Stem Cell Research and the Exploitation of Embryonic Stem Cells

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What if there was something on the market that had the potential to cure and successfully treat diabetes, heart failure, Parkinson's disease, and other incurable diseases? Most likely, a majority of people would put their support behind this treatment. Would this glorious cure still carry the same weight of approval though if it came at the hefty cost of not only creating human embryos, through artificial means but then sacrificing them? That’s exactly the dilemma many faces when deciding their allegiance with or against modern-day embryonic stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells originate from a zygote when it divides into a multicellular embryo. Through incubation, a ball made up of roughly 256 cells, commonly known as a blastocyst, is formed (Korenman 2). From there, cell lines can be developed which enable a further study on the structure of these cells and their potential, such as the ability to form any type of cell (Ismail). Although I acknowledge the potential of modern-day embryonic stem cell research and its immense contribution towards curing diseases and neurological problems, I claim that the process of sacrificing embryos for research is inhumane and raises a strong ethical issue because of the loss of potential life, the inadequate amount of governmental oversight and the unknown implications of this type of research in society.

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Embryonic stem cells are obtained either directly from Petri-grown embryos, naturally developed embryos or frozen embryos acquired from women undergoing the post-stage of infertility treatments (Devolder). Despite favorability amongst the general public towards using frozen embryos, it is essentially picking the lesser of three evils. When stem cells are isolated, the process leading up to this action requires the embryo structure to be damaged, therefore inhibiting the embryo from forming into a fetus. This systematic approach directly denies the embryo the ability to form and grow into a fully functioning person. Due to the nature of the human reproductive system, if an embryo is allowed to develop properly, it has the potential to grow into a toddler, child, teenager, and adult. Therefore, sacrificing an embryo for research purposes is equivalent to killing a child, an adult or any human being and represents a lack of respect for human life at its earliest stage. (Robertson).

Interning at a kindergarten for kids ages 2-4, I spent a lot of time playing, caring for, and communicating with many different types of children. Watching these energetic children grow in front of my eyes as they eagerly tried to conceptualize the world around them was truly a memorable experience. Depriving an embryo of the ability to learn and grow, interpret the world themselves, and experience the many wonders of life such as love, friendship, and self-growth is sickening. The lack of approval for this type of research, from not only the public but governmental bodies as well, issues a bold moral issue loud and clear.

Governmental insight is branched into organizational oversight and direct power given by the executive branch. Organizations such as the National Academies of Sciences (NAS), and the International Society of Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) have created guidelines in efforts to advance the science in a responsible manner (Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight). The issue here roots from the direct lack of oversight due to the many organizations, universities, groups, and labs with the intent of conducting research utilizing stem cells. Harvard University, known for their large volume of hospitals, researchers and scientists, have broken through the first wave of surpassing regulations on stem cell research. Through private funds raised by the university, Harvard was able to continue running their labs conducting embryonic stem cell research with no regard for policy changes made by the transition between the Bush Administration and Obama Administration. Other universities such as The University of California at San Francisco, the University of Minnesota and Stanford University have jumped on this wagon as well, with Stanford University opening a cancer and stem cell biology institution using $12 million from an anonymous donor. (Tanne). This example only appeals to universities though, indicating that an unknown number of organizations and labs are utilizing this technique as well to evade federal restrictions and guidelines. According to Daley GQ, a renowned biological chemistry professor, “outside the standard clinical trial network, unproven therapies are being widely practiced in an open market, which threatens the cause of legitimate clinical investigation of the safety and efficacy of stem cell interventions”. These few examples show the real-world implications of ineffective governmental oversight.

On a global scale, while there are countries with balanced laws and regulation, like the United Kingdom (UK), Australia, and Singapore, there are also countries that have no regulation and have a considerable amount of ethical problems, like Thailand, Argentina, Malaysia, and South Africa. Minimal regulation has the potential to bring about a number of issues, such as a commercial representation of embryonic stem cells targeted at women, scientists overlooking the embryo 14-day rule, or physicians marketing underdeveloped and unproven stem cell research to uninformed patients (Gopalan, Nor, Mohamed). Without clear and concise guidelines and proper government enforcement, embryonic stem cell research has the potential to be exploited even further.  

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