by Kristina Hug, Department of Social Medicine, Faculty of Public Health, Kaunas University of Medicine, Lithuania
Stem cells are unspecialized cells able to divide and produce copies of themselves and having the potential to differentiate, i.e. to produce other cell types in the body. Because of the latter ability, the scientists investigate their possible use in regenerative medicine. Especially embryonic stem cells have huge therapeutic potential because they can give rise to every cell type in the body as compared to stem cells from certain adult tissues which can only differentiate into a limited range of cell types. For this reason scientists stress the importance of embryonic stem cell research. However, this research raises sensitive ethical and religious arguments, which are balanced against possible great benefit of such research for the patients suffering from so far incurable diseases. The objective of this literature review is to present the main arguments in favor and against human embryonic stem cell research. Since the sensitivity of the latter issue to a large extent stems from the position of predominant religions in a given society, the positions of the main religions regarding embryo research are also presented.
There is no consensus regarding ethical aspects of human embryonic stem cell research. The article presents both the arguments supporting human embryonic stem cell research and the arguments opposing it.