Ethical Issues Of Modern Medicine: Stem Cells Therapy

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Over the last few years, stem cell use in modern medicine has seen an increase in popularity, one that it has never seen before. This is due to the relative ease at which it can be carried out these days, and the increase in number of clinics specialising in stem cell therapy. On the other hand, this increase in popularity is not without its drawbacks, as with this came a lot of ethical issues, many of which we will be shining a light on in the coming few paragraphs.

There are two main types of stem cells, embryonic and adult stem cells, each with its own set of distinguishing features and drawbacks. In general, embryonic stem cells are better than adult stem cells, this is due to their totipotent nature; being able to differentiate into any type of cell, and hence, they can be used virtually anywhere in the body, and for any disease. But they’re not perfect, as they have greater ethical issues than adult stem cells, which are extracted from a full-grown adult, as their name suggests, hence, there is no need to sacrifice a zygote, which is essentially a living organism, and has the ability to develop into a baby. To counteract this statement, some people state that life begins in the womb, at conception, and not in a petri dish, and hence, this zygote, from which we extract embryonic stem cells, is not considered to be a “living organism”, while others disagree, and see this process as being immoral.

Getting ahold of oocytes for the process of embryonic stem cell obtainment proved to be rather difficult, as they have to come from an actual female donor. The female is given extremely large amounts of hormones, in order for her ovaries to secrete as many oocytes as possible in the shortest time period. Unfortunately, for a healthy individual, this can cause many complications, as the body is only designed to secrete one oocyte per month. Side effects may include hormone imbalance, leading to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, vaginal bleeding during oocyte extraction, infection, and so on and so forth. In addition, further complications may arise even years after treatment, and these may not be covered by insurance as a long period of time has passed after extraction, leading to female donors being neglected and having to pay out-of-pocket in order to get sufficient treatment. Adding to that, some individuals may feel that this is not worth it in any shape or form, and that donors are not being paid enough for their time and strenuous effort.

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Despite what we said above, there is, however, an easier way of obtaining oocytes, and that is from IVF patients. After IVF is completed, there is bound to be extra oocytes that have not been used for their intended purpose, and these can be used to obtain embryonic stem cells in a more humane manner, but the discussion about whether a zygote is considered to be living or not is still present, so we have solved one problem, but the other is still there. In addition, great care must be taken in order to use the best oocytes for the process of IVF, and any remains used in stem cell research, and not the opposite. Moreover, consent is a basic requirement here, and it must be taken from both individuals in order to use their oocytes for stem cell research. Failure to obtain consent, or using perfectly fine oocytes before the process of IVF has been completed gives rise to many ethical issues.

When using embryonic stem cells, you have to weigh in the pros and cons. First of all, is it of significance to essentially “sacrifice” a zygote that has the ability to develop into a human being, worth saving another life? Is it plausible for certain individuals to risk complications further on in their lives for the treatment of others? Is it morally and socially acceptable? Are non-IVF donors being paid enough? Do adult-derived stem cells do the job just as effectively in your case?

Stem cell therapy, in general, despite it being relatively common these days, is still very expensive. You have to pay for the clinic in which the oocyte will be fertilised, the oocyte donor, the doctor carrying out your therapy, and you also have to pay for check-ups with your health care professional, hence, it is out of reach for many people. This gives rise to the problem that some people may suffer, and even die, from lack of funds, preventing them from carrying out stem cell therapy. Is this fair? Shouldn’t health care be a right, not a commodity? Is there a way to make it more accessible to people of lower income? It is also worth noting that stem cells aren’t the only solution in some diseases, yet some people still opt for them, despite the many ethical issues associated with them.

This also deprives other patients, whom their disease has no other possible way of treatment but stem cells from being treated. This also increases the demand on stem cells, making the process generally more expensive. An argument would be as if to “stop playing god”, and deciding the fate of possible human beings. The best solution for this would be to substitute the use of stem cells for other treatment options, if possible.

To sum it all up, the ethics of stem cells is a highly debatable subject, with people having different views, depending on their background, society, education, religion, and personal beliefs. Some people focus on the cost of treatment, being their number one priority, whereas others will decline to be treated with any kind of stem cell, since they consider it to be full on murder; a serious crime, and oppose their use, no matter the disease. All in all, you cannot make everyone happy, but our general aim in medicine is to find a better, cheaper, more humane way for these diseases that can now only be treated with stem cells.

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