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An Assessment of the Greatest Medical Breakthrough - the Use of Pluripotent Stem Cells

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An Assessment of

The Greatest Medical Breakthrough--the use of Pluripotent Stem Cells

Team B Learning Environment


Mr. Hoeft

August 20, 2004


A critical review of the pro and con analysis, of arguably, the most controversial issue of the 21st century--the use of pluripotent stems cells. In addition, the ensuing synthesis and prescription based upon empirical data and critical thinking. Given the enormous promise of pluripotent stem cells to the development of new treatments for the most devastating diseases, we believe our scientific researchers and medical professionals should be permitted and encouraged to simultaneously pursue pluripotent stem cell research. Further, the ban on federal funding of research on new stem cell lines should be overturn, allowing doctors and scientists to explore their full potential with the appropriate ethical oversight.

An Assessment of

The Greatest Medical Breakthrough--the use of Pluripotent Stem Cells

Thesis: The greatest medical breakthrough in any lifetime--the use of pluripotent stems cells.

Background: Stem cell research continues to be a controversial issue. Stem cells are cells that have a particular function, like blood stem cells whose function is to make different types of blood cells or skin stem cells whose function is to make various types of skin cells. Stem cells evolve from pluripotent stem cells, cells that makeup the inner cell mass of the embryonic blastocell. As the pluripotent stem cells specialize, they form stem cells with the specific kinds of purposes mentioned above. Stem cells are controversial because the most useful variety of stem cells comes from embryos at the blastocyst stage, meaning the cells are taken from embryos of aborted fetuses or from surplus embryos left over from In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Despite such controversy, many researchers and medical professionals argue that pluripotent embryos have "the potential to revolutionize the practice of medicine and improve the quality and length of life" for millions of individuals (NIH, 2002, p. 1). For these reasons, the use of pluripotent stem cells potentially represent the greatest medical breakthrough of any era in history and federal funding for such research must be approved.

Pro Analysis: The unique ability of embryonic pluripotent stem cells shows tremendous medical promise. Pluripotent stem cells shed light on the way cells are programmed to specialize. Understanding this information may lead to cures for cancer, birth defects, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lymphoma, spinal cord injuries or other deadly diseases, as many such conditions are caused by "abnormal cell specialization" (NIH, 2002, p. 3). Likewise, many people in need of organ transplants must wait until a suitable donor organ is available and a significant percentage die because no such suitable organ becomes available. Pluripotent stem cells offer the ability to grow new tissue or organs that would be suitable for such transplant patients. In addition, pluripotent stem cells offer the promise of a cure for diseases that transplantation does not resolve, "For juvenile diabetes and many other diseases, there is not a suitable transplantation therapy or other cure" (Goldstein, 2000, p. 1).

Pluripotent stem cells also offer great promise for streamlining the development and testing of new drugs. Currently, animal testing that is not always applicable to human beings or human testing that is fraught with risks are the only ways to test new drugs. Researchers could use human stem cell lines to test new drugs before developing them for human use. The capabilities of pluripotent stem cells enable researchers to test such drugs on a variety of different cell types, as opposed to current methods that are limited to cancer cells. As the National Institutes of Health (NIH, 2002) maintains, "Only the drugs that are both safe and appear to have a beneficial effect in cell line testing would graduate to further testing in laboratory and human subjects" (p. 3).

Polls show a majority of the public, even Republicans and conservatives, support allowing federal funds to be used for research on stem cells from 400,000 unwanted embryos frozen in fertility clinics. So do 58 Senators and 200-plus House members. In June 2004, some of the most influential Republicans, including Orrin Hatch, Kay Bailey Hutchinson and John McCain joined senior Democrats including Presidential hopeful, John Kerry, John Edwards and Ted Kennedy, sent President Bush a letter urging him to lift the ideologically-driven restrictions on stem cell research. Most ominous for the president, one out of five Bush voters polled in July 2004 by Zogby International said they'd switch to Kerry, if he proposed a bold stem-cell research program.

President Bush's ideological-driven ban has been forced to play defense on embryonic stem cell research. The restrictions he imposed three years ago on federal funding for the potentially lifesaving research were ill-advised. Now they're also unpopular. So unpopular that the dispute over the cells with the wondrous ability to develop into any of the body's tissue types is looking like a wedge issue ripe for exploitation by Democrats in the race for the White House. In addition, Bush is trying desperately to recast his image as a champion of embryonic stem cell research and the only president to fund it.

Con Analysis: Those opposed to federal funding for pluripotent stem cell research argue that such funding would pave the way for a future scenario in which embryos would be bred merely for their use as sources of stem cells. Such individuals argue that the taking of human life is not justified by the potential medical promise of pluripotent stem cells. According to Grigg (2002), the medical ethic underlying stem cell funding and research is one "in which the rights of the individual can be violated in the name of society's greater good" (p. 2). Despite such opposition, embryonic



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