Scientific Progress without irreversible damages

di Eliana Vitolo

One of the main task of nowadays researchers is the ability to use stem cells in order to heal different diseases (that now can only be cured with transplants), to help unfertile parents to have babies and to do  many complicated experiments that try to solve the challenges that science still has.  Obviously the skill of manipulating life is something that always fascinated as well as frightened the human beings.  The novel Frankestein – or the modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley can be considered as the first historical evidence. In this book the writer describes the character of Victor, a brilliant scientist, who discovers how to create life from corpses. Considering the historical ground in which Shelley lived, it is not surprising that in this story the scientist is presented as a person whose bright intelligence scares and creates a terrible creature, harmful for the society and for its creator himself. As well as this, the reader is not surprised neither by the  reluctant aspect of the monster, nor by the end that both Victor and Frankestein are doomed to.  In fact, because of the mentality of that era, this book would not have been different: a scientist, as an apothecary, was able to do things that the majority of the people could not understand and not even appreciate as long as it was terribly afraid of them.  One thing that do surprise is the fact that the opinion of scientists has not changed so far. Nowadays, the public awareness of what research is doing, why it is doing that and how it is done, is barely poor. This is the main reason why when a person is listening to the news and catches the words research, stem cells, cloning, he suddenly becomes terrorized. In fact, as the article suggests, there are many important effects to take into consideration when talking about what is and what is not morally right in the use of stem cells, are they embryonic or not.  One of the most widely spread beliefs is that men, through the use of stem cells, in the near future will be actually able to create and destroy life, whenever they want. This will obviously lead to a sort of “choice” of what they are doing; they could be able to choose the traits of a baby or the most useful sequences of DNA in order to have a perfect organism and the list would be long. But one thing that should not be forgotten is that this ability of manipulating life, and of course creating it as well as destroying it, is not a harmful path that leads to negative effects in any case. The use of stem cells can be very important in some of the most problematic fields of medicine: one above all, transplants. There are many patients that can only rely on the hope of a new organ one day: in the meantime they keep on living, sometimes painfully, and without the certainty that this organ will actually arrive. If scientists could be able to cure the ill organ trough stem cells, they will reproduce a new organ which will not cause the reject by the patient, since his body will recognize those cells, and basically will save his life.  The problem is that to have the real stem cells, there should be used the ones from embryo: this is the translation for create an artificial zygote and then break it, in order to use only the cells needed. Obviously, this elicits an incredibly huge ethical debate: this would actually be creating life, substituting the nature with the man. Because of this obstacle, which is too complicated to face and too hard to break, scientists are using a particular type of stem cells in many of their studies: these are adult cells that are brought to a previous state-the same of the embryo’s state, in which each cell can potentially become everything. At this point the cells are iPS: technically they are not stem cells, but Induced Pluripotent Cells.

This means that they are very similar to the stem cells, but not on the whole and, for example, there is not the total certainty that they will be effective.  But, as the article says, this is not solving the problem: it is just going around it. In fact, if the main ethical issue is whether nature can be substituted by man or not, then it does not matter which type of cells is chosen. Creating a new organ with iPS or with embryonic stem cells is after all creating: this is the point, the man is creating something alive. Therefore, if we talk about the ethical problem behind the use of stem cells, no difference between types of cells involved should be considered, but rather it should be discussed the theory in itself: whether the human being can create or not.

In my opinion, I think that this is probably the tougest ethical question to find an answer to. I know that scientists who have the power of creators really scare, but on the other hand I believe that research and use of stem cells should not be banned in themselves; probably one right thing could be establishing policies and laws in order to make medicine improve, without causing negative irreversible effects.


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