Stem Cell Research: The Ethical Dilemma

There is a perilous vast uncharted sea that might be crossed. Beyond the horizon it is believed there might be the land of Utopia. Several vessels are poised to try to make the voyage. It is unknown if any can cross but known if one can cross several identifiable ones can also.

Based on that scenario why insist that all the cargo be placed in one vessel? This question is compounded by the fact that one vessel was made for a higher known mission.

Now the elements. The sea is stem cell research. The vessel is the human embryo. Other vessels are alternative sources of pluripotent stem cells. That is, human cells that may develop many types of body parts. Utopia is a cure for human being suffering from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injuries or many other ailments.
It is not known for sure human embryos will prove to be a source to reverse these heartbreaking human conditions. The possibility of reversing such grievous conditions is inviting. Even if they can there is a moral issue involved.

Morals? All of us are moralist to some degree. Samuel Johnson, 18th Century literary giant, said “we are perpetually moralist.” Certain moral determinations are unavoidable. This is one. Regardless of which side of this issue you might be on you are a moralist. The issue pushes the envelope of bioethics.

Other vessels for the potential crossing are available. Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, the John Carroll professor of medicine and medical ethics at The Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center, notes studies published in leading journals including Science, Nature, and Hepatology found that stem cells can be obtained from such sources as fetal tissue over eight weeks old, human placenta, umbilical cords, and adult bone marrow. These cells would still have the all-important pluripotentiality of embryonic stem cells to produce any cells desired, including heart, lung, and brain cells. He questions, “Why make or destroy embryos to obtain stem cells when we don’t have to?” Paraphrased, “Why use this vessel at all?” If it can reach Utopia so can others.

President Bush in addressing the issue echoed this fact saying, “You should also know that stem cells can be derived from sources other than embryos …. Many patients suffering a range of diseases are already being helped with treatments developed from adult stem cells.”

The President further noted that as a result of private research 60 genetically diverse lines already exist with the ability to reproduce themselves indefinitely, creating ongoing opportunities for research. He has proposed using federal funds for research using these existing lines. That opens a vast world of potential.

If the ethical sea, made perilous by ethical and moral hazards, is to be crossed to Utopia it need not be crossed in this one vessel, embryonic stem cells, only. Actually, at all. If crossed, a moral crossing is possible.