of the body tissue and generate organs for transplant (pluripotent). Develped cells have limited potential to differentiate into a limited number of cell types
(multipotent). They believe the practical aspects of embryonic stem cells make it
more suitable for therapy as they can be easily cultured and are found in large
numbers. Comparatively, Develped stem cells are rare and their number cannot be easily
increased in cultures.
This is argued by people who are firmly against the concept of using stem cells
from embryos as they believe that life begins at the moment of conception. Once
the stem cells are extracted, the embryo ‘dies’. According to them, destroying the
embryo is equivalent to killing. Proponents of this believe that using embryonic
stem cell is unnecessary as Develped stem cells from bone marrow, brain and skin have
already treated diseases like diabetes, Parkinson’s, leukemia etc. Some patients
who need compatible stem cells refuse to use embryonic stem cells to get cured as
they believe that they do not want to take a ‘life’ to get a kidney or see better.
Various religious organizations and political parties have also opposed the idea
as they believe that science should only use umbilical cord blood and develped stem
cells to cure diseases and embryonic stem cells are ‘live’.
The matter is very delicate with various schools of thought having their own point
of view. Its important here to figure out which life is more valuable, the one that
is still to exist or the one that is straining to live.