Stem Cells No Argument for AbortionWe live in a time of incredible progress in the field of medicine. Hundreds of new treatments are described in medical literature every year, and new technologies and resources are announced daily. One of the fields that has gotten the attention of the media in recent years has been the use of stem cells to treat a variety of diseases and conditions. Stem cells are the raw material of which tissues are made. The advantage of stem cells is that, because their functional components have not yet developed, they are less likely to be attacked by the immune system of a patient. They can be used to treat diseases like diabetes, Parkinson's, and a variety of tissue disorders.
The media has focused on research that has been done with tissue from aborted babies. The claim made concerning these embryonic stem cells is that they are "pluripotent." That means that they are capable of forming a wide variety of different tissues--nerve, muscle, bone, skin, eye, pancreas, and so forth--based upon where they are placed. The media has given the impression that aborted babies are the only viable source of stem cells and that research of embryonic stem cells needs to be expanded to develop new applications. Not only is their message fraught with moral and ethical issues, it is also scientifically irresponsible and practically without real use.
The first point that needs to be made is that embryonic stem cells do not have the freedom from attacks from the recipient's immune system that is claimed. A patient's own stem cells have a vastly higher freedom of immune problems than those from fetuses. Stem cells can be taken from a patient's bone marrow, brain tissues, skin, eye, etc., and can be modified, stimulated, and grown giving the greatest freedom from immune system attack. Recent research has shown that adult neural stem cells can produce a variety of cell types. Bone marrow stem cells transplanted to the brain have been shown to produce nerve tissue, and blood-producing stem cells have been used to produce muscle cells. The notion that only fetal stem cells can be used is patently false.
Another point that needs to be emphasized is that there are many sources of stem cells that do not require an aborted baby. In addition to the fact that stem cells can be found at multiple places in the patient's own body, stem cells can also be found in placenta and umbilical cords in live births. In addition to that, they can be taken from adult cadavers. All stem cells can be cultured, making large volumes of these cells available; and as the technology of growing these cells improves, this will become even more available.
The last point raises a major issue as far as potential treatment when a new discovery is concerned. Let us suppose that a way to take beta stem cells in the pancreas and injecting them into a diabetic is found. (This is a process already in the works.) It would not be a permanent cure, and one might find that every 45 days a juvenile diabetic would have to be given a beta stem cell injection, but this would end blood testing four or five times a day and numerous insulin injections for that time period. As the husband of a diabetic wife who has taken over 50,000 shots in her 52 years of diabetes, I can relish such a possibility. How many diabetics are there in the world? Are there enough aborted babies to do this? The answer is "no"--by a huge factor.
We want to emphasize that there is no teaching in the Christian system that opposes the efforts of man to relieve suffering or to improve the quality of life of mankind. What the Christian system does do is to give limits as to what should be done. It also demands that the followers of Jesus devote themselves to meeting all the needs of all human beings. Killing a human who would otherwise live and have a potentially high quality of life to help someone flies in the face of all the Bible teaches.
The landscape of stem cell research is very changeable, but it is very obvious that fetal stem cell claims are not substantiated. Alternatives to fetal stem cells and their advantages are also very under-publicized. Destroying human embryos to do medical research that is impractical and has alternatives that could be used is morally obtuse and scientifically irresponsible.
Sources:UniSci (http://unisci.com), April 28, 1999; Science, June 2, 2000; Life in Oregon, October/November, 2000; Pulpit Helps, January, 2001, page 3. --JNC
--John N. Clayton
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