Today, stem cell research particularly embryonic stem cell has been one of the most remarkable areas of medical research. Joshi et al. (2016) affirm that stem cell research has opened up a fascinating branch of research with its ability to divide throughout life, differentiate into many different types of specialized cells and eventually cure a plethora of diseases, namely leukemia, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. According to Vittana (2017), more than 60 diseases and over 6,000 patients have been treated with a treatment that maneuvers the use of cord blood stem cell. However, stem cell research has been tainted with debate and controversy since the discovery of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) in 1998 (Joshi et al., 2016). The advancement of hESC research has been slowed by not only ethical issues but also legal and social controversy (Joshi et al., 2016). It creates many questions which must be answered. Here, we strongly oppose human embryonic stem cell research and we will discuss on our reasons of the objection from various perspectives, and suggest a better approach to continue stem cell research without involving hESC.
Patil (2014) states that question of ethics and moral values arise as the process of extracting stem cells destroys the embryos, and will eventually lead to the destruction of potential human life. However, since embryos do not exhibit the characteristics of personhood in their early development stage, Patil (2014) believes that embryos are merely one of the parts of human body and they deserve the respect for their unique values but not to the extent as a fully developed person. In order for them to have moral status independently, Patil (2014) outlines several properties which they need to acquire which are psychological, physiological, emotional and intellectual properties. Therefore, under these circumstances, embryos are believed can be used for research purpose. Arguably, it is rather doubtful to say that embryos have no moral status at all and have the same status as other body parts of a human. Although embryos do not possess the important attributes of personhood in the very beginning of their existence, they will somehow exhibit them if they are allowed to develop and fulfill their potential as human beings (Euro Stem Cell, 2011). Thus, embryos deserve the same respect and right, equivalently with an adult or a newborn child.
United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) (2009) states that, in 2001, the use of stem cell lines was announced permissible by President Bush as long as they are derived from the destroyed embryos, and not from the new ones. Embryonic stem cell lines are pluripotent embryonic stem cells which are grown in cell culture for months and remain undifferentiated (Mandal, 2013). Mandal (2013) also highlights that these stem cell lines then will be able to differentiate into desired cell type. In other words, they will behave and function like a normal hESC. However, there are still unforeseeable benefit and risk in this research. Vittana (2017) explains that if stem cell lines are derived from the existing embryonic stem cells and do not belong to the patient, the possibility of the patient’s body to reject them is high. What is more crucial is, although National Institutes of Health (NIH) opposes the further destruction of human embryos for research purpose, the question on the moral status of the destroyed embryos still lie unresolved since the use of existing embryonic stem cell lines is still allowed. Overall, the complicity in exploiting the destroyed embryos is an immoral act.
There is no doubt that embryonic stem cell research offers a valuable chance to study more about diseases and how to develop the cures. In response to this undeniable fact, NLM (2009) states that NIH has diligently supplied its funding to stem cell research particularly hESC research since 2001. However, as a public funder, NIH is responsible to allocate its resources in a just manner. On top of this issue, Dresser (2010) argues that embryonic stem cell-based treatment is relatively an expensive treatment and not all people can afford it due to the economic barrier. This, therefore, raises some questions; does hESC research is aiming to help people all over the globe and does it deserves the funding from NIH? In addition, since most of the researchers concentrate on wealthy nations and health problems of people there, Dresser (2010) highlights another social injustice issue. The issue is questioning whether NIH and US government have the desire to improve the health of people in poor nations which continued to decline by time or the research funding decision is influenced by congressional politics (Dresser, 2010). As expressed, it is unfair to devote a lot of money to the research while there are still so many people suffering from lack of access to basic health care especially those who live in poor countries.
Human Embryonic Stem Cell research is one of the most promising areas of medical study but it is still at its infant stage (citation). Therefore, there might be several unavoidable flaws which likely to occur such as rejection from the patient’s body. Joshi et al. (2016) report that rejection rates for embryonic stem cell therapies are likely to be high as stem cells which are derived from embryos that are not patients own will trigger the activation of immune system and in the end, body system will recognize the cells as foreign cells. Based on a recent study, Vittana (2017) highlights another health problem that is possible to appear during the treatment which is the development of tumors. Development of these tumors happened as a result of the uncontrolled dividing process of embryonic stem cells. Another research proves that the implementation of embryonic stem cell in a treatment involving heart disease patients has led to the narrower of coronary arteries (Joshi et al., 2016). Generally, the condition of the patient became worsened and it subsequently leaves a negative impact on embryonic stem cell treatment. Despite all the benefits hESC might contribute for a better health care in the future, this therapy seems to have many drawbacks which makes it a mediocre approach and a better approach is necessary.
Countries around the world have outlined several restrictions on embryonic and fetal research as a response to the various controversies over stem cell research specifically embryonic stem cell research. Legislations governing embryonic stem cells are diverse and vary across countries all over the globe (National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 2016). According to The New Atlantis (2012), in Italy, they imposed strict laws in regulating embryonic stem cells research based on Law 40 which came into effect on March 10, 2004, and the law stated that both embryos research and research on human embryos are banned including the use of embryos in determining the embryonic cells lines. Italian law also provides penal provision ranging from ten to twenty years for impermissible experimentation on embryos (The New Atlantis, 2012). NCSL (2016) reports that under South Dakota law enacted in 2000, it strictly prohibits the research on embryos regardless of their sources. Furthermore, according to South Dakota law, the annihilation of embryos to run non-therapeutic research is considered as a crime (NCSL, 2016). Hence, the formation and existence of effective legislation concerning restriction on embryonic research demonstrates how harmful this experimentation could be.
Indeed, looked at as a whole, it may not necessary to use embryonic stem cells to pursue stem cell research. Adult stem cell, therefore, might be a better choice. Salim (2015) asserts that adult stem cells have been used more than 40 years as active agents for bone marrow transplantations to cure various blood disorders such as leukemia, anemia, blood cancers and immune system dysfunctions. Interestingly, a new approach called “induced pluripotent stem cells ((iPSCs) has been introduced (Patil, 2014). Salim (2015) explains that a recent research showed that adult stem cells can be reprogrammed to become induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), cells that behave and in the meantime can perform the same function as embryonic stem cells. Through iPCS reprogramming, any types of cell tissues can be generated from adult stem cells (Vitanna, 2017). This includes the involvement of reversing the differentiating cell signals to produced desired or specialized cells (Joshi et al). Apart from that, Kirsten Riggan (2011) argues that direct cell reprogramming can be implemented in biomedical field as it has a higher percentage of success compare to human embryonic stem cell which is still at its infancy. As expressed, iPSCs are produced in a more ethical way without the destruction of human embryos compared to how embryonic stem cells are derived. In general, it is proven that the use of iPSCs in stem cell research can avoid technical challenges and social controversies.
In a nutshell, human embryonic stem cells offer a better chance in treating malignancies diseases but inflict many issues in term of moral, funding and in the establishment of law in the effectiveness of the clinical application in the future. Stem cell research is advancing beyond time despite all of the controversies it has faced. Thus, all parties including policy-makers, ethicists, and researchers should think of the right way to pursue this research without violating human subjects. Adult stem cell research may be the best answer for this problem. Therefore, we should focus more on this research to increase the effectiveness and efficiencies of the adult stem cell application in future.