The prospect of extracting DNA from the patient for combination with embryonic stem cells offers these patients the chance to live normal lives because the organs developed in this manner contain only the patients own tissues. More importantly, this particular use of stem cell technology would spare the lives of the vast majority of needy organ recipients that die every year before a suitable organ can be found for them (Kinsley, 2007; Pollack, 2007).
Embryonic stem cells represent the greatest potential for medical applications, simply because they retain the greatest ability to develop into virtually any type of human tissue desired; they are capable of being extracted from fertilized human zygotes, such as the fertilized ova produced for each patient by the dozen in fertility clinics using in-vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques. The Michigan proposal centers precisely around the beneficial use of the many excess zygotes produced in IVF clinics that under current Michigan law, cannot be used even for privately funded medical research (Satyanarayana, 2008).
During the IVF process, infertile patients undergo a harvesting of their sperm and eggs (respectively) for external fertilization and subsequent re-implantation for normal gestation thereafter. Because the ovum extraction procedure is expensive, uncomfortable, and not always successful on any particular attempt, approximately one dozen or more eggs are actually fertilized, so that multiple re-implantations are possible without additional extraction procedures (Talan, 2007). Under the new proposal, the excess embryos produced through IVF techniques would be eligible for any privately funded research use that is permitted by existing federal law (Satyanarayana, 2008).
The pending Michigan proposal specifically targets this wasted resource of valuable embryonic research material. Currently, Michigan law requires all the excess embryos created in IVF clinics to be discarded as medical waste or frozen indefinitely (Hornstein, 2008).
Under its provisions, the new proposal would allow these unused IVF embryos to be donated by the patients for medical research, provided they are less than 14 days old (Hornstein, 2008; Satyanarayana, 2008).
The proposal still bans other more controversial uses of stem cells, such as for experiments into human cloning. Medical researchers support this distinction and consider such use ethically irresponsible, although cloning techniques are used to accomplish medically beneficial research. Likewise, the proposal specifically prohibits any sale of embryos for profit, recognizing this avenue for ethical abuses as well (Hornstein, 2008; Satyanarayana, 2008).
According to all the published research currently available, stem cell science probably represents the most significant breakthrough in the entire field of modern medicine, certainly since the discovery of antibiotics.
The likelihood is that stem cell research will soon provide a means to eradicate many human diseases that are extremely difficult to treat, some of which are untreatable and only manageable through significant expense, hardship, and compromised quality of life. The Michigan proposal is both necessary, but also insufficient. In time, it is hoped that the federal government will reverse its current position on the permissibility of using federal money for this valuable research as well.
Hornstein, D. (2008) Big Fight Over Michigan Stem Cell Proposal. Detroit National Politics Examiner, October 20, 2008. Retrieved October 20, 2008 from the Detroit National Politics Examiner Online, at http://www.examiner.com/x-1300-Detroit-National-Politics-Examiner~y2008m10d20-Big-fight-over-Michigan-stem-cell-proposal
Kinsley, M. (2007). Why Science Cant Save the GOP. Time Magazine, December 10, 2007
Pollack, a. (2007). After Stem-Cell Breakthrough the Real Work Begins. The New York Times, November. 27, 2007.
Satyanarayana, M., (2008). Charges Rampant on Stem Cell Issue: Look Into Claims Reveals Facts Behind Stances of Both Sides. The Detroit.