Treatment of Genetic Disorders Using Stem Cells: An Ethical Consideration
Simply put, stem cells are raw materials from the body used to generate other cells that serve specialized functions. The generation produces daughter which goes through a differentiation process to generate specialized cells with specified functions like brain, bone and blood cells or self-renewal process to form new stem cells. These capabilities are unique to stem cells as other body cells lack such attributes. Stem cells are distinguished based on what part of the body they are obtained from, and they include embryonic, adult and amniotic stem cells (Cherian, 2011).
The use of stem cells in treatment has elicited both positive and negative reactions from the public domain. One of the areas where the use of stem cells has received support is related to its application in treatment of cancer using bone marrow transplants. However, the main controversy fronted with regards to stem cells mainly concerns the embryonic stem (ES) cells. This has been attributed to the school of thought that life begins at conception and the source of these embryonic cells is the womb. The gain and naysayers of ES cell application have advanced reasons for holding their ground based on the pros and cons of ES cells. One of the reasons forwarded by the proponents is that the ES cells are more versatile compared with the adult stem cells, which are not likely to contribute to the quantum leap in medical discoveries. The proponents continue to say that the utilization of frozen human embryos is ethically welcomed, since they are normally discarded if not used (Hunt, 2008).
On the flip side, the naysayers are of a contrary opinion since they think that life begins at conception, therefore, the application of ES cells in research is simply the destruction of life. They further claim that ES cell is marred by disastrous side effects as it leads to malignant carcinomas, tumors, form the wrong types of cells and result into transplant rejection. Moreover, the future possibility of using ES cell research to commercially exploit needy women by allowing them to avail their eggs is rife. This would lead to the treatment of women as a means to an end, thereby contravening the Kantian ethics. In addition, the extraction of eggs from female body for use in this area of research has been known to favor super ovulation risks factors, namely cancer, seizure, memory loss, stroke and possibly death. On top of this, critics claim that although there has been a lot of research done around ES cell, not a single treatment warranting approval has been generated (Moffit, et al., 2005; Mattes, 2012).
This ethical firestorm can never happen without the religious fraternity blubbing a word or two. The contribution of this quota of society in the controversy about ES cell use is entrenched in their belief that life commences at conception as aforementioned. To them, using ES cell in medical research is a mockery of the divine laws instituted by the Creator. This school of thought, however, is normally countered by the argument that the said cells are generated outside the womb, thus negating the conception view.
The discussion above has pointed to the ethical bottlenecks surrounding the use of stem cells particularly the ES cells in treatment of genetic disorders much as it has delved into the benefits of using stem cells. Therefore, the quest for discoveries and use of stem cells in addressing genetical deficits is welcomed as long as they are obtained from the adult stem cells like the skin, fat, bone marrow and umbilical cord. This will be considerate to those, whose consciences are sensitive to the application of the embryonic stem cells.