Moving Forward – Removing Stem Cells from the Ethics Debate

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According to the BBC News, a recent study conducted by a US and Canadian team has managed to “manipulate human skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells." This is very exciting news, with importance both to the scientific community and to the average person in need of medical treatment.

The reasons behind the “ethical” side of the argument are straightforward: current embryonic stem cell technologies require the destruction of a human embryo to harvest the stem cells. Members of the “pro-life” movement equate a human embryo with a full person, thus such destruction is, in their eyes, essentially murder. Other opponents of stem cell research claim that manipulation of human embryos is dangerously close to human cloning, another highly controversial issue. Stem cell research for them would inevitably lead to a similar world to that found in the movie Gattaca (if you haven’t seen this film, it is absolutely worth a watch). On the other side of the argument are the scientists - stem cell research could save lives. Short, but none-the-less very strong.

The study reported on by BBC, found here, was able to manipulate the cells without the use of viruses – key to the side of research focused on moving around its opponents with regards to human embryos. Currently, it is possible to create stem cells from other adult cells using viruses to inject certain genes; however, such use or viruses makes the cells prone to becoming cancerous. It is this problem that makes such techniques more risky to use.

The study is so important because first, it manages to avoid the human embryo defendants, and make the technique considerably safer. While it is still in its early stages, this discovery could end the ethical debate about stem cells once and for all – and, more importantly, allow progress in an area with the potential to help many sick people. Frankly, if you ask me, I’d rather destroy the embryo and save a life than save the embryo and let someone suffer through life without treatment. But hey, that’s ethics for you – right for one man could be unthinkable for another.

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Comments

Scientists often solve problems by attacking them from several different angles. The genetic tricks to turn skin cells into embryonic-like cells are indeed powerful and should definitely be pursued. But research on embryonic stem cells must continue. It is another avenue towards the same goal.

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