A stem cell is a single undifferentiated cell that can either replace itself or differentiate or duplicate into many different types of cells. Embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells are the two main types of stem cells. Adult stem cells can come from a patient's own body; adult stem cells can be found in bone marrow, skin, the brain, blood vessels, and some other organs. Embryonic Stem cells come from an embryo at the development stage when- during IVF- it would be implanted back into the uterus. Both embryonic and adult stem cells have their advantages and disadvantages.
Some advantages of using Adult stem cells are that they are less likely to be rejected by the body; this means that the person's immune system starts to attack the stem cells. There is also a lower chance of adverse reactions as they have been derived from the patient's body compared to embryonic cells, which are more likely to be rejected from the body. an added advantage of using adult stem cells is that the patients get more recovery time as they will also get time to recover from when the stem cells are removed from one place in the body to be placed in another, which is not the case in embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells are also more accessible because, in embryonic stem cells, only one cell comes from the embryo. However, in adult stem cells like bone marrow, there are many of that cell in the patient's body.
However, when it comes to using embryonic stem cells, there are also many ethical issues; these include the fact that the embryo cannot give informed consent ie the adequate level of information to enable a patient to make an informed decision.
Informed consent is essential because it proves that the patient understands the benefits and the risks associated with the procedure as well as any alternative options. It also helps ease the stress that a patient might come out of a procedure worse off than when they went in. Another critical issue is that research, although it follows strict guidelines, has only been taking place for the last 20 years where some of the research has been discredited, and the long term side effects of the procedure are still not entirely known.
However, as research on the use of embryonic stem cells advances, scientists may also be able to discover cures for various diseases that do not have a cure yet; diabetes is an example of these.
Many people also feel that by using an embryo, a life is being killed as that embryo would then form a fetus that would then become a baby, making people feel uneasy when using embryonic stem cells even though they are much more versatile than adult stem cells.
Moreover, there are many different viewpoints on this; a Utilitarianism viewpoint decides if something is ethical or not based on two main principles; whether the act is right or wrong is dependent on the results of that action, and the more positive consequences, the better or, the more equitable the action is. There is also deontological ethics, which are more concerned with what people do rather than the result of the action, for example, do what is right because it is the correct thing to do and avoid wrong actions as they are bad.
Finally, contextualism is when right and wrong are dependent on the situation; there are no moral protocols or rules; Each situation differs from one another.
Credit: Eesha Gupta, Jumeirah College