Robert Baumiller, S.J., a professor in the department of philosophy, discusses stem cells and their impact and controversy.
What are the potential uses of stem cells and what scientific breakthroughs have resulted from them? Stem cells hold the possibility of restoring any injured or deteriorating tissue due to disease or age. The ability to re-grow tissue has been demonstrated in mice and, in a limited way, in humans. Further out is the possibility of growing an organ, such as a heart or kidney in vitro.
In humans, there are isolated reports of success in treating stem cells. One area where stem cell treatment is growing is in certain cases of heart diseases, such as heart failure and cystic fibrosis, In an October  edition of Newsweek, there was a story about hundreds of cases that have been treated in Europe and elsewhere, producing amazing results.
Why is stem cell research such a hot topic for debate? The debate about stem cells arises because the most easily attained stem cells are from embryos or fetuses, but must be killed to harvest the stem cells. Most embryos or fetuses from which stem cells would be harvested, would die even if they are left with their un-harvested stem cells. Some believe it is permissable to kill and harvest, while others believe it is never right to kill a human organism. The best stem cells would come from an embryonic clone of the person needing the replacement cells. Many believe it is wrong to clone a human for any purpose.
With new technology and advances in science making it possible to alter nature, do you think stem cell research poses a threat to nature? Human ability to alter nature poses a growing threat. However, it also holds out an ever-growing promise to feed and cure a hungry and ailing mankind. Humans must wisely control sciences’ ability to change nature and not to destroy it along with us in the process.