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Easily one of the most controversial and widespread dilemmas in the modern nexus of science, stem cell research ethics has been caught in the crossfire of heated debate between a mix of experts and the public. One question seems to be behind much of the controversy, in that there is no set point as to when human life actually begins. (Embryonic Death, 2004, para. 2) This leaves many to interpret the real moral status of embryos as living human beings or as a bundle of cells of pre-life status. However, destroying embryos for research can be considered pro-life and anti at the same when considering claims that the cells derived from embryos hold great promise in potentially curing those stricken with disease. (The Future, 2004, para. 1) Which again leaves more to question, which side is aesthetically the `good' side.
Desperately searching EBSCO for anything stem cell related, I came across the heading Embryonic Death and the creation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells. Based on the title alone, it appeared that the article decided to tackle the heart of stem cell developmental basics. As luck would have it, the introduction briefly went over the multi-faceted ethical debate currently plaguing the Bush Administration whose efforts are toward suppressing creation of new embryo lines. The bills passed by Bush in 2001 have allowed research on the “left over” embryos from infertility treatments done for couples that desperately want but are having difficulty with conceiving children. The co-writers Doctors Donald Landry and Howard Zucker also make it a point in this article to take a stance against live embryo destruction by stating, “the duty to heal the sick cannot override the moral imperative to treat human beings as subjects and not objects. “ (Embryonic Death, 2004, para. 1) Also stated is their interest over the possibility to extend the same legal action over transplanting organs from the deceased to cover the same policies when dealing with the transfer of cells from `dead' embryos.
With an established perspective, Zucker and Landry move away from theoretical analysis and onto formalities as they briefly address the basics concerning embryos, their components, and the process by which the stem cells are obtained. The development of stem cell research began with mice in 1981, but human isolation of stem cells is only in its fledgling stages. Basically, donated eggs and sperm are pseudo-conceived in the lab and grown over a 4-5 day period to reach the blastocyst stage, where the cells have divided into anywhere from 64 to several hundred cells. (Embryonic Death, 2004, para. 3) At this stage the cells are ready for harvesting through some very painstaking and backbreaking procedure that's complicated enough. Remarkably, these harvested stem cells can develop into virtually any type of body cell, and duplicate itself identically to the parent cell, but still requires the destruction of the embryo.
This brings us to our next few sections that are dedicated to background info on the establishment of the Uniform Determination of Death Act of 1981, which specifically outlined the new `definition' of death. (Embryo Death, 2004, para. 5) The act stated, “brain death is the legal equivalent of death,” which translates into the “capacity of life [being] irretrievably lost.” (Embryo Death, 2004, para. 5) The purpose was solely to establish that if you're brain is unable run your bodily functions; your family is free to decide the fate of your organs. Subsequently, Landry and Zucker collaborated to fight odds to explain that the inability for the embryo's cells to divide and differentiate characterizes the `death' of an embryo. Just as the brain losing its function with the other organs intact, this compares with what Landry and Zucker feels is similar in to that of the embryo's loss of cellular division but intactness of the material. (Embryo Death, 2004, para. 7) Like the healthy and functioning organs of a deceased person, the intact embryo material can be extracted and used if it is determined that embryo death can render the same legal application as organ donors.
So now that their hopes of Death Act application on embryos has been established, the article moves on tell us that that these `dead' embryos under Landry-Zucker definition, are quite common. “Approximately 60% of in vitro fertilization embryos fail to meet criteria for viability,” which tells us that many embryos were created and many of those didn't quite make it to the uterine stage. The rest of the article tapers off into a rather lengthy page long painstaking description of the extractions of the cells from dead embryos and their infinite possibilities to contribute largely in the field of research for the cure of human disease. This part also mentioned the various steps and details that qualify embryos as dead, and what characteristics scientists need to be looking for, much like a systematic guideline. The main idea was that the death criteria of the halting of cell division if deemed irreversible in cells could provide for a very standard definition of reference. (Embryo Death, 2004, para. 9)
Lastly, the article points out the importance of referencing the legal procedures behind establishing death in humans to parallel the possibility of application in dead embryos. With the application of this process on embryos, Landry and Zucker hope to appeal to both sides by avoiding live embryo destruction and provide material for research; much like organ donors and their parts. (Embryo Death, 2004, para. 9-10)
The next article, fortunately, is not as lengthy and doesn't delve meticulously into the scientific slant of stem cell possibilities. Embryos, Stem Cell Research, and the Promise of Health first addresses the fate of the widely available `extra' cyropreserved embryos from fertility tests that has often been found in the hands of scientific researchers. Dr. Robert H. Blank argues that donation to research as opposed to biological destruction is obviously going to sound a lot less severe, and so in this manner the information is presented at a slant to unsuspecting couples. (Embryos, 2003, para.1-2) Blank's also holds skepticisms over the overwhelming influx in spare embryos that have been the result of “hyper-stimulating ovaries to increase egg production.” Which he also notes has been known to carry health risks. (Embryos, 2003, para. 2) The article goes over the political improbability of having the green light over producing embryos exclusively for research purposes.
The next section of article is dedicated to discrediting the press's largely over exaggerated and prematurely optimistic claims concerning stem cell research potential in curing disease. The danger presents itself when Blank states that “the lack of anything approaching evidence of the efficacy and even safety of stem cell application,” is overshadowed and ignored by “the press that tends to extrapolate firm benefits from such tentative forecasts.” (Embryo's, 2003, para. 4, 6) Also mentioned are the troubling claims from researchers such as James Thomson and Larry Lipshultz that defend the idea of stem cells potentially giving rise to organs and new cells for disease treatment. These also contribute to unfulfilled newspaper reports with headlines that range from “Scientists Can Now Grow All-Purpose Cells in Labs” to “Experimental Cell Promising for Parkison's.” (Embryos, 2003, para. 6) Blank feels that because of claims by doctors, and unfulfilled exaggerations by the press, despite the lack of proven efficacy that “expectations of the afflicted have been raised and demands for access heightened.” (Embryos, 2003, para. 4) Which of course presents a greater demand on something that has yet to be proven, ultimately causing
The next part of article briefly goes over different “almost-miracles” in the advances of medicine that have similarly been a lost cause amidst tireless efforts and have ended up remaining as broken promises. Among those mentioned are incidences where scientists exaggerated while urging Congress in 1960 to fund research that could annihilate cancer all together. At the same period in time, advances in genetics were also prematurely translated into successful predictions, but failed to deliver. However according to Blank, “ even the more modest gene-therapy forecasts has yet to be realized.” (Embryos, 2003, para.7) Another mentionable is AID's research in the 1980's that claimed if granted sufficient funding there could be an effective vaccine by the 1990's. Again, researchers claims to a miracle cure appeared to be only a baited hook for supporting funds.
Blank's adage that “stem cell research is unlikely to deliver all the goods boosters now suggest,” casts his shadow of skepticism over the worth of wasting embryos on such research. Many of these “goods” and miracles range from new organs and the reversal of diseases such as diabetes and cancers. (Embryos, 2003, para.8) Unfortunately, because of the claims over stem cell research, funding has been diverted from proven fields of medicine such as preventive medicine and endeavors in public-health awareness. Because of the current restrictions on the production of stem cells, scientists have been cornered into supplementing lack of research materials by resorting to extras produced from infertility treatments and over exaggeration of potential miracles linked this field. This has been done in hopes of attracting Congress to fund their worthy and falsely advertised campaign.
The last article Pro-Life and Anti-Ethics by A.C. Grayling written for the “New Scientist” journal attacks the claim of pro-lifers in defense of the unethical use of embryos. Because of their potential to aid researchers in the fight against disease, “pro-life objections are themselves arguably unethical.” (Pro-Life and Anti-Ethics, 2007, para. 2) Grayling makes it very clear that these “so called pro-lifers” fail to see that stem cell research is by default a very “pro-life” campaign. The researcher's goals are to potentially alleviate suffering from a wide range of diseases and ailments such as Parkinson's, diabetes, spinal cord injury, and hearing and sight loss. By Grayling's standards, “the suffering and disability...in people that actually (as opposed to potentially) exist” holds a greater priority to get them back to enjoying their lives that have already been established, which is ultimately very pro-life. (Pro-Life, 2007, para.3)
Another argument raised in the article is that there is nothing wrong with using extra embryos that have resulted from in vitro fertility treatments, because the couples have consented. Since the intent of reproducing is a positive endeavor in its own right, the potential for this to stem off and give birth and leading to other clinical applications in the field of stem cell research is also covered by the same do-good blanket. Grayling also points out that embryo and reproductive material waste is prevalent in most organisms on this planet, ranging from the humble fish to humans themselves. “Of the billions of eggs laid by fish, only of 0.5 percent hatch,” and humans are by no means exempt from such lasciviousness as “hundreds of billions of spermatozoa die before reaching the ovum.” (Pro-Life, 2007, para.6)
The article reaches a conclusion as it reiterates the ignorance of pro-lifers that do not acknowledge the context in which life is initiated. The whole package that includes the circumstances by which the embryos come to be and their aim at alleviated suffering in diseases is all very positive. Because the status of embryos has received neither the mark of a living being or hasn't been cast as dead quite yet, it's dangerous to assign embryos moral status. This is especially true of those who adamantly insist that embryos are in fact living, as this could close off a sizeable opportunity for researchers to develop treatments for those afflicted with disease. As opposed to the “objectors to embryonic stem cell research [who] are being positively unethical.” (Pro-Life, 2007, para. 10)
Although the question of an embryo's moral status appears to rather ambiguous, all three articles argued their positions poignantly. The article by Zucker and Landry applied the proposition of Death Act application well enough for it to be informative and useful, with their goal appearing to be on the side of trying to convince those in the medical field and public of its validity. Ultimately by favoring research on embryos for treatment purposes, and defending embryos right to live, Zucker and Landry most likely appealed to a wide audience rallying for support from those on both sides of the issue.
The article written by Robert Blank presented information against embryo research, and by doing so in Blank's own cynical undertones, made it cleverly entertaining. Attacking the imperfections and weaknesses of a relatively new field of scientific study, he made embryo research appear to be more fictional than legitimate. Whereas Grayling in Pro-Life, seemed to take a very personal and heartfelt stand amongst those fighting for their lives; subsequently defending those individuals who could greatly benefit from the successes of embryonic stem cell research. Graylings approach seemed to be more of a plea to those who sit on the fence and others who ignorantly rally against such research in hopes to convince them that this research is key in alleviating suffering. Targeting the more humanistic side of what embryo research can accomplish, Grayling relied less on fact and numbers but on good will.