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Sheena Ranade
Franklin High School
DPRK
Ethics of Stem Cell Research
Stem cell research has the potential to find cures for diseases millions of people
around the world are currently suffering from. It is because of this immense potential that
the methods on how stem cell research should be conducted and its ethical or moral
standings are in great debate around the globe. Stem cells are essentially unspecialized
cells that renew themselves for long periods through cell division, and which, under
certain conditions, can differentiate to become cells with special functions.1 Stem cell
technology (SCT) can lead to advancement in the field of regenerative medicine. For
example, with this research, scientists can discover a way to make stem cells specialize as
cardiac muscle cells, and therefore find a way to replace dead heart cells in a patient with
the new ones, making the person healthier and eliminating disease. SCT can lead to cures
for illnesses such as heart disease, type I diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and many other
sicknesses millions of people around the world suffer from today. Over two billion
humans worldwide suffer from these and other diseases that may eventually be treated
more effectively with stem cells or even cured.2
Research requires the use of many stem cells. The majority of stem cells used for
research usually come from two places—human embryos and the cloning of adult stem
cells. Embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos that develop from eggs fertilized in
vitro.3 Adult stem cells are unspecialized cells among differentiated cells in a tissue or an
organ that can renew itself and become specialized. Adult stem cells would need to be
1
Stem Cell Basics
Methods of obtaining embryonic stem cells with, perhaps, fewer ethical objections
3
Stem Cell Basics
2
cloned because they are rare and extremely difficult to obtain, so it is necessary to clone
the few that are obtained to have enough to perform experiments. Moral concerns
surround stem cell research because of the beliefs of many religious groups that human
life is created at the moment of conception; hence an embryo has an equal autonomy as
that of an adult person. The use of cloning raises wide distress about the ethics of the
human cloning process.
The main concern in stem cell research is related to the experimentation on
human embryos, which, according to many, are human beings and therefore have the
same human rights as that of any individual. Those in favor of SCT advancement believe
that the few ethical and moral violations that occur in the process of researching stem
cells outweigh the potential SCT holds for us in the future. Some disagree, countering
that any ethical or moral violation is not worth the desirable consequences, even if that
means saving the lives of millions or even billions in the future from diseases that may be
cured from stem cell research.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) feels that the potential in
SCT does outweigh the ethical violations occurring in stem cell research. The human
embryos obtained from in vitro fertilization for research are leftover from fertilization
processes. The extra embryos are frozen and eventually discarded once they loose their
viability. The DPRK feels that discarding useful embryos is a waste and that these
embryos should instead be used towards stem cell research, as long as there is the consent
of the embryo donors. We are also in favor of therapeutic cloning, but not reproductive
cloning. Therapeutic cloning doesn’t involve the cloning of an actual human, whereas
reproductive does. Many nations fail to understand and accept that therapeutic and
reproductive cloning are two separate things, and no scientist is actually trying to attempt
to clone a human being. That being said, there is no reason why any nation needs to ban
therapeutic cloning simply because it is defined as cloning.4 In addition, the SCT that can
be obtained from this method can produce incredible advancements in regenerative
medicine, leading to cures for many diseases.
Stem cell research and technology are very important to the DPRK because our
medical practices are more than 20 years behind nations such as the Republic of Korea
(ROK).5 New advances in SCT would help alleviate diseases that plague many people in
our country and other countries around the world. In 2005, ROK proposed joint research
with the DPRK on SCT.6 While we do not agree with ROK that human embryo cloning is
ethical, we were glad to work with them on other forms of stem cell research.
The DPRK feels that human embryo and adult stem cells should be used for stem
cell research when readily available. Because of global concern on the ethics of stem cell
research, the DPRK is willing to use stem cells derived from other sources as well, and
suggests that other nations do the same, especially if they have problems within their
nation about the ethical aspects of stem cell research. One way to obtain stem cells
without resulting in the death of the embryo is a technique that uses adult stem cells (also
known as somatic cells). First, the genes of a somatic cell are altered, allowing the cell to
develop into a blastocyst. The cells from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst have no
capacity of becoming a trophectoderm (which becomes the placenta and umbilical cord in
an embryo), so it cannot become a fetus and eventually a child. 7 Therefore, its death at
4
Cloning research leaves questions unanswered
Inter-Korean stem cell partnership proposed
6
Ibid
7
Senate Testimony: Alternative Methods of Obtaining Embryonic Stem Cells
5
the blastocyst stage would not be like “strangling a baby.”8 Even to those against stem
cell research, this technique would be morally acceptable.
Another way of obtaining stem cells that the DPRK supports and that fit the
ethical standards of many religious groups is a process used by the Advanced Cell
Technology (ACT) called “Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis” (PGD).9 In this process,
parents that know they carry a genetic disease have their embryos screened by taking one
cell from the embryo and testing it for any abnormalities so that they can “choose” the
healthy embryo. The suggestions being made by scientists is to allow the cell they choose
for testing to multiply into two cells, allowing one for the genetic testing and the other for
a human embryo stem cell (hESC) line. While this process of weeding out the unwanted
embryos is compared to the holocaust, the process is already being performed by fertility
clinics. The DPRK believes there is no reason why an extra cell caused by natural
division should be discarded instead of being donated to stem cell research that can save
lives. The genetic aspect of the PGD process does not harm the embryo since it continues
to grow normally and is implanted in the mother’s womb for in vitro fertilization. This
would be an effective way of obtaining hESCs without causing harm or the death of an
embryo.10
Some additional sources of stem cells include in vitro fertilization and umbilical
cords. Many extra embryos are discarded from in vitro fertilizations. The DPRK is also in
support of using these leftover and donated embryos instead of discarding them after loss
of viability. Furthermore, umbilical cord stem cells are yet another way of obtaining
viable stem cells. Parents can have the option of donating their baby’s umbilical cord
8
Methods of obtaining embryonic stem cells with, perhaps, fewer ethical objections
Ibid
10
Ibid
9
blood to science so that it can be used to stem cell research. However, while all these
other forms of obtaining stem cells are valid, the most efficient stem cells are hESCs,
though, so preference would go towards using hESCs over stem cells from other sources.
A major problem with stem cell research comes from the negative remarks
religious groups that do not know all of the facts. Because of all the criticism that SCT
and research get for being unethical, both the public and private sectors are hesitant to
provide much-needed funding for stem cell research. The DPRK feels that funding
should be provided for such an important cause that will reap tremendous benefits in the
future. We would suggest each nation’s government provide a substantial amount of
funding towards its stem cell research. The DPRK would also like to suggest that
countries nullify laws they might have against cloning of all kinds, since these laws ban
helpful therapeutic cloning to addition to the unethical reproductive cloning.
The DPRK supports the use of hESCs left over from in vitro or donated by
couples, adult (or somatic) stem cells, and umbilical cord stem cells. We also support the
use of stem cells from the PGD process and from altering somatic cells, and would like to
see more research done to make these methods more effective. The DPRK would like to
reiterate its full support for therapeutic cloning and believes that this is an effective way
to obtain a large amount of adult stem cells. Finally, the DPRK believes that each nation
should provide significant funding to its own stem cell research programs, and
encourages all nations to do so.
Stem cell research and SCT is so crucial to our world right now since we are at
our peak of disease and sickness. If the United Nations and other prominent groups
continue to debate this issue with no major solution, advancements will not be made in
the field of SCT and people will continue to die and suffer from diseases that would have
otherwise been cured or treated through the wonders of stem cell technology.
Works Consulted
“Advanced Cell Technology: Company Overview.”
<http://www.advancedcell.com/company/>
“Cloning research leaves questions unanswered.” Bioethics on MSNBC.
<http://www.bioethics.net/articles.php?viewCat=2&articleId=13>
“Ethics of Stem Cell Research.” Topic Booklet RUMUN 2008: UNESCO <idia.net>
“Inter-Korean stem cell partnership proposed.” China Daily.
http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200506/25/eng20050625_192324.html
“Methods of obtaining embryonic stem cells with, perhaps, fewer ethical objections.”
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
<http://www.religioustolerance.org/res_stem14.htm>
“Senate Testimony: Alternative Methods of Obtaining Embryonic Stem Cells.” The
National Institutes of Health.
<http://stemcells.nih.gov/policy/statements/20050712battey.asp>
“Stem Cell Basics.” The National Institutes of Health.
<http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/basics1.asp>
“Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights.”
http://portal.unesco.org/shs/en/ev.phpURL_ID=1883&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html