Stem Cell Research and Utilitarianism

What if there was an opportunity to develop a cure for diabetes, HIV, or cancer? However, in order to achieve such a task, research and manipulation of embryonic cells are required. One may question the viability of the cells and if the embryos or fetuses are regarded as human lives. Stem cell research advances the knowledge about how an organism develops from a single cell and how healthy cells replace damaged cells in adult organisms. This paper will focus on the support of stem cell research and its importance in the future of medicine. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that and renew itself and differentiate to yield some or all major cell types of tissues or organs. The potential in regenerating or manipulating stem cells for future treatment of genetic conditions or chronic diseases is profound and is needed for treatment of medical conditions. Utilitarianism is the theory of justice that is supportive of stem cell research. The foundation of this theory is “the greatest happiness” principle. The lives that can be saved are immeasurable. But what about the embryos and fetuses that are destroyed in the process? If embryos are considered lives, stem cell research can be essentially considered as murder. The primary objection that may apply is that utilitarianism makes no room for individual rights. Sacrificing the life of one to save millions may be worth it and this paper will state the major points of support for stem cell research.

Stem Cell Research Controversy

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells in tissue that serve as an internal repair system that divide to replenish other cells within the body. These cells are capable of renewing themselves through cell division and can divide and repair damaged or worn out tissue. Human embryonic stem cells are stem cells that are derived from human embryos. Stem cells are able to divide and renew themselves for a long period of time, unspecialized and can give rise to specialized cell types (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2009).

Current research of stem cells includes controlling cell proliferation and differentiation through identification of how undifferentiated stem cells convert to differentiated cells that form the tissues and organs. Then controversy in stem cell research involves the creation, usage, and destruction of embryos. Creation of human embryo stem cell line requires destruction of the human embryo. At Harvard University, researchers attempted to transfer the nucleus of a somatic cell into an existing embryonic stem cell to create a new stem cell line. The ethical issue of manipulation and destruction of the human embryo and its stem cells center the debate on stem cell research. The pro-life movement is stemmed from the concern of the rights and status of the embryo as human life. Until recent years, stem cell research included removing tissue from an aborted embryo to get material to evaluate and study. Researchers are now reverting to obtain and manipulate pluripotent stem cells without the use of embryos. In the past, ethical issues of scientific research on aborted fetuses did not justify medical benefits.

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