It is a noble cause to carry out research to save the lives of others. For centuries, researchers have been doing just that. The advances in medical research have been a tremendous benefit to all of society with new cures and treatments coming all the time.
One of the great advances we’ve seen is the use of stem cells in the treatment of many disorders and diseases. Stem cells are cells that can change into other types of cells, and become the type of cell needed to cure or treat a particular condition.
Researchers are using “adult” stem cells to make many advances in medicine.
But it’s the use of another type of stem cell that’s been the centre of debate for decades now – the use of embryonic stem cells. As the name implies, these stem cells come from a human embryo, usually less than a week after conception. To remove stem cells from a human embryo, means killing that embryo.
Right to Life NSW believes life begins with conception. Everything about who we are is with us at that moment – whether we’ll be a boy or girl, the colour of eyes and hair, and so on. Their genetic blueprint for the rest of our lives is already in place at that moment.
Embryonic Stem Cell Research is filled with ethical dilemmas. First and foremost is the killing of a human embryo. We believe it is ethically wrong to take the life of a human being at any stage in development for research – especially without that person’s consent. An unborn baby has no way to object.
- What are stem cells? Stem cells are the cells from which all other cells originate. They are the basic building blocks for more than 250 types of cells in the body and can become anything: an organ like your heart or live; muscle; skin; blood; your brain. In a human embryo, a large portion of the embryo’s cells are stem cells.
- What types of stem cells are there? There are two types: adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells.
- What are embryonic stem cells? These are stem cells obtained from human embryos in the first week of development. Scientists consider them more valuable because they have a much greater developmental potential than adult stem cells.
- Why are embryonic stem cells wanted for research?: Embryonic Stem cells are incredibly versatile cells. Given the right chemical cues, they can develop into specialized cells which the body might need. Researchers hope that by guiding the stem cells in the laboratory into specific cell types, they can be used to treat diseases or disorders like heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes or arthritis.
- Where do embryonic stem cells come from? There are two basic sources for the embryos used for stem cell research. The first is In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), where a woman’s egg is fertilised by sperm outside the mother’s body. In IVF, multiple human embryos are often created. When a woman gets pregnant from IVF and not all of the embryos are implanted, fertility clinics allow couples to destroy them, donate them to another couple, or freeze them in case they want to give birth to another child at a later time. Stem cell researchers use the “leftover” or “discarded” embryos. The second source is “Therapeutic cloning,” which involves cloning an embryo for the sake of extracting stem cells.
- What happens to the embryos when used for stem cell research? The extraction of stem cells kills the human embryo.
- Why is Right to Life NSW against stem cell research? Extensive research shows from the moment of conception, a person is given all of his or her traits. The information about who that unborn baby will become is already in place. We believe by sacrificing an embryo, you are killing a human life. We believe there are serious ethical concerns about sacrificing a life that has no say on whether he or she lives.
Since 2002, Australian scientists have been allowed to use stem cells from IVF-created embryos. The research may only use “excess” human embryos created through IVF. But the Australian Parliament passed a law prohibiting cloning to create embryos for stem cell research.
- Those in favour of embryonic stem cell research often point to all the potentials of the research. However, right now, the benefits are largely hypothetical.
- Human life begins at the union of sperm and ovum. During that first day, this is known as a fertilised egg. The single-cell human body then divides, divides again, and again, over and over. Nearing the end of the first week, this embryo is now called a “blastocyst,” numbering several hundred cells. To extract embryonic stem cells, the researcher then must cut open the embryo. That kills the embryo.
- There are other sources for stem cells. Adult stem cells have been used for about 30 years and exist in the brain, bone marrow, skin, fat and many other locations. These cells are already programmed to repair specific damaged tissue in the body, and have already been used successfully in treating more than 70 conditions . The use of adult stem cells provides a scientifically sound and ethical alternative to the use of embryonic stem cells.