When I originally applied to Bucknell it was through the biology program. I grew up with a mom that worked as a nurse and a dad that worked with pharmaceutical companies, so I always heard a lot about healthcare. One of the studies that my dad frequently talked about was stem cell research. He would always say how amazing it was, and how many lives it could save, but I did not know the extent of this or about the ethical dilemmas behind it until recently.
For anyone that does not know, stem cells are cells found in organisms that divide and differentiate into specialized cell types. They can self-renew to produce more stem cells as well. These stem cells can be extracted from bone marrow, lipid cells, or blood. By extracting these cells from the donor and inserting them into another person, scientists have found that they can act as a repair system for the body and fight diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. Sounds great, right?
Stem cell research has raised ethical, legal, religious, and policy questions. The main reason is the derivation of embryonic stem cells from early human embryos and embryonic germ cells from aborted fetal tissues. Furthermore, the general concept of the potential of generating human organs is another debate.
The following video tells a true success story of stem cells:
On the ABI/INFORM search engine I found a report produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Institute for Civil Society that performed a study to contribute to the public discussion related to stem cell research and its applications. The document, which is 51 pages long, is their study in which they propose recommendations for conducting stem cell research. This report was from 1999, but I figure the history of the debate will be important to take a look at.
One of the recommendations provided by the report was,
“Embryonic stem cells should be obtained from embryos remaining from infertility procedures after the embryo’s progenitors have made a decision that they do not wish to preserve them. This decision should be explicitly renewed prior to securing the progenitors’ consent to use the embryos in ES cell research.”
I thought this recommendation clearly added to the ethical debate surrounding stem cell research, because much of what is up for discussion is the actual process of gaining consent from the donors. This recommendation provides a basis for the process by which a couple should be addressed that is considering embryo donation, consent for research donation, or consent for destruction of the embryos. The report made it clear that only after the couple has definitely decided not to have the child that they should be approached a second time to discuss the use of embryos in ES cell research.
Obviously this is a huge ethical issue today, and there are many more details that I still do not know about stem cell research. I do think, however, that this report gave me the perfect understanding and potential solutions to the dilemma that I would need to write about this ethical dilemma.