quinta-feira, dezembro 21, 2006

Should Tax Money Be Used in Embryonic Stem Cell Research? by Hugo Alves

In stem cells studies two types of research exist: adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Stem cells are cells “from which all others cells in an organism originate. In our body all the cells originated from stem cells” (Kingsley L. Taft and Sharon Webb). Cellular diseases like Parkinson’s, leukemia or diabetes are related to cell dysfunction. Scientists are looking for a way to extract and reproduce new cell to fight these diseases.
Adult stem cell research has been around since the 1960s. The method used by this technique is improving in a way that success is being achieved. So the government never faced much opposition in funding adult stem cell research. The same does not apply to embryonic stem cell research. With a different process of extracting cells, the government is getting much opposition from politicians, scientists and the public in general to approve a bill which would allow the government to fund embryonic stem cell research. Since these researches, in general, can only survive with governmental funds, the crucial question is should the government fund embryonic stem cell research?
Even if the government is the only way to finance embryonic stem cell research, I don’t think the government should do it. Why? To better answer that question, it is important to focus in a variety of aspects that are related to this subject. I’m against embryonic stem cell research because it is a very complex process that involves ethics and effectiveness per money spent and avoids regulatory laws.


Concern is rising among the general population, since scientists started to use embryos in their experiments. For many such a study is purely unethical. Ethics are and will always be, the point more discussed in the embryonic stem cell research. For many, the process that involves extracting the cells from the embryo of a fertilized egg and using them is unethical. This controversy goes back to the initial method used by the scientists to extract the cells from the embryo. In the beginning, for scientists to extract and separate the cells, they had to destroy the embryo. In a Heritage Foundation Lecture, Kelly Hollowell, a J.D., Ph.D. spoke on this subject, raising the question, “Are human embryos people or property when they are destroyed for the purpose of obtaining their stem cells?” The answer, according to Kelly Hollowell, is clearly, “Life does begin at conception” (lecture: 888).
However some scientists are now refuting this argument. It seems that scientists are now able to extract the cells without killing the embryo. According to the Medical News Today, “Scientists at Advance Cell Technology of Worcester, Massachusetts, have succeeded in deriving stem cells from mouse embryos without killing them” (Christian Nordqvist).
Even if new techniques would allow the scientist to extract the cells without killing the embryo, people, in general, would still be very defensive about such methods. Anything that involves human life, even in the early stages, will always raise concerns and doubts in the minds of many people.
If killing or tampering with human life isn’t already reason enough to stop with this research, I can add another question that has brought more concern to the public in general. Are the scientists looking for embryonic stem cells to cure some diseases, as they say, or are the scientists looking for ways to improve the cloning process? Some people have already started to compare this research to cloning, not that they are the same, but because they involve the same principles. At the same time, many people fear that embryonic stem cell research can open new doors to the process of cloning.
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), M.D., a practicing physician, in a press release commented on the President’s decision not to fund embryonic stem cell research, saying, "What President Bush's veto will stop, however, is a step toward a brave new world of human experimentation and, eventually, cloning.” In this same article, Senator Coburn states that embryonic stem cells alone can never be used to cure any disease. This statement completely contradicts the position of those who defend the embryonic stem cell research as a way to solve some health problems.

Effectiveness per money spent.

Without question, ethical concerns will always be a part of this discussion. But what some scientists are also discussing is the effectiveness of the embryonic stem cell method, especially when the possible costs of such methods are extremely high. To better understand the process of using embryonic stem cells, Kelly Hollowell, in the lecture, What Taxpayers Should Know, gave an example of the possible situation:
Specifically, the process requires women's eggs. To treat, for example, only the 17 million diabetes patients in the United States would require a minimum of 850 million to 1.7 billion human eggs. You can literally envision women becoming egg factories. Collecting 10 eggs per donor will require a minimum of 85 million to 170 million women, and the total cost would be astronomical, at $ 100,000-$ 200,000 for 50 to 100 human eggs per each patient.
Without any refutation from its opponents, this report is a very powerful tool against embryonic stem cell research. Considering these numbers, any attempt to take this research forward becomes very risky because high costs, and more importantly, women’s health are also at risk. As doctor Hollowell mentioned in her report, women could become a “machine of fertilizing eggs.” If we now consider that scientists have failed to come even close to a positive result in previous experiments, and with such high costs to put in practice such ideas, the government and the public in general need to think twice before any money can be used in such projects. The government should always be responsible to use tax money in projects and activities, first, that are for the benefit of the majority of the population, and, second, that the objectives and results of such a project are clear and successful.
With this, I'm not saying that money shouldn't be used to save or cure health problems or that life has a price. What I'm trying to say is that, investing in projects that have no future or that the future doesn't bring any hope for the people who need the help, needs to be pondered. In almost all the cases, the people that want the embryonic stem cell research to go on don't have any support in their defense. The only thing they keep repeating is that many children are dying or suffering with diseases, and embryonic stem cell research could be the answer for their problems.
In our day, there are many new diseases, mainly related to cancer, for which doctors are having a hard time finding a cure. Because such diseases are related to the destruction of cells, doctors are looking into different ways to replace the dead cells with new ones. This is a possibility, but can never be used as an argument to convince the government to invest into the embryonic stem cell research.
With this type of argument, defenders of the embryonic stem cell research are using people in a very insensitive way. How? By creating false hope for the many that today suffer from diseases that doctors can’t cure. A good example, of the use of this argument is Senator Hatch, a strong defender of embryonic stem cell research and one of the most active members in the senate, who wants a bill passed which allows the government to invest in embryonic stem cell research. Senator Hatch, in the speeches that I read, uses the argument that many people are suffering, especially little children, from diseases that can be cured if scientists have the resources to continue their investigation on embryonic stem cells. Often I found Senator Hatch reading letters that he received from patients. In a speech given to the Senate, released by the Office of Utah Senator Orrin G. Hatch, in 18 July 2006, I can quote from Senator Hatch, exactly:

1. I can think of nothing that will provide as much meaningful therapy for children and children's problems than the promise offered by stem cell research.
2. One reason why I support stem cell research so strongly is because I have heard from so many of my fellow citizens of Utah and fellow Americans about how important this issue is to them and their families.
3. One of the reasons why so many are so interested in this debate is that literally everyone either has, or knows, a loved one who has one of the diseases or conditions that may one day benefit from stem cell research.
4. That is the reason why Nancy Reagan wrote me the . . . about stem cell research.
Referring to this exact problem, Senator Coburn, an opponent to the embryonic stem cell research, expresses exactly the same concern. As mentioned previously, Senator Coburn and other doctors and scientists that are against embryonic research, believe that no cure can be achieved with this specific research and that creating false hopes is not the way to support such research. At the same time, they believe that the government should only invest in clear, strong and effective projects, and not in the foolish dreams and hopes that some scientists have.

The truth is that the past has proven that Senator Coburn is right. After some years of experimenting with embryo cells, the results are all negative, and the progress is slow or none. The scientists have failed in all attempts to cure any disease using embryo cells. To the Committee on Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, Doctor George Q. Daley, an Associate professor, Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School and a strong defender of embryonic stem cell research, admitted, “It is true that no one has to date been treated with cellular therapies based on human embryonic stem cells” (12 July 2005, 3). By the way, saying that the government needs to invest more money so the research can be successful, in my view is not a valid argument. Therefore, the government needs to invest more in adult stem cell research or in other researches that are less problematic and more effective, because positive signs and good results are being achieved.
Scientists, I believe, are always looking for ways to cure and improve human life. The same can not be said about politicians and business men. For the government to fund such research, like many other researches, some people will benefit financially. Many times I wonder about the true reason behind some of these projects. After reading and thinking about this particular subject, I feel that some people are involved in this discussion for the purpose of personal financial improvement and not the well being of mankind. What else would move politicians, some scientists and many business men to this particular subject? If we go back to the original concern of this point, the high cost for ineffective research, I can see why many people would prefer working with embryonic stem cell research instead of keeping improving the adult stem cell or any other method. Money always plays an important factor in our society, some times even more than human lives.
With the hope of finding a cure for many health problems, in the speech of the ones that defend embryonic stem cell research, may have expectations of making some profit in the back of their minds. Maybe these people don't even care about the legal aspects of the problem.

Regulatory Laws.

The U.S. Constitution doesn’t have any laws that regulate the methods and procedures that embryonic stem cell research uses. The problem isn’t unique. Every time that the government faces a new event, it’s normal to expect that no regulation exist. It happened the same with the internet, for example. It is impossible to create laws for things that don’t exist! On the other hand, what the United States Congress received was the concept that life begins at conception. In 1981, during the hearings on the Human Life Bill, organized by the Senate Judiciary Committee's Separation of Powers Subcommittee, some internationally renowned scientists testified that life begins at conception, leaving no room for scientists to play with the embryo cells. If the government agrees that life begins at conception, it doesn't make much sense that they would approve and pay for some scientists to destroy, modify or even experiment with a human being.
There is still much to be discussed in relation to the legality of this and other methods that use fertilized eggs for their studies. A few years ago, when scientists were making great progress with cloning, they found in the public opinion their greatest opposition.
A good number of our population is very concerned with the use of human lives for experiments. So what will happen with the embryonic stem cell research legally? No one knows. Today the government can spend millions on this research and tomorrow a law could be created that prohibits its application. This doesn’t make any sense, but it could easily happen. So what is the solution? In my point of view, the government needs to identify the values and opinions of the population and then regulate the embryonic stem cell research. In other words, it is urgent for the government to first regulate this matter and only then think about financing it.
How hard can it be for the Congress to pass a number of bills that regulate and protect such techniques? If the funding by the government for such methods is raising so much conflict, I can't picture in my mind the Congress approving laws that allows the use of such methods, and if we don't allow the use of such methods, why than invest in them.
I understand that a cure for some of the more recent diseases that affect us is very important, but what I’m discussing here is the method of achieving it. The concept that, to save a life we can break all the rules, doesn’t appeal to me, specially, when there are more options that can be used. I refuse to accept the embryonic stem cell research, but at the same time, I believe and agree with the use of adult stem cells or even others methods that are not as questionable as the embryonic stem cell research.

Works Cited

Coburn, Tom. “Sen. Coburn Applauds Bush’s Pledge to Veto; Says Stem Cell Bill Promotes False Hope, False Choices.” HT Media Ltd 18 July 2006. Lexis Nexis. LDSBC Lib., Salt Lake City. 10 October 2006

Daley, George Q. “Congressional Testimony.” Congressional Quarterly, Inc 12 July 2005. Lexis-Nexis. LDSBC Lib., Salt Lake City. 10 October 2006

Hatch, Orrin G. “Hatch: Senate Backs Expanding Stem Cell Research.” States News
Service 18 July 2006. Lexis-Nexis. LDSBC Lib., Salt Lake City. 12 October 2006 http://web.lexisnexis.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/universe/document?.

Hollowell, Kelly. “Federal Stem Cell Research: What Taxpayers Should Know?” The
Heritage Foundation. 24 June 2005. Lexis-Nexis. LDSBC Lib., Salt Lake City. 10 October 2006

Nordqvist, Christian, “Deriving Stem Cells without Killing Embryo.” Medical News Today.
23 August 2006.

04 December 2006.

Taft, Kingsley L. “Stem Cells: Their Promises, Their Problems.” Gale Group, Inc.
9 March 2005. Lexis-Nexis. LDSBC Lib., Salt Lake City. 17 October 2006

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