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Stem Cell Research

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Throughout human civilization, science has challenged religion and repeatedly proved itself (e.g. Darwin, Copernicus). Sullivan (2005) stated, "As much as religious leaders want to push scientists to think more about the morality of their work, scientists are pushing religious leaders back to the basic tenets of their faiths, where they scramble to make sense of a world teetering on the razor's edge of irreversible change." Although the majority of Americans are Christian and share a view against cloning and stem cell research, these pioneering and potentially life giving medical technologies should be federally funded.

Stem cell research has immense potential to effect positively the lives of every human alive and yet to be born. Indeed it could be man's greatest triumph, prolonging life or even conquering death itself. How are such "miracles" possible? First one must understand what a stem cell is (e.g. Figure 1). The common definition of a stem cell is one that can produce any of the 220 types of cells in the human body. There are actually three types of stem cells being researched today. Embryonic stem cells are the ones described above, and are found in all human embryos. Adult stem cells are found in human adults and are similar to embryonic stem cells in that they can produce many types of human cells. Finally, induced pluripotent stem cells are specially treated ordinary cells (e.g. skin cells) that are manipulated in such a way that they behave similarly to embryonic stem cells.

Figure 1

Diagram of a stem cell

Note. From The National Academies. (2009). Stem cell basics - What is a stem cell? Retrieved May 4, 2009, from http://www.dels.nas.edu

Embryonic stem cell research is still relatively young and has not reached the human trial stage. Adult stem cell research however, has already reached the human trial stage and has been successful at treating cardiac infarction (replacing dead heart cells). Opponents of embryonic stem cell research point out that the cells in question must be taken from a viable human embryo and therefore is murder. When working with adult stem cells, on the other hand, no harm is done to the host human supplying the cells for experimentation. It is this fundamental difference that Americans need to understand. With this understanding, the road could be paved for federal funding of adult stem cell research.

At issue is whether or not a particular area of biomedical research should be limited due to ethical concerns and religious beliefs. Some religious leaders believe and steadfastly advocate that their religion prohibits stem cell research of any kind. But is the United States Constitution not founded on separation of religion and government? The United States government should be more concerned with the health of its people than the dubiously moral concerns of the religious right. Given the tremendous amount of time spent on Capitol Hill wrestling over health care reform, how is it that America's leaders are not jumping at the chance to save lives and reduce health costs through stem cell research? Religious leaders contend that stem cell research constitutes "playing God." Did their God not give humans the means (a brain) to do so? Granted, the United States of America is proud of its religious tolerance. But should that tolerance be allowed to stand in the way of progress? Should that celebrated tolerance lead to the loss of American lives?

Ethical concerns of some doctors and politicians cast doubt on the viability of stem cell research. Doctors are often afraid to get involved with stem cell research due to the biological risks. There are many examples of failed animal cloning attempts and the results are not pretty. Indeed there is some potential for human death and mistakes will be made. But is there not always a price for progress? Politicians are afraid to risk getting involved for fear of losing votes. Politicians are often motivated by special interests and power rather than the good of the people. Should Americans let such interests stand between them and a cure for cancer? With federal funding, research can be conducted in a safer and ethical manner. With federal funding stem cell research could find a cure for Alzheimer's and a cure for A.I.D.S. Does America need politicians who do not care to find out? Politicians must be made to understand the ramifications of their inaction. American voters need to take action at the voting booth.

Embryonic cloning is a method intended to produce an exact replica of an existing animal. The most commonly known use of embryonic cloning is Dolly the sheep. Embryonic cloning is accomplished by removing the DNA from a donor ovum and inserting the desired DNA in its place. The ovum is now said to be fertilized and is placed inside a womb where it grows to be the desired animal. Because of the trial and error methods necessary to produce a successfully cloned animal, many countries have expressly forbidden human cloning. Nevertheless, Dr. Severino Antinori claimed in 2002 that he had done just that. Antinori is the director at the Rome fertility clinic. Many people have criticized Antinori's work as inhumane and risky. Indeed, even the Vatican has denounced Antinori, calling his methods grotesque and evil. The Vatican even goes so far as to compare Antinori to Hitler. To his clients however, Antinori is a saint. Antinori claims to have used embryonic cloning to help his clients have children. Naturally, his client list remains secret. Only pictures of families with twins and triplets exist as Antinori's proof. Detractors point out that prior animal cloning has often produced severe genetic defects. Antinori responds unabashedly, "I can guarantee at 99% that I will not give birth to any monsters." So if a method is determined to not produce genetic defects in animals, should it not also be applied to humans? Through Antinori, embryonic cloning has given struggling couples a chance to have a family. For some, embryonic cloning is the answer to their prayers. Shouldn't these couples be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not it is ethical? Unfortunately, embryonic cloning is cost prohibitive to most ordinary couples. Federal funding would help reduce this cost to Americans.

Stem cell research can lead to saving American lives. In particular, there is the potential to cure many diseases and replace damaged or lost tissues and organs. Organ cloning has already shown success at replacing heart, skin, and lung tissue. Cardiovascular disease, which includes hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure, has ranked as the number one cause of death in the United

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