Sunday, September 03, 2006
The Thread of Life
This is the next column I've written for The Tampa Tribune.
By Angela Hunt, community columnist
I became acquainted with Doni Brinkman when she sent me an email. She said she’d enjoyed the aspect of adoption in one of my novels because she and her husband were adoptive parents.
The Brinkmans’ story, however, is not typical. Doni and Jim adopted one son through open adoption, an increasingly common practice, but their first child, an adorable red-haired boy, was a snowflake baby. In other words, Tanner Brinkman was once an embryo that would have been left to die . . . in a freezer.
While scientific debate swirls around us, certain facts are indisputable: first, those who debate when life begins are arguing the wrong question, for life does not “begin” even at conception. An egg and sperm are alive before they meet. Rather than “beginning,” life is passed from one living human to another. The thread of life winds back through generations and originates at the point where the Creator breathed into the first human.
A fertilized human egg will not grow to be a fish, a bird, or a monkey. It will become every bit as human as the mother and father who hold their baby in their arms. The difference is not in the quality of personhood, but size. Given time and opportunity, the embryo will grow.
Stem cell research has been in the news of late, as it should be. But let’s be clear about the exact nature of the research involved. Those who argue for stem cell research are usually talking about fetal cells when adult stem cells are far more useful for treating disease. Proponents of fetal stem cell research, which typically uses so many cells from frozen embryos that it destroys those lives-in-waiting, cite Ronald Reagan and Michael J. Fox as reasons why we should experiment on living human beings. Yes, we should feel concern for those who suffer from diseases, but should we not feel the same concern for those who are held in a state of cryogenic suspension?
Stem cells, which are valued because they are “plastic,” or able to transform into multiple cell types (blood cells, kidney cells, etc.), are not found only in preborn humans. They are also available in umbilical cord blood, children’s baby teeth, hair follicles, placentas, and even liposuctioned fat.
The Scripps Research Institute has recently reported that a small molecule called reversine allows mature cells to become “plastic” again. Researcher Dr Sheng Ding said: "This [approach] . . . will allow you to derive stem-like cells from your own mature cells, avoiding the technical and ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells."
Scientists have now proposed taking only one cell from embryos to preserve those lives, but those who lobby for the removal of restrictions on stem cell research are actually pushing for the right to use unborn humans for experimentation—a bizarre situation, considering that our government protects the rights of eagles and manatees to live free from human harassment. Should we do less for babies who have not yet reached a healthy birth weight?
The conflict at the heart of the debate involves the rights of already-born humans versus the rights of preborn humans. Yet researchers currently have access to adult stem cells, which have been successfully used to treat spinal cord injuries, regenerate heart tissue, and reconstruct corneas. Adult stem cell therapy has shown significant results in the treatment of diabetes, lupus, multiple sclerosis, anemias, leukemias, Parkinson’s, and Crohn’s disease. No embryonic stem cell treatment to date has come close to the success rate of adult cell therapies.
Out of mercy and compassion, we ought to try to discover cures for disease. Scientists and medical researchers have a moral responsibility to do what they can to improve the quality of human life. Out of the same mercy and compassion, however, we ought to forbid all uses of embryonic humans for spare parts. If the restrictions on embryonic research are lifted, the temptation to create human embryos for the purpose of experimentation may prove impossible to resist.
So what should be done with “extra” embryos created by couples who are battling infertility? Why not encourage couples to adopt them? My husband and I waited years to adopt our two children. If embryonic adoption had been an option when we were younger, we’d have signed on in a heartbeat.
The psalmist assures us that God designed the delicate, inner parts of our bodies. He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. Embryos that have been frozen in the process of being miraculously woven and spun are continuing lengths in the thread of life.