Q: #331. Why are some Christians against embryonic stem cell research?
A: First, for those who do not know what an embryonic stem cell (ESC) is, let’s look at a very simple definition. In short, when a woman’s egg is fertilized with a man’s sperm, it creates a single cell called a zygote. This zygote becomes an embryo as it begins to divide over a period of several days into about 50 – 100 cells (also called a blastocyst, which is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence). It is within that embryo that embryonic stem cells are found. These stem cells have the ability to grow into any kind of cell contained within the body, which is why they are so prized.
Now, let’s look at embryonic stem cell research. The ESC’s that are used for this research primarily come from one source and that is called “in vitro fertilization” (IVF). In IVF, the process of creating an embryo is done in a lab. A woman’s eggs and a man’s sperm are mixed together in a Petri dish. Some of the eggs become fertilized, and then become embryos. One (or more) of these embryos are then placed in a woman’s uterus, in hopes she may become pregnant.
The controversy begins here. Generally, there are embryos that are created during this process that are not used. These are usually frozen, possibly to be used later if pregnancy does not occur. However, if pregnancy does occur, then what do you do with these left over embryos? Those involved in ESC research would like to have them donated for their research, and often ask for permission to do so.
So, why are some Christians against this? It all comes down to when a person believes life begins. Christians should understand (only about one-fourth do) that life begins at the moment of conception (or when a woman’s egg is fertilized with sperm). The Bible teaches us this. God/Jesus is the creator of ALL life: God (Gen 1:1)(Isa 42:5)(Isa 45:18) / Jesus (Col 1:16)(Heb 1:10)(Jn 1:3). God knows, and has always known each person, and what they would become before He even created them (Ps 139:13-16)(Jer1:5)(Isa 44:24)(Isa 49:1,5). Life is not considered to be at some point after conception, life is considered to be AT conception. God creates the single cell zygote. I like how the KJV Bible does not use the term “pregnant,” but rather, it uses the term “with child” (2 Sam 11:5)(1 Sam 4:19)(2 Kin 15:16)(Mt 1:23)(Mt 24:19)(Mk 13:17). At conception, a woman has a CHILD.
This is crucial to the debate because when ESC researchers harvest the stem cells from an embryo, it dies. In other words, in more graphic terms, an unborn child is killed.
However, nearly all who support ESC research, do not believe that life begins at conception, but rather at a later time. Many define this time as the point at which the fetus is potentially able to live outside of its mother’s womb (somewhere in the mid 20 weeks). Some use other measures, which we will not discuss here, to determine when they consider a life to begin. Using these measures, the time can range anywhere from several weeks after a woman’s egg is fertilized up to the moment a baby is born! (This is how some people justify late-term abortions.) Therefore, since an embryo is not considered life, it is acceptable to destroy it.
Another point ESC researchers argue is that the “extra embryos” from IVF would be discarded anyway and die as a result, therefore, they should be used to help others instead. (I would argue that they should not be created in the first place!) And, even if there might be some issues in using them, so many diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, birth defects, diabetes, and more could potentially be cured (none have been so far using ESC’s) that the moral cost is justified. (I would argue that forcefully taking someone’s life to save another is never justified.)
It should be noted that there are several alternatives to destroying embryos in order to get stem cells. ESC’s can also be found in umbelical cord blood, and researchers have had promising results using them. There are also “adult stem cells.” In using adult stem cells, there is no destruction of life. These have also shown great promise.
In closing, let me add one more thing. As of right now (in 2014), it is only legal to use existing embryos (app. several hundred thousand) that were created via IVF for ESC research. In other words, new embryos cannot be created JUST for the purpose of using them in research. However, if we continue down the slippery slope we are on, this position could change at any time. This would make a horrible situation even worse! It also opens the door to other horrible things such as human cloning, selective breeding, rewarding abortion in order to harvest ESC’s (ESC’s can also come from aborted fetuses) and more. All of the above reasons are why Christians should stand against ESC research.