Why are stem cells controversial

Stem cells, also called undifferentiated cells, are unique cell types that have the ability to differentiate into different types of cells. Such cells can be used not only for the repair of human tissues and organs, but also for the treatment of several debilitating diseases and serious injuries like diabetes, spinal cord injury, burns, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and the like.

Stem cells can be broadly divided into two categories — adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. While the former cell type has the ability to develop into a cell like itself, the latter can grow into any kind of cell or tissue. Also called somatic or gremline stem cells, adult stem cells are derived from the adult tissues like skin, adipose tissue, bone marrow, placenta, umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid, and so forth. Embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, are obtained from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst stage of the human embryo.

The origin of embryonic stem cells is the primary source of controversy. In order to obtain these cells, the development of the blastocyst has to be stopped so that it does not form a human being. The opponents of stem cell research believe that preventing the blastocyst to develop further is equivalent to taking the life of the human being. On the contrary, the proponents of stem cell research state that blastocyst is not differentiated into tissues, organs and systems; hence, it cannot be equated with the human life.
Supporters of embryonic stem cell research further emphasize that blastocyst is not capable of surviving outside the womb. It is simply a cluster of undifferentiated cells that has the potential to develop into a complete human being. For this reason, there is no harm in using embryonic stem cells. Moreover, approximately one-third of the embryos do not develop properly and their development has to be stopped midway. Such blastocyst can be used for stem cell research.
The advocates of stem cell research further argue that during in-vitro fertilization, a large number of embryos remain unused. Instead of wasting them, it would be better to use them for the derivation of embryonic stem cells. At this point, the opponents argue that processes like in-vitro fertilization are meant simply to help people and not for manipulation and misuse. The proponents state that abortion, which is legalized in several countries and states, can also be viewed as a process of interfering with the nature. If the embryos are being destroyed during abortion, then what’s the harm in using them for stem cell research?

In a nutshell, all the controversy around embryonic stem cell research is uncalled for. If used in a good way, these cells can help in the treatment of several incurable diseases. Apart from blastocysts, researchers should find other sources of embryonic stem cells. The scientists of the United States and Japan have already found an effective and inexpensive method to convert human skin cell into embryonic cells. Although much still remains to be done, embryonic stem cell research should not be stopped because of some unconvincing and unrealistic beliefs.