Is It or Isn't It?
The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 (SCREA) recently passed in the U.S. House and has been sent on to the Senate. To his credit, President Bush has promised to veto SCREA if it reaches his desk. His veto threat, which would be the first of his presidency, has brought the stem cell controversy to the forefront once again.
The left, of course are up in arms over his threat. Much of the right, on the other hand, is supportive of the President's promise to veto SCREA. The difference is due to a fundamental disagreement on what a human embryo is, a disagreement that is at the heart of SCREA and the embryonic stem cell research controversy.
First, what, you ask, is the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 and why is it so controversial? Well, SCREA allows federal funding of stem cell research using stem cells harvested from human embryos. Although federal funding is currently allowed for research utilizing stem cells obtained from existing lines of embryonic stem cells (i.e. stem cells grown in a lab that are produces from stem cells originally harvested from human embryos), SCREA allows the destruction of viable embryos in order harvest stem cells from them as well.
Now here is where the problem comes in. Embryonic stem cell lines are produced by removing the inner cell mass of embryos a week or less old. The cells, when properly cultured, can grow and divide indefinitely, producing a continuing supply of stem cells virtually identical to the originals. Unfortunately, the embryo itself is destroyed in the process of harvesting the inner cell mass. This is how the 60 or so existing embryonic stem cell lines that federally funded research is currently allowed for have come into being. Keep in mind that the current federal funding of research involving the existing lines of embryonic stem cells does not involve the destruction of any human embryos other than what already have been destroyed to produce the existing lines. SCREA, on the other hand, does.
Here is where the disagreement on what a human embryo is come in to play. Those supportive of embryonic stem cell research in general, and SCREA in particular, tend to downplay the essential humanity of the embryo. Those opposed tend to highlight it. In other words, it boils down to this, is the human embryo valuable as a person or not.
Those supportive of human embryonic stem cell research downplay the value of the embryo as a distinct person. The embryo is portrayed as an undifferentiated mass or bundle of cells, the "product of conception," or an unviable tissue mass with the potential of life. Its humanity and uniqueness as a living human being is denied or downplayed.
This view is in distinct opposition to the God's view of the human embryo. Psalms 139:13-16 says, "For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them."
God's view is in complete accord with the biological facts of science. At the moment of conception, a new genetically distinct human being is created. That new person is a living person "covered" in the mother's womb. Although consisting of only one cell — the fertilized egg — it is "fearfully and wonderfully made" as any embryologist will concede. It is "unperfect", which in Hebrew indicates an unformed mass or ball. Yet, it contains a complete "book" or DNA genetic code in which the description of all its "members" are "written...when as yet there was none of them."
This new human life, "made in secret," will quickly grow from one cell to two to four and so on as it is "in continuance... fashioned" into a blastula, an embryo, a fetus, a new born baby, a toddler, an adolescent, and finally an adult. Any attempt to label one phase of human development "life" or "human" and another phase "non- or potential life" or prehuman is artificial and has no basis in biology. A human being is just as distinct, alive, and unique as a fertilized cell as an adult. The only real biological difference is the stage of growth and development it is at.
Even those who may believe that the embryo is a human being sometimes justify human stem cell research on the basis of the great potential for medical advances, treatments, and cures. Unfortunately, they fall prey to several erroneous arguments.
First, human embryos are not the only source of stem cells. Stem cells are readily available from adult somatic (body) cells, umbilical cord blood, and the placenta. None of these sources involve the destruction of human lives as does the harvesting of embryonic stem cells.
Second, embryonic stem cells have shown little real potential for significant medical advances, treatments, and cures. In stark contrast to at least 58 proven successes with adult stem cells, there have been none, zero, nada, for embryonic stem cells. Perhaps that is why private research and funds have gravitated toward adult stem cell research over embryonic and the proponents of embryonic stem cell research are looking to the public trough for funding at the state and federal levels.
And, thirdly, there is the argument that embryonic stem cell research will only be carried out with the surplus embryos resulting from in vitro fertilization in fertility clinics, many which are stored in a frozen state. These embryos, it is argued, are unwanted and often discarded anyway so why not make use of them? With that argument in mind, why not make use of the elderly, the terminally ill, those on death row or imprisoned for life, orphans, or other wards of the state who are unwanted and, in effect, often discarded anyway? Hey, it worked for the Nazis in Germany and the communists in the Soviet Union, Communist China and North Korea! Besides, the use of existing surplus embryos is only the first step on the slippery slope to creating embryos for the purpose of harvesting their stem cells.
No, if you believe that a human embryo is a human being, then you must respect it as such. The above arguments do not morally justify the destruction of human life. They merely attempt to alleviate the guilt that comes from killing an unborn person. No wonder most supporters of embryonic stem cell research prefer to think of the embryo as something other than a unique human being. It's a lot easier to justify harvesting a thing as opposed to a person.
It all comes down to this, what is your belief about the human embryo? Is it or isn't it a human life? Biology and the Bible say it is.
If you believe that the human embryo is a human life, what value do you ascribe to it? Is it or isn't it a distinct person deserving of nurture and protection? After all, Jesus said, "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows." (Luke 12:6-7)
If you do not believe that the human embryo is a human life, then what is it? Is it or isn't it alive? Is it or isn't it human. If it isn't alive it is dead. If it isn't human, than what is it? And at what point does it suddenly become a live human being? At six weeks? At six months? At birth? At it's first birthday?
Hat's off to President Bush and all those opposed to the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005. And hats off to all those who are opposed to the willful destruction of human beings by the harvesting of embryonic stem cells. After all, didn't Jesus say in Matthew 25:44-45, "Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me." Wouldn't unborn human beings count as the "least" among us?