Renewing the Stuff of Life: Stem Cells, Ethics, and Public Policy

Renewing the Stuff of Life: Stem Cells, Ethics, and Public Policy

Renewing the Stuff of Life: Stem Cells, Ethics, and Public Policy

Renewing the Stuff of Life: Stem Cells, Ethics, and Public Policy

Synopsis

Stem cell therapy is ushering in a new era of medicine in which we will be able to repair human organs and tissue at their most fundamental level- that of the cell. The power of stem cells to regenerate cells of specific types, such as heart, liver, and muscle, is unique and extraordinary. In 1998 researchers learned how to isolate and culture embryonic stem cells, which are only obtainable through the destruction of human embryos. An ethical debate has raged since then about the ethics of this research, usually pitting pro-life advocates vs. those who see the great promise of curingsome of humanity's most persistent diseases. In this book Cynthia Cohen agrees that we need to work toward a consensus on the issue of how we treat the embryo. But more broadly she claims that we need to transform and expand the ethical and policy debates on stem cells (adult and embryonic). This important and much-needed book is both aprimer and a means by which to understand the implications of this research. Cohen starts by introducing readers to the basic science of stem cell research, and the core ethical questions surrounding the embryo. She then expands the scope of the debate, looking at the moral questions that willcrop up down the line, such as e.g. the use of therapeutic cloning to overcome the body's immune resistance to stem cells; the ethics of using animals to test stem cells; how to disentangle federal and state legal and regulatory policies in pursuit of a coherent national policy; and how to developan ethics of stem cell research that will accommodate new techniques and controversies that we cannot even foresee now. Her final chapter develops a concrete plan for an oversight system for this research. This is the first single-author book that addresses the many broad ethical and legal issues related to stem cells, and it should be of great interest to bioethicists, researchers, clinicians, philosophers, theologians, lawyers, policy makers, and general readers.

Excerpt

Human embryonic stem cells burst from the obscurity of the research lab into public view almost a decade ago. We had known for some before then that these cells exist and that they are extremely versatile, for they can be converted into almost any type of cell found in the human body—heart, liver, blood, pancreas, and muscle among them. These stem cells can also reproduce themselves, sustaining the organs and tissues of the human body throughout an individual's lifetime. We were also familiar with adult stem cells that are found in various parts of the human body, including bone marrow, blood, and body fat cells. Although we had started down the path of developing adult stem cells, we had not been able to culture and grow human embryonic stem cells, even though the lure of these sorts of stem cells, in particular, was immense.

That changed in 1998, when stem cell investigators successfully developed human embryonic stem cells in vitro (in a laboratory dish). In doing so, they initiated a new era of what is called “regenerative medicine” in which we hope to learn how and why stem cells of both major types grow and proliferate throughout the human body and, on the basis of the knowledge that we obtain, develop ways in which to use stem cells to replace diseased and injured cells hidden away in the bodies of those with serious illnesses. Stem cell investigators, patients afflicted with debilitating diseases, families who assist them, and many others look for the day when a host of diseases and injuries will be treated more readily and permanently through research that promises to renew the very stuff of life.

Yet as stem cell research has proceeded, it has raised compelling ethical issues. Its offer to restore parts of the human body that have gone awry . . .

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