Forum on Stem Cell Research

By Barrett Duke
Sep 22, 2004

FORUM ON STEM CELL RESEARCH
THE RESEARCH INSTITUTE OF THE ETHICS & RELIGIOUS LIBERTY COMMISSION
SEPTEMBER 22, 2004
LIPSCOMB UNIVERSITY

INTRODUCTION

Barrett Duke, Ph.D.

A. Stem Cell Overview
B. Forum Participants

THE SCIENCE OF STEM CELL RESEARCH

Ben Mitchell, Ph.D.

A. Location and Sources
B. Distinction Between Embryonic and Adult Stem Cells
C. Sources of Embryos
D. Failures of Embryonic Stem Cells
E. Successes of Adult Stem Cells
F. Point of Humanity

THE PHILOSOPHY OF STEM CELL RESEARCH

Steve Lemke, Ph.D.

A. Utilitarian Principle: Instrumental Not Inherent Value
B. Utilitarian Principle: Greatest Happiness
C. Utilitarian Principle: Higher Value

THE THEOLOGY OF STEM CELL RESEARCH

Richard Land, D.Phil.

A. The Early Jews Did Not Practice Infanticide
B. Testimonies of David and Jeremiah
C. The Genetic Uniqueness of Each Person
D. The Commodification of Life
E. The Early Church and Reformation Followed Jewish Position
F. God’s Future Leaders are Denied Life

THE PUBLIC POLICY OF STEM CELL RESEARCH

Daniel Heimbach, Ph.D.

A. The Lure to Gain Approval
B. The Pedagogical Effect of the Law
C. The Dangers of Public Policy Acceptance
D. Perverse Incentives are Legitimized
E. Ownership Relationship Replaces Stewardship Trust
F. A Society of Classes is Created
G. Compromise Still Takes Innocent Lives

THE ETHICS OF STEM CELL RESEARCH

Jerry Sutton, Ph.D.

A. The Dying Seek Life at the Cost of the Innocent
B. God Knows the Unborn
C. The Present Debate

INTRODUCTION

Barrett Duke, Ph.D.

A. Stem Cell Overview

Stem cells. Who in this country has not heard about them? They are being touted, and rightly so, I believe, as the next breakthrough in man’s quest to overcome the destructive force of disease and the debilitating effects of serious injury. It is amazing how quickly the discussion about stem cells has been moving throughout this country. While scientists have been working with stem cells for decades, the 1998 discovery of how to isolate and grow embryonic stem cells has led to an increased interest in this potential. However, the main thing that has led to the current national debate was President Bush’s order in August 2001 that federal funding of embryonic stem cell research would be limited to currently existing lines derived from embryos.

Embryos are not the only source of stem cells. Stem cells actually occur naturally throughout the body and scientists have been very effective in isolating and collecting them for regenerative and reparative therapy in humans. The so-called adult stem cells, named as such because they are not derived from human embryos, have been proven much more controllable than embryonic stem cells. Yet today we hear celebrities, scientists, politicians, and others calling for expansion of embryonic stem cell research federal funding. New Jersey and California already have legislation in place to permit embryonic stem cell research using public funds.

The arguments being made for pursing embryonic stem cell research are varied. Because these stem cells have not reached any level of differentiation they have the potential of becoming any tissue in the human body, and this has caused many to believe that they are therefore more useful than adult stem cells, which have already experienced a degree of differentiation. Then there is the financial aspect. Companies and investors recognize that they can patent processes and particular stem cell types that they create from embryonic stem cells, whereas adult stem cells are naturally occurring and can simply be harvested from human beings.

The ethics of patenting human cells is a discussion worth having, but that is not what we are here to talk about today. We are here to talk about the ethics of embryonic stem cell research, though not all stem cell research. We are fully supportive of stem cell research that does not involve the destruction of a human being to obtain these cells. Embryonic stem cells, however, can only be obtained from human embryos and, the embryo, a human being in its earliest form, is destroyed by their extraction. Some don’t consider this little fact to be troublesome. We and many others do, however.
So, what is wrong with embryonic stem cell research? We have asked five of our Fellows to share their concerns about this research from their respective area of expertise. They are all Fellows of the Research Institute, a ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It is an evangelical think tank that includes university and seminary presidents, academic deans, professors, lawyers, doctors, theologians, and other evangelical scholars.

The Research Institute serves three primary functions: first, to provide a professional organization where conservative evangelical scholars can discuss current trends in America’s culture; second, to apply biblical truths to moral, public policy, and religious liberty issues; and third, to develop a comprehensive biblical worldview model to equip Christians to evaluate and interact with the moral and religious liberty issues confronting families in the modern culture. The Research Institute exists to speak to the culture to develop our understanding from the biblical worldview of how we are to deal with modern cultural issues. Research Institute Fellows are leading members of the evangelical, scholarly community who are actively engaged in addressing moral, cultural, and religious liberty issues. All of our Fellows have earned doctorates in philosophy, theology, medicine, or law.

B. Forum Participants

Dr. C. Ben Mitchell is associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he has served since 1999. Before coming to Trinity he taught theoretical and applied ethics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and was assistant professor of Christian ethics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He received his Ph.D. with a concentration in medical ethics with honors from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. His dissertation was entitled “Patenting Life: An Examination of Some Ethical Implications of Biopatenting.” His program included a year-long clinical residency at the University of Tennessee Medical Center at Knoxville. Dr. Mitchell has done additional studies in genetic ethics at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. He currently serves as Senior Fellow at the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and is a consultant on biomedical and life issues with our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He is published widely in bioethics, the author of numerous articles and reviews, and he is presently editing a volume on the ethics of human cloning in addition to his work as a general editor of the New International Dictionary of Bioethics.

Dr. Steve Lemke is provost and professor of theology and ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where he has served since 1997. Dr. Lemke received his Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Prior to that he was associate professor in philosophy and religion and convener of the Philosophy of Religion Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Lemke has published numerous books and articles and is a frequent contributor to academic meetings. He is co-editor with Bruce Corley and Grant Lovejoy of Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scripture. His paper presented at the 1995 Annual Seminar of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, entitled “World Views in our Culture,” is a masterful treatment of five worldviews that had arisen as principal rivals to the Judeo-Christian worldview approaches. He spoke to materialistic naturalism, consequentialist fragmatism, under-culture nihilism, enlightenment modernism, and eclectic post-modernism. That’s why I’ve asked Dr. Lemke to speak to us from the philosophical perspective on this particular issue.

Dr. Richard Land is president and chief executive officer of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He has served in this position since October 1988. Dr. Land graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University, received the D.Phil. degree from Oxford University in Oxford, England, and earned a Master of Theology degree from New Orleans Baptist Seminary. Prior to his current position, Dr. Land served as academic dean and professor of Christian ethics at the Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. While on leave of absence from the Criswell College, Dr. Land served from January 1987 to May 1988 as administrative assistant to Governor William Clemmons of Texas. Dr. Land served as senior advisor to the governor on church and state issues and areas related to traditional family values. He has also recently completed a second term as Commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to which the President assigned him. He is a leading evangelical spokesman sought daily by news media of all types for his opinions on issues of our time. He is the author of numerous books and articles. His latest contribution to the issues is a book entitled Real Homeland Security: The America God will Bless. And, he can be heard daily on his national radio programs For Faith & Family and Richard Land Live!

Dr. Daniel Heimbach is professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was born in China to missionary parents. He earned his Ph.D. at Drew University. His dissertation was entitled “The Moral Accountability of Law.” He served as political advisor and legislative assistant to Senator Richard Lugar and served in the elder President Bush’s administration as associate director for domestic policy and deputy executive secretary of the domestic policy council. Dr. Heimbach is the author of numerous articles and books including, Pagan Sexuality at the Center of the Contemporary Moral Crisis and a forthcoming book entitled True Sexual Morality: Recovering Biblical Standards for a Culture in Crisis, in which he discusses God’s standards of sexuality. In addition, Dr. Heimbach is a board member with the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Finally, Dr. Jerry Sutton has served as senior minister at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, since 1986. His church, with an active membership in the thousands, is known across the nation as one of the premier mega churches in evangelical life. Dr. Sutton received his Ph.D. degree in church history from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Among his many publishing accomplishments is his comprehensive book on the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention entitled The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to know who did what and why in the early years of the struggle of Southern Baptist conservatives to bring the Southern Baptist Convention back to its theologically and socially conservative roots. His recent book, A Simple Guide to the Way Back Home, speaks to those who are out of fellowship with God. The book shares the grace of God to begin anew, presenting the straight line between where they are and where God wants them to be.

Each of these men is eminently qualified to speak from his area of expertise, and I’ve asked them to speak to us on the issue of embryonic stem cells from that area of expertise. Dr. Mitchell, speaking to us as a bioethicist, will begin our panel with an overview of the issue, as well as share the science and problems with embryonic stem cell research. Dr. Lemke will then respond to Dr. Mitchell as a philosopher and speak to us about the entire issue from the classical philosophical categories. Dr. Land will speak to us directly from the Bible as a theologian, providing chapter and verse on this issue. Dr. Heimbach is a public policy specialist who will talk to us about what happens to a culture that embraces bad public policy. And then we would be remiss not to speak about how this actually affects the average person in the country. So Dr. Sutton will talk to us about how a pastor thinks through these issues, especially as he finds himself in opposition to embryonic stem cell research and perhaps having to explain to a member of his congregation why he opposes such research, experimentation they feel might produce a cure for a sick or dying loved one. So each of these gentlemen has a unique perspective to bring to us. I believe by the end of our time together, you will have a very solid understanding and be able to argue that understanding with others about why adult stem cell research is good, while embryonic stem cell research is bad. Dr. Mitchell if you would please come.

THE SCIENCE OF STEM CELL RESEARCH

C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D.

A. Location and Sources

You have more than 200 different cell types in your body—hair cells, retinal cells, and liver cells, for example. Happily those cells replicate after their kind so that you’re not growing kidneys on the outside of your back. They happily are inside your body and your skeletal structure remains in place so that these cells duplicate according to their differentiated type—skin cells make skin cells, bone tissues reproduce as bone cells—and then enters stem cells. Because stem cells were isolated in the late 1990s, as Barrett mentioned, we have the ability to understand a little bit more about these so-called precursor cells to the other cells of your body, that is these cells which have not yet been determined to create a certain cell type. These are the primordial cells or the master cells of the body as it were. And the hope is that through stem cell research we might be able to direct their differentiation to create the kinds of tissues that we want so that you could start with the stem cell and create nerve cells for repair of a central nervous cord, heart cells to repair heart muscles, or pancreatic islet cells, for instance, to treat diabetes. I will address this again in a moment.

Presently, the technology of directing the cells is still at very early or primitive stages. One of the complications is that in an effort to make nerve cells from these stem cells or to make heart cells from stem cells or pancreatic islet cells from stem cells, sometimes the result is the creation of tumors, and we do not yet have the scientific sophistication to be able to direct the cells exactly to do what we want them to do. But the hope is still there and we are seeing successes in some areas that I’ll mention in just a moment. Possible stem cell applications might be to remove or repair the implications of brain tumors, treat various forms of cancer, relieve diabetes, treat Parkinson’s disease and, more recently, treat Alzheimer’s disease, though claims remain unsubstantiated. That is to say that in an effort to treat Alzheimer’s, the effort must take a different approach than stem cells because they are found to be not as useful as they once were thought. And the list goes on and on for the promise of stem cells.

You should know that there are at least several sources of stem cells. There are first of all embryonic stem cells, from the so-called blastocyst stage, which are harvested from human embryos at the five- to seven-day stage. Later in development, reproductive embryonic germ cells might be harvested—the sperm-egg cells. But also one might harvest stem cells from fetal tissue, embryonic cord blood, and other sources in the so-called “adult body.” Adult stem cells don’t have to come from people who are 21 years of age or older, but adult stem cells come from sources of stem cells which already contain differentiated cells. Embryonic cord blood from newborns is one of those sources. But also there are other sources from adults or non-embryonic sources such as bone marrow that contain stem cells. Human fats contain stem cells, and some successes have been achieved recently using those sources1.

B. Distinction Between Embryonic and Adult Stem Cells

So the distinction is important between embryonic and adult sources of stem cells. Why is that distinction important? Well, the distinction is important because with embryonic stem cell research at the blastocyst stage the inner cell mass is harvested of its stem cells, meaning destruction to the developing embryo. At this present stage of technology and technological development, you can’t harvest embryonic stem cells without destroying human embryos. Once these cells are harvested, they can be cultured and then perhaps used for various experimentations. But understand that what is entailed in embryonic stem cell research is the cannibalization of human embryos for the purposes of their parts. And we find that to be morally objectionable.

C. Sources of Embryos

Embryos themselves can come from three different sources. First, there are so-called spare embryos which are left over from in-vitro fertilization treatments (IVF). There may be as many as 400,000 spare embryos in fertility clinics around the country. One of the problems with using spare embryos for embryonic stem cell research, apart from the moral problem of destroying the embryo, is that they are insufficient in number. Four hundred thousand would not suffice for the kind of research and therapy that has been promised. Also, they are insufficient in quality. Many of those embryos were not, in fact, transferred to a woman’s uterus because they were not deemed to be high quality embryos. So scientists who are involved in embryonic stem cell research want better sources of embryos than just spare embryos from IVF clinics. Another place that one could get embryos for embryonic stem cell research would be to generate them for the purposes of research—to create the embryos through IVF to obtain a sufficient supply. Now the problem, to use the term in scare quotes, is that you must rely on the reproductive roulette with respect to the quality of these embryos. That is their random quality. There are random mutations. Controls are needed for experimentation and, even so, there is no guarantee that these will be high quality embryos.

These embryos would all be different depending on their source. So those who are invested in stem cell research argue that cloning of human embryos will be necessary. “We can’t get enough high quality embryos from IVF,” say these investors. “We can’t get enough simply by creating them ourselves, so we need cloning. We’ll create embryos for the purposes of destructive research and then make multiple copies of them.” While that may sound on the surface simple enough, estimates show otherwise. For instance, to treat the 17 million patients in America who have diabetes, it would take an estimated 85 million women of childbearing age just to carry to term—to produce and carry to the blastocyst stage—sufficient numbers of embryos to use for that therapy. The risks to the women involved in the harvesting of human embryos for research purposes must also be considered. Amy Laura Hall of the Duke Divinity School has rightly said that this would put women, especially poor women who might be paid for their services, under immense pressure to sell their eggs to stem cell brokers and cloners. I think the exploitation that would be involved is sufficient of itself quite apart from the morality of cloning and killing human embryos. Just the exploitation or the potential for exploitation is enough to stop embryonic stem cell research cloning.

D. Failures of Embryonic Stem Cells

Moreover, the claims for the superiority of embryonic stem cells over other stem cells have been tremendously overblown. That is to say that claims for the superiority of embryonic stem cells are basically unsubstantiated. First of all, there are no clinical treatments using embryonic stem cells in humans. There are very few successes in animal studies and in many cases those animal studies have produced horrendous results. For instance, 98 percent of research using cloned mammals has resulted in lethal deformities among those mammals. There is still the technical problem of being able to direct the stem cells to create the kind of tissue that you want. The problem of rejection of foreign tissues also exists with embryonic stem cells when cells are transferred from one person to another person. Using adult stem cells that come from my own body, and then reintroducing them to my body, does not cause rejection of those tissues because they are my own.

Earlier, I mentioned the potential for tumor formation. There are some fairly horrific examples of that, where embryonic stem cells have been inserted into brain tissues to treat Parkinson’s disease, and later, after the demise of the patient, they discovered tumors in the brain that included hair, skin, and bone tissue, because, again, of the scientists’ primitive ability to direct the cells to make the kinds of tissues that one presumably wants. So at the end of the day as of September 22, 2004, how many diseases have been successfully treated using embryonic stem cells and how many diseases have been successfully treated using adult stem cells? Right now the score is zero to about 452. Human adult stem cells have become a much more successful source of therapeutics than embryonic stem cells.

E. Successes of Adult Stem Cells

David Prentice, a researcher of adult stem cells at Indiana State University, argues that adult stem cells have enormous potential to impact medicine, relieve patient suffering, and are, in fact, a morally acceptable source of stem cells. There is ample evidence that adult stem cells show the kinds of capacities that we want for therapeutic purposes. Adult stem cells from bone marrow can form new neurons for brain and neural therapies. Several studies since 2001 show that adult stem cells from brain, bone marrow, and umbilical cord blood provide therapeutic benefit after stroke because the cells hone in on the affected area of the brain by going directly to the spot that is needed. Furthermore, adult stem cells are capable of regrowth and reconnection in the spinal cord, according to numerous studies. Liver or adult pancreatic adult stem cells can form insulin-secreting islet cells for treatment of diabetes; bone marrow and muscle stem cells repair damage after heart attacks; and neuron stem cells can form all the neural types and migrate throughout the brain to repair damage and prevent the loss of neurons associated with Parkinson’s disease. Over and over again studies indicate that adult stem cells are, with respect to their efficacy, a much better source than embryonic stem cells in terms of their scientific effectiveness, not to mention the fact that they are clearly a morally superior source of stem cells. Finally, some interesting research announced about two weeks ago discloses that using adult stem cells a 56-year-old German man had a new jawbone constructed through stem cells grown on his body, providing a therapeutic adaptation of adult stem cell research.

F. Point of Humanity

As you might imagine, the bottom line for us is the source of these cells and the nature of nascent or unborn human life. In a 1981 embryology textbook, the author says, “The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoan from the male and the egg from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.” And that definition is not a religious definition or one reliant upon biblical witness. There’s plenty to be said about that, as you will hear in a moment. That’s a biological definition of what it means to be human. It means to be a member of our species. To dissect members of our species for so-called therapeutic or experimental purposes, it seems, is a form of barbarism that we ought to avoid at all costs.

THE PHILOSOPHY OF STEM CELL RESEARCH

Steve Lemke, Ph.D.

A. Utilitarian Principle: Instrumental Not Inherent Value

If there is any one philosophical perspective that is usually given in defense of embryonic stem cell use in research it is something of a utilitarian or pragmatic perspective. I want to talk about three doctrines or tenets of utilitarianism or pragmatism that are often used and why they are problematic in this area. First, there is the principle that everything is not of inherent value but instrumental value, that things are valuable only if they contribute toward some higher good. Nothing is inherently or innately valuable. And therefore, in relation to embryonic stem cell research, everything, including human beings, is a commodity that can be bought and sold. And so fundamentally the problem with embryonic stem cell research and therapy is what it does to a human being. Now that is a controversial issue. Not everybody agrees. It really depends on how you view the unborn human being. If you agree that an unborn person is indeed a person, a human life, then you will have problems with embryonic stem cell research. And probably your view on abortion will be the same view you have on embryonic stem cell research. But the argument is that stem cells are of instrumental value—that they help other people live, advance our research, or make researchers rich. But classically this has been held to be wrong.

Most people in Western culture have said there is something fundamentally wrong with using people to achieve some higher end. From the enlightenment perspective, Emmanuel Kant talked about the principle of humanity as an end, not a means. Humans ought not to be used as means to a higher end. Now from the Judeo-Christian perspective, people like Martin Buber said we ought to treat each other as I/Thou, conveying a sense of respect and reverence for each other, not as I/It, viewing other human beings as a commodity. And that’s why it’s very similar to issues like slavery, cloning, and prostitution. All of these use human beings to achieve a higher end. That’s why they are problematic.

A woman at an Ivy League school a few years ago offered her eggs for sale over the Internet. Of course, she was quite bright to be in an Ivy League school. She was an athlete and apparently thought herself to be good looking, so she thought her eggs would be very valuable and offered them for sale. Well what do you think would happen if Bill Gates or someone in his family was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and went to the best research hospital, and the doctors said, “You know, if we just had more stem cells then we might have a breakthrough—can’t promise it, but maybe we could,” and he offered a million dollars to people who would donate or sell their stem cells? There would be people who would do that, and there will be a market for stem cells if this is legalized. That’s why it is so important that it not be legalized, because as long as people can purchase it, as long as there is a price put on human life, it is a dangerous thing.

B. Utilitarian Principle: Greatest Happiness

A second principle of utilitarianism is sometimes called the “greatest happiness principle.” That is, we ought to do whatever accomplishes the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers. So the argument follows that if we can sacrifice a few potential human beings (as they would describe them) and fetuses, and through that we were able to have a breakthrough in science and initiate some therapies that would cure some major diseases, then that would be worth the price. It would be very costly to those who made the sacrifice, but it would be a great contribution for the human race. Well, I think that is nice in theory but not so good in practice. First of all this is a huge industry. There is more involved in this than just the research which gets it to the point of some breakthrough, even though there is not a great deal of evidence that the breakthrough is out there. Additionally, if the research were to achieve some breakthrough, there would be continued need for embryonic stem cells to keep training people how to do the therapy, and not only for research. We normally talk about stem cell research, but presumably that would carry over to the therapy, and so indeed it would take millions of women to provide the harvest of stem cells that would be needed.

The scenario is always presented in this way: “We are just at the threshold of a breakthrough and we could solve this problem. We could cure this disease whether Alzheimer’s or diabetes, for example, and cure family members who experience those diseases.” That sounds good to us but the reality is that it will not happen that way. It’s not going to be the greatest happiness to the greatest number; only the rich will be able to afford it. Only the Bill Gates’ of the world could afford it.

As a member of the Bioethics Committee, I currently serve in two New Orleans regional hospitals. I have been privileged to serve on transplant selection committees several times and serve as a chaplain at a major research hospital. When we considered liver transplants, the committee went through a detailed process because liver donations are rare. There are many more people who need them than there are donations so there is a process that determines the people who get on the waiting list. Do you know what the first question is? Do they have the money? At the time I was working there it cost about $250,000, a fee virtually no heath insurance plan covers. They are written out of all normal health insurance policies, so only the independently wealthy could afford this, except for the few in which communities raised money for a child.

Currently, embryonic stem cell research is discussed in the context of what Jeremy Bentham, the eighteenth century philosopher, called a hedonistic calculus, in which you weigh the strengths and weaknesses, the pleasure and the pain involved in something, and try to determine the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers. But truthfully it’s a rather cynical process. It’s really all about the money and who will get the patent and who is going to get wealthy. So while it is cast as a way to solve the great diseases of our day, in reality, it is a luxury that only the rich will be able to afford.

C. Utilitarian Principle: Higher Value

Third, one of the critiques of utilitarianism is that it does not take adequately into account that some things are of higher value than others. And so the critics brought in something called the qualitative standard, that some things are a higher good. Normally we weigh something to determine whether or not it is ethical or praiseworthy. For example, when someone makes a sacrifice for someone else, we give that high value. We honor that. We call the person who jumps on the grenade and saves his buddies a hero, or we praise the organ donors who make a sacrificial contribution out of their own lives to help save another person. But that is not the case in embryonic stem cell donation. The key difference is that a person who jumps on a grenade or a person who is an organ donor does that voluntarily, whereas the unborn child is not able to make that choice. That choice is made for them. It’s not a voluntary sacrifice. Therefore, that unborn child is not a hero, but a victim. Embryonic stem cell donation is cannibalization of the young. We don’t think much of societies that cannibalize their own young. My prayer is that our society won’t do that either.

THE THEOLOGY OF STEM CELL RESEARCH

Richard Land, D.Phil.

A. The Early Jews Did Not Practice Infanticide

Let me begin with the biblical references. First of all, there is a reason, a compelling reason, why the Jews alone among all the civilizations of the Mediterranean basin did not practice infanticide, the killing of already born babies, and did not practice abortion when they were medically advanced enough to do so. Everybody else did it routinely. The Assyrians did it. The Babylonians did it. The Phoenicians did it. The Greeks did it. The Romans did it. In fact, Will and Ariel Durant, in their multi-volume study of the history of Western civilization, calculate that when Christianity came into the Roman Empire in the first century AD, 99 out of every 100 baby girls in a Roman family after the first girl baby had been safely delivered and was going to survive were either killed at birth or abandoned to die or be picked up by human scavengers who would then use them as slaves.

B. Testimonies of David and Jeremiah

Christianity came into the Roman Empire with a Jewish background—Judeo-Christianity. The Jews didn’t practice infanticide, the Jews didn’t practice child sacrifice, the Jews didn’t practice abortion. Why? Because their God, who is the One true God, had revealed to them in Holy Scripture that He was involved whenever conception took place. In the midst of David’s penitence over his sin in Psalm 51, he says that at the moment of his conception he had a sin nature. In verse 5, he said, “I was conceived in sin.” In the Hebrew text it’s clear that he is not talking about anything inherently sinful in the sexual act that brought him into being; he is stating the fact that at the moment of his conception he had a sin nature. Only a human being with a soul and a spirit can have a sin nature. Later in Psalm 139:13-16, literally from the Hebrew, David said, “God knitted me and embroidered me together in my mother’s womb and all of my parts were written in…before any of them came to be.” In Jeremiah 1:4-5, God told the prophet, “Jeremiah, before you were in your mother’s womb I knew you. And while you were in your mother’s womb I sanctified you and made you a prophet to the nations.” God is saying, “Jeremiah, many generations back I was providentially working to bring about the unique, never-to-be-duplicated genetic combination that is you, to uniquely fulfill the purpose that I have for your life.”

C. The Genetic Uniqueness of Each Person

Every one of us is genetically unique. I have three children born over a four-year, eleven-month period. And the biggest surprise, among many surprises about being a father, is how different my three are from each other. And they seemed to be different from birth. My wife says they were even different before birth. We have one daughter who talks incessantly. We have another daughter whom we can’t get to talk. She would get in the car after school and I’d say, “Honey, what did you do at school today?” She’d say, “Stuff.” “Well, what did you do at recess?” “Play.” “What did you have for lunch?” “Food.” The other daughter would get into the car talking and talk all the way home without any response or query from me, with nothing too mundane or unimportant to be mentioned and described in overwhelming detail. That’s the way they came. Two children—same mom, same dad, same gene pool, look alike physically, utterly different. God is the One who determines, and He determines at the moment of conception the unique, never-to-be-duplicated genetic combination that is each of us. Now why is such tremendous pressure being brought to bear politically to legalize cloning for supposed therapeutic purposes?

D. The Commodification of Life

The advocates of therapeutic cloning don’t want to have cloning to reproduce full-blown human beings. Instead, they want to legalize clones with the provision that you are required to kill them before two weeks of gestation. The proposed legislation, known as the Feinstein-Kennedy-Harkin-Specter bill, advocates this approach. In other words, it’s the “clone to kill” bill. And they call that “therapeutic” cloning. Therapeutic for whom? It requires the death of a human being. Such a bill would create government legislation that would say you have to kill the clone in order to harvest the fetal tissue. That is biotech child sacrifice.

Then why is there such tremendous pressure for it? Because we’re talking about really big bucks for the biotech companies who want to be able to commodify human life. We haven’t commodified human life in this country since the end of human slavery, and I think it is a bad idea to revert to commodifying human life. If we allow embryonic stem cell research, we will indeed see the commodification of women’s bodies—the selling of female eggs to harvest their fetal tissue—because to produce a clone, you must start with a female egg, which means literally paying women to harvest their eggs. This is the commodification of human life, and it degrades us all and it’s a terribly dangerous step to take.

E. The Early Church and Reformation Followed Jewish Practice

The early church took the position of the Jews since they were overwhelmingly Jewish and relied on the Old and New Testaments. When Christianity came into the Roman Empire, infanticide—the killing of already born babies—and abortion were routine and totally accepted. By the time the Christian faith became the dominant faith in the Roman Empire in the fourth century AD, infanticide and abortion were outlawed, except to save the mother’s life, and remained so in Western civilization until the collapse of the Judeo-Christian consensus, first in Western Europe and then in North America in the mid- to late-twentieth century.

Not only was the Catholic Church strongly supportive of a pro-life ethic, so was the Reformation. Martin Luther and John Calvin took extremely strong stands in defense of life in the womb. And that carries all the way up through Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the twentieth century German theologian and Lutheran, who said, “To kill the nascent life in the womb is a horrendous act and must be rejected by the Christian faith.” It is only in the latter third of the twentieth century that, as too many Protestants have lost their way and rejected biblical authority, they have come to accept abortion, erroneously believing human life does not begin at conception.

Everyone began as a fertilized egg. Every one of us. I was in a debate with a pro-abortion woman who said, “Why that’s not a human being, that’s just a product of conception.” And I said, “Well, what are you, my dear, and all of us, but products of conception?” All human beings are products of conception. Dr. Mitchell mentioned that we have several hundred thousand babies frozen in the embryonic state, some of whom have been adopted and implanted in the wombs of adoptive mothers and brought to full term as normal healthy babies. In fact, one of the most dramatic moments in the testimony last year before Congress when they were trying to legalize embryonic stem cell research by using babies that came from the supposed surplus at the fertility clinics occurred when this man had two such babies in his arms, and he said, “Which one of my babies do you want for your research?”

F. God’s Future Leaders are Denied Life

We have killed one third of all the babies conceived in America since 1973. Now, my Bible tells me that God has a plan and a purpose for human life: Ephesians 2:10 and Romans 12:1-2, just to mention two passages. The question I have is, have we aborted the next Billy Graham? He would be thirty-one years old if his mother killed him in 1973. Have we aborted the next Martin Luther King? He would be thirty years old if his mother aborted him in 1974. Have we aborted the next Abraham Lincoln? He would be twenty-nine if his mother aborted him in 1975. Have we aborted the girl that God was molding and shaping and knitting together in her mother’s womb to come forth and find a cure for cancer? She would be twenty-eight and already graduated from medical school and embarked on her research if her mother killed her in 1976. There is a very real chance that’s exactly what we’ve done, all because those babies were considered by at least one parent to be too expensive, too embarrassing, too ill, or too inconvenient.

The abortion issue and our turning our backs on the biblical teaching about abortion—when life begins and the fact that God is the giver of life and we have no right to take that in our own hands—has brutalized us. It has desensitized us to the place where we are now talking about the wholesale commodification of human life, where we create life in order to terminate it, in order to harvest the tissues to make possible cures for bigger and older human beings. That is biotech cannibalism and child sacrifice and it must be rejected by this culture.

THE PUBLIC POLICY OF STEM CELL RESEARCH

Daniel Heimbach, Ph.D.

A. The Lure to Gain Approval

I begin with two introductory thoughts. The first requires you to think about the nature of a lure and how it works. The way a lure works is that you try to get the victim or target of the lure—whether it’s a fish, an animal, or a person— to focus so much on the desirability of what appears to be a good thing that it distracts the victim from paying proper attention or discerning analysis to the actual facts. So much is focused on the worm that the fish doesn’t notice the hook; so much is focused on the good deal of buying this jewelry that the shopper doesn’t pay attention to the evidence that it might be fake, thereby trapping the person into a misjudgment about the reality.

The reason I point that out is because it is very analogous to the public policy debate, in which proponents try to persuade the public to support certain positions or a group of politicians to support certain legislation. The proponents maneuver their target audience by appealing to and focusing on certain things in an attempt to win the conclusion that they want. And very often, what’s involved is an attempt to lure people to support something that they should not. Does that occur in public policy debate? You bet it does.

What we need to do is focus on the reality, get by all the wild and exaggerated claims, and be honest about the potential and where the lines are drawn. To say that when it comes to public policy, let’s not look at the facts and not do it for the right reason and cross lines that we shouldn’t cross would be not only wrong inherently, but perhaps very dangerous as well.

B. The Pedagogical Effect of the Law

Another opening thought I want to point out is something called the “pedagogical effect of the law.” There is a distinction and difference between morality on one hand and legality, or what the law requires or allows, on the other hand. Now, good law is going to be moral. If a law is actually immoral, it may be a valid law legally, but a bad law morally. So how do these two things relate? Well, if you have a very strong sense of moral right and wrong that comes from your training, your background, your experience as Christians from God’s moral revelation in the Word of God, the difference can be very clear, and it should be very clear to us, between what is moral and what the law will or will not allow. But for a lot of people—the vast majority of people in the United States, I would say—what is legal, they assume, is moral. If something is defined by law as allowable, it will influence more and more people to assume that, therefore, it must be morally okay as well. The only thing that they believe they really have to avoid is what the law says they can’t do. We need to think about that when we talk about what public policy should be and what laws should or should not be. The distinction we make will have an influence on what many people in the country think is morally legitimate simply because it is legal.

As we focus these thoughts on the stem cell debate, we should ask: what would be the dangers of public policy acceptance of stem cell research, particularly stem cell research involving embryonic stem cells? The debate is not really about whether it should be legal or allowable to do stem cell research as a whole, because stem cell research is morally unobjectionable; in fact, it is a morally good idea to pursue the benefits of stem cell research from unobjectionable sources. Dr. Mitchell has pointed out in great detail the number of acceptable sources of stem cells for research and therapy which are very, very promising and, in fact, have achieved real results. The moral debate that is behind the public policy debate is whether public policy should allow or not allow research to be done using stem cells that have been taken or harvested from human lives that have had to be killed to obtain them. The real debate is whether the taking of innocent human lives should be allowed in order to get those stem cells as opposed to being satisfied with the stem cells from morally unobjectionable sources?

C. The Dangers of Public Policy Acceptance

So what are the dangers of public policy endorsing, allowing, and accepting the idea that you should be allowed to take innocent human lives at the embryo stage for therapeutic or medical research reasons? Some have asked, “Why not? I understand that you object, but why not allow that and just let people who have conscientious objections to simply object, something like we do with Jehovah’s Witnesses who have moral objections to quoting the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag?” So the law says, “Okay, you don’t have to if it’s against your conscience.” If we have a draft, for example, everybody is required to serve in the military, but if you have a conscientious objection, we will accept that and make an exception for you.

Why don’t we just handle embryonic stem cell research and therapy that way? Why don’t we simply allow it, and if people have a conscientious objection to it, allow them to exempt themselves from participating or benefiting from the results? I think that an example of the best reason, at least for Christians, is what Jesus pointed out in the story of the Good Samaritan. Why was Jesus critical or judgmental morally of the Levite and the priest who passed by? They simply did nothing instead of acting to save a man whose life was at stake. Jesus didn’t say, “Well, it’s okay to allow a conscientious objector exclusion. You did not think it was necessary to intervene, so it must not be necessary for you.” The principle reflected by Jesus’ negative attitude toward the Levite and priest is that there is a general moral obligation to intervene when someone’s life is at stake—particularly innocent human life—and we are in a position to do something to stop the loss of innocent human life. If we can and we don’t, we have violated a moral principle. So the issue does not fall in the same category as simply a conscientious objector in the military service or a Jehovah’s Witnesses participating in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Having made these points, I want to mention four things that I believe are bad in terms of going ahead with some kind of public endorsement or acceptance of sacrificing or taking the lives of innocent human beings for the sake of medical research or therapy.

D. Perverse Incentives are Legitimized

First, if we do cross that line, it will create and legitimize what I would call perverse incentives. When you are responsible for public policy decision-making or trying to influence public policy decision makers, the phrase “perverse incentives” is a good term to remember. Someone may have a good motive for proposing a certain new public policy, but you must ask, “If we allow this new structure in the law, what doors will that open and what new interests will be vested in the results that will be allowed by the creation of this new public policy?”

The fact of the matter is that if we endorsed embryonic stem cell research and therapy officially, as a matter of public policy or law, it would cause an explosion of political pressure to allow more and more cases of killing innocent human lives for all sorts of other good reasons possibly related to this but also in other areas as well. You might think there is currently a lot of public pressure to endorse embryonic stem cell research in public policy, but once it has been allowed in the law, business is created, and people with sick family members are getting treated, there will become much stronger pressure to enlarge and keep moving boundaries. Consider allowing a little crack in a hydroelectric dam—just a little crack, not a very big crack. But there is so much pressure behind it that the more water you allow through, the weaker the dam will become. So the best way to maintain the integrity of the dam and keep the water in is to not allow the crack.

E. Ownership Relationship Replaces Stewardship Trust

A second specific problem is that if we allow the idea that it’s okay to take innocent human lives for therapeutic reasons, it would establish in the law the idea that participating in conception is morally equivalent to or in the same category morally as creating that human life. Now it might not sound like a big shift to say that there is a difference between participating in conception and having a relationship to human life as creator. Unfortunately, it’s a very, very significant shift. It’s a shift of view with regard to the status of human life from being a stewardship trust to an ownership relationship. You own what you make. You own what you craft. You own what you develop. Or, you can acquire ownership by compensating the person who made something. If you really own something, it is something that is totally yours because you created it and you can do with it what you want.

An artist who paints a picture and decides it’s not the picture he wants can cut it up, trash it, burn it, and start over again. A potter who is making a pot and doesn’t like the way it is cast can start over again. There is nothing morally wrong because he is the creator. But if the potter has made this pot and put it out on the window sill to dry and somebody else comes along and says, “I don’t like that pot,” and decides to break it, that is a moral offense. Why? It’s not his pot. He is not the owner of the pot. Well, how do we treat human life? Is human life something that we own or is human life a stewardship trust that Someone else created and gave us the privilege and responsibility of using but we don’t own? If we legitimize in public policy the idea that there is no difference in participating in conception and creation, it will have a tremendously perverse effect in the way people treat human life. Why? In this case, we’re talking about participating in conception in an artificial way, using devices such as test tubes. But there is an inherent danger in the idea that because you participated in the conception of that life it somehow gives you some kind of a right to kill it if you want.
Consider, for example, that parents are participating, albeit in a more natural way, in the conception of human life. If the mere fact that they have participated in the conception of human life somehow gives them an ownership relationship with it morally and we start creating that idea in law, then why should parents not be allowed to kill their kids if they don’t like them? If you legitimize that idea, it is going to have a tremendously perverse effect.

F. A Society of Classes is Created

A third danger of accepting and endorsing the taking of innocent human lives, in terms of the public policy implications, is that it would establish in law a matter of official public policy acceptance of the idea that there can be classes of human life. No one debates that life from conception is human life. (There is a debate, however, as to when that life is a person.) It is an unquestionable scientific fact that from conception what is conceived is actually individual, distinct from the parent’s human life. Human beings conceive human beings. Human life conceives human life. It’s not an animal, a plant, or something else. Life conceives life. Human life conceives human life.

So, it is human life from conception. Nobody debates that. However, it is possible that you could have classes of human life that are higher or lower and that you could say that there is a class of human life, unquestionably human life, that in embryonic form we don’t have to treat in the same way as other human life. No one is questioning that it is human life, but we don’t have to treat it at the same level. It is not as valuable, follows the rationale. This life we can choose to keep or sacrifice or use for utilitarian purposes to experiment upon because it is a lower class of human life.

The last time we did that, we had a problem with slavery. How was slavery justified? It’s human life, but it’s a lower class of human life and so the people in the higher class don’t have to treat the people in that class with as much respect, value, or dignity. That very idea would be officially endorsed by public policy acceptance of embryonic stem cell research. It would make slavery legitimate. We would have to apologize to the folks who have worked so hard against legalized slavery in Western culture, because we would be going back to accepting the idea that human life can be put into a lower class, and the higher class doesn’t have to accept the lower class and can begin treating it as a commodity and not as a full human being.

G. Compromise Still Takes Innocent Lives

The last danger, along with the danger of erecting classes of humans, is more specific to a core part of the debate right now in the public policy discussion. And that has to do with the main compromise that people are discussing in the public policy arena with regard to this. They’re saying, “Okay, one side thinks that allowing public policy acceptance and legalization of killing innocent human embryos is a bad thing. The other side doesn’t want any restrictions at all. Why don’t we sort of come half way?” The compromise view says, “We certainly shouldn’t allow people to be creating embryos in order to kill them for research. We’ll say that’s wrong, but we will sort of go half way. We’ll legalize, as a matter of public policy, use for experimentation therapy what are called ‘spare’ embryos, or leftover embryos, that have been created in a fertility clinic but not implanted during in-vitro fertilization. They are extra ones that nobody wants. Why don’t we just put them to good use? Since they have been created already, let’s allow them to be used as subjects of stem cell research and therapy.” Well, what’s wrong with that? What we need to think about is the idea at the core of this argument. The idea that you will have to accept if you allow that compromise is: If others, for whatever reason, have decided that human lives will die, then there is moral permission to do what we want, to harm or kill or experiment with those lives. They’re going to die anyway.

Now some people think, “Well, it’s going to happen anyway; let’s get some good out of it.” If you accept that idea, what other kinds of situations would be justified? What might it mean for prisoners on death row? In response, someone might say, “They’re going to die anyway, why don’t we just harvest their organs? Why don’t we do experiments on them and cut them up? If they’re going to die anyway, let’s get some benefit by experimenting on them since the decision has been made that they are going to die?”

There has been a tremendous horror and recoil in recent years over some experiments the last generation conducted on some black men from the South, in the Tuskegee, Mississippi area, who were suffering from incurable syphilis and going to die anyway. They couldn’t be cured with anything they could afford, so some scientists decided to get some benefit out of their suffering from terminal syphilis by watching how they died and getting some public benefit out of it. If we accepted the idea of classes of human beings, rather than recoiling from this decision, we would say, “Well I guess that was okay.”

Consider what Dr. Josef Mengele and some of his colleagues did in the Nazi death camps during the Holocaust. They had Jews in the concentration camps in Nazi Germany that they were going to kill anyway, so the medical people said, “Well, let’s get some benefit out of it and conduct some medical experiments on them, not for their benefit, but to see what we can learn about the human body from people that are going to die anyway.” The idea was that it would be okay to harm or kill them because somebody else has made a decision that they were going to die anyway. We recoil at that, and should recoil at that. But that’s exactly the line that we’re going to cross in American public policy and social acceptance if we allow public policy to endorse and accept even the compromise of saying it would be okay to experiment with the leftover, unwanted stem cells of embryos produced for in-vitro fertilization.

Crossing the line to allow experimentation on embryonic stem cells that involves the intentional killing of innocent human lives will corrupt American law and will, indeed, corrupt the moral tone of American life and culture in a very dangerous and bad way. Let me end with this quote by Gilbert Meilander in a very good, recent article. He says, “If they are destined to die anyway, what follows from that? Our relation to their dying is not a matter for moral indifference. It is one thing for us to acquiesce in their death; that’s bad enough. It is quite another for us to embrace their death as our aim. We cannot pretend that they simply are dying as if that were a natural fact independent of our will and choice.” And because we are thinking in terms of public policy implications on American life and culture, I think it’s also good to remember something that Dr. Paul Ramsey said. He said that the moral history of mankind is more important than its medical history. That really is the public policy implication—that if we cross that line, it will be disastrous for the moral history of mankind, particularly in America. And that is something we should not do.

THE ETHICS OF STEM CELL RESEARCH

Jerry Sutton, Ph.D.

A. The Dying Seek Life at the Cost of the Innocent

I listened to some of the addresses from the Democratic National Convention, and one address that I was most intrigued and irritated by was Ron Reagan’s plea that America embrace embryonic stem cell research because, after all, his father suffered from Alzheimer’s. The implication was that if embryonic stem cell research was implemented, obviously his father would not have suffered from Alzheimer’s. He built an emotional plea on what I consider very insufficient, inadequate, incorrect, and immoral information. If Ron Reagan sat across from me and said, “Okay, you’re a pastor, my dad was a Christian. What would you say to him and what would you say to me? I think embryonic stem cell research is a good thing,” and I have to take everything that I have learned from history, theology, sociology, and political science and wrap that all together and give what I’ll call a pastor’s response, how would I respond to that?

Yesterday, as I was driving back from Jackson, Tennessee, I saw a bumper sticker that said this: “Pro-woman. Pro-child. Pro-Choice.” Now what that tells me is that her presuppositions dictate her conclusions. And in the bumper sticker there are at least three presuppositions. One is that the right to abort belongs to the mother. A second presupposition is that the unborn child is not a person. And the third presupposition is that the aborting of a child is not an immoral act; it’s just a choice. Now each of these rests on the central premise that the unborn child is not a person and therefore has no rights.

B. God Knows the Unborn

That presupposition is wrong if you allow Scripture and the mind of God to dictate your presuppositions. Dr. Land has already alluded to Psalm 139 where David talked about how he was knit in his mother’s womb. He also referred to Jeremiah 1:5 in which the prophet said, “You knew me before I was born.” In Luke 1:15 the Bible says that John was filled with the Spirit prior to his birth. So personhood started prior to birth. As a matter of fact, I suspect that all of us would agree theologically, and medical science would agree that life begins at conception. Each of those persons—David, Jeremiah, and John—was known by God before he was born.

C. The Present Debate

Now, in our culture, in our society, since Roe v. Wade in 1973, abortion has been legalized. The premise of Roe v. Wade, and one of the major arguments, is that we just don’t know when life begins. Consequently, abortion became a right because it fell under the privacy issue. But just because something can be kept private does not mean it should not be legislated, controlled, or even condemned. If somebody says, “Well, I can molest my children in the privacy of my home,” we say, “That’s immoral, that’s ungodly, that’s a violation of the law.”

My argument is that Roe v. Wade is not legitimate. Presently, the debate in the United States is this: First, will we as a nation embrace embryonic stem cell research? If each child conceived is a person, then each embryonic stem cell harvest is an immoral act of murder. Second, will government pay for it? The argument is both utilitarian, “What’s the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” and pragmatic, “Will this help hurting people?” And yet, disregarding the cost/benefit analysis, the question needs to be asked, “Is this immoral and is this ungodly?” Dr. Heimbach referred to Mengele and the Holocaust. My question is, “Does this not smack of what Jay Lipton in the Nazi Doctors refers to as “life not worthy of life?”

Is it not possible that the entire movement to buttress the so far fruitless efforts of embryonic stem cell research is simply an attempt to further justify the unjustifiable abortion industry? The issue is what I would call the value of life and whether or not we individually and collectively will embrace God’s perspective on life. And with that, let me pose to you a question: If you were Ron Reagan sitting there, “What if you were the one who was the embryonic stem cell being donated? How would you feel about that?” I think that your answer would dictate the direction of where we ought to go as a nation and what we should embrace as Christians.

1 The recent success of Dr. Yamanaka of Japan broadened further the available sources of stem cells. He has successfully coaxed ordinary skin cells to revert to an embryo-like state. The resulting pluripotent stem cells offer a possible ultimate solution to the stem cell question because they make it possible for scientists to obtain unlimited supplies of pluripotent stem cells without harming any embryos.

2 As of January 2008, the score is about 74 to zero.

Further Learning

Learn more about: Life, Cloning, Reproductive Technology, Stem-Cell Research, Science, Bioethics,

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