What Is the Big Deal with Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

There is a huge debate going on in our country these days regarding the topic of stem cell research. Both sides of this debate have their backers based strictly on philosophical grounds. But it is the tangible implications in real life which validate or invalidate the philosophy, and these implications are already being played out. There are already state legislatures which have allocated millions of taxpayer dollars to fund stem cell research with more being considered. And currently our congressional leaders in Washington are looking to spend tens or perhaps hundreds of millions more in federal tax dollars. The question becomes, “Is this research ethical or is it Naziesque human experimentation?”

Before we go any further, let’s get some background. Stem cells are formed at the earliest stages of embryonic development and are unique because they have not yet formed into particular types of tissue. It is possible for stem cells to develop into one of 130 different human tissue types. It is believed that many new and effective medical treatments can be developed by cloning stem cells resulting in a renewable source of replacement tissues to treat virtually any disease, condition, or disability – including Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s, and Alzheimer’s diseases, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, brain damage, cancer, muscle damage, blood disorders, baldness, missing teeth, and deafness.

Make no mistake about it, as scientists harness stem cells, unbelievable medical breakthroughs will result. In fact, in some areas, these breakthroughs are already a reality. No one disputes that the development of this technology is a good thing. The controversy does not lie in whether or not the use of stem cells is good. Rather, it lies in the source of the stem cells. There are two primary sources.

The first are called embryonic stem cells and are obtained from embryos removed during abortions or produced by in-vitro fertilization. Scientists remove the stems cells from the already created embryos and clone them to produce the numbers they need for research.

The second source are called adult stem cells and are obtained from already existing bodily tissue. They are found in places such as the brain, bone marrow, umbilical cords, blood vessels, skeletal muscle, skin and liver. Typically, these cells lie dormant in the body until they are activated by disease or tissue injury. They then activate to regenerate tissue to heal the body. Whereas, to date, there has not been one single therapy derived from embryonic stem cells, adult stem cell therapies are already treating over seventy disorders.

So, why does it matter where the stem cells come from? Those who don’t believe in a God who created man in his own image or who believe that human life doesn’t begin at conception will say it doesn’t matter. And if they are right, it really doesn’t. But if, as most Christians believe, life does begin at conception, then the act of destroying an embryo to harvest stem cells becomes an act of murder and is no different than the human experimentation done in the Nazi death camps. It is the exact same issue which fuels the abortion debate.

So, here we have the source of the controversy and its expressions. Now, we as a society must determine which direction we wish to go.

© 2007 Freddy Davis