Stem cell research has been at the forefront of many ethical debates in recent years. The manners in which the cells must be harvested and their usage for advancement in biomedical research along with the use of federal funds to finance the ongoing research has proven to be a debate that is not easily resolved even with the revolutionary advances in the treatment and prevention of disease, injury and birth defects. Although the benefits of continuing work on stem cell research sometimes outweigh its costs the final judgment for this issue should be that stem cell research should not be allowed due to several reasons.
Many of those who oppose ongoing research do so because of a religious stand point regarding life and how much respect an embryo should be awarded. Yet, many of those same individuals acknowledge and approve of in vitro fertilization (the implantation of a human embryo created in a Petri dish) for those who are genetically incapable of having children. Who gets to decide when religious bounds have been crossed and to which religion in the scientific community do we allow these bounds to be standardized upon? The United States Policy on human stem cell research as articulated by President Bush on August 9, 2001 is as follows: Permits federal funding only for research using cells from approximately 60 stem cell lines identified by the National Institute of Health as having been derived from excess human embryos prior to the August 9 announcement. There is currently no federal law or policy prohibiting the private sector from creating stem cells by in vitro fertilization or by the SCNT technique for the purpose of research. The policy of most individual states also permits private funding for the use of embryonic stem cells for the purpose of research, although a few states have banned the continuation of research techniques.
While there is much hope and promise in this research there are many things that need to be understood first. First an understanding of what causes a stem cell to replicate and become a specialized cell needs to be known. Scientists need to know this before they can tell that cell what it must become. Another obstacle that must be overcome is the possibility of immune system rejection. If stem cells are used from a donor the recipient’s immune system may reject and even kill the new healthy stem cells. Science would have to find a way to stop this rejection prior to the use of donor stem cells (National Institutes of Health 2). Many guidelines and safeties need to be put into place by the federal government before any type of research can go forward. President Clinton and his administration realized this need for government control over stem cell research and issued a letter on November 14,1998 to the chairman of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC), James Childress, Ph.D. In this letter to Dr. Childress President Clinton asked the NBAC to “undertake a through review of the issues associated with … human stem cell research, balancing all ethical and medical considerations” (Childress 2).
It was from that time until September of 1999, when the commission submitted its report, that the commission spent most of its time investigating the issues associated with stem cell research. The commission believed that it was important to get as clear a picture as possible on both the ethical and scientific issues surrounding stem cell research. The commission first held meetings with Dr. Gearhart and Dr. Thomson as well as several other scientists involved with stem cell research. After these meetings it became very clear to the commission why stem cell research had generated so much interest. The interest was in the use of human stem cells to treat possibly every disease and disorder known to humans. As well as being beneficial to the advancement of new drugs. The commission did realize however that this research raised serious ethical concerns. These concerns involved the two sources of stem cells, fetal tissues from elective abortions as well as surplus embryos obtained from fertility clinics. Realizing its need to explore the ethical issues involved with stem cell research the commission convened again. This time the meeting was held at Georgetown University. The topic was religious perspectives relating to human stem cell research. Altogether eleven scholars in Roman Catholic, Jewish, Eastern Orthodox, Islamic, and Protestant traditions presented formal testimony to the commission. At this meeting as Drenkhahn 6 well as all the others held by the commission the public was invited and encouraged to speak. After the meeting, it was obvious to the commission that there were many different perspectives about research on both the fetal tissues and human embryos (NBAC report 3).
The commission did find an agreement from all parties involved in the meetings that “human embryos deserve respect as a form of human life” (NBAC report 90). They also found though that many of the groups disagreed as to what form of respect and type of protection the embryos should get. Many in the group did think that the sources for stem cells should not be used unless absolutely necessary. In the end though the commission was able to come up with thirteen different recommendations for both the president and the senate subcommittee, the final plan as to this research was produced. Recommendations one through seven are the most important. These recommendations deal with the funding, ethics and guideline need for stem cell research. The first recommendation that is made regards funding of fetal tissue stem cell research. The commission found that it is acceptable for the government to fund fetal tissue research, as long as the choice of abortion was independent and not for the sole purpose of research (NBAC report 3). The second recommendation pertains to funding of embryonic research. The commission found that it is acceptable for the government to fund embryonic cell research, as long as the embryos are surplus embryos left over from fertility treatments. The commission also recommended new regulations and statutes for the ethics involved in this research.
The next two recommendations made by the commission covered the creation of stem cells for research purposes only. The commission recommended that the federal government not fund any project that deliberately creates embryonic stem cells for research purposes only (NBAC report 5). This research includes both invetro fertilization or by a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning (NBAC report 5). Both recommendations five and six deal with specific disclosure information. This information is intended for those who are willing to donate surplus embryos. The commission recommends that donors be advised “stem cell research is not intended to provide medical benefits to the donors” and “a decision to donate or not to donate will not affect future medical care” (NBAC report 4). In addition to that the commission recommends that in federally funded research, the researchers “may not promise donors that stem cells derived from their embryos will be used to treat patients specified by the donors (NBAC report 5) and recommendation seven states, “Embryos and fetal tissues should not be bought or sold” (NBAC report 5). The commission’s recommendations eight through thirteen deal with the formation of different committees, subcommittees, as well as watch dog groups to oversee funding and ethics (NBAC report 6). The NBAC concluded that it would be acceptable for the federal government to fund research of both types of stem cells. They came to these recommendations only if certain guidelines as well as safeguards are in place. They did, however, recommend not funding any project that created embryos just for research.
Several months after the commission presented their findings to the senate subcommittee, it was signed into law. President Clinton also approved these new laws. These laws remained in effect until several months ago when President Bush changed many of the laws already in affect. As the election of President Bush was confirmed, many of those in the scientific field waited in silence. These scientists were waiting for the president’s decision on stem cell research. While these scientists waited, a country that dominated the biotech world was falling behind. The US had up until this point conduced up to 90% of the world’s biomedical research, and US federal dollars and private spending exceeded that of the rest of the world put together (Capell 1). After President Bush announced that federal funding would be cut for stem cell research, the United States started its decline. How much the US started to fall back wasn’t clear until several weeks later. The realization came when the National Institutes of Health announced that 48 of the 64 stem cell lines available for funding were in labs outside the US.
There are several reasons for larger lines of stem cells outside the United States. First, in other countries there are fewer restrictions on stem cell research. Second, there is more funding available for this type of research (Capell 1). With the announcement that came on the ninth of August, many things changed. Stem cell research in the private sector is now unregulated. This should cause concern for many people. With the privatization of research come many different problems. One of the first problems we may see is patenting of stem cells. As large companies buy up the embryos available the price of research will increase (Capell 2). According to an article that appeared in Business Week as research costs rise so will the end cost to the consumer (Capell 3). By deregulating stem cell research, the president has taken control of cost and monopolization from the government and given it to the big corporate companies. President Bush, in his statement to the nation stated he had taken all facts into consideration before making his decision. But yet he still favored the cutting of funding. The president’s reason for cutting this funding was because it is morally wrong. He also stated that it goes against his beliefs. President Bush’s reasons for cutting this funding seem to conflict a precedent long set in this country to keep the state separate from the church. These are most obvious in the ruling of Roe vs. Wade, and the ruling of no prayer in public schools. Yet in the case of stem cell research that doesn’t seem so. The most prominent opposition to this research is the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II, wrote, “It is immoral to produce human embryos destined to be exploited as disposable biological matter” (Paul II 1).
The Catholic Church has always believed that life begins at conception, or the very moment an egg is fertilized. This is why the church has always opposed stem cell research, and with good reason, they believe it destroys human life. Even with the president’s decision to limit the funding it has still upset the pro-life groups. President Bush’s option to limit funding for stem cell research not only upset pro-life groups but also religious leaders and many scientists. Several of these scientists have fled to Great Britain, which has fewer restrictions on stem cell research (Capell 3). For this reason it is believed that many more scientists and researchers will leave for Great Britain. Meanwhile, the president’s decision left abortion opponents engaged and trying to defend one of their most basic beliefs that life starts at the moment of conception. They believe that this embryo is entitled to the same rights a grown person is allowed (Mitchell 1). The president’s statement of “its ok to experiment on embryos that were destroyed before Aug. 9th” was compared to be as moral as selling the gold teeth of Holocaust victims; after all they are already dead. (Mitchell 2)
Bush says his stem cell policy won’t change, and he promises to veto any legislation that would allow funding on new cell lines (Weiss 2). This hard line approach to stem cells will only cause the United States to fall further behind in this area of bioresearch. “Should the US stop funding this research, it will seriously and adversely affect the prospects for human health for the next 100 years,” according to William A. Haseline, CEO of Human Genome Sciences Inc. and a renowned biotech researcher. If funding stopped the United States would lose more then its leadership position (Capell 3). Contrary to the statements made by the president, members of congress said they would sponsor a bill expanding research. At this time though it looks like no new bills will be introduced this year, which will allow scientists to start working under the new rules. Most people are convinced that President Bush will not keep his current position on stem cell research. They believe that whether the current lines of stem cells are successful or not, pressure to expand the line will be intense. This pressure will not only come from his opponents but from some members of his own part. The fear remains, however that this sort of research will inevitable lead to human cloning and the creation of designer children. Many ethical decisions must be made on this issue before any compromises can be made. Therefore taking into account the experience that we already have concerning most of the technological advancements that lead to ozone depletion and many other environmental problems we should not continue with these experiments in order to think of better future for our children. Most of the cases when humans interact with regular flow of nature and environment humans do not get in full what they expected and the issue of pro’s and con’s is highly controversial.