Physicians Favor Stem Cell Research; Disagree on Ethical Issues at the Heart of the Debate

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Physicians who generally favor advancement of stem cell research in terms of its actual or potential benefits don't always agree on the ethical issues at the heart of the stem cell research debate, according to a recent survey commissioned by Jackson & Coker.

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Among physicians and healthcare professionals who have some familiarity with stem cell research and participated in our survey, there appear to be firmly held positions that largely revolve around ethical questions related to embryonic stem cell research

Physicians who generally favor advancement of stem cell research in terms of its actual or potential benefits don't always agree on the ethical issues at the heart of the stem cell research debate, according to a recent survey commissioned by Jackson & Coker Industry Report.

"Among physicians and healthcare professionals who have some familiarity with stem cell research and participated in our survey, there appear to be firmly held positions that largely revolve around ethical questions related to embryonic stem cell research," mentions Jackson & Coker Vice President, Ed McEachern.

"While the vast majority of survey respondents favored accelerating stem cell research, including more funding, there was considerable difference of opinion related to what does or does not 'cross the line' in terms of ethical propriety," he notes.

Survey summary
The survey, entitled "The Stem Cell Research Debate," was sent during September to physicians across major specialties and other healthcare providers throughout the United States, with 550 responding. Here is a summary of responses to key questions by survey participants

  • 68% of respondents were medical doctors; 10% were advanced practitioners; 3% were hospital administrators; and 2% were medial scientists.
  • 92% were either somewhat or very familiar with stem cell research.
  • 53% believed that stem cell research affects their own practice, at least to some degree.
  • 66% felt that stem cell research should include embryonic stem cells; 24% were strongly opposed to this line of research.
  • 44% indicated that it's not a valid concern to question stem cell research on the premise that "it's creating life to destroy life"; 20% maintained it is a valid concern; 35% responded that both sides of the issue deserve to be addressed.
  • 57% indicated that it is unavoidable that medical scientists involved in stem cell research are to some extent influenced by ethical concerns of those outside the medical profession; 13% believed that such influence should be minimized as much as possible.
  • 35% felt that stem cell research has the possibility of being a "slippery slope" that can possibly lead to human cloning or some other form of extraordinary genetic manipulation; 63% doubted this outcome.
  • 26% favored sole reliance on adult stem cells as a possible way of sidestepping the heated ethical debate; 26% believed relying solely on adult stem cells would be appropriate; 16% were not sure on this key question.
  • 59% maintained that there should be greater government support for stem cell research; 19% felt the current level of government backing is appropriate; 9% had no opinion on the matter.
  • 55% believed that stem cell research might be actually encumbered "to a great extent" by political posturing of elected officials; 20% indicated "to a moderate degree"; and 15% felt "not very much."

Despite disagreement on ethical matters at the heart of the debate, there was general consensus that medical science has identified numerous actual and potential benefits of some forms of stem cell research

Benefits of stem cell research
According to survey respondents, stem cell research holds many benefits in terms of cutting-edge medical advancement affecting many different medical specialties. Specific benefits could nclude the following:

--Improve peripheral circulation

--Tissue regeneration after wounds

--Better understanding of human reproduction

--Advance in vitro fertilization technology

--Regenerate retinal tissue related to macular degeneration

--Increase physical mobility for disabled patients

--Treat leukemia, diabetes, hypertension, spinal traumas, MI's

--Bone barrow transplantation

--Regenerate cardiac muscle after heart failure

--Treat Crohn's disease

--Slow growth of tumors

--Fetal gene therapy

--Development of bone substitutes

--Treat psychiatric patients with parkinsonism, tardive dyskinesia, etc.

Respondents' comments
Comments provided by survey respondents indicate the range of positions that many healthcare professionals take when debating stem cell research:

  • "Stay away from the embryonic stem cells. [This] eliminates the ethical debate!"
  • "Avoid the inevitable controversy of embryonic stem cell research by focusing all funds and research on adult stem cells."
  • "Stop religious organizations from getting involved with interpretation of science and technology."
  • "Clarify the advantages to adult stem cell research. Also expose the financial gains that are the real issue behind the embryonic stem cell research."
  • "Only truly qualified experts should give scientific facts and not opinions on the ethical aspects of the research. Most physicians are not qualified to weigh in on the debate in this arena."
  • "Scientifically study the true capabilities of both embryonic and adult stem cells and reach a truthful conclusion."
  • "Use of stem cells from discarded embryos is analogous to transplanting organs from cadavers--essentially finding some benefit in a tragic situation."
  • "My personal opinion has little to do with the practice of medicine and research. Where would modern medicine be without the past research?"
  • "We should be respectful of various opinions but point out that the goal here is to improve and save lives."

Conclusion
Stem cell research is a popular debate topic among health care consumers as well as those in the medical profession. The survey showed that despite general agreement that stem cell research is a promising frontier for advancing medical care, healthcare practitioners are divided over key philosophical and ethical questions.

Such questions include: When does human life begin? Is it permissible to bring to cessation that which has the potential for viable human life for the purpose of advancing medical research? Is embryonic stem cell research "crossing the line" in terms of what is acceptable medical science? Is it advisable to use stem cells from embryos that will be discarded during in vitro fertilization attempts? What about embryos that result from voluntary pregnancy termination? Does it sidestep the ethical debate to concentrate solely on use of adult stem cells or other non-embryonic sources of stem cells?

'No one has definitive answers to the ethical concerns at the heart of the stem cell debate," advises Jackson & Coker President, Sandra Garrett. "Our survey points out the linkage of these questions with consideration of what direction stem cell research should take in the future. Metaphorically, it's like a 'horse that's left the barn." with no turning back. Only time will tell what destination it reaches," she adds.

The entire survey can be accessed online at The Jackson & Coker Industry Report

About Jackson & Coker
Jackson & Coker is a prominent physician recruitment firm with three decades of experience identifying physician jobs. Headquartered in Alpharetta, Ga., the firm places physicians in over 40 medical specialties such as Psychiatry Jobs; Surgery Jobs; Primary Care Jobs; Anesthesiology Jobs; Radiology Jobs; as well as advanced practitioners (such as CRNAs) in temporary (locum tenens) assignments and permanent placement opportunities.

Jackson & Coker is a member of a "family of companies" known as Jackson Healthcare (JH). The corporation provides information technology and human resources solutions to hospitals and healthcare organizations across the country. Jackson Healthcare has the distinction of being voted among "Atlanta's Top 10 Best Places to Work" and designated by Inc. Magazine as among "The Fastest Growing U.S. Private Companies."

More information concerning Jackson & Coker---along with the monthly Jackson & Coker Industry Report--can be found at jacksoncoker.com .

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