by Hydeia Champion
In America stem cell research is a very controversial subject. Lots of myths are thrown around and not many people know the actual facts about stem cell research, how the cells are obtained, and the ways they can improve human life. People in America should support all types of stem cell research because the benefits outweigh the ethical and more publicly known religious reservations for not looking into this research. The two main reasons why Americans should support all stem cell research is because of the ability to heal spinal cord injuries and the potential of this research to lead to people no longer needing to donate organs. With this research people could grow their own from stem cells. Religious people don’t support embryonic stem cell research because they consider embryos to be human life and therefore they are sacred and can’t be created and used for scientific research. Religious views have no place in scientific research. Just as we as a nation can’t establish a national religion and impose it on other people, other people can’t impose their religion on a government that is responsible for everyone–religious or otherwise. The breakthroughs that come from this research shouldn’t be passed up because of other people’s religion.
Just to clear the air and get rid of a few of the myths out there about stem cell research, first everyone should know what exactly stem cells are. Stem cells have the potential to turn into any kind of cells in the early stages of life. They are primarily distinguished by their ability to multiply, and in embryonic stem cells, to turn into any part of the body (“Frequently Asked Questions”). Stem cells essentially do all the repair work when you get hurt. There are two types of stem cells that scientist work with, embryonic and somatic. Somatic are adult stem cells that already have distinguished functions. Embryonic stem cells come from embryos and if implanted in certain tissues can turn into any cell or any organ (Corbett).
According to Dr. Jack Kessler:
Stem cells can be totipotent (a fertilized egg with the “total potential” to give rise to all different types of cells in the body), multipotent (stem cells that can give rise to a small number of different cell types), or pluripotent (stem cells that can give rise to any type of cells in the body except those that are needed to develop a fetus). While pluripotent stem cells could be developed from fetal tissue or even adult tissue, they are best derived from early-stage embryos, a mass of cells that is only a few days old—not aborted fetuses.
To get these cells does destroy the embryo, and that’s where the problems come in. Creating embryos that could be fetuses for the specific purpose of using them for scientific research is seen as unethical.
Stem cell research is mainly associated with fixing spinal cord injuries. Because of the way the spinal cord heals, like most parts of the body, it leaves a scar. In the spinal cord however, this scar blocks nerves from reconnecting and growing, so the person can regain full use of those nerves. With stem cells injected into the injured area the cells could regenerate as healthy spinal cells that can replace scar tissues and reconnect those dead nerves. This reconnects the feeling and functionality of these nerves and makes the person normal again. Car accident victims or paralyzed vets would now be able to walk again (Finitzo).
Another bigger payoff that stem cell research could lead us to is the ability to grow our own organs without the worry of rejection. Someone who needed a kidney could use embryonic stem cells to develop one with the help of their healthy kidney tissues. A somatic cell nuclear transfer would insure that they would not reject this organ. “A somatic cell nuclear transfer, the process in which the nucleus from an adult cell is removed and then transferred to an egg whose nucleus has been removed, is the first step in cloning and can be used to create an embryonic stem cell line” (Kessler). This stem cell line would be used to create the needed organ. Since the stem cells have the same DNA (copied) there is no worry of rejection. Many people have a problem with this because they believe that the “somatic cell nuclear transfer is simply cloning by a different name. The end result is still a cloned embryo” (Pacholczyk). The embryo isn’t cloned, just the needed cells to generate organs. “Reputable researchers are completely opposed to cloning humans and believe that there are compelling scientific, moral and ethical reasons to make human cloning illegal” (Kessler).
The controversy about stem cell research comes from how they are obtained. The most beneficial ones come from embryos. Once these stem cells are taken out the embryo can no longer become a life. Stem cell research brings up the unanswered question of when life actually begins and what do we have the right to do with that life. There is a strong misconception that stem cells come from aborted fetuses and if we sanction this research there will be an increase of abortions if the research is producing successful results. Plenty of religious groups have a serious problem with abortion because it destroys sacred life given by God. Christians in particular believe “The biblical teaching is that human existence begins at conception (Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:4-5). The international consensus of embryologists agrees with Scripture in that life begins at fertilization. At the moment of conception, the embryo is 100 percent human, with all 46 human chromosomes and a fully functioning, unique genetic code. Size and location do not determine humanity” (“What Should”). There is also controversy that arises with somatic cell nuclear transfer in that people have a problem with cloning anything human (but apparently not sheep). Many religious groups believe there is no difference from reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. “The creation of cloned embryos either to make a baby or to harvest cells occurs by the same series of technical steps. The only difference is what will be done with the cloned human embryo that is produced: will it be given the protection of a woman’s womb in order to be born, or will it be destroyed for its stem cells?” (Pacholczyk).
As far as the law is concerned up until 2009 no federal funding was to be used for stem cell research on embryos at all. They couldn’t be made for research and old unneeded ones couldn’t be used to study either. President Obama removed restrictions on federal funding for research on stem cell lines derived from spare human embryos created by in vitro fertilization for fertility purposes. This does not sanction the creation of embryos for research purposes and making stem cell lines. Because a lot of people still see human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research as a type of abortion they don’t think their tax dollars should fund something they don’t support or agree with (Glick).
I understand that in America people are free to choose whatever religion they want. However, the government is not allowed to establish a national religion, so when they decide what they are and aren’t going to fund, religious views have no place in that decision. As far as the research that scientists can conduct for the improvement and benefit of the entire population (that isn’t completely Christian) science should also have the right to be free of religion. It’s no secret that religion has held the advancement of science back in the past when we couldn’t examine dead bodies because it “offended God” in the 1300s. It wouldn’t be smart to let it happen now that we know better. Christian taxpayers don’t have a right to slow down the progress of science that could improve and prolong life for everyone around the world because of their Bible. Living by that book hasn’t been too helpful thus far. In Leviticus 27 a woman is worth 20 shekels less than a man, and now women get paid 77 cents per dollar a man makes for the same amount of labor.
The Bible and religious views have no place in science. They never have mixed because of science’s need for proof and religion’s reliance on blind faith. Just because science shouldn’t have religion doesn’t mean it won’t have ethics. Ethics have kept mankind in line when the Bible sanctioned outrageous behavior. There’s a reason that today if Abraham tried to kill his son “because God told him to” he would go to jail. That reason is emergence of ethics in society. There needs to be limits on what is right and what is wrong, but that needs to come from an ethical standpoint, not a religious one. The Bible gives sanction to plenty of unethical things that we don’t allow, like raping girls and paying their fathers 50 shekels to marry them (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Taxpayers don’t get to pick and choose where their money goes. Taxpayers’ popular votes don’t elect the president, so this should be no surprise. The government does what they think is beneficial to the people with this money regardless of religion because they can’t establish a religion as a nation.
In the end the benefit of stem cell research outweighs the religious opposition to it. Religious people swear Americans shoved other religions or lack of religion down their throat. We don’t do that to them so they can’t slow down science by shoving religion down our throat. Organ transplantation and spinal cord injuries don’t even begin to illustrate the array a different degenerative diseases that could be cured because of stem cell research on embryos. We shouldn’t have to bend over backwards to make the Christian happy by using old somatic cells when a few embryonic stem cells can give you more than enough cells in comparison to the wasted time you use working on somatic cells. Fundamentalist Christians don’t want scientific advancement anywhere in their religion because that’s equivalent to people “playing God.” Scientific advancement doesn’t need religious views and opinions anywhere around it especially when all they do is get in the way. The benefit in the case is more important than the means so America needs to use these few embryos to save millions of actual lives (people made of more than a few cells that are viable and suffering outside the womb).
Corbett, Andrew. “Understanding the Stem Cell Debate.” The Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research. N.p., 7 Dec. 2006. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. <http://www.findingtruthmatters.org/articles/stem-cell-debate/>.
Finitzo, Maria dir. Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita. Perf. Dr. Jack Kessler. PBS, 2006. Netflix.
“Frequently Asked Questions.” Stem Cell Information. National Institutes of Health, 28 Apr. 2009. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. <http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/pages/faqs.aspx>.
Glick, J. Leslie. “Arguments in Support of Embryonic Stem Cell Funding.” GEN. N.p., 2012. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. <http://www.genengnews.com/gen-articles/arguments-in-support-of-embryonic-stem-cell-funding/3577/>.
Kessler, Jack. Myths and Realities. PBS. PBS, 14 Dec. 2007. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/stemcell/myths.html>.
Pacholczyk, Tadeusz. “Stem Cell Research and Cloning.” National Catholic Bioethics Center. 2007. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. <http://www.ncbcenter.org/Document.Doc?id=80>.
“What Should a Christian’s View Be on Stem Cell Research?” GotQuestions.org. Got Questions Ministries, 2002. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. <http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-stem-cell-research.html>.