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Ethics of Stem Cell Research

Author: Dalin Try

Editor: Galiba Anjum and Kira Tian

Artist: Serena Yung

There have been numerous attempts in the medical community to find ways to replicate organs as an alternative to organ donation. With a steady rise in demand for these organs, the medical community has been researching ways to incorporate stem cells into its research. Stem cells are unspecialized cells that can continuously divide and specialize into all types of cells and there are four types of these cells: pluripotent, totipotent, and multipotent and unipotent. What differentiates these stem cells are the stages that the cells are at during specialization. Totipotent are stem cells that have not been specialized at all, therefore allowing them to specialize into a variety of different types of cells compared to the other two types. In contrast, pluripotent are stem cells that have already been specialized in terms of their functions, but have not been specialized into a specific cell yet. Multipotent stem cells already have certain genes encoded; and lastly, unipotent stem cells are at the final stage, meaning they can only be one cell. The most common place where stem cells can be found is in the bone marrow because blood starts as an adult stem cell in the bone marrow. Embryonic stem cells can also be found in babies, more specifically in the blood that comes with the birth of a newborn baby.

The most versatile stem cell is the pluripotent stem cell, which are embryonic stem cells. They are the candidates that scientists go to since scientists can manipulate these cells into any type of cell that they want. Aside from their use in medicine, pluripotent stem cells can be used for cosmetic reasons since stem cells can help renew the old skin cells and create a younger and more desirable appearance. They can also be used for scientific research regarding how diseases occur. Pluripotent stem cells are able to generate healthy cells to replace diseased cells which then can be used to test drug treatments and potentially grow organs. However, the destruction of embryonic cells and the research involved creates an ethical issue.

Embryonic stem cells are cells that come from eggs that were fertilized in vitro fertilization in clinics. This means that a baby —the embryo —has already been created. There have been arguments made that the embryonic stem cells have not reached “personhood” yet as the baby has not developed a personality and has not been born; this justifies the aforementioned method for obtaining stem cells. However, many conservatives have found this as a way against nature since we are destroying a life to save another life. The irony behind this dilemma makes the ethical consequences of this research even more complicated. Scientists need to decide whether the advancements of science and medicine outweigh the consequences of the acts that would be committed to obtain the necessary stem cells needed for research.



“Examining the Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research.” Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI),

“Frequently Asked Questions about Stem Cell Research.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for

Medical Education and Research, 8 June 2019,


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