The Embryonic Stem Cell Research Controversy

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When James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin and John Gearhardt at John Hopkins University were able to culture human embryonic stem cells in a lab in 1998, they opened up an entire world of controversy now known as the stem cell debate. The importance of embryonic stem cells to modern science and medicine rests largely on the fact that they are pluripotent. This means that they have the ability to form into any cell necessary within the body; they can be encouraged to become skin cells, brain cells, etc. Organs could be grown in a lab and transplanted into patients, and these cells could be used to test new drugs, rather than a live human subject. This technology, according to scientists, could foster the ability to cure any disease, illness, or injury, but at what cost? Opponents of stem cell research believe that the practice of embryonic study and culture is immoral, while proponents suggest that this technology is necessary for the advancement of medical research.

In 2001, then President George W. Bush quickly sided with those believing the research to be immoral. During his primetime address, he advocated only to allow research on cell lines already in existence. Much of this side of the argument is based on the idea that human eggs are fertilized with sperm to create an embryo, and then destroyed to harvest the stem cells within the blastocyst. Many religious and pro-life groups – including, the Catholic Church, Christian Medical Association, Family Bioethics Counsel, etc. – believe that life begins at conception, and feel that this involves the destruction of human life. They consider it equal to abortion, which they also oppose.

A few years after this controversy emerged, in 2006, two bills were passed th...

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...ther group acknowledges the morality of purposefully fertilizing eggs in order to study and destroy them. This belief was solidified when S.3504 was passed by a unanimous vote of acceptance in the Senate.

There are many pieces of the stem cell puzzle that have yet to be navigated. Are we being too hasty by pushing embryonic research over that of adult stem cells? Is it ethical to kill a being classified in biological terms as a life form for the potential advancement of science? Is an embryo even worthy of rights if it can’t think, feel, or communicate? Or do the positives of embryonic stem cell research so far outweigh the negatives that the sacrifice is minimal? Adversaries of embryonic research explain that it is absolutely unethical, while supporters argue that this research is essential to our medical future. There may never be one right answer.
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