Stem cell research
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are the body's universal cells; which have the potential to develop into more specialised cells or body tissue.
Where do we find stem cells?
Stem cells are found in the placenta and umbilical cord of a newborn
baby and in children's milk teeth. They are also found in sites within
the adult body - such as fat, bone marrow, blood, skin and muscle.
Removal of stem cells from these sources does not necessarily involve
any harm. Stem cells are also obtained from human embryos created in
the laboratory (as well as from the ovaries of aborted infants).
Removing them from the embryo always involves harm, that is, the
destruction of the embryo.
Why are stem cells useful?
Stem cells from umbilical cord and placental blood have been used
successfully to treat leukaemia and anaemia patients. Adult stem cells
have also been used successfully in trials to treat patients with
severe heart failure. In the future stem cells could be used to replace
cells or tissues destroyed by for instance:
- Parkinson's disease
- Heart disease
- Spinal cord injury
- Alzheimer's disease.
Stem cell research: What is ethical and what is not?
Embryonic stem cell research involves the destruction of the human
embryo. It does not respect the dignity or right to life of the human
embryo and instead treats him/her as resource material to be used for
the treatment of others. It is therefore completely unethical.
So-called therapeutic cloning is being promoted as a refinement of stem
cell research to avoid the problem of rejection. Rejection due to
tissue incompatibility is a problem in bone marrow, organ and other
tissue transplants. But by creating a cloned embryo using the patient's
DNA, and using the cloned embryo's stem cells, it is hoped that
compatible tissues and perhaps organs could be created for
transplantation. However cloning does not always create an exact
genetic copy and so the possibility of rejection remains. For technical
reasons, stem cells obtained from cloned embryos may carry risks for
the person in whom they are used. Besides these drawbacks, it is clear
that because of the great expense involved, stem cells from cloned
embryos are never likely to become available to other than the very
Cloning human embryos to provide transplants is entirely unethical as
it involves the creation of human life in order to destroy it through
the extraction of stem cells from the cloned embryo.
Using our own adult stem cells and storing stem cells from our
children's umbilical cords and placentas for future use, avoids the
ethical problems involved in the creation and destruction of human life.
Which stem cell research is best?
To date, embryonic stem cells have not been used successfully to treat
any illness. Yet the use of adult stem cells and stem cells from
umbilical cords and placentas continues to prove effective in treating
Uncontrolled growth of embryonic stem cells can produce tumours. The
use of stem cells from adults, placentas or umbilical cords may
therefore not only be an ethical alternative, but also a safer and more