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Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Ethical Dilemma on Stem Cell Research

            Provision 1 of the ANA Code of Ethics states that “The nurse, in all professional relationships, practices with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth and uniqueness of every individual, unrestricted by consideration of social or economic status, personal attributes or the nature of health problems.”

            Provision 1 highlights the ethical duty of nurses to their patients which is predicated on the ideals of service. (Vicki D. Lachman, 2009)  It stresses that the nursing profession is a vocation that is premised on personal sacrifices and devotion to duty for the benefit of the people.  While it is true that the nursing profession is still a means of livelihood and that a professional and licensed nurse has the inherent right to earn a living, nurses should not forget that as a practitioner her primary object is not to amass financial wealth but to render satisfactory professional service.  Such satisfactory professional service can only be accomplished when nurses treat every patient with respect and recognize their inherent dignity, worth and uniqueness as an individual regardless of the kind of disease that they have. 

            The American Nurses Association (ANA) has already publicly issued its stand on the issue of stem cells research.  The ANA supports the ethical use of stem cells for research and therapeutic purposes that impact health.  It considers the role that stem cell research may play in the future on the repair of damaged or destroyed cells or tissues.  Because of its characteristic of cell generation or regeneration, stem cells have great potential for cellular therapies.  Further research in stem cells may give an unlimited source of replacement cells and tissues that may be utilized for treating Parkinson’s diseases and Alzheimer’s diseases and such other ailments like diabetes, heart ailments, arthritis and stroke. (“NIH Releases Guidelines For Federal Funding Of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research”2009)  The benefits that stem cells research may bring to mankind seriously outweigh the costs which are limited to the destruction of embryos. 

            For this reason, the ANA endorses the federal funding of stem cell research conducted within limitations and strict scientific and ethical guidelines.  (“The American Nurses Association Announces Support for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007”, 2007) .

            Setting aside the jargons on the medical benefits that may be derived from stem cell research, as a nurse I think the issue of potential violation of medical ethics, specifically the nursing ethics, is also worth looking into.  I think the primary responsibility of a nurse to his or her patient is to carry out the physician’s orders concerning the patient’s treatment.  In addition to this responsibility, the nurse is also given the duty to plan with the patient or his family a specific nursing care of the patient according to his needs.  This is because of the nurse’s ethical duty to promote learning for the patient.

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            This duty is based on the principle that patients are still human beings regardless of their illnesses.  A nurse should always keep in mind that in caring for a patient she is involved in the treatment of a human person not just an animate object with symptoms.  In fact, a nurse is expected to show more compassion to the patient compared to a physician as the physician is expected to treat a patient’s body as an object of science which is experiencing symptoms of illness.  On the other hand, a nurse is expected to be more concerned with the human side of treatment.  It is expected that the nurse shall take the necessary action so that the patient may be relieved from any pain or suffering he may be experiencing.

            There are several ethical situations which may potentially arise as a result of the conduct of stem cell research.  First, in a situation where a patient is contemplating on donating his embryos for use in stem cell research, it is the duty of the nurses to educate the patients on the benefits of such donation on the future of medicine.  Also, it is the duty of nurses to educate the patients so that their fears that the embryos donated may later on be implanted to a woman may be removed.  The nurses should also inform the patients that the human embryos will be used solely for research and not for cloning.  It is the duty of the nurses to inform the patients that the donated embryos will be used only for research and under the strictest ethical requirements or guidelines. 

            Second, research on stem cells has the potential in the future to be able to replace organ transplants.  At present, when ever a person needs an organ, for instance a kidney, he needs to get a kidney donor who is a match physiologically for him.  Even if the transplant is successful it is not always a guarantee that the body will accept the new kidney.  Once the full potentials of stem cells is harnessed, it is possible that organ transplants may in the future be rendered obsolete.  If the time comes that stem cells are being used to replace organs, it becomes the duty of the nurses to ensure that the patients are fully informed about the consequences of their decision.  It is the duty of the nurses to educate the patients that the technology in extracting stem cells to generate new cells is still at its infancy stage.  Its benefits have not yet been tested through time.  As such, science is not yet completely aware of its consequences and long term effects to the human body. 

            Moreover, the nurse should also inform the patient that there are possibilities that when another person’s embryos are used to help another generate new cells or organs for another person there is still the possibility that the patient’s body may reject them.  Again, since this is a science which is still in its infancy its effect has not yet been fully studied by scientists and researchers.

Third, it should be stressed that nurses regardless of their opinions on stem cell research are mandated to assist a patient for his speedy recovery.  When the patients have decided to utilize the advantages of stem cell research, the nurses have the ethical duty to assist them and help them the best means possible.  In the same manner, when patients refuse to take advantage of this benefit, nurses should accept their decision and should still assist them for their speedy recover.

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