Embryonic Stem Cell Research:
Moral, Biblical and Legal Considerations
Regarding the Treatment and Disposal of Early Human Life
Embryonic stem cells are early forms of human life. At this stage the cells have the ability to divide indefinitely, while maintaining their stem cell identity. These cells are called stem cells because they are the source of every kind of tissue present in the human body. Many scientists, ethicists and medical doctors believe these cells hold great promise in research. They argue that even though the embryo is destroyed, when the stem cells are extracted, that great good can come out of this research. Many scientists who destroy embryos for their research believe that one day these embryos might provide cures for such afflictions as cancer, heart disease, Parkinsons, and Alzheimers. Those who support this type of research also argue that the study of embryonic stem cells can offer valuable insights into human development at this early stage of life, and cell specialization ie: why different stem cells develop into specific tissues throughout the human body.
Pro life ethicists, doctors, and other concerned Christians argue that to destroy a human embryo for the purposes of research is to commit murder. They argue that any good that comes out of this research is nullified by the fact that a human being was destroyed in the process. Pro life Christians believe that human life is made in the image of God. As such, human life must be protected and treated with dignity from conception until natural death. Many Christians who understand this issue, also argue that many options for ethical research are available to the scientific community. Pluripotent stem cells are available in the placenta and umbilical cord blood. Adult stem cells are also available from skin and bone marrow. In some ways these sources may prove to be even more promising than embryonic stem cell research, as the use of one’s own stem cell bypasses the possibility of tissue rejection. Some Parkinson’s patients who have allowed themselves to be injected with fetal and embryonic tissue, suffered catastrophic consequences when their bodies either had an immune reaction and rejected the foreign material, or else the fetal tissue started dramatically overproducing, resulting in permanent morbidity of the Parkinson’s sufferer.[i] Pro life Christians would argue, why not put the limited resources of the scientific community towards these ethical and promising lines of research, rather than pursuing a controversial form of research that always results in the suffering and death of human embryos?
While most of society and the Christian church
remains apathetic and unaware of the issues related to embryonic stem cell
research, the pro life community has done an excellent job in raising the
issue. In spite of small numbers and limited resources, the pro life community
forced the legislative bodies and media of the industrialized world to deal
with the ethical ramifications of embryonic stem cell research. For the
purposes of this paper we will look at the
The reason why British scientists wanted to
start researching on cloned human embryos is because these embryos could have a
patient’s own DNA inserted into them. This would circumvent the problem of
tissue rejection, that is posed by implanting material from human embryos that
are not cloned into a patient’s body. In spite of the possibility of scientific
advancement and medical benefit, a great number of people are uneasy with
While the Canadian government is not yet
comfortable with following
While the report did prohibit cloning and the
production of human embryos solely for the purposes of research, still many
tiny human lives will be lost as
destroyed. Canadian research is to be limited to embryos created through in vitro fertilization, which are no longer wanted for reproductive purposes. There must be free and informed consent given by the gamete providers for the research use of the embryos. Embryo providers have an unconditional right to withdraw their consent at any time, until an anonymized stem cell line is created. There can be no direct or indirect financial incentives provided for embryo donation. Embryos can only be destroyed up to the 14th day of life. In addition to allowing for the destruction of human embryos, the CIHR announced that they would also provide federal funding for the research of fetal tissue.[iv]
While trying to appear ethical, by placing various
restrictions on the circumstances in which human embryos can be destroyed, the
sad reality is that
Out of the three countries studied in this
paper, The United States of America’s position on embryonic stem cell research,
showed the most sensitivity to the concerns expressed by the pro life
community. Indeed, the writer could find no evidence that the Canadian
Institutes of Health Research or the British House of Lords, even bothered to
ask for the opinions of pro life clergy or medical experts, before embarking on
their decisions to sanction and fund the destruction, and in
After extensive consultation with religious
leaders, scientists and other experts from both sides of the embryonic stem
cell debate, the Bush administration delivered on
While this above mentioned statement from
President Bush reflects a huge improvement over CIHR president, Dr. Bernstein’s
approach of “ethical?” killing, and the Bishop of Oxford’s Richard Harries’,
belief that embryonic cloning is ok;
there is still work to be done in America if the human embryo is to be
accorded the dignity that has been bestowed upon it by God. While President
Bush refused to cross the line that
Unfortunately the President did cross one line.
By funding research on embryos that have already been murdered, the President
The Biblical Solution:
We know from scripture that God is the creator and giver of life. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them,” Gen . With this understanding, believers must hold up the prophetic standard that human life is not ours to treat as a commodity. We cannot arbitrarily decide which life is worthy to keep and which life should be destroyed. To participate in or sanction such practices is rebellion against the Almighty, and those who do such things bring judgement upon themselves; “ you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him,”I Jn .
As believers we must seek justice for the weak and the oppressed. “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another,” Zch 7:9. We are not to shed innocent blood or do harm to the widows and fatherless, “Thus saith the LORD; Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the one being robbed out of the hand of his oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place,” Jer 22:3. Certainly, the writer would argue that the unwanted human embryo is the ultimate orphan. Neither the father nor the mother has any use for him or her, so off it goes to be discarded or used in research.
When we are confronted with the impending murder of a fellow human being, we are to do what we can to deliver the victim from his or her impending death. “Rescue those being taken towards death, hold back those staggering towards slaughter. If we say we did not know, does not he who ways the heart perceive it?” Prov 24:11, 12. For those who wish to be followers of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we must be willing to love our unborn neighbour and the tiny human embryo as we do our selves. Even if you can’t see them or witness their suffering, they are part of the human race; therefore they are our neighbours. “Love your neighbour as your self,” Matt .
Part of loving our unborn neighbour, is to seek the same legal protection for them that is afforded to us. It is appropriate that we advocate for criminal sanctions to be levied against the mad scientist who dissects a human fetus or splits a tiny embryo that is comparable to what a murderer of a child in a school yard would receive. We must also address the sins of in vitro fertilisation and chemical birth control. More embryonic children are destroyed by birth control than by embryonic stem cell research. If it wasn’t for the church’s and society’s abandonment of viewing God as the giver of life, we wouldn’t even have to address the issue of embryonic stem cell research today.
Executive Director: Christian Truth Activists
[i].T. Okarma, (Geron Corporation), AAAS Public Forum on Stem Cell Research Issues,
August 25/ 1999
[ii]. Donal O’Mathuna, A Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity Paper, Cloning and Stem Cell Research, Wrong Motives on Both Sides of the Atlantic, Fall 2000 issue of Dignity
[iii].Britain to allow scientists to clone human embryos, National Post, February 28/ 2002
4. CIHR Guidelines on Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Research, President’s Address - National Press Theatre, March. 4/ 2002
February. 19/ 2002
Lifesite, Stem Cell News & Resources, http://lifesite.net/features/stemcellembryo/index.html
Basic Books, 1986
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