The cost of the life of the human embryo, and nil efficacy, these are not the only issues with embryonic stem cell research. Before embryonic stem cells can be used in humans, two major problems must be overcome: tumour formation and immune rejection, problems which do not appear to exist with adult stem cell therapies
Studies on animals have demonstrated the significant danger that embryonic stem cells can cause tumours. This occurs because these stem cells, like cancer cells, have the ability to divide indefinitely and can therefore cause tumours when transplanted. Researchers at Harvard Medical School injected embryonic stem cells into rats and found that one-fifth of the rodents subsequently died from brain tumours.
An article in the medical journal Neurology also reported the death of a patient who was killed when he was injected with embryonic stem cells. The patient died when irregular tissue developed in his brain and the researchers suggested that this may have been caused by the stem cells developing erratically in his brain. Results like these are causing many past supporters of the controversial research to speak out against it.
The second major problem with embryonic stem cell research is the worry that the patient’s immune system will reject the cells extracted from the embryos, just as the body tries to destroy transplanted organs. This is because the genetic make-up of the stem cells to be injected will be different to the genetic make-up of the patients own cells. This problem does not appear to exist for adult stem cells, as these are genetically identical to the patient’s own cells and won’t cause an immune reaction. Researchers have attempted to develop solutions to this problem, such as genetically engineering cells so as not to cause an immune response and also manufacturing cloned embryos using the patient’s own cells, so that the stem cells extracted from the embryo will genetically match those of the patients. Thus far both of these solutions have failed and have, in fact, created even more ethical and scientific problems.
Robert Lanza says in Scientific American, “Embryonic stem cells and their derivatives carry the same likelihood of immune rejection as a transplanted organ because, like all cells, they carry surface proteins, or antigens, by which the immune system recognizes invaders. Hundreds of embryonic stem cell lines might be needed to establish a bank of cells with immune matches for most potential patients. Creating that many lines would require millions of discarded embryos from IVF clinics”.
To date there have been no successful therapies using stem cells derived from human embryos. On the other hand, adult stem cells have been successful in benefiting patients suffering from up to 73 different conditions. Giving false hope to people by allowing them to think that cures using embryonic stem cells are just over the horizon – when we don’t even know if they are coming at all – is a cruel practice. De Peter Hollands, who worked as a clinical embryologist at Bourn Hall Clinic, the world’s first IVF unit, has said that “embryonic stem cells have yet to be used to treat any form of disease” and that it is “common sense” to direct resources towards adult over embryonic research.
It would seem that cures gained from destroying human embryos are more of science fantasy than science fact. Those who are demanding approval and funding for embryonic stem cell research offer misleading promises about non-existent embryonic stem cell cures. Those who are serious about clinical trials and treatments, and not just basic research, are using adult stem cells, or umbilical cord blood, to find cures that really work. These researchers are on the cutting edge of stem cell research because they are seeing positive, successful results in an ethically acceptable field of scientific medicine.
Research on human embryos is morally, ethically, scientifically, and medically, wrong. This research destroys early human lives and undervalues the embryonic human being to the moral status of penicillin mould. Furthermore, this controversial research is unnecessary, as ethically acceptable alternatives to the destruction of these human embryos exist.
The controversy surrounding embryonic stem cell research boils down to one essential question: does human life have intrinsic value simply because it is human?
If we answer “yes” then we must reject all unethical technologies and philosophies that lead to the objectification of human life, including embryonic stem cell research.
If we answer “no”, then we are prepared to sacrifice the inviolability of human life on the altar of biotechnological power, we are willing to discard our belief in the inherent value of human life and we are ready to exclude from the human family, the smallest form of human being: the child embryo.