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Cell is the simplest unit that has life. A study of all living organisms has revealed that they all are composed of cell(s). The simplest organisms were found to have only one cell, while the complex ones can have millions and millions of these units. In addition, the living organisms have different types of cells depending on their functions (Schro%u0308dinger 13). The invention of microscope marked the breakthrough in science that enabled the initial study of the cell. The first microscopes were used to view and study cells. The events happened a long time ago; since then, the study of the cells has advanced and reached a great height. Nowadays, the study provides very fine details of identifying cells and describes them with very high accuracy. This study has involved complex research and observation of cells while still staying in the living organisms. Another aspect that has been a major milestone in the development of this field has been the ability to grow cells independently, outside the body of a living organism, which is called, cell culture.
Stem cells are a form of cells found in the human being, just as in other living organisms. They are alive and contain genetic material, DNA, which is used in their multiplication. Another unique characteristic of this type of cells is its ability to develop into any other types. The total number of different cells’ types in the human body estimates at two hundred and twenty (King 34). Scientists and researchers have been able to identify around three types of stem cells. The first group of stem cells is found in the embryo during the initial stages of its development. These cells have a potential to develop into all 220 types of cells in the body through differentiation. This group of cells is said to be totipotent. Another group of cells that is usually generated during the development of the embryo is pluripotent in nature. It is found in the inner mass of the developing embryo, at the stage of blastocyst. This group of cells is undifferentiated, and it is also capable of generating all types of body cell through differentiation. The third category of the stem cells is the multipotent ones. This group of cells has a very limited ability to differentiate as compared to the other two groups. On the other hand, this is the group of the stem cells that has shown the greatest response, as well as high rate of success in experiments done during cell therapies. Even though the research on the stem cells is showing great promise, it has drawn a wide response in the society. The paper will study the history of human stem cell research, its effects on society and will explain the stem cell research in the light of Plato’s “Allegory of the cave”.
History of Human Stem Cell Research
Stem cell research began in the 19th century. The research that led to this remarkable discovery was triggered by the observation that some cells had an ability to generate others. Later in the 19th century, the earliest stem cells were discovered through the observations that some cells were capable of generating blood cells. This discovery has been widely used since then in the transplants, especially relating to bone marrow, in which stem cells from adults have been successfully used.
Initially, some doctors used to prescribe the bone marrow orally to patients in order to treat leukemia or anemia. Such interventions did not deliver the desired results. This triggered another wave of research, in which mice were used. The results of the research pointed that the healthy bone marrow needed to be infused in the blood stream than being orally administered. The results of the above were successful. As a result, the physicians tried to speculate upon the feasibility of carrying out a bone marrow transplant, an allergenic transplant.
France was the country that pioneered further research in attempts to transplant bone marrow. This particular line of research remained unpopular for some time, and the attempts were not frequent. “In 1958 tremendous discovery was done regarding to the body immune system and the body's ability to identify any foreign material” (Schiebinger 67). This explained why the body is able to destroy what it does not recognize as its own part. This shifted the attention of the research to the issues of compatibility. Consequently, this caused the number of successful transplants to increase greatly. 1984 marked another milestone in organ transplant, as well as stem cell research. At this time, the US congress legislated for the organ transplant.
In 1990, the breakthrough of the bone marrow transplant became evident as in the USA around 16000 transplants with a high level of success were recorded. The success of the bone marrow transplant led to effective treatment of various immunodeficiencies, as well as leukemia. Despite the great limitations of the adult stem cells in differentiation, they have shown a great potential in other areas. Good examples of such areas include the development and generation of various types of tissues. Such tissues can be used to cure organs damaged by harmful processes.
The subsequent years of research included the isolation of the inner cells from a developing embryo. This led to the development of the initial stem cell lines of an embryo. Viegas asserted, “The three lines of cells were successfully identified from an embryo by various researchers” (56).
The Conflict between Stem Cell Research and the Nature
Humber and Almeder point out, “The marvelous advance in pure science made through the 20th century has totally distorted the relation amid science and society” (17). These developments have improved the live of community. On the other hand, this is placing human beings and their environment at an elevated threat. The degree of this probable danger is as huge as menacing the existence of human species.
In nature, fertilization of human sex cells should happen only in the female bodies. This is the burning argument of several cultures across the world. The idea of growing miniature human beings in the Petri dishes in labs cannot be accepted by some groups.
“Stem cell research has been taken over by the various institutions and has shown immense development amid controversies” (Lehmann and Rother 53). Scientifically, the research has the ability to make people's lives better through improved treatment of fatal diseases. On the other hand, the procedures, involved in acquiring the embryos for research, are not morally upright according to moral views of some groups.
There is a dilemma concerning the development of stem cell research in the world today. Many people have opted to remain silent about the issue at hand.
There are two things that human being put first in their lives. They prioritize these interests over all the other things in their day to day activity. First of all, people will always do everything to alleviate human’s suffering. The other important thing in life is to try and avoid the loss of human life whenever possible. Fink said, “It is in very rare cases that humans have been challenged to choose between these two priorities”.
Currently, embryonic research promises a great potential in treating, as well as curing many illnesses and, hence, reducing human suffering. This has been demonstrated in the way the results of the research were able to provide effective treatment for illnesses, such as leukemia and other diseases affecting immune deficient people. On the other hand, embryonic research involves disruption of the embryo’s growth and, hence, its death. These two issues are very hard to decide or even to find a favorable compromise between them. Many people have concluded that it is immoral to terminate pregnancies. These people consider the embryo to be a person. Others think that the embryo is not yet a human being and can be foregone to save human life or reduce human suffering.
The Conflict between Stem Cell Research and the Religion
All major religions do not accept the issue of stem cell research. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are among these religions. These religions respect life at all forms and emphasize equality of all human beings. It does not make sense to lose human life in an attempt to reduce another person’s suffering. Some Christians believe that the moment of conception is the very beginning of life (Eliade, Adams and al 34). Others believe that life begins long before conception as it is stated in the Bible. For this reason, they cannot in any way agree with the stem cell research. The two main groups have been determinant in rejecting stem cell research. “The two groups have been grouped as religious followers and some conservative members that have a pro life stand” (Evans 32). They argue that the pro embryo form, from which cells are obtained for this research, is already a human being, and deprivation of human life is a felony.
The stem cell research has created many ethical concerns, as it uses embryo material. The sources of obtaining embryo material for this research are different, for example, in vitro fertilization. This alternative method of creating human beings is perceived by the members of the society as lack of respect for the source of human life. For many years, many members of the society have taken the creation of a man/woman as a sacred thing. They have argued that the source of it is some supernatural power and not other people, and such processes as in vitro fertilization cannot be accepted by the society. Others think that experimentations with embryos are not acceptable at all cost. Some of these embryos could be left unused and will be utilized with time.
Other people do not agree with the issue of generating clones of human beings for therapeutic uses. Studying possible benefits of embryonic stem cell research have been done for a long time. On the other hand, ethical issues have been raised by various people, this has made researchers try and get a favorable balance between the two. This is because there is no other option that has shown the great potential than the embryonic cell research has done. The solution to the ethical concerns raised has to find ways to satisfy these concerns of people.
Despite all the debate surrounding the embryonic stem cell research, it has shown a great potential in improving the lives of thousands of patients. The advantages of embryonic stem cell research give adequate rationalization for use.
The Embryonic Stem Cell Research and Plato’s "Allegory of the Cave"
Socrates in the “Allegory of the Cave” tried to explain how information can be frightening to people. He also explains the problem of the deficiency of knowledge in society. “Most people, including ourselves, live in a world of relative ignorance” (Kernan 14). Some of the members of the society can be blinded by skewed view of things and illusions. After humans receive the information, they have a choice to pursue more information and know the reality or get scared away because information is too frightening.
People, who have no information, are compared to slaves, whose views are framed to see the shadows and illusions by the detainer. “The truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images,” in this quote, Socrates tries to illustrate how the view and the conception of people can be skewed by the existing rules and beliefs (Welles and Weiss 45). This leaves no room for people’s mind to learn or appreciate the truth. In this case, these slaves will never learn the truth; in addition, people, who are well informed, are sometimes hated and viewed as the enemies of the society. Socrates tries to show the importance of thinking and pursuing the truth at all cost. Additionally, people should not always get stuck to doing things as in the past; they should try something new and get the reasoning behind it.
At some level, it can be easy for one to side with the society, the scientist or religion in the discussion regarding the stem cell research. On the other hand, all these groups could be overwhelmed by the discoveries that have occurred in this field, until they have not come to terms with reality yet. Socrates said, ‘The glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows.’ He was talking about prisoners, who had only been led by the shadows. These prisoners had a difficult time relating the shadows to the real objects; when the real objects were revealed to them.
According to the description, as well as the implication of the allegory of the cave, the society should not always get stuck in doing things in the old way. The society should try and get knowledge about the stem cell research before condemning it. In addition, they should open their mind to get facts, as well as access options. In case this research has a long term positive effect that outweighs the shortcomings, the research can be adopted.
It is important to remember that some of the procedure that are common today, and acceptable in modern society were ones considered as unethical to some communities in the past. For many years, research has shown that stem cell research has provided effective treatment to some illnesses in the past. In addition, it still shows enormous potential to provide more solution than other methods have done.
The contribution that is expected to be brought about by stem cells research is especially in the field of medicine. In medicine, there are illnesses that lead to loss or damages of cells. These illnesses need to be treated, and their effects be reversed. Such disease includes diabetes, heart attacks, cancer among others. Furthering this research will advance the treatment of these diseases and prolong humans’ lives. For instance, providing a cure for a disease, such as liver cirrhosis, would not be only a medical breakthrough but also a triumph to all the hopeless patients in the world today.
The embryonic stem cell research has another advantage. Amidst the great controversies that exist between the scientist, medical practitioners, and the public, people are left confused without knowing exactly which group to trust. In the “Allegory of Cave” Socrates says, “ … my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort” (Heidegger and Sadler 39). All these groups believe that they are working for the betterment of the society. The scientist and the medical practitioners, for instance, believe that they are trying to bring to reality the dream of having the cure to many diseases, for example, diabetes, cirrhosis, and many others. The religion and other conservative members of the society believe that they are maintaining morals, in the society. All these groups should keep moving and keep searching for the true meaning of the stem cell research. The idea of truth will reveal only at the end of this struggle.
Another great advantage of the embryonic stem cell research is that it has enabled the provision of fertilized embryos to women who cannot conceive. Millions and millions of people donate sperm and female eggs. The conception is done through in vitro fertilization. Some of the embryos obtained are implanted in the uteruses of women who through this procedure are able to get babies. The breakthrough has occurred in the embryonic research, and this gives another reason to continue the study. The excess embryos are donated to studies carrying out embryonic research. This is a better leeway than discarding them.
After the embryos cells are preserved, they keep dividing continuously, and this increases the number of cells for the future use. “This provides a greater supply and opportunity for continued intense research” (Panno 67). These cells have the advantage over the adult stem cells in that they can divide and generate many different cells. A process called ‘somatic cell nuclear transfer’ reduces the cell rejection by the recipient’s system.
The embryonic stem cells are more versatile in use than adult stem cells; this versatility is achieved through chemical and biological alteration, so as to use them in the different types of tissues. The embryonic cells are able to treat “more medical conditions because they can transform into almost any type of body cell or tissue” (Newton 48).
In conclusion, many medical researchers believe that the stem cell research should be continued and advanced. These scientists say that both embryonic cell researches, as well as adult stem research, have great potential in providing effective treatment to various illnesses and physical conditions.