Stem cell/human cloning debate gears up
24 May 2005
Two announcements have hit the world’s headlines hot on each other’s heels. UK scientists have cloned that country’s first human embryo, and South Korean researchers have cloned cells from adults to make the world’s first ‘patient-specific’ embryos. From these, stem cell lines can be produced which tailor-match the patient’s own genetic code.
To explain the Korean technique: donor eggs have their DNA removed, and replaced with the DNA of a cell from an adult patient ‘P’. (This is similar to the technique used to create the sheep clone ‘Dolly’.)
These cells start to divide just like a fertilized human zygote (the single cell formed when the sperm fertilizes the egg). At the 5–7 day stage, the embryo is destroyed, but stem cells harvested from it can be cultured as ‘cell lines’ which, because they have the same DNA as ‘P’, can theoretically be used to grow new tissue of many different sorts for repairing damaged or diseased parts of ‘P’.
The researchers say they are not performing the cloning for reproductive purposes, but strictly for ‘therapeutic’ ones (see First human embryo clone? What really happened, and what are the ethics involved? for the difference). They actually warn that it would be ‘dangerous’ to attempt reproductive cloning. However, the bottom line is that if implanted in a womb and thereby nourished, each cloned embryo would keep dividing and the pregnancy would go to term, i.e. the child would be born. And beyond that the child would go on to become a fully-grown adult human.1Thus, human life is being initiated, only to be deliberately destroyed.
With such technology, and the apparent promise of wonderful cures, we can expect the moral boundaries to get increasingly blurred. Unfortunately, our modern world has largely abandoned the moral absolutes of God’s Word, having been seduced into putting fallible human opinions and reasoning above the Bible (‘Well, yes, I know the text of Genesis says six days, but …’).So the pressure to compromise, in the name of ‘alleviating suffering’, will grow ever greater, even within Christian circles. As at the date of writing, some allegedly ‘pro-life’ US senators are already pushing to overturn their president’s existing ‘partial’ ban on embryo research.
If guided by God’s Word, researchers would cease all efforts that involved the destruction of innocent human life. Instead, they would divert the same time, energy and resources into following the very promising leads of adult stem cell research, which has already produced a large number of clinically proven benefits.2 Adult stem cells, or even those derived from the umbilical cord blood of a newborn, do not require innocent human life to be either initiated or destroyed.Helping cure disease is a wonderful aim, but a moral end does not justify immoral means. For a tremendous overview of the science and ethics of this whole area, which also answers objections in detail, see Dr Jonathan Sarfati’s article Stem cells and Genesis.
References and notes
- The researchers are trying to bypass the ethical issues by hairsplitting about the fact that no sperm-egg fertilization was involved, labelling the dividing embryo as a ‘nuclear transfer construct, not an embryo’. Stanford bioethicist David Magnus throws in his support by claiming that ‘There is no reason ever to believe one of these things could ever become a human being’. But this is an exceedingly strange claim, since the same sort of process in the case of ‘Dolly’ led to an adult sheep. Return to text.
- The breakthroughs in cures and therapies, including promising trials, are in areas as diverse as sickle cell anemia, cancers, spinal chord injuries and diabetes. But even if that were not the case, destroying embryonic humans for therapeutic gain would not be somehow more justified. Return to text.