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ISSUE 118 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/12/2004

Research proves worrisome: Ethics behind embryonic stem cell exploration questioned

By Hannah Woldum
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 12, 2004

Stem cell research has become important in the last five years as a means for seeking a cure for diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis.

Scientists hope to use stem cells to develop various tissues which could then be used to repair damaged tissues in the body.

Stem cells are cells that have the potential to become many different kinds of cells. There are essentially two kinds: adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells are totipotent, meaning that they have the capacity to become any kind of body cell. Adult stem cells are usually pluripotent; they can become many different kinds of cells but not all.

No one argues that stem cell research is wrong; in fact, it plays a crucial part in the discovery of cures for many diseases. The debate lies in this moral question: "Is embryonic stem cell research morally permissible?"

Embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of early embryos, which poses a serious ethical problem. The human embryo is itself a human being because life begins at conception.

Even former presidential candidate John Kerry admitted as much in the third presidential debate. So, the destruction of an embryo always results in the death of a person.

A morally acceptable alternative is to use adult stem cells, which can be abstracted from blood cells in the bone marrow without any harm to the person.

Some scientists, however, have argued that adult stems are harder to obtain and more difficult to coax into becoming other tissues. This was generally accepted as true until recently.

According to the American Federation for Aging Research, the very latest research suggests that adult stem cells are less specialized than scientists originally thought.

They may have the capacity to mature into any kind of cell needed by the body.

The newest work shows that adult stem cells, which before were thought to become only specific mature cells, can now be reprogrammed to mature into an entirely different cell line.

Thus, the same research conducted using embryonic stem cells can now be done using adult stem cells.

No matter what adult stem cell research may or may not reveal, embryonic stem cell research should not be conducted.

As Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of the Galveston-Houston Catholic diocese said, "Government must not treat any living human being as research material, as a mere means for benefit to others."

We saw this happen in World War II. Nazi doctors deemed many people sub-human or non-human, including Slavs and Jews, and therefore decided to use them in medical experiments. The rest of the world viewed this as totally immoral and unethical, despite any scientific conclusions the research may have yielded.

Embryonic stem cell research is the same. Human beings should never be used as objects.

According to the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, as of October 2004, the only kind of stem cells which have had any success in treating diseases are adult stem cells, which have already been found helpful in treating multiple sclerosis and 55 other diseases.

Even if embryonic stem cell research could someday yield the discovery of cures for various diseases, it should not be allowed within civil society.

Even if it could lead to curing thousands of people, it could never justify the destruction of others. No "good end" is truly good if the process of achieving it is tainted with evil. As humankind has learned time and time again, the end does not justify the means.

Contributing writer Hannah Woldum is a sophomore from Tulsa, Okla. She majors in English, philosophy and medieval studies.

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