Public discussions about stem cells are only a little better than discussions about global warming; everyone has an opinion but it is not possible to know if there is a ‘correct’ answer because no one knows anything for sure, not even the ‘scientists’. When there is no clear ‘evidence’ to support one opinion or another, then all opinions are equally valid or invalid.
We all have a hope that the worst of human afflictions can be repaired or ‘cured’ and that’s why stem cell research is so popular and many people want to spend as much money as possible on these programs. However, although the goal of curing every ill is tempting, there is no real evidence that stem cell usage will accomplish such results. Nonetheless, even the prospect of curing disease and repairing bodies is certainly is something we can all appreciate, what price are we willing to pay for this hope?
Stem cells are obtainable in different ways and it is not known if one source of stem cells is better than another. We are told that umbilical cords are a source of stem cells and there are ‘adult stem cells’ which are undifferentiated cells found in a tissue or organ that can renew itself to yield the major specialized cell types of the tissue or organ and, of course, stem cells are also available from human embryos.
Embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos that develop from human eggs that have been fertilized. Supporters of embryo cell research point out that these human embryos are obtained from human eggs that have been fertilized in vitro and are not derived from eggs fertilized in a woman's body. Although for them this method of ‘harvesting’ human embryo eggs may be seen as merely a scientific experiment, the reality is that a fertilized human egg, i.e. an embryo, is prospectively a human being. In fact, a well recognized procedure for giving women otherwise unable to conceive a chance to bear children is to implant just such a ‘fertilized egg’ into her womb.
Opponents of using human embryos for scientific research may do so largely on moral grounds, but the fact is that however the process may be ‘spun’, researchers will be manipulating and destroying human life. In virtually all other contexts, excepting capital punishment, destruction of human life is considered evil by all civilized people. Yet, because of the prospective goal of ‘curing’ disease and affliction, many are willing to accept this ‘evil’ without regard of the sanctity of life.
Many things in life are a trade-off; accepting correctness of the death penalty is one such example for those that deplore taking human life in any form. However, it is reasonable to require a higher standard of justification for taking human life, even if it is ‘only’ an embryo. Without evidence that stem cells obtained from sources other than human embryos successfully cure ailments or repair body afflictions, and that embryo cells are able to do something stem cells from other sources can’t do, there is no justification for using human embryos.
This is not only a moral imperative, it is common sense.