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Stem cells are the cells from which all 210 different kinds of tissue in the human body originate. Although a stem cell can give rise to more specialized cells, it cannot form an entire human being and is therefore not equivalent to an embryo. However, one major approach to obtaining stem cells involves the destruction of a human embryo.
Two independent teams of U.S. scientists -- one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the other at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland -- succeeded in isolating and culturing stem cells taken from two different sources. The Wisconsin team, headed by Dr. James Thomson, obtained its stem cells from surplus embryos donated by fertility clinics. This process necessitated the destruction of these embryos. The researchers at Johns Hopkins, led by Dr. John Gearhart, derived their stem cells from aborted fetal tissue.
Because many diseases -- such as Parkinsons disease, heart disease, and diabetes -- result from the death or dysfunction of a single cell type, scientists believe that the introduction of healthy cells of this type into a patient will restore lost or compromised function. Now that researchers have discovered means of isolating and culturing stem cells, they are hopeful that they can direct these cells into becoming the specialized cells and tissues that they need for transplant into patients. Understanding this process could lead to improved means of preventing and treating birth defects and cancer. Also, by producing a virtually unlimited supply of human cells and tissues in the laboratory, pharmaceutical researchers could develop and test new drugs in a manner previously not possible.
Underlying the passages of Scripture that refer to the unborn (Job 31:15; Psa. 139:13-16; Isa. 49:1; Jer.1:5; Gal. 1:15; Eph. 1:3-4) is the assumption that they are human beings who are created, known, and uniquely valued by God. Genesis 9:6 warns us against killing our fellow humanity, who are created in the very image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Furthermore, human embryonic life--as well as all of creation--exists primarily for Gods own pleasure and purpose, not ours (Col. 1:16).
Many proponents of human embryonic stem cell research argue that it is actually wrong to protect the lives of a few unborn human beings if doing so will delay treatment for a much larger number of people who suffer from fatal or debilitating diseases. However, we are not free to pursue good ends through immoral or unethical means (Deut. 27:25). The medical experiments in Nazi Germany should serve as just one reminder of the consequences of doing evil in the name of science. We must not sacrifice one class of human beings (the embryonic) to benefit another (those suffering from serious illness). Scripture resoundingly rejects the temptation to "do evil that good may result" (Romans 3:8).
The National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) has identified many potential avenues of stem cell research which would not involve the use of human embryos. Included in these are techniques which would stimulate the growth and specialization of stem cells found in adult tissues and the use of stem cells from bone marrow or umbilical cord blood. Recent scientific breakthroughs have demonstrated that the destruction of embryos may indeed not be at all necessary to achieve the benefits promised by stem cell research. Federal funds should be allotted to develop these alternative methods of stem cell research rather than those which require embryo destruction -- even if the latter promises more rapid medical advances.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that federal funds may legally be used to support research on human embryonic stem cells. Although federal funds may not be used to finance the destruction of embryos which occurs when the stem cells are obtained, this technicality is overcome by ensuring that embryo-derived stem cells are procured by privately-funded scientists, who in turn provide them to federally-funded researchers for experimentation. Because those who fund and carry out such research are in effect sanctioning the destruction of embryonic human life, they are also guilty of immoral action.
Federal funds will not be used for research on human embryonic stem cells until Congress and the public have had the opportunity to voice opposition to such research. Please help defend and protect the human embryo by urging the U.S. government to fund only methods of human stem cell research which do not involve human embryo destruction. You can make your voice heard on this critical issue by writing, telephoning, or e-mailing your U.S. Representatives and Senators. Contact information for each Representative is available at http://www.house.gov/ and for each Senator at http://www.senate.gov/, or through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Since the Congressional Majority Leadership and Senate Majority Leadership are setting the legislative agenda for the coming year, you may also voice your concerns by calling the Capitol switchboard and asking to speak with either of these leadership offices.
The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity
2065 Half Day Road
Bannockburn, IL 60015 USA
Phone: (847) 317-8180; Fax: (847) 317-8153
E-mail: email@example.com; Web Site: http://www.bioethix.org
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