Over the years, scientific research has focused its efforts on finding new solutions that can be used to improve an individual’s health. Rapid advancements are being made in areas such as regenerative medicine, in which stem cell therapy can be used to treat and correct abnormalities of a disease process. Stems cells harvested from human embryos have been found to have significant value in treating diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Research like this, however creates many ethical concerns especially when using human subjects as its resource to achieve its goals. Controversy stems from personal and religious beliefs as countless individuals struggle to justify the lifesaving benefits this therapy creates.
The Catholic faith, is one example that strongly opposes this practice on the basis of inviolability of human life. Failure to preserve the sanctity of human life with the intent to cause harm violates ethical principles such as beneficence and nonmaleficence. Finding alternative resources other than humans is needed to gain moral acceptance. Studying and utilizing different resources can broaden knowledge base as well create new treatments. This can encourage a more humane method of practice.
Despite the potential benefits stem cell therapy can have to improve disease management, harmony cannot exist between faith and science due to the many ethical quandaries it can create. To begin, understanding the concept of stem cell therapy and how it is used can be quite an overwhelming process. Stem cell research has sparked much controversy and has been a heated debate since the first human stem cell line originated in 1998 (King & Perrin, 2014).
Many individuals question the moral value on how this research does “good” for society. Researchers often begin the research process by determining the scientific and social values a process could have when implementing new strategies or therapies into practice. The risk of harm verses potential benefit is always weighed during the research process, with concrete information needed to move forward when testing on human or animal subjects.
All steps are taken to minimize risk especially when it comes to using human subjects (King & Perrin, 2014). In stem cell research, stem cells are often retrieved from a variety of different sources with different types of stem cells used in its therapies. Stem cells can come from bone marrow, peripheral blood or cord blood. They can also come from surplus embryos that are discarded after the in vitro fertilization process (IVF). Induced pluripotent stem cells, adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells are the three types of stem cells that are used in a variety of standardized therapies today. Stem cells have the ability to reproduce and regenerate tissue and organ growth that can correct abnormalities created from a disease process.
Ethical controversy currently surrounds the research intentions and benefit it produces when using human embryonic stem cells in the experimentation process. Human embryonic stem cells are often obtained from human embryos or by cloning embryos through a somatic cell nuclear transfer. The infamous “Dolly” procedure used adult stem cells to clone a sheep. (Henderson, 2013).
The process of extracting stem cells usually occurs from harvesting four to five day old human embryos from a fertilized egg after IVF process is complete (Sivaraman & Noor, 2015). Ethical debate comes to light as a variety of thoughts exist on deeming the moral values embryos of this age have in society. The Catholic religion believes that life begins at the moment of conception. Although there is no definitive information that exactly says when human life begins, the Catholic religion proclaims that all steps should be taken to protect human embryos at the time of conception. Embryos of this age deserve this protection and respect as it is assumed that the human soul comes into existence during the fertilization process.
Individuals such as Pope John Paul II proclaimed that a human embryo is a well-defined identity when sperm and egg unite. He believed that manipulating and destroying such embryos for the intent to find benefit from its practice in turn disrespects the dignity of human life (Sivaraman & Noor, 2015). Human persons are and should be created in Gods images and likeness with the Catholic religion taking strong opposition in destroying embryos based on these principles.
Destroying human embryos for the sake of creating a better outcome leaves many to question its conflicting values. The ethical principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence are indeed challenged when it comes to determining the “do no harm” aspect of this practice. How can no harm come from a practice that indeed induces harm by destroying human embryos for its purpose? The Catholic religion argues that greater good cannot outweigh the evil means used to create it. The human embryo should be allowed to fulfill its intended nature as created by God’s plan (Sivaraman & Noor, 2015). In their opinion, good intent should only come by the means of doing no harm and recommend that other options be explored in using other types of cells instead of human embryonic cells to achieve its goals.
In conclusion, it is evident that scientific research has the ability to improve an individual’s health by creating solutions such as stem cell therapy to treat and cure disease processes. New developments, however can create new challenges as ethical opinions often stand in the way of finding some of these practices morally acceptable. The Catholic faith, is one example that opposes research on human embryos due to the harm it creates on the early stages of life. Destruction of human embryos inflicts harm and disrespects the dignity of human life. The ethical principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence are not fully encompassed in this process, with the Catholic religion pushing for other alternatives in order to better protect the sanctity of life.
- Henderson, C. (2013, October 23). Stem cells spark controversy. University Wire. Retrieved from:https:?libdb.mtaloy.edu:2443/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1532779662?accountid=12600.
- King, N. & Perrin, J. (2014). Ethical issues in stem cell research and therapy. Stem Cell Research & Therapy, 5(4), 85. doi: 10.1186/scrt474
- Sivaraman, M. & Noor, S. (2015). Human embryonic stem cell research: Ethical views of Buddhist, Hindu and Catholic leaders in Malaysia. Science and Engineering Ethics, 22(2), 467-485. doi: 10.1007/s11948-015-9666-9