Thursday, February 8, 2007

Time Restrictions on Stem Cell Research

Stem cell research is among the most controversial issues facing the political and scientific communities. Many scientists believe that embryonic stem cells have the potential to allow for major breakthroughs in regenerative medicine. Because embryonic stem cells are undifferentiated, they have the potential to become any type of cell in the human body. This means that it may be possible to replace organs in the human body by using embryonic stem cells to derive new ones. Stem-cell research has not fully proceeded yet because many people are opposed to the use of embryonic stem cells in scientific research. Currently, the embryonic stem-cell lines are created through the destruction of human embryos. The destruction of human embryos does not sit well with many people, particularly religious groups, because these embryos have the potential for human life. In Andrew W Segal’s article, “Temporal restrictions and the impasse on human embryonic stem-cell research”, he outlines the temporal controversy which is currently hindering the research process.

Back in 2001, President Bush prohibited federal funding for research done on embryonic stem-cells created before August 9, 2001. As Segal points out, this brings up a controversial debate. If the US government decides to fund embryonic stem-cell research, it would appear that the government supports the destruction of embryos. At the same time, if the government does not provide funding for newly created stem-cell lines, it would appear that the government is standing in the way of scientific progress. The federal government is basically trying to appease everyone involved; however, it seems as if the current administration is trying playing more into the hands of those who oppose stem-cell research.

Interestingly, groups on both sides of the issue oppose the temporal restrictions on stem-cells. According to Segal, some religious groups are concerned that, should current embryonic stem-cell research prove successful, the stem-cell lines currently in existence will spur private investment and lead to the destruction of more embryos. On the other hand, scientists claim that the current available stem-cell lines available for federal funding may not prove suitable. They claim that not only are the current research lines too small but they may also have been contaminated in the creation process. Therefore, human testing using the current lines may not be possible. It does not appear that either side is willing to accept any compromise. The religious groups will never be ok with what they claim is destruction of human life. In contrast, the scientists do not want any restrictions on the federal funding they receive for their research.

Segal calls for international cooperation in resolving the problem. Without funding for research on new stem-cell lines, sufficient progress will not be made. Segal claims that the government could refuse to fund researchers who derive their own stem-cell lines. Rather, they could receive funding for embryonic stem-cells that were donated. This way the government would not be supporting any “destructive acts” by which the stem cell lines were created. Segal claims that researchers need not only rely on federal funding for their research. Researchers can also obtain stem-cells through private funding and international sharing of new and old stem-cell lines.

Ultimately, these temporal restrictions on stem-cell research are not acceptable to either side. Federal funding, international cooperation, and private investment are all necessary if adequate research is to proceed. Unfortunately, there will probably never be a consensus regarding the ethical issues surrounding this research. Segal does not say outright that the research should be allowed to proceed without government intervention, but, like other scientists, he knows that it must. Segal does not, however, implicate that scientists should destroy massive amounts of human embryos just for the derivation of stem cells. Instead, he wants the research to proceed with the aid of the federal government. These undifferentiated cells could have the potential to cure some diseases and to generate tissues for those in need of an organ donation. With all of the medical advances that have occurred in our life time, is that not one we would all like to see?

Segal, Andrew W. “Temporal restrictions and the impasse on human embryonic stem-cell

research.” Lancet Volume.364: p215-218. Academic Search Premier. University

of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. January 30, 2007 <


1 comment:

Daniel Lupton said...

Good job, Jeff. You've certainly fulfilled the demands of the assignment, though I wish you had picked a more scientific (rather than ethical) article to summarize. For your future posts, you should try working on your introductions. Starting with a broad, general statement like you did here is not a very powerful hook. Try starting with a specific piece of information and broadening out toward your thesis rather than starting broad and narrowing down to your thesis.