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The Case Against Embryonic Stem Cell Research: An Interview with Yuval Levin

Stem cell research would deviate efforts from other health strategies

❶Next, Warren analyzes the principle of sentience as a uni-criterial approach to moral status. There is, however, a further argument against this particular threat.

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But when scientists began to study the molecular mechanisms of evolution, it turned out that there are only a limited number of strategies available to achieve adaptation. It is perfectly clear, for example, that no competent engineer would design a creature walking on two legs as badly adapted to the upright posture as is Man. If Man were really made physically in the image of God, it would be bad news for an immortal God.

They have generally failed to understand the nature of the evolutionary process, particularly in believing that natural selection produces an overall, optimal phenotype.

To give a current example, if the HIV pandemic continues unabated it will provide a very strong selective pressure in favour of those few people who lack the receptors—CD4 and CCR5—to which the virus attaches. One can imagine that, in due course, their progeny could become dominant in large parts of the world.

However, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that these survivors would necessarily be particularly intelligent, beautiful, moral or have other survival characteristics.

Survival of the fittest—an unfortunate phrase in any case—simply describes those who are fittest to survive under those selective pressures that exist at any one time. This is an entirely pernicious proposition, which finds few defenders in modern democratic societies. On the other hand, there is a general agreement that there are things which should not be done—in science as in other areas of life. The intention of stem cell research is to produce treatments for human diseases.

It is difficult not to regard this as a worthy end, and more difficult to see that there could be any moral objection to curing the sick, as demanded by the Hippocratic oath. The essential problem here is to decide at what stage of development a human embryo acquires the interests—and the rights to protect these interests—that characterize a human being, i.

This is a problem that has occupied a great deal of theological and philosophical attention and the arguments have been extensively discussed Dunstan, ; Dunstan and Seller, One principal condition is regarded as sufficient to confer interests and the right to defend them—sentience.

In this context, sentience is neither the ability to think—which is in any case very difficult to define—nor is it the ability to feel pain. Sentience is defined as the ability to form any links with the outside world. Until an organism has a rudimentary central nervous system and some sense receptors—be it for pain, touch, smell, taste, sight or sound—it cannot form any contact with the outside world and therefore is not sentient.

It therefore does not seem possible to attribute sentience to a pre-implantation embryo, or indeed even to an implanted embryo until it has developed some form of nervous system and sense organs. Along the same line, we now universally accept that a human being is dead when no contact with the outside world can be demonstrated by central nervous function. Certainly, death is regarded as having occurred well before every individual cell of the body has died.

The medieval church took the view that an embryo acquired a soul, or it became animatus , at the same time that it became formatus , i. This doctrine was derived from Aristotle who curiously believed males to become formatus at 40 days, whereas females were not so until 80 days of gestation.

The medieval church held that the abortion of an embryo that was neither formatus nor animatus was only a fineable offence; and it was only after an embryo had become animatus that abortion became a mortal sin. At the core of the refusal of the Roman Catholic Church to countenance embryo research is a doctrine by Pope Pius IX, who declared in that an embryo acquires full human status at fertilization.

This may have been partly in response to an increased frequency of abortion but it is likely also to have been influenced by a desire to bring Christian doctrine into line with 19 th century embryology. But women lose large numbers of pre-implantation embryos throughout their reproductive life.

These embryos are not mourned, they are not given burial and no one says prayers for them. The intra-uterine coil, widely used as a method of contraception—though not permitted by the Roman Catholic church—is designed to prevent implantation of embryos and, again, is not regarded as being morally reprehensible. Further difficulties for the view that full human status is acquired at fertilization arise from advances in reproductive biology. Somatic cell nuclear transfer does not involve fertilization and thus turns the Pius IX doctrine ad absurdum , since it makes it possible to see in any somatic cell whose nucleus can be introduced into an oocyte, the potential for giving rise to a complete human being.

When reprogramming of cells becomes better understood, it may be possible to convert somatic cells into embryos without the need for an oocyte. If, ultimately, any somatic cell has the potential of being grown into a complete embryo and, subsequently, into a human being, it would logically mean that we should ascribe a moral status to every cell in the body—a concept that is clearly ridiculous.

The view that an embryo does not acquire the status of a human being until it is obviously of human form with a central nervous system and organs as is the view of the Protestant church , or even until it is delivered which is the view of the Jewish religion , is more defensible on philosophical grounds than is stating that human status is acquired at fertilization.

Of course, any decision relating to the particular point in development at which an embryo acquires full human status must be partially arbitrary. There are other cases where there is blurring at the interface of two categories or where distinctions are made slightly arbitrarily. This is the case in distinguishing between plants and animals; in distinguishing between male and female; and in distinguishing between the living and dead at the end of life.

But the fact that making distinctions can sometimes be difficult is not an argument for making fundamentalist distinctions or making no distinction at all. The hematopoietic stem cells in bone marrow are injected into a patient who has severely reduced blood cell levels and these stem cells generate new blood cells, restoring the patient's immune system Devolder 5. Therapies such as this will continue to be discovered with the support of stem cell research.

In addition to the development of revolutionary therapies, stem cell research also provides valuable information about mechanisms regulating cell growth, migration, and differentiation. Scientists can learn about these processes by studying stem cells that have been stimulated to differentiate into different types of body cells. The discovery of new information about these concepts will allow scientists to better understand early human development and how tissues are maintained throughout life 8.

Embryonic stem cells are particularly valuable not only because of their pluripotent qualities, but also because of their ability to renew themselves. This is done by "divid[ing] asynchronously — at different times — into one differentiated daughter cell 1 and one stem cell-like daughter cell. Other types of stem cells eventually lose the ability to divide, making them less valuable for research purposes. Embryonic stem cells' ability to be produced in large quantities allows researchers to make progress in regenerative medicine, using these cells to develop new functional cells, tissues, and organs.

The healthy cells are implanted into the patient, serving as treatment to permanently repair failing organs Holland 5. The otherwise lack of treatment for loss of organ function displays the valuable potential of embryonic stem cells. The sources of embryonic stem cells are a main point of controversy in the debate regarding embryonic stem cell research. Some possible sources for these stem cells include embryos created via in vitro fertilization for either research or reproduction ; five-to-nine-week old embryos or fetuses obtained through elective abortion; and embryos created through cloning or what is known as somatic cell nuclear transfer Liu 1.

Somatic cell nuclear transfer is the laboratory creation of a viable embryo by implanting a donor nucleus from a body cell into an egg cell. The ethics of obtaining embryonic stem cells via these sources can be questionable and have led to disputes that I will later address.

Research utilizing human embryonic stem cell lines has focused on the potential to generate replacement tissues for malfunctioning cells or organs Liu 1. A specific technique has been isolated to utilize stem cells in order to repair a damaged tissue or organ:. Other examples of research efforts include treatment of spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes.

Researchers also hope to use specialized cells to replace dysfunctional cells in the brain, spinal cord, pancreas, and other organs 2. Federal funding of embryonic research has been strictly regulated since when President Clinton declared such research would not be funded by the government. Following this executive order, Congress passed the Dickey Amendment in , prohibiting "federally appropriated funds from being used for either the creation of human embryos for research purposes or for research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death" Liu 2.

Embryonic research has continued nonetheless by means of alternative funding. In , President Bush declared that federal funding would be granted to human embryonic research on a restricted basis. However, these funds were only to be awarded for research on already existing stem cell lines. No funding was to be granted for "the use of stem cell lines derived from newly destroyed embryos, the creation of any human embryos for research purposes, or cloning of human embryos for any purposes" The debate over funding for embryonic stem cell research depends heavily on the ethical status of the research.

There are two main arguments surrounding the ethics of embryonic stem cell research: Ultimately, the possible benefits and controversial status of life that an embryo embodies qualify embryonic stem cell research as ethical, as long as the stem cells are obtained in an ethical manner. In the realm of stem cell research, embryonic and adult stem cells are often compared.

The controversial use of embryonic stem cells is supported on the basis of the many advantages that they have over adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are easier to obtain; they have a greater cell growth, otherwise known as proliferation, capacity; and they are more versatile.

Embryonic stem cells are isolated from embryos in the blastocyst stage and the process damages the structure of the embryo to a point from which the embryo can no longer develop. Because these stem cells are obtained at a point when the inner cell mass is concentrated in the embryo, they are more easily obtained than adult stem cells, which are limited in quantity. Another valuable benefit of embryonic stem cells is their ability to multiply readily and proliferate indefinitely when cultured in the proper conditions Devolder 9.

Lastly, embryonic stem cells' pluripotent quality is the main factor that distinguishes them from adult stem cells The ability to differentiate into any cell type creates greater possibilities for the application of embryonic stem cells. Supporters of embryonic stem cell research argue that the research is justified, though it requires the destruction of an embryo, because of the potential for developing cures and preventing unavoidable suffering.

These backers often disagree with the belief that "a blastocyst — even one that is not implanted in a woman's uterus — has the same ethical status as a further-developed human" Clemmitt Arthur Caplan, professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, asserts that "an embryo in a dish is more like a set of instructions or blueprint for a house.

It can't build the house. The phase when the baby could survive if born prematurely. If a life is lost, we tend to feel differently about it depending on the stage of the lost life. A fertilized egg before implantation in the uterus could be granted a lesser degree of respect than a human fetus or a born baby.

More than half of all fertilized eggs are lost due to natural causes. If the natural process involves such loss, then using some embryos in stem cell research should not worry us either. Whatever moral status the human embryo has for us, the life that it lives has a value to the embryo itself. If we judge the moral status of the embryo from its age, then we are making arbitrary decisions about who is human. For example, even if we say formation of the nervous system marks the start of personhood, we still would not say a patient who has lost nerve cells in a stroke has become less human.

But there is a difference between losing some nerve cells and losing the complete nervous system - or never having had a nervous system. If we are not sure whether a fertilized egg should be considered a human being, then we should not destroy it. A hunter does not shoot if he is not sure whether his target is a deer or a man. The embryo has no moral status at all An embryo is organic material with a status no different from other body parts.

If we destroy a blastocyst before implantation into the uterus we do not harm it because it has no beliefs, desires, expectations, aims or purposes to be harmed. By taking embryonic stem cells out of an early embryo, we prevent the embryo from developing in its normal way. This means it is prevented from becoming what it was programmed to become — a human being. Different religions view the status of the early human embryo in different ways.

For example, the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and conservative Protestant Churches believe the embryo has the status of a human from conception and no embryo research should be permitted. Judaism and Islam emphasize the importance of helping others and argue that the embryo does not have full human status before 40 days, so both these religions permit some research on embryos.

Other religions take other positions. EuroStemCell factsheet on ethical issues relating to the sources of embyronic stem cells. EuroStemCell factsheet on the science of embryonic stem cells. This factsheet was created by Kristina Hug. Images courtesy of Wellcome Images: Embryonic stem cell research: What are the issues being discussed?

What is the rationale for different opinions? Some people see destroying a blastula for its cells as destroying an unborn child.

The ‘potentiality’ problem

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The final arguments against stem cell research deal with the actual cost of such treatments is simply too high to be implemented on a large scale. Stem cell research pros and cons have gained a lot of attention lately due to President Obama lifting a ban on stem cell research.

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Having examined the arguments put forth by those in favour of stem cell research (link to arguments in favour of STR), what are the arguments stated by its opponents? The ‘potentiality’ problem As outlined in the Personhood tutorial, people differ tremendously in their view as to what an ‘embryo’ means to them.

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Aug 09,  · The Case Against Stem Cell Research. Opponents of research on embryonic cells, including many religious and anti-abortion groups, contend that embryos are human beings with the same rights — and thus entitled to the same protections against abuse — as anyone else. Sep 05,  · Scientists largely agree that stem cells may hold a key to the treatment, and even cure, of many serious medical conditions. But while the use of adult stem cells is widely accepted, many religious groups and others oppose stem cell research involving the use and destruction of .

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A lot of people don’t realize there are other considerableaps.tknic stem cell research, unlike the others, in order to utilize a stem cell derived from a human embryo, it requires the destruction of that embryo – the destruction of life. Home > Stem Cells > Arguments Against Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Arguments Against Embryonic Stem Cell Research 1) Embryos are lives. An embryo is actually a human; it should be valued as highly as a human life.