Stigmatized Stem Cells
Majority of people would agree, further research of stem cells would be advantageous for the human race as a whole. Potentially hundreds of millions of people could be saved, but this research has been marred by the notion that stem cells must be found within aborted fetuses. Although it has been supported that aborted fetuses contain mass amounts of stem cells, they are found in a plethora of other place s as well. These other places range from umbilical cords to the placenta. Majority of those opposing stem cell research tend to be anti-abortion and religious groups; this clarifies why stem cells hold such a negative stigma. Among the stem cell research protesters, Pope John Paul II would be found. He stated, “A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception until natural death”.
The life of a human being starting at the moment of conception contains the rhetoric and main argument for these protesters. This misconception brings them to the conclusion that the killing of a unborn baby would be inhumane. Viewing this topic from this closed off angle makes stem cells appear to be the work of mad scientists, due to the negative stigma. Thinking this way without any form of proof nor evidence would also prove how ill informed they truly are. Fertilized eggs that have been in existence for about one week are considered blastocysts and not human being. Blastocysts are a cluster of cells that have the potential to develop into something greater; nothing more, nothing less.
In order to determine if a fertilized egg should be considered human or not, the term human must be studied more closely. Humans are considered the most intelligent creatures on the planet, and this sets the species apart from the rest of the others on this planet. Religions, such as Christianity, states that God created man in his image and likeness; man also have dominion authority over the land and creatures of this Earth. This testament from God indicates humans are more intellectual than other creatures, and they obtain the mental capacity to lead the animals as they see fit. Scientists claim that humans have more complex nervous systems than any other creature on this Earth; this complex nervous system allows for conscious thought that make human beings dominant to other beings on this planet. Since being a human being has been determined by whether or not a being has this complex nervous system, without it one could not be considered a human. The earliest form of a functioning nervous system found within an embryo was the neural tube. Developing the neural tube after roughly four weeks, the embryo could be considered a human being according to this agreed definition of a human.
Religious groups believe that humans are more intelligent than other creatures on Earth, because God gave each and every person their own soul. The soul becomes part of the individual when they take their first breath. This argument for, the sake of the religious beliefs, should be accepted.With that being said, the Bible also states on multiple occasions that God breathed breath into man. By doing so, man was brought to life. Genesis 2:7 states, ” And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being”. Before God breathed life into man, he was not alive; most would agree that before taking his first breath, man would not be considered alive. Trivial details such as this indicates that a human does not have their soul until birth and taking their first breath. More verses from the Bible stating the similar things could be found at Job 33:4 and Ezekiel 37:5 & 6.
By religious and anti-abortion groups hindering stem cell research and making it taboo, many genius ways of harvesting stem cells have been over looked. Fertilized eggs for the first week or two are considered blastocyts, which are clusters of cells as mentioned above. Before a blastocyt could develop into a fetus and grow its primitive streak and neural tube, these clusters of cells could be manipulated in order to obtain the desired stem cells. The argument that stem cells are found and harvested from aborted fetuses contains little to no support behind it. Places such as the blood located in the umbilical cords of newborn children contain stem cells that could be harvested to save lives.
One study that could help put the aborted fetuses argument to rest, was researched by a team at Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts. Their study, much like other experiments, have a control group and an experimental group. Both groups contained pregnant mice that had eight celled mouse embryos. These embryos equated to 23 mice being born from each litter. The experimental group had one cell extracted from the eight celled mouse embryo. The new seven celled embryo would eventually develop into 23 mice offspring; likewise, the control group also had 23 mice offspring. The control group had no actual work done to them, of course. They only received placebo procedures to give both of the groups the same experience. As a result, the single celled stem cell from the embryo was cultured; through mitosis, a colony of one hundred stem cells was created. No harm was brought to either of the unborn mice. Upon birth, these mice were watched for irregular behavior and developmental issues; none of which were found. The offspring were even viable and fertile.
Another study that showed how stem cells could be obtained without aborted fetuses was called the Alter Nuclear Transfer, or ANT for short. The study was done by a group of MIT scientists. In this study, human eggs were extracted from the ovaries, and their nuclei were removed. By placing donor skin cell nuclei inside of these cells, the scientists were able to culture new skin cells. The process done in this study was very similar to that of Dolly the sheep. Since Dolly was cloned, this method seems very unethical at first, but the MIT scientists infected the donor skin cell with a virus. The virus actually hindered the action of the Cdx2 gene. This gene is essential for formation of the placenta. Without a being able to form a placenta, the embryo could hardly be considered a “true” embryo at all. This psuedo-embryo could no longer be considered in the running to become a human being. As a result, the desired stem cells are able to be obtained without an aborted fetus being utilized. This does not refute the idea that life starts immediately following inception, but if the scientific theory that a cluster of cells would be a blastocyst and not a human-being was accepted, research such as this could be done more easily and people could be treated using stem cells.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Ethics published what their opinion on using embryos for stem cell research was, back in 2006. It stated, “If the preimplantation embryo is left or maintained outside the uterus, it cannot develop into a human being”. The key focus for this statement was the phrase “develop into a human being”. This phrase’s significance stemmed from the idea that if something were to developing into something greater, it must be something else to being with. This indicates a metamorphosis or transformation would occur. An example of this would be the Caterpillar transforming into a beautiful butterfly, or a moth. Just because a caterpillar has the capacity to become a butterfly does not mean it will; it could also become a moth. A third option would be the caterpillar never makes it out of the cacoon due to complications.
Many anti-stem cell and anti-abortion groups believe that once an egg has been fertilized, it should receive the exact same rights of that of a human being. This idea has been backed with the notion that fertilized eggs would one day become a human being. This idea should be considered absurd, because once an egg has been fertilized, in no way has it been guaranteed to become a human being. In all processes, there are different steps to obtaining whatever goal was trying to be reached. Just because a process begins, does not mean that ultimately it would finish successfully. An example of this would be a boy who dreamed of making his high school basketball team. One of the first steps was to get the paperwork done for said team; a physical must be obtained, and waivers have to be signed. Once this has been accomplished and turned in, he could now try out for the team. The fact that this first step was completed does not indicate he would be guaranteed a spot on the team when tryouts were finished; he was merely eligible to be tested to see if he could be on the team. The same concept should be applied to a fertilized egg. There are many inhibiting factors that may inhibit the fertilized egg from developing into a human. Just because it has completed the first step, it does not guarantee the process would be completed.
A fertilized egg could fail to develop into a human being due to the zygote failing to finish its travels down the Fallopian tube and into the womb. 1 in 80 pregnancies fall under this category. These forms of mistakes in pregnancies are considered ectopic pregnancies. The most common ectopic pregnancy would be described as being stuck within the Fallopian tube; 80 percent of all ectopic pregnancies are found stuck in the Fallopian tube. Due to not being able to escape the Fallopian tube, the egg begins to develop there. As a result, the egg inevitably dies, and the woman carrying the misplaced egg would need immediate medical attention due to the high possibility of internal bleeding. This barrier alone destroys 1 in every 80 pregnancies.
The second barrier to a zygote developing into a human being would have to be flaws in genetic code of the zygote. These flaws in genetic code are not mutations that could potentially lead to advantageous traits, deformed individuals, nor miscarriage, but rather they are a death sentence to the zygote. During the period known as “preimplantation development” about 50 percent of all fertilized eggs fail due to genetic errors. The “preimplantation development” periods refers to when a fertilized egg attempts to embed itself into the uterine wall. After being fertilized, newly formed zygotes release the hormone trypsin; Trypsin signals the uterine wall to prepare its lining for implantation. This action allows for fertilized eggs to be able to implant themselves into the womb, but zygotes with a genetic code error have altered signals. As a result, different hormones are released during this period, causing no lining to be created in the womb. This makes implantation next to impossible.
If a zygote could overcome the 1 in 80 odds of being stuck in the Fallopian tube and the 50/50 odds of having an error in the DNA, one more barrier exists. This barrier’s the most infamous of the barriers, miscarriage. Miscarriage inhibits from 10 to 25 percent of all clinically recognized pregnancies. Miscarriages are caused by many different reasons; they include hormonal problems, immune system responses to the newly formed embryo, infections, preexisting medical conditions in the mother, etc.
People tend to stigmatize the thought of stem cell research, because they are ill informed. By using facts, supporting evidence, and different research, people who oppose stem cell research would have little to no arguments left. There are more places stem cells could be found than aborted fetuses, humans are not human until they obtain their spinal cord, and a fertilized egg does not indicate a human will be formed are all reasons why the arguments held by anti-stem cell research groups should be put to rest. People see this as the work of mad scientists or man attempting to play god, but in reality, it is man attempting to save another man. That idea alone should trump all other notions.
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- Knapp, Julie. “Your Developing Baby, Week by Week.” Parents. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.
- “What Is an Ectopic Pregnancy? – The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust.” The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.
- “When Does Human Life Begin?” Council for Secular Humanism. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.
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- Caplan, Arthur. “When Does Human Life Begin?” Council for Secular Humanism. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.
- New Testament, King James Version. New York: American Bible Society, n.d. Print.