Ethical Issues of Stem Cell Research

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Humans and crops genetic engineering has mainly improved lately, and the technology used comes with its ethical issues. Due to an additional challenge genetically modified animals bring, governing groups have begun to implement appropriate guidelines, frequently working for an improved caution and observing possible safety impacts.  In the initial phase of the genetic modification, the significant knowledge used was transgenesis (Bruce & Bruce, 2014). But, with progress in the field, new expertise arose that did not automatically require transgenesis. As the world enlarges, a comparatively low upsurge in food production together with high food costs recommends that survival of humanity may rely on the usage of the genetically modified crops. The genetically modified plants are proving to be of significance than the natural ones. About 75% of the manufactured food in the United States (US) contains genetically modified elements (Grierson, 2013).  The reliance on the genetically modified crops raises specific moral apprehensions concerning probable health and environmental effects. The study approaches ethical problems produced by genetic modification of food crops and animals and discovers the scope of the study involved in assessing the safety of the process.

Human genetic engineering

Mitochondrial disease

DNA transfer in mitochondrial is a method aimed at eliminating the mitochondrial disorder.  Organelles in the cells that produce ATP and metabolic pathways are crucial constituents of an active cell. The organelles are essential to the ability of the cell to produce new RNA and DNA molecules. The principal functions include providing energy for the human body to function (Holland & Johnson, 2012).   Mitochondrial organelles are formed from mitochondrial that is distinct from the fundamental nuclear DNA.  DNA mutations appear ten times more often than nuclear DNA   mutations. Typically, the mitochondria are transferred from the mother to the children. However, the DNA in father’s mitochondrial does not take part in the procedure  (Grierson, 2013).

Mitochondrial infection is a genomic syndrome that causes numerous body failures including the heightened risk of the infections, stunted growth, loss in coordination and weak muscles, neurological problems, auditory and visual deficits, seizures, a disease of the liver, heart, and kidneys  (Mehlman, 2012).  In most cases, the syndrome affects the children ten years and below, although the failures can play a role in growth-related disorders, Parkinson's disease, and manifold sclerosis. About one out of 200 people are carriers of the disease and one in 10,000 individual suffers from the mitochondria disease  (Bruce & Bruce, 2014).

"Unfortunately, there is no known cure for the mitochondria illness when it occurs. Therefore, if a female is known to be a carrier and casualty of the mitochondrial sickness, she must abstain from having kids"  (Grierson, 2013).  Two options are accessible if her wish is to have kids; adopting or using the donated egg.  Once a woman has a kid with signs of  mitochondria diseases, there are nearly 100% chances that her future children will have the same disorder  (Grierson, 2013). 

Using DNA transfer in mitochondrial, the nuclear DNA is extracted from the donor cell. Then, fertilized nuclear from the female’s egg is detached and positioned into the donor egg  (Bruce & Bruce, 2014).  In the end, donor cell will contain nuclear DNA and contributor mitochondrial DNA of planned parents.  Developers of the techniques argue that kid produced would express the intended parent’s genetic traits, however, retain the donor’s mitochondria. Many mothers have profound value in transferring own DNA to the kids, and the mitochondrial DNA transfer offers outstanding service and assistance in preventing the spread of the disease  (Grierson, 2013).

Many challenges arise irrespective of promising nature of the mitochondrial DNA transfer technology. The technology is not yet at a phase when the laboratory techniques can be confident that no unseen snags arise.  Currently, no certified medical tests in the humans being; private funding is scarce, and also the federal funding is illegal in the United States  (Mehlman, 2012).  At the moment, the technology was barred in the United kingdoms, but in March 2013, Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) formally suggested that the practice should be accepted and thus the issues are at present under evaluation  (Bruce & Bruce, 2014).

Two different groups have used the transfer technology, apparently efficiently, in the rhesus monkey  (Kuhse, 2015).  The trials with the human oocytes have been carried out, with varied results.  Studies show that technology would be successful once implemented on a human subject.  However, the reviews on the mice show dangerous effects may become superficial in old age and would cause fertility mainly in males.

Stem cell

The viewpoint of using stem cell for the cell-based therapy called regenerative medicine has been a medical hallucination  (Mehlman, 2012).  Adult or somatic stem cells act as a repair device for particular tissues while developing embryo contains the embryonic stems cells (ESCs).  Stem cells have the capability of replicating through the process of cell division for a considerable period, though ESCs reproduce much longer than the adult stem cells  (Grierson, 2013).   ESCs are of the great interest to the scientists because of the ability to renew and specialize in nearly any type of the cell.  Researcher’s hopes to use the techniques in future; to create new organs, treat illness and repair tissues.  Studying the mechanism for the cell replications can assist to understand the development of the diseases such as Alzheimer and cancer. Similarly, the stems cells are essential for testing experimental drugs  (Bruce & Bruce, 2014).

Complications arise in the ESCs research due to the lack of the stem cells.  Cellular reprogramming is a technique invented 2007 consisting of controlling a somatic cell so that it reverts backs to unspecialized, stem cell-like condition, producing induced pluripotent stem cells ( iPSCs)  (Kuhse, 2015).  Pluripotent is the ability of the cell to form various types of tissues in the body.  ESCs are not identical to the iPSCs, though the researchers are still investigating exactly how they vary.

For decades, the biologists have been using ASCs and SCNT to create embryonic stems cells without success  (Kuhse, 2015).  SCNT, a system of replicating, comprises taking away the DNA from an unfertilized egg and substituting with a somatic cell.  The unfertilized egg starts to split after exposing to an electric pulse and chemicals. Ultimately, the blastocyst is formed (approximately the size of 150 cells) and thus obtaining the ESCs  (Bruce & Bruce, 2014).   The cells collected are genetically similar to the individual from the original somatic cell.

In spite of its perspective, SCNT genetic engineering has several blockades to overcome.  It is complicated to acquire donor eggs for the process, and people are not comfortable with the ideas of creating embryos to be destroyed after the extraction of the stem cell  (Grierson, 2013). Additionally, the programs lack the funding and support from the government and public sectors.  Though the SCNT is promoting, it requires years or perhaps decades for the further research before determining if it is useful in medicine  (Kuhse, 2015).

Though researchers have high hopes for mitochondria DNA transfer, critic arises concerning the technology since its conception  (Mehlman, 2012).  Though the tests have been carried out on the animals especially monkey, it is distinctly hard to know what effect the process will have on the human babies.    Critics argue that risks are potentially tremendous and unknown and therefore it is unethical to proceed with the process especially where egg donation and adoption can act as an alternative. The potential for any health issues arising from the donor mitochondria to the next future generation is also a significant concern  (Kuhse, 2015). Mitochondria DNA is transferred to the maternal parent to the young ones.  Though people accept genetic engineering when it affects only the present individuals, it habitually regarded as immoral to make a change to genomic material that is transferred to the upcoming generations. Even if the transfer is proven to be secure, critics have articulated trepidations about the notion of changing the whole genetics lines of the human beings  (Mehlman, 2012).   The future generations have the liberty to have an unmodified human genome and using the DNA transfer technology would substantially change the genome without the consent.

            Another issue is an inability of the unborn kid to accept to participate in the experimental work and procedure with the accompanying complications.   Complications would be abnormalities that would arise as result of a transfer or the societal implication.  Therefore, one will decide for the unborn, without her or his consent, which is challenging. Similarly, studies also argue that the kid’s identity is changed. Thus, to make such drastic change in the kid’s genome is the violation of the kid’s rights to have an open future.  Afterwards, the individuals will realize she or he is a test subject, and therefore the knowledge will be devastating.  Moreover, the scientist still argues that mitochondrial influences necessary qualities that participate in the individual’s identity.  Thus, concerns arise about altering the mitochondrial DNA, due to an unforeseen modification in the kid’s personality without her or his permission  (Mehlman, 2012).

The secondary line of the critics argues that genetic engineering methods can lead to enhancement process rather than purely medical ones that could lead to eugenic application.  Another thought of the critic is religious one where people feel interfering with mitochondrial DNA would be primarily “playing with God."  (Bruce & Bruce, 2014) It is believed that people take steps in changing the genome; parents will start to choose the desirable traits such as height, intelligence and specific air color for the children. It is worth noting that most cases of genomic science have not developed to a point where the researchers can identify the component of the genome responsible for specific traits since the biological systems are too interconnected, and the mechanism is also not yet known.

SCNT also comes with ethical issues. The most common ethical concerns are centered on the SCNT’s connection to cloning.   The SCNT is the same technology used to clone the sheep Dolly back in 1996, and therefore interest arises that SCNT could be used to clone a human too  (Grierson, 2013). The use of the cloning has been a taboo in the general public and scientific community too.  Concerns arise where people believe the process is unsafe and the also the process devalue human life.  Another primary care is the use of the embryo in the procedure.  People think it is unethical to make an embryo and terminate to produce the stem cells  (Mehlman, 2012).  A philosophical variance ascends where societies contemplate that fetus is also a human being and people who believe that embryos are yet to be human.  Therefore, people who think that life starts after the conceptions, considers the process to be unethical  (Kuhse, 2015).   Additionally, the SCNT debates are that the techniques require donated eggs.  The egg donation issue crosses all various genetic methods such as mitochondrial DNA transfer as mentioned above. 

Numerous aspects of the egg donation are questionable by many people.  First the medical risks perspectives for the women donating the eggs  (Kuhse, 2015).  Even if women is financially compensated for the contribution, aspects of exploitation rise as results of financial desperation.  Other ethical issues are women can undertake the process of the egg donation without understanding the risk aspect of it and thus lead to lack of informed consent.

Finally, contrary to the above mentioned ethical issues above, other section of individuals believe they are the prosperity of therapeutic potential behind the SCNT technology that would afterward relieve the considerable amounts of suffering  (Kuhse, 2015). Therefore, to pursue the therapy, it would be moral understanding. 

Crop genetic engineering

Genetically engineered crops comprise crops modified using biological techniques to offer enhanced or new features. DNA coding for the required characteristics is removed from an animal (Kung & Wu, 2012). The genes of the concern are secluded from the DNA and cloned into a host cell. The ultimate moral questions concerning the GMOs is environmental contamination they might cause,  health risk and biodiversity incurred to numerous segment of the human and biosphere population  (Bruce & Bruce, 2014). 

The primary debate concerning GM crops is the possible peril posed to the atmosphere through gene movement (Mehlman, 2012). It is argued when the crops are modified to be herbicide resilient; they can potentially cross-pollinate with other wild plants producing a native plant that is resistant to manage  (Kuhse, 2015).  Therefore, the farmers would increase the spray volume, thereby increasing the cost of production as well as public health concerns. Another principled inquiry is whether GM crops could interrupt the normal ecosystems. For instance, the plants can inhibit undesirable characteristic like toxic or invasive.  The research done by the University of Notre Dame shows the Midwest streams and rivers were filled with transgenic materials originating from the corn crop by-products (Bajaj, 2012).  The study prompted the queries of whether sufficient research has been done to forestall the impacts of GM crops by-products have on aquatic and ecosystems life. Additionally, an introduction of a different gene into a crop may pose inherent human health risks.  The study by the University of Sherbrook hospital center in Quebec reveals consumptions of crop having pesticide-resilient genes from the Bt microbes leads to the existence of Bt toxin in human blood  (Grierson, 2013).


Techniques imply human genetic engineering is advancing rapidly and technologies raise severe health and safety concerns that are yet to be resolved. Thus, before any approval of such methods, it must prove secure and safe.  The need of the transparent legal and political discussion and debates about human genetic engineering and principled procedures are of the essence. The central fact is that genetically modified crops do have importance and also harmful effect to the environment and humans.  A deliberate solution to the ethical concerns posed is by avoiding the GM food consumption. However, it does little to influence the present and future scientific and technical capability to contain the real challenge of hunger, economics and agricultural ecosystem in developing countries.   GM   crops research must progress and at the same time concrete on the animal and human health and more so environment. Then, the safety evaluation should be made apparent, recognized and opened to the community inspection.


Bajaj, Y. (2012). Plant protoplasts and genetic engineering II (Vol. 9). Springer Science & Business Media: pp. 3-19.

Bruce, D., & Bruce, A. (2014). Engineering genesis: ethics of genetic engineering in non-human species. Routledge; pp. 5-303.

Grierson, D. (2013). Plant genetic engineering. Springer Science & Business Media: pp. 2-15

Holland, A., & Johnson, A. (2012). Animal biotechnology and ethics. Springer Science & Business Media:  pp. 5-14.

Kuhse, H. (2015). Bioethics: an anthology (Vol. 40). John Wiley & Sons: pp. 20-29.

Kung, S., & Wu, R. (2012). Transgenic plants: engineering and utilization. Academic Press: pp. 20-352.

Mehlman, M. (2012). Transhumanist dreams and dystopian nightmares: The promise and peril of genetic engineering. JHU Press: pp. 2-17.

October 05, 2023




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