Monday, August 21, 2006
Bioethics and Stem Cell Research
Charis Connection sponsored a contest for "flash fiction"--a short piece of 250 words or less. The winners will be posted Monday and Tuesday, so pop over and take a peek! http://charisconnection.blogspot.com.
Another question from my schoolwork:
Medical research has determined that many cells are capable of being altered so they can be converted to other types of cells. This offers the promise of curing many diseases and disorders. The controversy regarding this largely comes from the source of the cells. One option is to use mature cells (obtained from adults). This has no known negative impact on the donor, but it is unclear as to whether this approach can be used to develop every cell type needed. The alternative source is fetal stem cells. This approach is proposed as being more likely to be successful, although this is yet unproven. However this results in the destruction of the embryo. What is the biblical foundation for your position?
The relevant facts of the case are these:
· Many stem cells are “plastic,” i.e., they can grow to be a blood cell, a kidney cell, a brain cell, etc.
· Researchers believe that stem cells could be used to cure severe diseases in already-born patients.
· Stem cells are available for harvest in umbilical cord blood, mature patients, children’s baby teeth, and human fetal tissue. Stem cells are even plentiful in fat removed from adult patients.
· Removing stem cells from embryos results in the loss of preborn human life.
· The research regarding stem cells is in its infancy. We cannot be completely positive that these cells can cure Parkinsons, etc.
*In its most basic stage, human life--consisting of a fertilized egg--is human. Given time, it will grow to become a baby, then a child, then an adult. It is not potential life, it IS life, and it didn't begin, but was passed on from a living egg and a living sperm. To own, sell, or experiment on this life is tantamont to owning, selling, or experimenting on another human--all of which violate of the U.S. Constitution.
The conflicting issues are the rights of the already-born patients to possible cures versus the rights of the preborn patients. Also complicating the question are the rights of researchers to best carry out their experiments. Are we limiting them unreasonably?
Out of mercy and love, we ought to try to find cures for Parkinson’s and other diseases. Scientists and researchers have a moral responsibility to do what they can to improve human life and beat back disease. Embryonic human life, though preborn, is still created in the image of God and has a right to life. Psalm 139:13-16 tells us that God made all the delicate, inner parts of our bodies and knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. He watches over embryos as they are being formed and woven together. He has a plan for each of us before we are born . . . and he loves us.
In his common grace, God has already provided several sources of stem cells: adult bodies, liposuctioned fat, children’s lost baby teeth, and umbilical cord blood. Scientists have recently discovered a method by which already mature cells can turn back time and become “plastic” again: The key to the new development is a small molecule called reversine. The researchers found that it caused cells which are normally programmed to form muscles to turn back into immature cells whose final state is not sealed. Thus they could become many different types of tissue such as bone or cartilage. Researcher Dr Sheng Ding said: "This [type of approach] has the potential to make stem cell research more practical. "This will allow you to derive stem-like cells from your own mature cells, avoiding the technical and ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells."
Another alternative is to remove all holds on such research, enabling researchers to create embryos on demand, further cheapening human life and creating babies for “spare parts.” Yet another alternative is to “write off” those who are suffering from genetic diseases.
Summary: It is clear that we owe protection to the weakest among us, from preborn babies to the sick and elderly. By upholding and protecting all forms and ages of human life, we can best preserve the right to life and liberty for all of us. If we protect the aged, weak, and preborn, we will be upholding the value of human life. This affirmation will benefit society, and should cause all people to think twice about having abortions, committing murder or suicide, or even despairing of life. If we are important and have value, then we are better equipped to see ourselves the way God sees us.
Stem cell research is important and could be of tremendous value for mankind, but we must do everything possible to prevent doctors and researchers from harvesting fetal tissue from embryos and destroying life. Scripture assures us that we are created in the image of God and he cares for us inside the womb.
Those who urge us to lift the restrictions on fetal cell research seem myopic in their approach when stem cells are available in so many other sources. Why are they insisting upon the right to take innocent life? It makes one wonder . . .