How should Christians react to stem cell research? Is it ethical to do so?
What are Stem Cells?
The human stem cells that we are addressing first are the embryonic human stem cells that are so small that it can barely be seen with the naked eye. It takes a microscope to even see the entire cell, so we’re talking about something that’s very, very small, but these very tiny cells have created a giant controversy. Stem cells from embryos are taken to produce human tissue that can be invaluable to those who are trying to cure a disease or eliminate the suffering of a patient. The Bible teaches that the sick need a doctor, and that even Jesus, as the Great Physician, healed many, and also Luke the beloved physician who accompanied the Apostle Paul on his missionary trips, which undoubtedly came in handy at times, but recently a new field of science has opened up, and it’s called “restorative” or “regenerative medicine,” but is that what it really is? Many scientific groups are harvesting stem cells in order to help mankind, but there is a vast difference between using embryonic stem cells and those from adults
Embryonic Stem Cells
There is a great deal of difference between harvesting stem cells from an embryo and taking existing stem cells from adults. For one thing, the embryo that is used will no longer be able to live. We’ve reduced the embryo to something like going to the store, buying something, and then coming home and taking it out of the sack and throwing the sack away, but of course, the implications are far greater in this scenario. In the case of embryonic stem cells, they harvest the stem cells but they have to destroy (or kill) the embryo in the process. Either way, embryonic stem cell harvesting is taking a human embryo that contains a viable human life, and destroying it in order to save another life, or in most cases, improve that person’s quality of life. In other words, the only way to use embryonic stem cells is to destroy the embryo, because once it’s had its stem cells harvested, the embryo dies. Obviously this is sin, because the Bible says that life begins at conception (Psalm 139:13-16; Jer 1:4-5), long before the embryo even comes into existence. In fact, at the very moment of fertilization, life begins, and the embryo is 100% human, even if not fully developed. Young children are not fully developed either, yet they have a viable life, don’t they? Of course they do. Only the size and location are different, but it is still a human life, regardless of what proponents say.
Adult Stem Cells
If we have a choice between stem cells, by all means adult stem cells should be considered above embryonic stem cells. For one thing, you don’t have to destroy an embryo to get stem cells because adult stem cells work very well and are comparable in their benefits, but more importantly, an embryo isn’t destroyed in the process. Adult stem cells have already been proven effective due to their versatility, and you don’t have to deal with all of the moral difficulties and ethical implications of destroying embryos just to harvest stem cells. These are the reasons why Christians should object to the use of embryonic stem cells, and instead, use adult stem cells, which is not only safe, but is clearly more ethical. It’s the same fight for life that prolife people engage in. There is no loss of life in the harvesting of adult stem cells as there is with embryonic stem cells. Because of this, I believe that it is a very legitimate field of study and is not contrary to the will of God.
Fighting for Life
We know that the Catholic Church has been at the forefront on the battle against abortion, but they’ve also been on the front line of those protesting the use of embryonic stem cells for research and for medical reasons. The U.S. Roman Catholic Bishops oppose the research as immoral, illegal, and unnecessary, saying that life is sacred from the moment of conception. Then there is the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Southern Baptist Convention who have both joined forces in opposing embryonic stem cell research and harvesting. They consider embryos as the tiniest of human beings, but human beings nonetheless. Unfortunately, not too many of the other churches see it as a problem, and some even suggest that it’s not really a viable life until its born, but that clearly contradicts Scripture (Psalm 139:13-16). How tragic that we have to kill one person (as in the embryo) in order to save another. Doctors would never let anyone kill one person in order to save another, yet with embryonic stem cell harvesting, that’s just what they’re doing. Is it necessary to hold the threat over our heads that we can save a Parkinson’s patient, but only if we destroy an embryo? Maybe there’s hope in sparing the embryos by a new procedure called “induced pluripotent stem cells.” What they do is reprogram a stem cell that is already affiliated with a body part, and then it can be reverted into a blank stem cell which is functionally identical to those taken from embryos. That seems to be a much better choice than harvesting stem cells from living embryos. Knowing this as we do, we now have, I believe, no more excuse for harvesting (killing) embryonic stem cells in order to save lives or improve the quality of life for patients. Killing to save a life seems ridiculous when induced pluripotent stem cells will work just as well.
It’s not a real question of whether it’s legal or not, but is it ethical? Abortion is legal, but we know that it’s murder. God has appointed the day of our death (Heb 9:27), not scientists, so we must do what we can do to save lives, including the use of adult stem cells. Besides, just because it will benefit someone doesn’t mean it’s ethical. If a patient needs these stem cells in order to survive, why not use adult stem cells instead, because some doctors have already been harvesting and using the patient’s own stem cells that are found in their own bone marrow or those of another. In this case, there is nothing ethically or biblically wrong about it because it is not taking the life of a viable human being in order to save another person’s life or simply to improve their quality of life.
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