Embryotic stem cell research has been in the public eye for quite some time, and has formed an ethical debate between many. Scientists have been researching and testing embryos to determine the possible uses for them. The work done with embryos can allow parents to select certain characteristics for their future child. Frozen embryos can be used later on for in-vitro fertilization, allowing a couple to conceive a child. Scientists can nurture the embryos and thus use them for testing. Human embryo stem cells also can be used to treat and prevent diseases (Keller 1). The incredible accomplishments with embryos have fueled debates whether the testing on fragile embryos is ethically and morally stable. Where is the line drawn for working with embryos? The ethical concern pertaining to the embryo research is becoming acceptable in today’s society. The controversial topic over embryos has slowly become an existing issue. Working with embryos first sparked an ethical concern in 1994, when word got around that human embryo cells were being extracted and then explored on (Banchoff 180).
Two fundamental moral principles that we as humans highly value are debated throughout the embryo research; the duty to prevent or alleviate suffering and the rightful duty to respect the value of human life (Schneider 830). This creates the question about what the moral status of a human embryo is. The pre-implantation stage of the embryo does not have emotional, intellectual, and physiological properties. It has no identity therefor it has the genetic ability to fulfill its duties in a human body that it needs to. Ron Mckay, a stem cell researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says, “The control of human stem cells may open the door to the greatest discovery since antibiotics (Torr 134). Research and manipulation of embryos first originated in the 1940’s. The first occurrence of human in-vitro fertilization was in 1944. More news developed in the 1960’s. The first ever confirmed case where success of fertilizing a human egg was at a lab in Cambridge in 1968. After the confirmation, “embryo politics” emerged. Scientific associations, patient advocacy organizations, and the Catholic Church were among the many that had ethical reasons concerning the research of embryos.
Stories pertaining to the embryos were low key, because according to Lemonae, Robert Edward’s breakthrough was “still too early to see anything in this experiment beyond interesting technological powers now only interests to scientists” (Banchoff 183). In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled that the fetus was not a person. This not only initiated the freedom of abortion, but more legal ability to continue intense research on the embryos. In 1974, Congress demanded that ethical and public policy guidelines for the fetal research come to an agreement. Finally, in 1975 liberalists and conservatives compromised an agreement based on both of their views. They agreed on embryo research to be acceptable for the development of vaccinations and cures. Yet, it strongly restricted human fetal research where research risks were too high (Holland 17). From beginning of scientists’ work on human embryos ethical debates have been trending for some time. The average person does not fully understand the medical capabilities of the precious embryo.
Embryos can be designed to become different organ cells, be used to treat different diseases, used to create a child, and select certain human features. Just like the slow birth of embryonic stem cell research, the percentage of people that are on agreeable ethical terms with the research has slowly increased as well. In a cohort study performed in 2009 by the University of Nevada questioned U.S. citizens what their attitudes toward human embryonic stem cell research was. More than two-thirds of the study’s respondents approved of the transfer of the patient’s own genes and stem cells from in-vitro fertilization. Over two-thirds of the respondents also approved of newer methods, such as using modified adult cells as an alternative to using embryos. 45% of respondents said that they disapproved of using the embryos for cosmetic purposes. 73% disapprove of reproductive cloning, of themselves and of a child (Banchoff 25). Many ethical groups have problems with using embryos for those purposes. Since the rise of medical technology, certain ethical groups have opposed working with different developments and the advancement to aid scientific causes.
Those groups have always been around and will continue to voice their opinion. The opposing viewpoint groups of working with embryos also exist. With proven success of the embryos various ethical groups that once disapproved of the research to the embryos have changed their opinion (Holland 16). Multiple human embryotic stem cell therapies, stories, and cures are effects of the ethical debates. Human embryotic stem cells solely have the ability to be transformed into any type of body cell, with the body allowing acceptance of the cell. This means that any human body organ or tissue that is not functioning properly can be regrown by using the embryo stem cells, then they can be introduced to the tissue or organ, reproduce, then eventually have all the healthy cells take over to form a healthy functioning tissue or organ. With the production of human embryotic stem cells, scientists can use this to cure diseases, create new drugs, and perform therapies. Scientists have said that diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and heart diseases can be treated. Strokes and diabetes can be, for the most part, terminated. The stem cells can be used for spinal cord injuries, reducing the risk of transplantation, and it may play a major role in cancer. This is done by taking the donor egg nucleus and then removing it. This is then called a new embryo.
The nucleus from a patient’s cell is transplanted to the egg. It is then cultured and developed. New drugs can be invented to stimulate the embryonic stem cells. Another drug proposition is that the embryonic stem cells can be designed to target unhealthy cancerous cells, then introduced to the human body (Torr 143). Keller, author of Designer Babies: Considering the Benefits, whose outlook on the creation of “designer babies” is a way for scientists to engage the public on a new “hobby”, wishes that her parents would have at least screened her for various traits and diseases. It would have saved her from long torturous nights heaving, waiting until her breathing got severe enough so her parents would take her to the hospital to get medical attention.
She believes that the health concerns that effect everyday people should be screened and then treated with embryo technology (3). The embryos can be used with a process called in-vitro fertilization. The ability to “select” or design a certain gender for a child can be done through in-vitro, with little to no error. In in-vitro the embryo of an egg is taken and placed in a petri dish with selected sperm, to ultimately fertilize an egg. The egg is then placed into the female to increase the likely hood of creating a child. The work with embryos during in-vitro has a lower risk factor and high success rate compared to work with the stem cells (Stienbock 1).
The opinionated voices of varied religious groups are effects of the ethical and moral status of the embryo exploration. Roman Catholics, Judaism, and Islam are only some of the religions that have judged the ethical concern of the human embryo. Catholics believe that authentic human life begins with the early form of the zygote. For Catholics the use of stem cells to differentiate cells is morally wrong. Protestant Churches agree that some embryo research may be permitted, because for them the embryo has potential human status. The Islam religion has accepted that the fetus become a legal person at later stages of the embryo development when embryos have voluntary movements from the developing embryo. Judaism is more open minded compared to most religions pertaining to the ethical status of the embryo. Jewish religious traditions emphasize the importance of saving life and consider the ultimate goal of human embryonic stem cell research to be lifesaving (Holland 62-65).
In the future this research will reach medical peaks. Harold Varmus, head of National Institutes of Health says, “This research has potential to revolutionize the practice of medicine.” No longer will doctors have the opportunity to say they will not be able to rehabilitate an organ or have no donor transplants. Embryos are the key to the medical world. Bioethicist at University of Virginia, John Fletcher, notes, “Soon every parent whose child has diabetes or any cell-failure disease is going to be riveted to this research, because it’s the answer” (Torr 134-135). Overtime generations have been through killer diseases like smallpox, polio, and the plague. Now mental illnesses, cancer, and diabetes are our leading disease killers. With human embryotic stem cells the possibility of ending minor to life threatening illnesses can be eliminated.
With advancements in research ethic groups are accepting that it is time to apply the embryo solution. Many people are concerned that cloning may take place because scientists have the technology and the possible anxiety to clone. Cloning animals has been recently successful, but the likely hood of cloning a human is quite slim. Thomas Banchoff infers that scientists and doctors are looking for cures in medicine, not success in cloning people (220). Human Embryotic Stem Cell is debated ethically among the general population. Scientists have found in their research that the outcomes of an embryo are infinite. Keller states that parents are trying to influence their kids regardless of the manipulation of embryos (Keller 1). Embryo manipulation will allow for parents to have children that are already nurtured and prepared for the world, and in this reasoning they will be able to understand the ethical characteristics of embryo manipulation.