A balanced story of stem cells is difficult to find. Many in favor of embryonic stem cell research fail to use the word “embryonic” and imply that research in general is being obstructed. They don’t acknowledge that the incumbent president has approved more stem cell research than the previous president. Those favoring only adult stem cell research never acknowledge any reason for embryonic stem cell research except cloning. I have a moral opinion, but that same morality dictates that I give voice to both scientific sides, not just one. There are some simple facts that are not getting said about either position:
First only adult stem cells have yielded successful results in humans or otherwise–about 40 different treatments by my last awareness. I met someone in Atlanta once whose son was successfully being treated for a blood disorder. Cells found in bone marrow, nasal tissue, placenta, etc, have been found to be “stem,” meaning they have not yet been programmed as to what form the cell will take. As far as we know, once that form is determined, a cell becomes that tissue and can never change again. Adult stem cells placed where cells are needed can become the tissue needed to replace damaged or missing tissue. What’s more, if the adult stem cells come from the person who needs the damage repaired, there will never be organ rejection, and the immune system need not be compromised with drugs for life, as is the case with current organ transplants. So why not just do adult stem cells and forget the controversial embryonic ones? The limitation of adult stem cells is that they cannot reproduce–one stem cell can become one specified cell. It can’t replace a whole organ. Fresh collection is continuously needed for treatments and research.
Embryonic stem cells have some kind of switch flipped that allows them to reproduce. This could allow not only the replacement of whole organs, but also the continuous supply of cells for more research. (This is what cloning is–continously splitting and reproducing human embryos for reasons other than allowing the human to mature, like harvesting a crop.) So, are there any biological problems (besides major moral ones) with embryonic stem cell research? Embryonic stem cells are switched on for reproduction, yes, but just as we don’t know how to turn the reproductive switch on for adult cells, we don’t know how to turn it off for embryonic ones. The result? Unchecked growth, better known as tumors or cancer. So far all animals treated with embryonic stem cells develop tumors. If humans learn how to turn the switch off, there could be no stopping the use of human embryos for experiments. On the other hand, if humans learn to turn the switch on in adult stem cells, have we not converted the cell to an embryonic cell, thus creating a new human? Without a moral guide, the moral consequences may outweigh the advantages, and there would be no way of turning back.