Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:13)

The problem with stem cells

Monday, September 13, 2004
Katherine, this one's for you...

I was asked, a few days ago, for my views on stem cell research and cloning. I am no expert in the specifics of these biotechnologies, but as a research technician, I have been offered projects which studied the various applications of stem cells. So I do know a thing or two about the moral problem stem cell research brings.

First off, let's make sure we all know what we are talking about. Stem cells are cells which are found in humans (at every age) which have the ability to transform themselves into just about any kind of tissue (skin, muscle, brain...etc). Cloned cells are cells which are exact replicas of a parent cell (having the exact same genetic make-up). In more complex organisms, like Dolly the sheep, scientists took a normal sheep cell (could be taken anywhere) and placed the genetic material (DNA) into a sheep egg. The egg then automatically begins the work of forming a new sheep (like Dolly). The cloned sheep will be an almost exact replica of the donor sheep (I say almost because there are problems with mutations in cloning).

Now the problem with these technologies:

Imagine a parent taking his sick child to the doctor. The doctor finds that the problem with the child is that his liver is infected with a rare disease and the only option to save the child in a new liver. The doctor explains how they would all have to wait and hope a matching donor liver comes along, OR option # 2. The parent eagerly asks:

"What is option #2?"

"Well," answers the doctor, "I could call a friend of mine in South America, and for a nominal fee, he'll kidnap a few inner-city street kids check for an organ match, and we'll get you that liver!"

Now I'm sure that you would all agree that such a scenario is disturbing (especially considering that it is actually happening) and unacceptable. Well, dear readers, that is exactly where stem cell research could be or is going.

You see it would be nice if we had the technology to clone a new liver for the child in the example using one of his healthy liver cell, but we quite simply do not. The little success we have had in cloning organs/tissues have proven themselves quite expensive as well (that is why, while I do not know the specifics of the situation you've described to me Katherine, I doubt your friend benefited from cloning alone). That's why the buzz in medical science today is stem cells. Unlike cloning, stem cells have the capacity to form all kinds of tissues, given the right conditions. And in theory, these cells could even, again under the right conditions, form an entire organ.

What is the origin of this theory? Conception. You see, it is stem cells that are formed when a woman becomes pregnant. As the pregnancy progresses, these cells become brain cells, muscle cells, bone-marrow cells, blood cells...etc...etc. So there is promise in this biotechnology. And there would be no moral problem if scientists used stem cells from adults to conduct there experiments, but sadly, that, for the most part isn't happening.

You see, harvesting stem cells from human adults is difficult, time consuming and costly. So instead of going that route, scientists are getting their stem cells mostly from in vitro fertilization and aborted infants from abortion clinics. If you're a Christian, now you see the problem.

"For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them." (Psalm 139: 13-16)

Without a doubt, the Bible makes clear that life begins at conception, as we see in the Psalm above. So, if you kill (abort) an unborn infant, you are committing murder (the taking away of a life).

Now let's recap all this: Doctors/Scientists are getting their stem cells by creating a human life and then killing it in order to cannibalize his/her stem cells, or they are obtaining them through an institution which kills unborn infants (abortion clinics). Now one can argue that if the infants are already dead, why not use the stem cells. It's an interesting argument...I wrestled with it, but in the end, I just couldn't partake in anything that had to do with the evil of abortion. That is why I told my boss that I would hand him my resignation if I was given no choice than to work on the stem cell research (Thank you Lord that he didn't make me).

I hope this answers some of your concerns Katherine (and all my other readers). This post is long enough I think. If any of you have any other questions on this topic, just e-mail me and I will try to answer you as best I can.

Take care and God bless,