The time has come for lawmakers to rethink their ethical stance on embryonic research. For the past 20 years the United States Congress has shut the door on what many scientists say could be the most promising field of research in the history of medicine. Since Ronald Reagan’s administration first balked at the idea in 1980, the government has banned federal funding on embryonic research.
Now, predicting breakthrough treatments for everything from spinal chord treatments to diabetes to organ transplants, scientists all over the world are focusing on a special type of embryonic cell known as a stem cell. Stem cells are a sort of blank slate formed early in the life of an embryo. The special cells have the capacity to become any kind of cell in the human body, and once the process of diversification is understood, scientists say controlling it is only one step away.
Doctors have said once cell control is harnessed they may be able to grow organs, treat diabetes in heretofore-unimagined ways, reverse some neurological disorders and even reverse paralysis.
Doctors from the United States have even claimed that if Congress had allowed federal funding from the beginning, such medical advancements would have already taken place.
Now scientists are asking Congress to wait no longer. Without federal funding, progress toward these breakthroughs has been and will continue to be painfully slow.
Opponents, of course, point to the ethical dilemmas involved with experimentation on human embryos. Worried that scientists will create an embryo market, opponents have thus far successfully lobbied Congress to maintain the ban.
Meanwhile, more than 100,000 embryos wit uselessly on the freezer shelves of fertility clinics waiting the day they will be thawed out and literally washed down the drain. The embryos are leftovers. Couples who no longer needed them have donated them to the clinics in the hope they may be of benefit to other prospective parents. Clinics say most likely the embryos will sit on the shelf until they are destroyed.
Those sensitive enough to shrink at the idea of destroying viable human embryos for the sake of future generations surely must cringe at the thought of destroying viable human embryos simply because there is nothing better to do with them.
Utilizing an already condemned embryo with the hope of ridding future generations of diabetes and paralysis is neither immoral nor unethical; it is an intelligent use of resources. By allowing these embryos to be destroyed society is throwing away the perhaps the best investment it could make in the future. The study of life has never lent itself to the desecration thereof. Especially when the study comes with such little moral baggage.