Stem cell essay contest winner category 1: Claire August

stem cell contestI’ve sponsored a stem cell essay contest with two winners: age 18 or younger (category 1) and age 19 or older (category 2).

The deadline has passed and we have our winners.

I received a number of interesting essays and today I’m happy to announce the winner in the younger category: Claire August. I’ll announce the category 2 winner tomorrow.

The 14 year old Ms. August, of Winchester, MA, crafted a fantastic essay in the true spirit of the theme of the essay contest, thinking outside of the box. She brought up fascinating questions that were not even on my radar screen, but should have been.

For her efforts, I’m publishing August’s essay below and she’ll soon be receiving a $50 iTunes gift card.

Congrats!

The essay….

 

Stem Cells

By Claire August

Modern medicine has come so far: our ancestors were victims to procedures like trepanning, bloodletting by leeches, and, frighteningly recently, prefrontal lobotomies.

And yet, modern medicine still has a long way to go.

Stem cell research shows great promise for curing common yet debilitating conditions, like Parkinson’s disease, paralysis due to spinal cord injuries, cancer, and many more.

One day, things like stem cells could even help us re-grow parts of our body, like vital organs and some body parts. This could extend our lives greatly, but could it also change our society?

The philosophical paradox, known as the Ship of Theseus, questions at what point an object that has had its parts replaced becomes a new object (using the example of a boat). As soon as any new part is replaced, is the identity of the object still fundamentally the same? One could argue that seeing it as a new entity is ridiculous, as it serves the same function. You start to question the meaning of the phrase “the same.” In one respect, something can only be the same as itself. Other things can merely share some properties.

If we were to use stem cells to regenerate parts of the human body, is that person ever truly the same as before?

If someone were to acquire a body part that would change their abilities or the way the world saw them, say becoming more athletic, is that person really the same?

Are we the sum of our organs or would changing things about ourselves also change how we treat the world or how the world treats us?

To quote Twilight, the popular teen vampire romance novel, (I apologize in advance), “When you can live forever, what do you live for?”

This is certainly not the first time an author has delved into this topic. The general consensus seems to be how an infinite life span would make things seem meaningless.

Advances in stem cell research have incredible potential for increasing longevity, and will certainly provoke divisive ethical questions. Some even claim that because of factors like these, stem cell research should not even be pursued. I believe that we should tackle these issues as they come and advance forward into exploring regenerative properties of stem cells.  We deserve the choices that they someday might offer.

3 Comments


  1. If stem cells, when placed inside the body, differentiate in response to cytokines and other signals delivered by their new environment. In that sense they are molded by the body and thus become part of the old boat. If stem cells differentiate stochastically, as Till and McCulloch postulated in the 1960s and 70s, then your rowboat could become an ocean liner. That clearly is not the case, OR MAYBE, is it possible? Do we just need to supply the right signals and the right environment?


  2. Interesting ideas here (and impressive for her age). There’s a one-woman play – I want to say it’s called “Amazing Grace,” but Google is failing me – that wonders about a lot of the same themes. It’s about a woman on death row, who is put to death 20+ years after her crimes. Much of the play talks about how a person changes over 20 years, and at what point you have to acknowledge biology and the simple shift in atoms.

    It’s a very thoughtful piece, and it seems like it matches up nicely with the ideas Claire is contemplating here.

    (Really? 14? I feel old and inadequate!)

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