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Ethics of Stem Cell Research
May 21, 2005, 4:01p

With the development of technology to create personalized stem cells, we'll soon be able to order personalized organs that are virtually identical to our own. If you suffer from kidney failure and you need a new kidney, you'll no longer have to spend a year on a waiting list hoping for a donor organ, which your body may very well reject. Instead, you'll be able to order a new kidney, wait several months while it's grown in a lab, and then get it implanted. Since it's made of your own genetic material, it won't be rejected by your body (though it may suffer from the same genetic malfunction that caused your kidney to fail in the first place). Researchers also hope that stem cells will ultimately be used to cure diabetes and Alzheimer's.

So how does this relate to ethics? Many pro-life organizations (such as ProLife Alliance) oppose stem cell research because they believe that a human life starts with a fertilized egg, so ending the life of a human embryo by taking its stem cells is the same as murdering a human being. I am sympathetic to this perspective, though I also believe that if I had to choose between the mother and the embryo, I would choose the mother because she is more alive and developed than her embryo.

Thing is, the pro-life organizations and those who share their ethical stance will soon be faced with a crisis of conscience. It's one thing to be against a technology before it even exists; it's another thing altogether to actually maintain your stance after the benefits of the technology are readily available. In several years when you'll be able to buy stem cell-derived organs, I suspect that even the most die-hard pro-lifers would choose their ailing child or parent's life over the life of an embryo.

Imagine what Bush, who is strongly opposed to embryonic stem cell research, would do 4 years from now if his wife was suffering from liver failure. (This is just for illustrative purposes; I wish no harm to Bush or anyone in his family)

  • Option 1: wait for the next available liver, joining the 14,000 others who are already in line. Since only 5,000 livers become available each year, they would have to wait several years before receiving one, and his wife may even die waiting (25,000 Americans die each year from liver failure).

  • Option 2: instead of waiting, they could order a personalized liver that would be guaranteed to be available and implanted in just a few months.

  • Which do you think Bush would choose? If you were in a similar situation, which would you choose? I think that most would choose option 2, regardless of their ethical stance on stem cell research.

    Stem cell technology is forcing us to consider where we draw the line between ethical/moral and unethical/immoral behavior. Over time, I think we will have no choice but to accept it as the life-saving treatment it is, even if some of us are opposed to it right now.

    Read comments (1) - Comment

    Gokul Rajan - Nov 21, 2010, 8:34a
    hey! what you are talking about here is embryonic stem cell... but we can get stem cells from bone marrow and umbical cord too... Infact, these days stems cells can also be obtained from menstrual blood and peripheral blood also.. in all these methods we need not destroy an embryo to get stem cells... so these ethical questions don't arise! stem cell is really a breakthrough in regenerative medicine!! and we cannot afford to loose this technique cos of some silly ethical issues!!!

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