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Embryonic Stem Cell Research

By , Nyack, NY

Embryonic stem cell research has been a topic of heated debate. Some wish for freedom, not restricted in what topics they can research. On the other hand, others believe that certain topics should be banned to protect the world from the effects or that some research is just unnecessary or unimportant. Embryonic stem cell research is crucial for understanding human development and possible cures that may emerge. However, many believe this research is unnecessary as scientists have already made improvements in adult stem cell research. The view of Ayn Rand in her novella, Anthem, supports this proposition as the theme of freedom of research is prevalent, as well as that of the author of Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse, where a core theme is discovery.

Researching embryonic stem cells has many potential benefits for medical research and its potential. For example, since embryonic stem cells have the potential to develop into any type of cell, it can be the root of many cures, especially for degenerative disease. In those diseases, some cell types die or are dysfunctional and “The replacement of these cells could offer a lifelong treatment for these disorders” (Yu and Thompson). Using embryos, many lives can be saved with therapeutic treatments by inserting stem cells to help repair or replace damaged cells. This research is crucial for understanding and curing these diseases, and if this topic is banned, a whole branch of medicine will be lost. Also, embryonic cells can serve to test new drugs to cure diseases. In the current process, drugs are usually tested on animals before humans. Due to differences between humans and animals, some drugs that enter clinical trials end up killing patients due to unforeseen toxicity. Many die from heart malfunctions as there aren’t any human heart cells to test drugs on (Yu and Thompson). This is because heart cells are hard to produce and reproduce. Embryonic stem cells can generate these heart cells to test drugs due to its ability to turn into any type of cell as it is when in the early stage of development, before reaching differentiation, where it would develop into a specific type of cell. Not only can research in embryonic stem cells result in new cures for diseases, it can also save the lives of those who are dying while testing the drugs.

In Ayn Rand’s Anthem, she explores the theme of independence and individual freedom. The protagonist, Equality 7-2521, experiments and researches whatever he wishes, defying the Council of Scholars that strictly regulates scientific research (Rand, 72). This heavy regulation halts scientific progress and technology reverts back to before electricity. When Equality 7-2521 studies electricity, he is able to create a lightbox, something that is beyond what the current society is capable of (Rand 59). His inventiveness and freedom leads to him to build a new society where technology would be unhindered in its advancement and to make life better for his society. The world Rand creates is an example of how freedom can help advance society technologically and better for humanity. Embryonic stem cell research is a field that should be freely researched for the benefit of humanity like how Equality 7-2521 discovered electricity.

Hesse’s view as expressed in his book , Siddhartha, also supports scientific advancement in discovery. The protagonist, Siddhartha, embarks on his life journey to find enlightenment and peace. His father initially rejects the idea of his son leaving to search for truths other than what is told by the higher Brahmins, but decides to let his son go seek enlightenment and bring it back if he finds it (Hesse 12). Like the father, much of the world holds conventional beliefs and is appalled at the thought of strange experiments to discover something new. The freedom to research and discover is a central theme to the book as Siddhartha walks many different paths of life to gain experience and knowledge to find enlightenment, from being a Brahmin, to a Samanas, to a merchant, and lastly, to a ferryman, where he find true peace. Like Siddhartha, discovery in science can lead down many different paths. Restricting what fields are available to research can prevent the discovery that leads to new understanding of life or new medicine to save lives. All research is important and cannot be discarded as it builds into the knowledge of our world.

The opposing side of the argument claims that embryonic stem cell research is unnecessary as adult stem cell research has made strides and does not have any moral dilemma. For example, in Japan, “Shinya Yamanaka showed that it was possible to create stem cell lines from skin cells without destroying embryos” (Cook).  This research is monumental for medicine and solves the moral dilemma for using embryos to make stem cells. However, these stem cells are not the same as the embryonic stem cells, and while these induced pluripotent stem cells can be used as a substitute for embryonic stem cells in certain situations, the results, especially with genetic cases, must be tested against embryonic stem cells to ensure accuracy (Rowley). Not  only this, but embryonic stem cells can also be used to study the growth of humans in the womb without harming the fetus, which is not a property of the induced stem cells from the adult cells. Most of what is known of early human development is observed from histograms and simulated by mice, but using embryonic stem cells, researching development can be done without using mice or histograms and it can be done outside the womb (Yu and Thompson). Even though adult stem cells are an alternative for embryonic stem cells in many cases, they cannot replicate them for research in human development.

For the benefit of all humanity and the progress of science, embryonic stem cell research must be funded. Embryonic stem cell research, while similar to adult stem cell research, is unique in the potential to learn more about human development and therefore combat defects that happen during pregnancy. It is a unique branch of medicine that can save millions of lives. Freedom of research can led to many scientific discoveries, as shown in Anthem, and no research is worthless as it gives us new information like Siddhartha’s experiences in Siddhartha. The U.S. needs to help fund this research to contribute to the health of humanity and compete with other countries in medical technology.

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