Proponents on either side of the stem cell debate have been arguing for years about the ethical underpinnings of embryonic stem cell research. Those who are against such a practice must realize, however, that many of the fatal and debilitating diseases that are so common (cancer, multiple sclerosis, and potentially even Alzheimer’s) could be cured if stem cell research was allowed to move forward. While on the one hand, some critics of stem cell research argue that human lives are at stake (in embryo form) they ignore the fact that other human lives are at risk too—the lives of those who suffer from degenerative diseases such as those listed above.
Many of these groups that wish to deter stem cell research rely on flawed reasoning and argumentative tactics and unlike their counterparts in the medical community, do not have the data to support their claims. In order for medical progress to be made and lives to be saved, it is necessary for stem cell research to be permitted to continue. The benefits of genetic engineering and continued research The United States has long been a leader and pioneer in terms of medical care and research and while this debate stagnates, European countries such as the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Belgium are advancing without hindrance, leaving America behind as the fruitless arguments are waged on either side. Although there are several other more pressing issues behind this debate, it should be kept in mind that because of a lack of agreement about the subject, the United States is losing money to other countries who are willing to move ahead with the practice. It is time to allow this potentially groundbreaking medical practice to thrive before our technology is not on par with that of other countries and to ensure that as many lives are saved as soon as possible.
It is revealing that the Board of Directors at the American Association for Cancer Research has realized the necessity of progressing stem cell research. In 2005, they unanimously adopted “a new position statement that indicates that stem cell research involving human embryonic stem cells, is essential to the advancement of cancer research” (LeMore 2005). In reference to this call for progress, according to LeMore, they proclaim, “human stem cell research will elucidate critical aspects of cell growth and differentiation that are altered during the formation and growth of tumors. Embryonic stem cells have the ability to transform into the cells of every major organ system in the human body. If this characteristic can be controlled, then medical researchers could determine the signals that direct the developments of human tissues, including cancers.”
It should not be forgotten that if an association that has a commitment to the eradication of cancer is publicly stating a firm belief that there are possible advantages for eliminating cancer, then this is perhaps more valid than the claims of non-medical interest groups who argue without scientific or rational basis. Again, the opponents to stem research who claim to have human lives in mind when they voice their rejections are ignoring the fact that there are millions of cancer deaths per year that could eventually be cured or at least halted if this important research is allowed to continue unhindered. In general, it would appear that without the current heavy debates surrounding the ethics behind stem cell research, progress would have already been made toward eradicating many illnesses and genetic conditions. Medical and scientific research teams have already proven the effectiveness of the practice in several cases and they generally agree that it could be the “miracle cure” of the new century as it would reduce the impact or even cure many diseases. Stem cell research is unique because it treats illnesses based on unique genetic maps. As one scholar notes, “most common diseases develop due to alterations in the interactions of cells’ components. Cell-based therapy responds to the unique genetic makeup of individual patients and their equally individual illnesses” (Tucker 2006). This is truly a revolutionary medical breakthrough and all impediments to its progress should be removed.
While the basis of the medical community’s arguments are rooted in empirical data, the claims of other groups are less defined and are founded on more philosophical speculation than medical or scientific reality. Those opposed to research on embryos are concerned that we are on a slippery slope, facing a creeping moral degradation as a result of this and other new forms of innovative biotechnology. The “slippery slope” argument contends that, “If we agree to destroy an organism that has the potential to develop into a human being, it may be easy to move on to other destructive acts. This zeal poses the danger of depriving millions who suffer from degenerative disorders of the hope and benefits that might derive from stem cell-based research” (Fishbach 2004). The reasoning behind this criticism is inherently flawed since there is no evidence suggesting that advancing stem cell research would have the slightest connection to human cloning or any of the other “Franken-science” fears associated with such a step. While it seems reasonable to suggest that if stem cell research is permitted to continue, there should be restrictions and boundaries applied to its medical use, and it is also reasonable to assume that such measures would deter the “slippery slope” of medical experimentation. The biggest problem at this early stage however, is the fact that such faulty reasoning is being applied to the debate and thus clouding the medical and scientific evidence with superstitious and philosophically biased information.
The problem of the “slippery slope” arguments made by opposing groups is that we as a society risk the possibility of becoming too ingrained in the rhetoric of fear to see the possible great benefits that can come as a result of this new medical technology. The anti-stem cell movement argues that eventually science would turn to harvesting human beings for cells and organs if allowed to take this first foray into the new field. While there is no evidence to support such a slippery slope argument that denies the very apparent positive aspects of this beneficial science, there is a wealth of relevant data from the few European countries that have embarked on the research that discounts this reaction would occur. “Attempts to discredit embryo research in general should be resisted, because there exist already several models of licensing statutory framework (e.g. in eh UK, Belgium, and Denmark) which function with enough safeguards to reassure society at large the benefits, or the ratio of beneficence to malfeasance, are likely to be positive, and the use of stem-cell research embryos should be allowed” (Shenfield 2005). With more data being gathered about the socio-ethical impacts of a nationally approved stem cell program, it is possible for medical researchers in the United States to obtain solid evidence about how the public is involved and reacts to the research and more importantly, solidifies the argument that the use of stem cells could be revolutionary in treating and preventing certain degenerative diseases.
While other countries are moving ahead and leaving America behind as it struggles with ethereal arguments about the moral implications of stem cell research, millions of lives could be saved. Although there is still a lack of more concrete and analyzed data regarding just how large of in impact this research could have, the potential is being explored by others. The United States has always valued its ability to stay on top of the newest (and most profitable) trends in medicine, science, and technology but this debate is preventing progress. The critics of stem cell research do not have a sound argument since it is based mostly on vague speculation, thus it is important for the United States to move ahead based on factors that are known—that stem cell research offers the promise of treating, preventing, and even curing disease
Other essays and articles in the Arguments Archive related to this topic include Biomedical Ethics and God: A Lack of Universals • The Medical, Social and Economic Benefits of Genetic Engineering • A Reasoned Approach to Medical Marijuana and the Law • The Positive Aspects of Physician Assisted Suicide • Argument in Favor of Legalizing Marijuana for Medical Use • Argument in Favor of the Use of Animal Research
Fischbach. (2004). Stem cells: science, policy, and ethics. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 114(10), 1364.
McLemore, Monica R. (2005). Largest Organization of Cancer Scientists Adopts New Stem Cell Research Policy. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 9(5), 514.
Shenfield. (2005). Semantics and ethics of human embryonic stem-cell research. The Lancet, 365(9477), 2071.
Tucker, P. (2006). Embryonic Stem Cells Promise New Cures. Futurist, 40(2), 16.