If embryonic stem cell research is legalized today, more than one hundred million Americans will directly benefit from various stem cell therapies. This number includes patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune diseases, type I and type II diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. This potentiality of stem cell therapy has been demonstrated by therapeutically using stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood, bone marrow and peripheral blood.
These stems cells have been used in clinical treatment and management of patients with a wide range of blood disorders and immune system diseases including but not limited to leukemia and lymphomas. It is this initial success in therapy that has raised the expectations of embryonic stem cells in therapy. In current clinical practice, hematopoietic stem cells are being used in treating children suffering from severe combined immune deficiency diseases. Several leukemia patients have been treated successfully by chemotherapy or radiotherapy which completely destroys their bone marrow followed by bone marrow transplants (Schwartz & Bryant 37).
Stem cells have also been used in the treatment of metabolic diseases, particularly, lysosomal storage disorders like Hurler’s syndrome. Stem cells have also been found to be effective against debilitating neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis which causes multiple impairments in sensory, motor and cognitive functions (Schwartz & Bryant 39). These remarkable achievements in therapy can only be fully exploited through embryonic stem cell research. Science and medicine, as supreme branches of study can only serve their purposes if research findings are extrapolated to solving human problems.
This is not fully applicable in the current scenario due to conflicting and controversial opinions as regards stem cell research. Interestingly, the controversy of the stem cell debate hinges on whether the technology can be exploited to save lives while on the other hand, opponents claim the sanctity of human life should be upheld and protected (Solo et al 35). Personhood is determined by sentience. An embryo is not yet sentient. Any individual with no capacity for brain activity, which is an indispensable and a prerequisite, cannot be said to possess human life.
Therefore, since embryos are not sentient, they do not possess a moral consideration the equivalent of a fully fledged person. An analogy can be made between an embryo and a dead brained human. While both may demand certain degrees of moral consideration, that degree is not the same as that of a fully fledged human being. This is the reason why even though the dead are accorded moral consideration, their organs can with their prior consent or that of the family be harvested and used as transplants to save other lives (Werner 4).
Embryos have no brain, no functioning organs except the presence of stem cells. It is ethical that such stem cells can be harvested, because embryos have not attained human life, and used in research geared towards the elimination of myriad incurable and debilitating diseases. Naturally, there are millions and millions of oocytes and sperms that are produced. Usually both the male and the female gamete can be harvested and fused in specialized equipment even without the necessity of getting already formed zygotes from mothers.
Current reproductive technologies have created a bank of embryos that are often discarded. This goes directly against the claim that all embryos will necessarily grow into human life. It is only moral that human beings use these resources for better purposes rather than just throwing them away. From such discarded embryos new and potentially beneficial cell lines can be produced and made useful in cell therapy. Thus, the inevitability of embryo damage only calls for measures for their utilization rather than their disposal.
Stem cell research holds great therapeutic promises. Harvesting of embryos is not a ruthless act as many have posited. Moreover, by using stem cells to alleviate human suffering, stem cell research does not in any way go against the societal moral values (Holland et al 63). Since stem cell research destroys only those embryos discarded after fertility treatments, it is ethically permissible to use such a destruction to develop therapeutics for severely debilitating and life threatening diseases under the watchful eye of appropriate legal and civil oversight bodies.