(David) Windham has presented (March 19 Advocate) a misinformed view of stem cell research.
In vitro fertilization is the combining of the female and male gametes in laboratory glassware to produce a fertilized egg which grows in the glassware to several cells — an embryo which is implanted in the uterus to grow to full term and delivery. Because of uncertainties in the procedure, extra embryos are usually produced. These left-over embryos, each a potentially unique human being, which are preserved for possible future implantation by freezing in liquid nitrogen. It is these frozen embryos that researchers are seeking. Embryonic stem cells are collected by cutting apart an embryo, which destroys it.
The recent change in federal policy permits federal money to be given in grants for embryonic stem cell studies without limiting the cell source to previously established lines. There has been ongoing embryonic stem cell research in the United States and other countries, and there has been no indication that such work will lead to a cure for any ailment. Indeed, after the ban on the use of federal funds for harvesting stem cells from new embryos was lifted, the scientific establishment changed from the previous position of promising cures to stating it would be decades before any results are known.
Embryonic stem cell research does not require human embryos; laboratory animals will suffice, and extensive animal studies should be required before any human trials will be undertaken. The policy change has a lot to do with money and with dehumanizing a human fetus but has very little to do with healing.
I learned long ago from a man much wiser than I that the commandment is best translated in modern English as "You will not do murder." Is destroying an embryo murder? Does a miscarried fetus have a soul? Does a child who dies in the womb during delivery deserve a Christian burial? A secular government cannot define life, state when life begins nor state when life ends. These things are in the domain of God. For me, life begins at conception and destroying a life for medical experimentation is an abomination, whether carried out in the Nazi death camps or in a university laboratory.
I respect (Donald) Windham’s opinion on the use of frozen embryos to further scientific knowledge, but I wish to point out the strides recently made by not using federal funds to grow these cell lines.
I don’t know whether using left-over embryos as a source of stem cells is a form of abortion, but I do know that these embryos will grow into human babies if implanted in a human uterus in their current state. Nothing special has to be done to them except the thawing process and the implantation. This to me indicates that they perhaps are more than just a dead frozen thing in liquid nitrogen.
A major problem for me is that we have the “left-over” embryos at all. Perhaps fertility specialists should revisit their methods and only fertilize eggs that are going to be implanted in the immediate future. Then there would be no frozen leftovers to worry about. The current state of the art of fertility science allows freezing the eggs before fertilization, so perhaps this should be the norm, not freezing embryos after fertilization.
Another point to ponder: If President Bush had allowed federal funding to pay for research using these frozen embryos, the current amazing breakthroughs in turning adult skin cells into stem cells would probably not have taken place. This process is called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS. As a clinical laboratory scientist, I am all for medical research, but as a Christian, I think maybe we are trying to hurry things and make the end justify the means. The end in this case is the cure of disease and repair of organs, while the means should be the use of regressed cells into stem cells, not the use of fertilized embryos.
The embryonic stem cell lines, when used in the human body to replace and repair diseased organs, often break down into malignant growths. The stem cells that have been produced by regression of adult cells do not seem to have this same flaw. In addition, these cells used to repair your brain (as in Parkinson’s Disease), or your heart (as in aortic stenosis) will be your own cells, so no anti-rejection drugs will be needed. If federal funds had been allowed to pay for research using embryos instead of adult skin cells, then the breakthroughs that have come about by this latter research would probably not have taken place.
Maybe we should stop and pray for guidance in science as we do in other areas of our lives. Maybe we should trust God a little more. Many awful, terrible things in this world are a direct result of our lack of faith in Him and our lack of true belief that He actually exists and has our best interests in mind. God made this world, and He inspires and guides those who ask for His help. These new, amazing findings using adult cells are not accidental; they are a direct result of scientists not using embryonic stem cells. Just maybe the Lord was using politicians as a force for good, even while we mere mortals saw the political decisions as a stumbling block to scientific research.
For more information on these amazing scientific breakthroughs using regressed skin cells, please Google “induced pluripotent skin cells.”