Stem cell research is no ordinary scientific experiment such as the Wright Brothers attempting to invent the first airplane or Jonas Salk attempting to develop the first polio vaccine. Stem cell research is a controversial topic because it promises so much but at the same time requires a steep price to pay for something that has yet to prove it is worth the trouble.
This is because stem cell research promises to cure degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and scoliosis but the same time the cure requires the destruction of human embryonic stem cells that can only be had after a sperm fertilizes the egg and turn into an ovum, the first step in the development of a human baby. This is why this nation is divided regarding the proposal that the Federal Government should expand federal funding on stem cell research.
There is a reason why the Bush administration decided to limit funding for this particular endeavor. First of all, stem cell research is an experiment that does not sit well with many people. On the other hand many find it difficult to understand why a potential solution to debilitating diseases should not be pursued.
The line has been drawn in the sand and each side of the debate must present their case clearly so that the Federal Government must reconsider their stance of limiting funding and banning the harvesting more stem cells from human embryos.
In Support of Expanding Federal Funding
In the latter part of the 20th century scientists discovered a way to isolate and then cultivate stem cells that taken from human embryos. These were called totipotent cells and this means that these are undifferentiated cells and can be developed further to any type of cell needed by the body. As a result scientists believed that stem cells can be used as a way to replace cells lost by the body because of degenerative diseases. But more data was needed and therefore funding from the government.
Due to the moral and ethical problem surrounding such types of research the Bush Administration created a compromise. Limited federal funding was authorized but with limitations – the funds that will be released by the Federal Government must only be applied to existing stem cells lines that were already under the authority of the government.
Limited funds appropriated to stem cell research is not the only problem why there are those asking the lifting of the ban on stem cell research and increase funding for the same. They argue that in 2005 it was discovered that the few remaining lines of stem cells available and eligible in for research in accordance to government guidelines were contaminated with a molecule that came from mice.
It was also pointed out that without the active support of government stem cell research will not succeed. There was the assertion that private funding follows the lead of the federal government. On the other hand it was also made clear that there are private institutions and other states that would continue with their pursuit.
States like California took the initiative in raising funds to enhance stem cell research that was already started in their respective state regardless of federal funding. Supporters added that this is not the best way to go forward because without a central authority it is possible that results will be less efficient and non-standard; in other words research will be mediocre.
In Opposition to Expanding Federal Funding
On the opposite side of the fence the argument was much simpler. They only gave two: 1) stem cell research is tantamount to killing humans because the fertilization of an egg cell by a sperm cell will result not only in a basic building block of life but considered to be a human being no matter how simple and how small it may seem; and 2) there is no hard evidence that can truly demonstrate that stem cell research can produce significant results such as cure someone with Alzheimer’s (Dahnke & Dreher, 2006).
This means that federal funds will be thrown into a blackhole that continues to absorb billions of dollars without results (McCartney, 2004). It is also difficult to assuage the fear of the public when it comes to potential abuses that will stem from these experiments.
Those in opposition to lifting the ban and increase funding has nothing much to say because they have created an impossible scenario. Their major argument is that proponents of stem cell research has never produced a single result that would validate their claim that stem cells can be used as a form of therapy or medical solution to degenerative diseases. However, this cannot be proved or disproved without federal funding. Thus, there is a need to level the playing field; they must allow funding to determine the truth of the matter.
On the other hand, the opposition should not be brushed off just that easily. They have a valid argument. If indeed the embryos are considered human then there must be something that has to be done to put limits on what scientists can and not do when it comes to experimenting with human beings.
One way to resolve this problem is to lift the ban but give a strict deadline for stem cell research to produce results. After the deadline all funding will be cut-off. This will give supporters the chance to prove that they indeed have something that can prolong life and help millions of people suffering from debilitating sicknesses.
Those who are in opposition to lifting the ban must not create an impossible scenario wherein they prevent the other side from proving that what they have is a viable solution to a very difficult problem and that is the development of a cure for such heartbreaking and debilitating disease such as Alzheimer’s and scoliosis. But they must not be allowed to spend federal funds without accountability. They must follow strict protocols and they must have a deadline to produce results or else their funding will be cut-off forever.
Dahnke, M. & Dreher, M. Defining Ethics and Applying the Theories. In Applied Ethics in Nursing. V.D. Lachman (Ed.). New York: Springer, 2006.
McCartney, J. Recent Ethical Controversies About Stem Cell Research. In Stem Cell Research. James Humber (Ed.). New Jersey: Humana Press, Inc., 2004.
Stojkovic, M. (2010). “Stem Cells: The International Journal of Cell Differentiation and Proliferation.” Retrieved September 8, 2010 from http://stemcells.alphamedpress.org/