Opposing Stem Cell Research
Despite recent advancements in stem cell research and the excitement generated regarding its potential use for human health and cell repair, stem cell research has evoked a flurry of controversy concerning both ethical issues and possible scientific complications. Although understanding how cells develop and differentiate and developing techniques wherein healthy cells can intentionally be used to replace damaged cells is one the most important research areas in contemporary biology, this relatively young science is raising serious questions and its opponents are as vocal as its proponents.
Ethical Stem Cell Research Opposition
The main opposition to cell research surrounds the use of embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are obtained from early-stage embryos that were fertilized as part of an in-vitro fertilization procedure but never implanted into a woman's uterus. Those opposed to the use of embryonic stem cells claim that that the embryo is a human being with rights. Since embryos are destroyed during the process of extracting stem cells, some people (including various religious groups) deem the procedure to be first-degree murder. In contrast, the alternative viewpoint argues that the young embryo is too rudimentary a structure and too underdeveloped to constitute a human being.
Scientific Stem Cell Research Opposition
Since stem cell research is only in its infancy and much of the research has been conducted in laboratories with animals, some scientific results have been found to be unstable, with the injection of embryonic stem cells causing fetal abnormalities. Another problem has to do with embryonic stem cell differentiation, which has not always been successful in laboratory experiments with animals such as mice and rats.
Solving the Embryonic Stem Cell Controversy
While extracting cells from human embryos results in the death of the embryo and leading pro-life advocates to call it homicide, new and exciting research is underway that converts skin cells into what are called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), cells that emulate embryonic stem cells and that could therefore potentially replace the need to used stem cells derived from embryos. If successfully developed, iPS cell technology could offer many of the advantages of embryonic stem cells while simultaneously solving its ethical dilemmas.
Finally, a third category of stem cells is adult stem cells. While once believed to be very limited in scope and capable of developing or differentiating into only very few cell types, recent research has indicated that the flexibility of adult stem cells may have been underestimated. If so, they may offer another viable solution to the problems inherent in embryonic stem cell research.