The Future Of Medicine Stems From Teens

What do you know about stem cell research?

We all watched this summer as hundreds of people held up signs and screamed at the top of their lungs during town hall meetings. This massive controversy stemmed from the divisive debate over how health care should be delivered to the American public. This raging political conflict has overshadowed other important health concerns such as scientific progress in the field of medicine. 

One of the most important, and controversial, advances in medicine is stem cell research. Teens should be more engaged than adults in this conflict over government spending on stem cell research. After all, the teens of 2009 will become the adults in a world where stem cell research will be of the utmost importance. Generation Y now has to ask, “Should President Obama have lifted the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research? Is it ethical to use cells from discarded embryos?” Most important teens need to ask, “In what direction will we take stem cell research?”

The debate over stem cell research revolves around the question of whether or not using human embryos for research is ethical. Because human embryos eventually develop into fetuses, they contain numerous stem cells. These cells are pluripotent, meaning they are capable of morphing into any other cells in the human body such as cells that form muscle tissue or skin. Many researchers think that because of stem cells’ regenerative properties, they are the key to understanding and eventually eliminating currently incurable diseases.

Many embryos are created for in-vitro fertility treatments yet are never implanted and may instead be destroyed. Another source of stem cells is stem cell lines cloned from existing embryos for the sole purpose of research.

While many argue that embryonic stem cells could greatly benefit people’s health, others believe that using embryonic stem cells is morally wrong because the embryos could have developed into human beings. These people suggest that the limited types of stem cells found in adults should be sufficient for research, rendering embryonic stem cells obsolete. The debate over embryonic stem cell research is clearly of vital importance because stem cells could potentially revolutionize the field of medicine. 

My generation, raised on technology, may be more likely than previous generations to consider stem cell research a viable opportunity for advances in medicine. Out of the four interviews conducted with teens at Solomon Schechter High School of Long Island a common thread is evident. The most important aspect of this debate is not one’s political standpoint, but one’s knowledge of the stem cell research issue.

“I don’t really have a problem with stem cell research,” said a high school senior at Solomon Schechter who preferred to remain anonymous. “It’s not the right time for federal spending on stem cell research. We have bigger problems now.” He is a politically conservative teen who considers himself more moderate than his family. Though he is from a right-leaning background, he is more concerned with the country’s pressing economic issues than with the moral consequences of embryonic research.

“I support it,” said Isaac Rabbani, another senior at Solomon Schechter. “I don’t know too much about it, but I get the gist of it.” Isaac seemed knowledgeable on the subject, citing paraplegia as a condition stem cell research could alleviate. Isaac’s main concern was the practicality of the research. “I support it as long as it can get results.” He also stated that if he had a disabled child, he would want embryonic stem cell research to be easily accessible and advanced to the point that it could help cure diseases and disabilities. “That would be great,” he enthusiastically stated. From a socially conservative family, Isaac sees himself as politically moderate and more liberal than the rest of his family.

“It is only in the early stages, how much will it be able to accomplish?” asked Max Silverman, another politically moderate student who agrees with Isaac’s stance on the subject. “I support it 100 percent, only if it can benefit us and cure diseases.”

Sharon Reshef, a liberal high school senior at Schechter vigorously supports her stance on stem cell research. “If we can utilize unused embryos, we can eventually cure diseases such as cancer.” From a politically left-of-center background, Sharon sees herself as “very liberal” and is fervent in her support of the president’s elimination of the stem cell research ban.

“If we can possibly do something, we should,” she said. Sharon believes that the government should use its financial resources to fund embryonic stem cell research. All three of the students wished to gain a more detailed understanding of this modern biomedical achievement. When asked if she thinks that she has complete knowledge of stem cell research, Sharon Reshef replied, “I should probably learn more.”

All the teenagers interviewed are Jewish teens. It is possible that the halachic importance of saving lives influences Jews to be more sympathetic to the idea of using embryonic stem cells to ameliorate previously incurable diseases.

“Hashem has imbued us with wisdom to solve problems and make progress in this world,” said Jewish educator and Rebbetzin Joan Cohen of Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Roslyn. “We should be partners with Hashem in creating this world.” Rebbetzin Cohen said that stem cell research should be considered no different than any other form of medicine; we have an obligation to improve the technology and to utilize it to save lives.

Once Americans gain an intricate knowledge of the various facets of the issue, they can make an informed decision about how much the government should be funding this controversial research method. Another important consideration is how embryonic stem cell research will affect us in the future. Stem cell research could be the next major step in scientific progress or it could be a field with limited applications. Will adult stem cells render embryonic research obsolete? It is up to us teens to decide. In a few years when we have the power to influence our government, we will choose the path that stem cell research will take.

Israel Geselowitz is a senior at Solomon Schechter High School of Long Island. 

This article is reprinted from October 30, 2009