Skip to content

Ethics and Embryonic Stem Cells

October 26, 2006

Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed… Deuteronomy 30:19

[E]vil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do that which is evil in the sight of Jehovah, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands. Deuteronomy 31:29

The work of mens’ hands becomes ever more masterful: “Stem cell research” has enabled man to reorganize the cellular structures of life to suit his purposes.The purposes are touted as “good” because they bring relief from pain and disease. But are they really good? We need to know whose cells are being used for whose good and who is calling this work good.I don’t lack empathy; however, I do believe we are given assignments of forbearance in life. These may manifest as pain and disease. But God’s gracious providence has provided relief from many grievous ailments. So why not use stem cells for relief from disease? Are they not also from God?Embryonic stem cells are actually fertilized embryonic stem cells extracted from embryos less than a week old. There are three possible sources: embryos “discarded” and consensually donated by couples who no longer “need” them for fertilization; aborted embryos; or embryos created for research and medical applications–a source so far only under potential consideration.The cells can be specialized and manipulated for clinical use. Until then, they are capable of natural proliferation in the same way as any embryos–as viable human life. Fertilized embryonic cells are viable human life.

Stem cell research is overseen by boards of scientists and medical ethicists. What about their moral competence?

Genetic research is done primarily by people who are scientifically and ethically bound to the premises that all life evolved from a common protoplasmic matrix, and that individuation into various branches and species was all accidental.

Either all species evolved from a common, accidental origin, or they were created as discrete species, with similar genetic substructures, because those structures were “good.” The presuppositions of one’s world view will have everything to do with which side he takes in the stem cell controversy. The opposing world views necessarily carry opposing moral premises. Both cannot be viewed as moral by the same person.

We should examine a bit of the methodology of embryonic stem cell cultivation. The ethical issue of embryonic stem cells becomes interesting when the cells are obtained and cultured. At that point, scientists take over the cells’ development. I say “cells,” because the embryo is now history in terms of its function and potential. We no longer have an embryo capable of developing into a human being. The development of the cells is now “directed” into intended specialized uses, i.e., bone marrow production, skin, neural, or muscle tissue development, &c.

The reason embryo cells are used is important. Only embryonic cells are pluripotent, or capable of development into almost any type of differentiated cell; adult cells cannot be so directed. This is why scientists hold out embryonic cells as uniquely useful for broadbased cell regeneration. Embryonic cell manipulation holds the potential for possible treatment of Type I diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, stroke, spinal cord injuries, and burns. As usual, “millions” stand to benefit.

I don’t see the wiggle room. The harvesting of embryonic cells to generate new tissue for other people is human sacrifice. The cells exist in the first place because someone changed their mind and decided not to “use” them to have a child. Does clinical utility somehow vindicate cutting their losses and recycling the material? But since the embryos already exist, contemplating the alternatives precipitates a cascading ethical avalanche. Adopted frozen embryos have resulted in the births of children, some of whom visited President Bush this year.

If embryos are produced for research and medical use, man will become a harvester of human life. He will not be a creator, only an intermediate facilitator, using the same methods employed to assist fertility.

Only legal and ethical barriers defer the practice of “fetal farming.” Political winds could shift and the practice become accepted. “Stem cell research” implies the need for materials.

God mandated that man value life in its preborn stage. He set forth the example that, if fighting men accidentally strike a pregnant woman, and the child is miscarried without other harm, the men are fined, with compensation due the husband and the judges. If the child dies, the magistrate is empowered to administer “life for life” (Exodus 21:22-25).

The world’s ethical vantage is not the Christian’s. The world uses its own authority for determining ethical viability. Would a Christian defer to the authority of a scientist who professes the truth of evolution? The world uses relative truth–truth that works for the individual. Does a Christian believe everyone is individually equipped with his own truth, or does he believe that God defines truth, and that there is such a thing as right and wrong? The world is outcome-based; it uses a utilitarian model that what is good for the many is generally a good outcome. Does a Christian hold such a utilitarian view? Or does he see the value of individual life regardless of how useful it could be made if distributed among more people? The world loves consensus. Does a Christian worry about consensus, or does he value the word of God alone as the only “opinion” that matters?

The employment of medical ethicists neither assures nor implies a regard for moral rectitude in research applications. Christians are far better equipped to evaluate the ethics of embryonic stem cell research than medical philosophers who spend their days overlaying multi-species genome maps and overlooking the truth of the discrete creation of species. Christians are far better equipped than medical philosophers to affirm the truth of providence in suffering. Christians are far better equipped than medical philosophers to understand the role assignments in the production and harvest of human life.

Christians should be equipped to defend the truth against consensus. We have the mind of God in Christ. This should mean no ethical question is too big, too modern, or too technical for a proper countercharge.


Victorbravo said…
Very good and well researched. I’ve been following this for quite some time. It always starts with the idea that it would be good for mankind. Yet its direction is to exhalt man over God.This is one step, another is cloning. So-called “ethicists” are even discussing cloning humans to adulthood, without brains, so that there would be available replacement organs. It is not just creepy, it is outrageous rebellion.
8:15 AM  
Mrs. B said…
I’ve been watching the cloning drama unfold. So far it’s more than a presidential veto away. Government-funded embryonic cell “research” just missed by a veto. Private labs are legal.I focused on the idea that Christians are better equipped to deal with these “tissue issues” than medical philosophers (“ethicists”), but implicitly, that goes a fortiori for lawmakers.If we are nation of laws, not of men, and our laws reflect our values, we always have a reflection of who we are in our laws. It’s not going to be a comforting sight to see ourselves with doubles.Clones without brains are still pretty remote–very expensive to maintain autonomic functions the brain normally takes care of. I don’t know that much about the theoretical molecular genetics of it, but it seems that if you have crummy DNA, so does your double. Wouldn’t it be easier to engineer improved DNA into the original person? Or is the double for people like Mickey Mantle, who just need a spare liver on tap in case they inflict themselves with cirrhosis?
8:41 AM  
Victorbravo said…
They are thinking of rich people who want to live forever. Although the brainless clone idea is remote, they actually are currently working on growing human organs in pigs. But everyone seems to think that human stem cells offer the most promise for this sort of thing. The crummy DNA isn’t so much the problem as simple wear and tear. Improving the DNA is probably technically more difficult than simply manufacturing spare parts.Here is an older article that I found years ago that gives an insight into the motivations. Mostly greed and self-exhaltation.
9:36 AM  
Mike Pitzler said…
yep. Mickey Mantle failed to take care of his filter as per owner’s manual. He thought he was the owner, and failed to glorify and give thanks to the owner of his liver and all stem cells (and everything else). Good stats at bat, but a poor hermeneutic.
9:47 AM  
Mrs. B said…
“The Extropians, of course, are techno-believers with boundless faith in science’s power to amp up human potential.””In other words, people don’t have to die.”My oh my, the rebels’ conceit is boundless and shameless.Over 5,200 words in this piece, and the stars of the unit are likely to hear just these five in the end–and they will have an end: “Depart from me, ye cursed.”
10:02 AM  

Comments are closed.