Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Resource Qs & As

Filed on 19 August 2005 in Media Releases category. Print This Page

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are those that have not yet developed or differentiated into cells of specific tissues in organs e.g. liver cells or muscle cells or nerve cells. Stem cells exist in all human tissues and have the potential to differentiate into many different types of tissue cells. There is a ready source of stem cells in embryos and they can also be obtained from umbilical cord. They have been difficult to extract from adult human tissues but techniques have jumped ahead so quickly in recent times that the ‘necessity’ for using stem cells from embryos has become less and less. The term ‘stem’ is a word picture of a stem branching out into many little branches of different tissue types.

Why are we getting excited about stem cells?

We can use stem cells to repair damaged tissues. There is enormous potential for good e.g. to repair damaged spinal cords in paraplegics. We have proven success using stem cells from adult tissues and from umbilical cord. But there are many who are pushing for experimentation using ‘spare’ embryos left over from IVF processes. They want to extract stem cells from the embryo resulting in its death and Christians – and many others – believe this is breaking God’s moral law.

What is ‘cloning’?

Apart from fertilisation embryos can be created by cloning. Cloning occurs when the cell nucleus from the person wishing to be cloned – which contains 46 chromosomes – is transferred into a human egg cell from which the nucleus – containing 23 chromosomes – has been removed. Cloning results in the embryo having the same genetic pattern as the donor of the cell nucleus. Some want to clone for the purposes of obtaining stem cells but cloning of humans opens the way for many kinds of evil – hence it has been banned in Australia but not in other places in the world.

What is ‘therapeutic’ cloning?

It is the creation of a clone for the express purpose of extracting stem cells with resultant death of the clone. If the clone is created to produce a full-grown baby then this is called ‘reproductive’ cloning. Other terms designed to confuse the fact that we are creating human life and then destroying it include ‘somatic cell nuclear transfer-derived blastocyst’. Calling the embryo a ‘therapeutic’ clone does not alter the fact that it is a human embryo, that it has been created for the express purpose of extracting cells and that it is destined for destruction.

Why is this issue of using embryonic stem cells so important?

Issues relating to the beginning of life, the quality of life, and the ‘worth’ of life are critical to our thinking with respect to abortion, embryo research, eugenics and euthanasia. There is good reason to believe that what we are facing in the attempted manipulation of life and death is more sinister than any other evil we have encountered; that this evil eclipses in its potential and significance wars and genocide and immorality and corruption.

Surely Nazi Germany was worse?

The evil that was present in Nazi Germany was recognised as such – albeit belatedly by many. But now we have already gone down the ‘slippery slope’ to euthanasia in two of Germany’s neighbouring countries and their peoples have accepted the change and according to surveys here we have ~80% of the population in favour. We are going down the same slippery slope and evil is being masked as progress and compassion.

How can we judge what is right and wrong?

There is a moral law or ‘natural law’ that most people innately accept (but might try to deny). The most fundamental of these is that life is a valuable gift that should be treated with respect and dignity. Yes, we have an obligation to improve health, but the boundary which should not be crossed is where we interfere to destroy life or to create it in a way alien to God’s blueprint. Cloning crosses that boundary.

We have seen prominent people pleading for the use of embryonic stem cells for treatment of Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injury. How can we deny them this opportunity for treatment?

This question is based on the false assumption that the only way of getting good stem cells is from embryos. This is not true. There are many research labs managing to isolate and culture stem cells from adult tissues and reports of success are being reported regularly. But this is not as ‘romantic’ and adventurous as using cloning technology.

What do you mean by the ‘slippery slope’?

Issues around the creation of life have already ‘slipped’ or ‘escaped’ from providing relief through in-vitro fertilisation to infertile married couples to creating embryos for same-sex couples and now experimentation on ‘spare’ embryos. The obvious clandestine slip further down the slope is to ‘therapeutic’ cloning, genetic selection and manipulation, termination of unwanted clones at various levels of maturity, organ harvesting and ultimately producing mature clones for specific purposes. There is already in the USA a company that is on the verge of cloning humans, pushing for legislation ‘so it can be controlled’. The potential for evil is horrific.

Control over death also brings in the horror of involuntary euthanasia. There is no possibility of protection against this eventuality once we legalise the ‘mercy’ part of it. Definitions of personhood and disability and worth to self and society are so subject to varying societal and legal definition that it becomes a nightmare to predict when and to what extent compulsory termination of life might ultimately proceed.

These are the ethical issues for the 21st century.

So when life begins is a really important thing to decide?

Yes, it’s crucial. We have to draw a line in the sand and say ‘thus far and no farther’ and a group called Don’t Cross the Line has been formed in Australia to defend the human embryo – a very good title.

And we must hold the line at the top of the slope. Otherwise there’s no stopping.

The advent of the artificial womb has invalidated forever the concept that human life begins at implantation. There is potentially no limit to what can be done in creating life in the laboratory. The consequences of ignoring this in light of the present possibilities for manipulation are too great to ignore.

So when does life begin?

It’s simple – life begins when a cell has the ability to replicate and differentiate – usually, of course, by fertilisation with a cell of the same species, but sometimes by another species or by cloning. An ovum is alive but does not have the ability to replicate and differentiate.

When does human life begin? Human life begins when the cell possessing the ability to replicate and differentiate has human chromosomes. It possesses life and it is uniquely and unequivocally human with an individual chromosomal pattern that determines unique adult characteristics. It may never develop into a living adult, it may not have self-awareness, it may not feel pain – but it is still human by virtue of its gene pattern, it is alive, it is unique, and it has the ability to replicate and differentiate.

All other definitions of life are arbitrary and can be changed.
So the challenge is huge. In considering all this is there a new direction for us ahead?

Yes, our main ‘mission’ focus must always be to glorify God by preaching the gospel in season and out of season and bringing people to Christ, but we also need to speak to issues involving our culture, to be a prophetic voice and say what needs to be said as God’s people and watchmen (Ezek 33:7-9). We need to appeal to lasting values enshrined in our own culture and that are a part of universal and natural law. We need to proclaim the Word of God – as Jeremiah had to – to the rulers and people of this land.

This is what the LORD says: “Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there: ‘Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne–you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.'” Jeremiah 22:1-3.

We need to promote fundamental and universal values of virtue and honour, justice and mercy – with corresponding shame and dis-honour to be clearly identified. Our mission should be Restoring the Soul to our Culture.

How do we influence our culture to consider these things?

· Preach the gospel – bring people into the Kingdom to adopt Kingdom values – through personal evangelism, church, home groups, door-to-door visiting, to youth, in Sunday School and in schools programs.
· Values Education – God consciousness and Moral or Natural Law:

o Reach our kids with a consciousness of God, the gospel and with eternal values – in schools (thank God for Christian Schools that have a much greater opportunity for this), after-school clubs, Sunday School, holiday missions and camps; encouraging and using value terms like: goodness, virtue, justice, mercy, love, character, honour, and the concepts of shame and dishonour.
o Reach and teach our own children by example, by praying with them, listening to them, introducing to good literature and visual material that emphasise the spiritual component of our being (e.g. The Narnia Chronicles).
o Build ‘values’ (and outreach) bridges into the community with topical seminars, panel discussions and specific teaching sessions on depression, death and dying, euthanasia, the role of family on our society (e.g. Growing Kids God’s Way), suicide (saying that there is something more than the subculture view that life is only about pleasure and that, if life is too hard, I’ll just kill myself) etc

· Issues Education:

o ‘Ground’ our own people in these matters and mobilise an army who understand the times; who know what to do; people of passion like the men of Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32); making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil (Eph 5:15).
o Public education through seminars, teaching programs on specific issues as above
o Educate politicians e.g. through Australian Christian Lobby – this generation and the next – encourage kids from our Christian schools to enter politics.

· Challenge and, when appropriate, Confront:

o Politicians
o Public e.g. with the appropriate use of slogans e.g.

Choose Life
Do Not Shame Australia – Protect Innocent Embryos
Do Not Sell Australia’s Soul – Choose Life
Live Life – and Protect our Souls

Such are not ‘just’ religion speaking: they are part of natural and universal law. We do have a soul. We may dishonour our inbuilt moral standards but we do know the difference however much we may try to ignore them – we are more, and should be more, than animals.

Where to next?

The focus has been sharpened. The stem cell debate itself is not the battle. It is only one bridge – an important one, yes, but only one bridge. But it’s only as a result of the stem cell debate that the real battle has been focussed.

Our sharpened focus for the 21st Century is Restoring the Soul to our Culture. We can summarise it succinctly in defining a problem, a solution, and a mission.

A Sharpened Focus for the 21st Century
Mission: Restoring the Soul to our Culture

The Problem:
Our culture’s denial of the soul, soul values and Natural Law.
Evil, sinister in its potential, masked as compassion and progress.
Definition of life, particularly its beginning and end, being blurred to suit ‘humanistic’ biotechnology and ideals. This is symptomatic of our society’s rebellion against God and determination to do our own thing.
Christians are being marginalised and told they must not be heard.

The Solution:
As always, preach the Word.
But we need to be heard as a prophetic voice (the ‘whole’ Word) to our society’s needs and ills.

The Mission:
Restoring the soul to our culture.

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