Should Christians support stem cell research?
If you quickly answer no, perhaps it’s because you assume there is only one source of stem cells—human embryos. News media often fail to report an alternative source of stem cells—adults.
Scientists are very interested in this research because stem cells can be changed into nerve, heart, bone, and many other kinds of human tissue, and possibly used to treat diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even spinal cord injuries.
Stem cells taken from adults have been used for decades. Until recently, however, they were harder to grow and less versatile than embryonic stem cells.
Recent breakthroughs allow researchers to obtain adult stem cells easily from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, wisdom teeth, and even fat tissue. Also, they can now “induce” adult skin, bone, and sperm cells to become stem cells.
In 2008 surgeons successfully transplanted an organ grown from the recipient’s own (adult) stem cells. Life was saved rather than destroyed, and the patient did not need to take anti-rejection drugs because the organ contained the patient’s own cells.
Not all stem cells create a moral dilemma. There are many promising alternatives to embryonic stem cells.
Given these advances, it’s no wonder Ian Wilmut, who cloned Dolly the sheep in 1996, has abandoned using embryonic stem cells in his research. Likewise, Bernadine Healy, former director of the National Institutes of Health (USA), pronounced embryonic stem cell research “obsolete” and pointed out its dangers, such as an embryonic stem cell experiment that caused tumors in a patient. Even President Obama has cautioned, “The full promise of [embryonic] stem cell research remains unknown.”
The danger to patients is only one of the problems with embryonic stem cell research. It destroys and devalues human life—the life of an unborn baby. By contrast, adult-derived stem cells have already been used successfully. Furthermore, using adult stem cells avoids such problems as transplant rejection and—most importantly—the sacrifice of life on the altar of science.
* References for further study:
- The embryos (fertilized eggs) destroyed in this form of stem cell research are human babies in early stage of development and are fully viable.
- “Stem Cell Basics IV.,” National Institutes of Health, https://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/4.htm.
- “Questions for Robin Crossman, DVM, founder of Babytooth Technologies,” Answers in Genesis, January 1, 2007, https://answersingenesis.org/sanctity-of-life/stem-cells/questions-for-robin-crossman-of-babytooth-technologies/; “Stem Cells ‘Created from Teeth’,” BBC News, August 22, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7576131.stm.
- Constance Holden, “Stem Cell Lines Mark Birth of New Field,” Science, August 7, 2008, http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2008/08/stem-cell-lines-mark-birth-new-field; “Skin Transfomred into Stem Cells,” BBC News, November 20, 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7101834.stm; Anne McIlroy, “Canadians Make Stem-cell Breakthrough,” The Globe and Mail, March 2, 2009, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/science/canadians-make-stem-cell-breakthrough/article1149697/; Georgetown University Medical Center, “Human Adult Testes Cells Can Become Embryonic-like,” ScienceDaily, March 24, 2009, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090323134307.htm.
- Michelle Roberts, “Windpipe Transplant Breakthrough,” BBC News, November 19, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7735696.stm.
- Roger Highfield, “Dolly Creator Prof Ian Wilmut SHuns Cloning,” The Telegraph, November 16, 2007, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/3314696/Dolly-creator-Prof-Ian-Wilmut-shuns-cloning.html.
- Bernadine Healy, “Why Embryonic Stem Cells Are Obsolete,” U.S. News, March 4, 2009, http://health.usnews.com/blogs/heart-to-heart/2009/03/04/why-embryonic-stem-cells-are-obsolete.html.