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Empowering the Extras
The phone rings. On the other end is my grandmother’s voice, speaking in a tone that is a cross between scared and frustrated. My great aunt, “Auntie Janice,” to me, is in the hospital again. She has been winning a battle with ovarian cancer for more than six years—longer than most people diagnosed with it live. But now her days are numbered. In the past few months the cancer has been gaining ground on her, and she has been in the hospital more often than she has been at home. Despite her bright outlook on life, after countless rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, Auntie Janice is tired of fighting and there is nothing left that the doctors can do to save her life.
Millions of people die each year from cancer, and they, along with their family members wish with all of their hearts that there was a cure. Some of them don’t know that their wishes were granted many years ago with the discovery of stem cells. Stem cells have the potential to cure any genetic deformity because they control the entire creation and composition of living organisms. However, because of ethical disagreements, scientists have not been able to unleash their full power. If scientists were given permission to research these cells, millions of lives would be improved and saved. Though some limitations would have to be set, stem cell research would be extremely beneficial to the health and happiness of the human population.
There are three different types of stem cells: adult, induced pluripotent, and embryonic. Adult stem cells are found in specific tissues of an adult’s body, and regenerate themselves. However, adult stem cells cannot create every different kind of tissue in the human body like embryonic stem cells can. Embryonic stem cells are taken from an embryo created by in vitro fertilization (fertilization outside of a human), and are then cultivated when the embryo is less than eight days old (“Stem Cell Basics”). Induced pluripotent stem cells are genetically reprogrammed to have the traits of an embryonic stem cell, although they are created from adult stem cells. Induced pluripotent stem cells have many of the characteristics of embryonic stem cells.
The cultivation of embryonic stem cells is what has caused most of the controversy in stem cell research. The majority of people who are pro-life believe that life starts at conception, but when stem cells are harvested the embryo cannot live, which is why they are against the use of embryos for research. What they may not take into account is that many of the embryos that researchers and scientists use would not have developed into a living, breathing baby anyways. Many women have a hard time getting pregnant, however they should not be denied the chance to have a baby. One of their choices to help them become pregnant is in vitro fertilization. This is when some of their eggs are fertilized outside of the woman, and injected into their uterus where, if the procedure is successful, continue to grow into a healthy baby. However, there are many fertilized eggs that are not used because they are not wanted nor needed any more. These cells are frozen, or simply thrown away if they are not allowed to be used for stem cell research (“Mayo Clinic”). James Thompson, the first person to isolate embryonic stem cells says that, "[T]he bottom line is that there are 400,000 frozen embryos in the United States, and a large percentage of those are going to be thrown out. Regardless of what you think the moral status of those embryos is… it's a better moral decision to use them to help people than just to throw them out” ("Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life"). So what if instead of discarding them, they were used for research? Even in the eyes of someone who is pro-life, giving these lives purpose would be better then just throwing them into a plastic tub reading “biohazard.” Instead of becoming trash, these embryos and their stem cells would be able to improve and save lives.
Most importantly, stem cells would help improve cell-based therapies. Whether it is because they were a smoker and they need new lungs, or because someone is a burn victim and needs skin to replace burned skin and organs, there are many people who need organ transplants. But at the same time there is a shortage of these organs, and many people suffer or even die because there isn’t one of the organs that they need available to them (“Stem Cell Basics”). In 1998, Michael Appleman’s car caught on fire, and he escaped with second, third and fourth degree burns to his legs (Appleman). After about ten minutes some people came to help him. Appleman recalls, “They helped me stand up and I walked to the back of one of the gentleman's truck. This would be the last time I would walk for over two years… My life changed forever. I went through so many ups and downs. I felt alone” (Appleman). If stem cell research had been advanced, Michael would have been able to have transplants of the skin and muscle in his legs, and he would have been able to get back to how he lived before his car fire instead of suffering through physical and mental pain. Cell-based therapies would save people like Michael un-measureable pain, and in some cases, their lives.
Stem cell research would cure many diseases, including leukemia. The scientific community believes that a mutation in stem cells is what allows cancer cells to divide out of control, tumors to grow, and cancer to spread. However, if scientists are allowed to have more embryos and fewer restrictions on stem cell research, Irving Weisman, a stem cell researcher at Stanford, believes that a whole new door to treatment would be opened. “"There are whole areas of tissues you can't get at, but which human embryonic stem cells almost certainly will develop daily,” said Weisman” (Philipkoski). Weisman was a contributor to the study performed at Stanford, which looked at stem cells that lead to myelogenous leukemia. This study focused on isolating stem cells from cancerous tissues, and finding drugs that can specifically destroy the stem cells of myelogenous leukemia. With more researchers working on this study, the mutation that causes the cancer would quickly be found, and people would be able to receive treatment sooner (Philipkoski). In 2007, about 7.9 million people died of cancer (Nilqesz). But with stem cell research, this number could be zero.
Stem cell research is the new frontier of medical research. Once we discover all that the stem cell can do, our lives will improve drastically. The death rate due to cancer will be zero unless someone refuses treatment, and people with physical abnormalities will be able to have a cure. If we could research stem cells, there would be no more phone calls about aunts who were out of treatment plans, and who were going to be sent home to die. The typical, pro-life activist would look at my positive view of stem cell research with disgust, but I am pro-life too. I support saving the lives of those dying from cancer with embryos whose lives would have never even started. We should empower these lives that would have had no purpose and, and save millions of people who would otherwise die.
Appleman, Michael. "Burn Survivors Throughout the World." Burn Survivors Throughout the World. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov 2010. <http://www.burnsurvivorsttw.org/stories/bsttwceo.html>.
Nilqesz, Csaba. "How Many People Die From Cancer Each Year?." Ezine Articles. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov 2010.
Philipkoski, Kristen. "Cancer Stem Cells Hint at Cure." Wired. N.p., 11 Aug 2004. Web. 29 Nov 2010.
"Quotes on Stem Cell Research." The Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life. N.p., 17 Jul 2008. Web. 29 Nov 2010. <http://pewforum.org/Science-and-Bioethics/Quotes-on-Stem-Cell-Research-from-Political,-Religious-and-Other-Prominent-Figures.aspx>.
Stem Cells and Diseases. Bethesda: National Institutes of Health, 2010. Web. 28 Nov 2010. <http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/health.asp>.
"Stem cells: What they are and what they do." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Oct 2010. Web. 29 Nov 2010. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stem-cells/CA00081>.
United States. Stem Cell Basics. Bethesda: National Institutes of Health, 2010. Web. 29 Nov 2010. <http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/basics3.asp>.