Stem cells and Genesis
[2001; Updated from time to time with new research information; last update 2 September 2014]
Editor: We are re-posting this 2001 Journal article on the front page, because it is an overview of what has been a very controversial issue. The basic biblically-based moral principles have not changed, of course: that is: research that destroys embryos is immoral, even if it could be demonstrated to lead to cures, while there is nothing wrong with adult stem cell research. Embryonic stem cell research is also intimately linked to abortion and human cloning.
The scientific discoveries since this paper have likewise amply vindicated the original article’s points that adult stem cell research was a very fruitful avenue of research, already with proven cures. It has actually been hard to keep up with all the new lines of adult stem cell research, that is convincing many scientists that there is no longer even a scientific case for embryonic stem-cell research.
On 17 December 1999, the cover story of Science 286(5448) hailed stem cell research as the ‘Breakthrough of the Year’. The cover story ‘Capturing the promise of youth’ contained the headline, ‘In 1999, researchers recognized the extraordinary potential of stem cells, immature cells with the ability to become different kinds of tissue — and perhaps to heal many different kinds of illness.’
But embryonic stem cell research has more recently been the object of controversy in both the US Senate and the media, as well as in governments around the world. Recently, a senator quoted Genesis in order to justify research on stem cells derived from embryos, even if it meant their destruction.
In some ways, the controversy is unnecessary because of well-known science deliberately overlooked in many circles even though the above Science article mentioned it — the great potential of adult (i.e. non-embryonic) stem cell research. But in another sense, the controversy shows a terrifying malaise in Western society not seen since Germany in the 1920s–40s. This can teach us many things, and has become especially topical for Creation Ministries International because some participants in the controversy have quoted Genesis to justify their stances. Those who want to skip the main article can go to the Summary.
In an address on 9 August 2001, President George W. Bush announced that he would prohibit federal (i.e. US-Taxpayer) funding for destroying human embryos for stem cell research, but not funding for 60 already-existing stem cells lines obtained by past killing of embryos. See White House Fact Sheet on Bush’s ESCR Decision. For CMI’s comment, see this Addendum
What are stem cells?
To understand stem cells, it’s necessary to summarize briefly the development of an individual. Each individual begins as a single cell—a zygote or an ovum fertilized by a spermatozoon. This fertilized ovum has all the instructions coded in the DNA to make us what we are physically (given the right environmental conditions).
But as the embryo grows, different cells in different places have to specialize, so that only certain instructions are executed—the cells become differentiated. The instructions are there, but turned off somehow. There are complicated genetic switches involved, and also a process called methylation—attaching methyl groups to the chemical ‘letters’ of DNA which code for instructions that need to be ‘turned off’.
All the on/off switching must occur in the right sequence; the information of this sequence is partly encoded in the DNA, but there are also controls outside the genes, hence the term epigenetic. This is why it would be impossible to clone dinosaurs and mammoths even if we found intact DNA—we would need the ovum (mother’s egg) too.
The result of these elaborately designed switching sequences is that bone cells execute only instructions pertaining to bone—the instructions for blood, nerves, skin, etc. are still in the cells’ DNA, but turned off. Similarly for blood, skin and other types of cells.
However, stem cells are undifferentiated to some degree, because they are like embryonic cells in that many of their instructions haven’t been turned off, so they have the potential to grow into many types of tissue. Therefore many researchers have high hopes that they could be used to regrow damaged tissue. They hope that it could help Parkinson’s disease, insulin-dependent (Type 1) diabetes (IDD), heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and repair nerves damaged by spinal injuries.
Several terms are sometimes used to distinguish types of stem cell in terms of the degree of differentiation. The fertilized ovum is called totipotent, i.e. has the total potential to form a whole organism. It first divides into several identical totipotent cells, which in some cases can develop into identical twins. The early stage of the embryo’s development forms a blastocyst, or hollow ball of cells. The outer layers form the placenta, while the inner cell mass develops into the tissues required for the organism. The inner cells have the potential to form most types of tissue — but not an organism, because the information for the placenta has been turned off. Such cells are called pluripotent, because they have the potential to develop into most tissues. As embryo develops further, more specialization occurs, and the stem cells have less potential, but can still develop into a number of tissue, so are called multipotent.
The main controversy is the use of stem cells from embryos — embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). These stem cells are the pluripotent inner cells of the blastocyst which develop in the first few days after fertilization. Some high-profile celebrities with disabilities or diseases are pro-ESCR, e.g. the quadriplegic former Superman star Christopher Reeve, insulin-dependent diabetic Mary Tyler Moore, and Michael J. Fox who has Parkinson’s.
Where are stem cells found?
What has been largely overlooked are the many successes of treatments with adult stem cells. In this context, this doesn’t mean the stem cells are necessarily from adult humans, but merely not derived from embryos. Therefore such cells from body tissues are formally called somatic stem cells, from the Greek σωματικός (sōmatikos) from σώμα (sōma, sōmat–) = body.
One obvious benefit is that there will be no problem with tissue rejection by patients to stem cells from their own tissues! This wilful ignorance of the proven merits of adult stem cells suggests another agenda (discussed below) beyond the emotive appeals that pro-life sentiment is allegedly hindering potentially life-enhancing research. As shown, one point must be emphasized: despite media portrayals, there is not widespread opposition to stem cell research per se — it’s a matter of where the stem cells come from. CMI does support stem cell research — using the tried and tested adult stem cells. Indeed, they have been responsible for over 70 successful treatments compared to 0 for embryonic, for example:
- Adult stem cells are ‘Hidden in the nooks and crannies of our brains, bone marrow, and hair follicles.’1
- C.J. Chiu, a professor of cardiothoracic surgery at McGill University Health Center in Montreal, injected a type of stem cell from bone marrow, called a stromal cell, into the hearts of rats. These cells differentiated into new heart muscle that made the right connections to nearby cells so they could all beat together.2
- Cardiologists from Johns Hopkins University biopsied tiny amounts of tissue from pig’s hearts after they induced a heart attack. Then they extracted the stem cells, transplanted them into the heart. After two months, the cells had developed into mature heart cells and vessel-forming endothelial cells, repairing the damage. See Adult pig stem cells repair heart damage.
- Fetal stem cells were extracted from human amniotic fluid, and they grew into heart valves. The researchers rightly described this as "ethical", since the baby is not killed. See Heart Valves Grown From Womb Fluid Cells .
There are many causes of blindness involving the deterioration of blood vessels in the eyes. The hereditary disease retinitis pigmentosa (RP) involves degeneration of blood vessels, while age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy are caused by excess growth of blood vessels. In an experiment by a team from Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA led by Martin Friedlander, a type of stem cells from bone marrow called endothelial precursor cells (EPCs) could be injected into the eyes of mice. They had no effect on healthy mice, but in mice with a genetic defect that causes blood vessels to degenerate, the EPCs incorporated themselves into the blood vessels and preserved them from degeneration. And EPCs genetically modified to produce a protein that inhibits blood vessel growth would stop new blood vessels growing, so show promise to treat the diseases resulting from proliferation.3
Friedlander points out that eye diseases often involve nerve problems as well as vascular ones. But this might be solved by an ealier study also involving adult stem cells. In rats, stem cells from the hippocampal region of the brain were transplanted into their eyes, and migrated to damaged parts of their retinas and even began to make nerve connections. This may have promise for helping restore vision in patients with these problems as well as retinal detachment.4
- Stem cells and other versatile ‘transient amplifying cells’ found in the outer root sheath of hair follicles can be transformed into skin cells which can be used for skin grafts.5
- A team led by University of Florida immunologist Ammon Peck permanently cured insulin-dependent diabetes in mice, with stem cells from adult pancreatic ducts. The stem cells differentiated in vitro into the insulin producing structures called the islets of Langerhans. These islets were injected under the skin of adult mice with IDD, and they functioned as a pancreas, releasing insulin, and blood vessels developed toward them. In a week or so, the mice could regulate their blood glucose levels again. Dr Peck said:6
- PPL Therapeutics PLC, the British firm that helped clone Dolly the sheep, intends to experiment with a new technique called dedifferentiation, i.e. undoing the process of differentiation. They hope to return a skin cell from an adult human to its embryonic state—they claim to have already achieved this with a cow.7
- Closer to home, the husband of one of the AiG(USA) staff had a bad case of bone marrow cancer, and donated over 30 million of his own stem cells, which were extracted from his blood prior to his first bone-marrow transplant. These are called hematopoietic [blood-forming] stem cells.
- In the middle of 2007, papers reported on how bone marrow stem cells could be used for vascular tissue engineering, forming soft tissue and blood vessels including the smooth muscles important for vasoconstriction, and developing new skin. Bone marrow stem cells also aid hearing recovery by repairing injured cochlear fibrocytes when injected into the inner ear, and repair faulty eyesight by becoming producers of ‘keratocan, a natural protein involved in the growth of the cornea—the transparent, outer layer of the eyeball.’.
Bone marrow stem cells have also been used to rebuild a woman’s windpipe. Claudia Castillo, a 30-year-old Colombian mother of two living in Barcelona, Spain, suffered respiratory damage from tuberculosis, which also clogged her windpipe. A pan-European surgical team obtained a seven-centimetre tracheal segment from a 51-year-old transplant donor who had died of cerebral haemorrhage. They removed all the donor cells and antigens leave the connective tissue ‘skeleton’. Then they obtained bone marrow cells from Castillo, cultured into a large population, then some were matured into cartilage cells (chrondrocytes) by a method devised by Professor Anthony Hollander at the University of Bristol, and others were used to generate epithelial cells. Using a novel bioreactor which incubates cells, developed at the Politecnico di Milano, Italy, chondrocytes were then seeded into donor trachea on the outside on the outside, while the epithelial cells were seeded on the inside to form the lining. Four days later, this manufactured windpipe was used to replace Castillo's left bronchus. A month after that, it bled during a biopsy, showing that blood vessels had already grown back normally.
Martin Birchall, Professor of Surgery at the University of Bristol, stated:
‘Surgeons can now start to see and understand the very real potential for adult stem cells and tissue engineering to radically improve their ability to treat patients with serious diseases. We believe this success has proved that we are on the verge of a new age in surgical care.’
Anthony Hollander, Arthritis Research Campaign Professor of Rheumatology and Tissue Engineering at the University of Bristol, agreed:
‘This successful treatment manifestly demonstrates the potential of adult stem cells to save lives.’
This major medical breakthrough for adult stem cell cures was published in The Lancet.52
An abundant source of stem cells is umbilical cord blood, which already have proven themselves in treating leukemia. A more recent discovery was that stem cells from umbilical cord blood were injected into mice which had suffered strokes, and they effected a 50% recovery in brain tissue. The About Genetics article Umbilical Cord Stem Cells: Hope for Millions? reports (21 February 2001):
‘Researchers attending the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science presented research suggesting that stem cells from umbilical cord blood may be as useful as stem cells found in fetuses. This breakthrough may lead to an easing of tensions surrounding stem cell research and could eventually lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of brain damage and brain disease. …
‘Given the abundance of umbilical cord stem cells and the fact that umbilical cord cells are already being used for other disorders like childhood leukemia, many researchers expect that umbilical cord stem cells will start being used to treat stroke victims within the next few years.’
Umbilical cord stem cells enabled a 37-year-old woman in South Korea to walk after a bad fall from a bridge into a creek had paralyzed her 19 years before. The researchers described in Cytotherapy (September 2005)46 how Hwang Mi-soon first recovered feeling and then movement in her legs, then stand upright. She proved that she could walk with a frame, and there is demonstrable ‘regeneration of the spinal cord at the injured site.’
Umbilical cord blood stem cells have also grown a liver. Dr Nico Forraz and Professor Colin McGuckin of Newcastle University, UK, worked with NASA scientists in Houston, US, to grow an artificial miniature liver. Although these livers are the size of a small coin, they are the first step to grow a fully grown liver. Meanwhile, they will reduce the need to test drugs on humans and animals. For this research, Drs Forraz and McGuckin won the science and technology award at the North East Universities Business Planning Competition. But as Wesley Smith points out, this is The Big Stem Cell Research Breakthrough The Media Won’t Disclose.
Probably the best source of stem cells is liposuctioned fat, which should not be hard to obtain in the country with the highest rate of obesity in the world. Researchers have grown cartilage, muscle, or more fat cells, from such stem cells, depending on the nutrients in which the cells were grown.8 Charles Vacanti, M.D., professor and chairman of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and a co-editor of Tissue Engineering commented:9
‘These findings are extremely significant for several reasons. They demonstrate the tremendous potential of adult-derived stem and progenitor cells, which are potentially superior to fetal-derived cells. Not only do they avoid the problems associated with rejection, but they may also be simpler to differentiate into the specific tissue needed. Most significantly, their use will very likely obviate the therapeutic need for fetal cells, making that ethical debate a moot point.’
In fact, stem cells derived from fat, adipose-derived adult stromal (ADAS) cells, have healed a rat’s skull fracture too big to fix by itself. This is proof that it can work in a living animal. If it could be applied to humans, it would be a whole new way of mending broken bones and repairing other defects now requiring bone grafts and prosthetics. See Fat stem cells heal broken skulls.
In 2006, stem cells from fatty tissue were shown to differentiate into smooth muscle cells—smooth muscle is the involuntary type essential to movement of the intestine, blood vessels and urinary tract. The abstract of the paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states:
‘Clonal studies of adipose derived multipotent cells demonstrated differentiation of these cells into smooth muscle cells in addition to trilineage differentiation capacity. Importantly, smooth muscle-differentiated cells, but not their precursors, exhibit the functional ability to contract and relax in direct response to pharmacologic agents. In conclusion, adipose-derived cells have the potential to differentiate into functional smooth muscle cells and, thus, adipose tissue can be a useful source of cells for treatment of injured tissues where smooth muscle plays an important role.’47
The article Stem cells from skin grow into brain tissue provided still more evidence for adult stem cell benefits.10 A team led by Jean Toma and Freda Miller at McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute, Canada, grew stem cells from skin (the dermis) into smooth muscle cells, fat cells and brain cells. They were successful with stem cells from mouse skin and from human scalp. The article commented:
‘The new research, published Nature Cell Biology, bolsters the view that scientists can find alternative — and less controversial sources of stem cells … one intriguing aspect of growing them from stem cells found in skin is that scientists could have a vast and easily accessible supply. This breakthrough may lead to an easing of tensions surrounding stem cell research and could eventually lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of brain damage and brain disease. …
‘Patients receiving new tissue grown from stem cells taken from their own skin would face far fewer problems of rejection, if any, than they would after receiving a transplant of stem cells derived from human embryos.’
- The article Brain cells offer disease hope yet again ‘proves that embryonic stem cells are not the only stem cells able to be developed into new cells.’ A team at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia, grew neurons from adult neural stem cells (NSCs) from mouse brains.11 The authors state: ‘This demonstrates that a predominant, functional type of stem cell exists in the periventricular region of the adult brain with the intrinsic ability to generate neural and non-neural cells.’ They believe that the technique can be applied to humans and offers ‘hopes of a treatment for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.’
- The leading German biological journal Naturwissenschaften showed that mesenchymal stem or mesenchymal progenitor cells (MSC) from adult bone marrow stroma ‘have the potential to develop either in vitro or in vivo into distinct mesenchymal tissues, including bone, cartilage, fat, tendon, muscle, and marrow stroma (connective tissue), which suggest these cells as an attractive cell source for tissue engineering approaches.’12
- Mesenchymal stem cells are able to regenerate the cells that comprise the gel-like tissue inside the vertebral discs, the nucleus pulposus, and thus treat chronic back pain. For this, Dr Stephen Richardson, of the University of Manchester’s Division of Regenerative Medicine in the School of Medicine, was named Northwest Young Biotechnologist of the Year (sponsored by Nature). He said, ‘Once implanted the differentiated MSCs would produce a new NP tissue with the same properties as the original and would both treat the underlying cause of the disease and remove the painful symptoms.’ One-off treatment to stop back pain — Using patients’ own stem cells.
- The NewScientist.com article Ultimate stem cell discovered describes the ‘exciting’ experiments by a team led by Catherine Verfaillie of the University of Minnesota. They extracted (or possibly generated) what is probably a truly pluripotent stem cell from adult bone marrow.13 These multipotent adult progenitor cells (MAPCs) have been grown into many different tissue types, including muscle, cartilage, bone, liver and different types of neurons and brain cells. This discovery should have been the final nail in the coffin for ESCR by removing the last excuse, the latter’s supposedly greater versatility. But the deafening media silence provides further support for my arguments below that the secular media have an anti-life agenda.
New Scientist described a successful treatment of the disease using a patient’s own neural stem cells extracted from his brain.14 Parkinson’s disease is caused by damage to brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. So the stem cells were grown in the lab under conditions that favoured the development of neurons that made this vital neurotransmitter, then implanted into the patient’s brain.
‘Before the operation, the man’s condition had been deteriorating, despite drug treatment. But now, three years after the treatment, the patient has no symptoms …’
Conversely, the article pointed out that neural cells from aborted babies ‘alleviates the Parkinson’s symptoms in some, but can cause serious side effects such as a worsening tremor.’ See also the web version, Re-implanted stem cells tackle Parkinson’s, 8 April 2002.
- A Welsh baby boy Rhys Evans has been cured of the fatal ‘bubble boy’ disease using cells from their bone marrow. The disease is caused by a defective gene on the X-chromosome that stops the development of T cells, a vital part of the immune system. Researchers at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, used a modified retrovirus to add a normal copy of the gene to the stem cells. Rhys now has normal T cell levels seven months after treatment, and another boy is doing well three months after treatment.15
- Muscle stem cells have been grown into muscles themselves, as well as components such as connective tissue, blood vessels and nerves. Researchers have injected such stem cells into mice with a disease similar to Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and much of the wasted muscles regenerated, so that up to 20% of the muscle mass came from the stem cells. This treatment is still in the early days though. 16
Duchenne muscular dystrophy could also be helped by a novel type
of adult stem cell, called a mesoangioblast, which can be harvested from
small blood vessels. Giulio Cossu and colleagues ‘preprogrammed’ to
develop into muscle cells in dogs. These stem cells:
‘show several distinct advantages over these other cells. They are relatively easy to isolate, and their numbers can be expanded greatly in tissue culture without losing the ability to form muscle. When mesoangioblasts are infused into arteries, they pass through vessel walls to engraft within, and rescue, damaged muscle cells with a surprisingly high efficiency. Such properties are ideal for treating a disease such as muscular dystrophy in which muscles all over the body need to be repaired. ’50
- Bone marrow stem cells helped to restore damage to hearts after a heart attack. These cells were extracted from the bone marrow of six patients, and injected into the boundary between living and dead heart muscle tissue. All six patients showed improvements in heart strength and blood supply, indicating that the stem cells differentiated into cardiac muscle and blood vessels.17
- Bone marrow stem cells have generated brain tissue, so could lead to treatment for Alzheimer’s. Eva Mezey’s team at the US National Institute Neurological Diseases and Strokes analysed the brains of four women during autopsies, all of whom had bone marrow transplants from men. Some of the brain cells from all four women had the male Y chromosome, conclusively proving that they came from the marrow. Mezey thinks that damaged tissue attracts circulating stem cells via chemical signals. Their work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Transplanted bone marrow generates new neurons in human brains.
- Some Italian researchers at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan used adult neural stem cells to cure mice with multiple sclerosis. These stem cells from the brain ‘almost abolished’ the ‘functional impairment’.40 ‘The stem cells help repair scarred and inflamed brain and nerve tissue.’41
Adult stem cell researcher was named 2003 Queenslander of the Year! This was Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, deputy director of Griffith University’s School new Institute for Cellular and Molecular Therapies in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. He has extracted stem cells from the upper part of one side of the nose, because that is the only area of the nervous system outside the brain that can regrow. He has transplanted these stem cells to the spinal cords of paraplegic patients in the hope that the damaged nerves can regenerate. It is too early to know whether it will work, but so far there have been no ill effects to the patients. Prof. Mackay-Sim also hopes to use nasal stem cells to treat Parkinson’s and schizophrenia. His work has been supported by the Queensland State Government as well as a $50,000 grant from the Catholic Church designed to support adult stem cell research.42
This was not the only research into adult stem cells in Queensland. The husband-and-wife professors Gordon and Julie Campbell have grown new blood vessels from hematopoietic stem cells. This should be a great help to patients needing heart bypass surgery. At present, the arteries needed must come from another part of the body, and this can be painful and slow to heal.42
Professor Perry Bartlett’s work with brain stem cells to replace repair damaged nerve cells was the cover story of Nature.43 He believes that this research could also help us to understand brain function, and help repair damaged or diseased brains and retard aging. He has been appointed to the University of Queensland’s foundation chair in neuroscience.42
Olfactory stem cells have been shown to be most versatile. Indeed, Adult stem cells from the nose have now helped paraplegic patients walk. From the primary source, Carlos Lima et al., Olfactory mucosal autografts and rehabilitation for chronic traumatic spinal cord injury, Neurorehabil Neural Repair 24(1):10–22 | doi: 10.1177/1545968309347685.
Of the 13 patients assessed by functional studies, 1 paraplegic patient (patient 9) can ambulate with 2 crutches and knee braces with no physical assistance and 10 other patients can ambulate with walkers with or without braces with physical assistance.
One tetraplegic [paralyzed in both arms and legs] patient (patient 13) ambulates with a walker, without knee braces or physical assistance.
- John Gurdon and colleagues used immature frog eggs to reprogram nuclei of both mouse and human adult cells so they become like stem cells. The mouse or human Oct-4 mRNA appeared two days later, and this a definite indicator for stem cells. The effect was even stronger when the genetic material was injected into the frog egg nucleus. The Nature brief stated, ‘Gurdon and colleagues hope to analyse and isolate the molceules responsible, so that, in future, adult cells taken from patients can be reprogrammed directly. This would allow the production of a limitless supply of donor-matched stem cells and replace damaged and diseased tissue.’44
- The L.V. Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, India, has cured a number of cases of blindness due to corneal disease and surface damage. They have a 70% success rate in treating over 180 patients by implanting cells obtained from cultured adult stem cells. This technique can repair the whole outer surface of the eye, improving on previous methods that repair only the cornea.45 And in June 2010, an article reported on an Italian success in restoring corneas damaged by caustic chemicals, using the stem cells from a patient’s healthy eye to repair the burned eye — Stem-Cell Cornea Fix: ‘Miracle’ Treatment Restores Sight in People Blinded by Chemical Burns, reporting on the study Limbal Stem-Cell Therapy and Long-Term Corneal Regeneration in the New England Journal of Medicine. Later, researchers reinforced the role of these limbal stem cells in maintaining and repairing the cornea, and how a genetic deficiency in their production can lead to blindness from a cloudy cornea. See ABCB5 is a limbal stem cell gene required for corneal development and repair (Nature (2014) | doi:10.1038/nature13426) and Helping the blind to see: scientists regrow human corneas from adult stem cells (LifeNews.com, 9 July 2014).
- The pulp of baby teeth is a good source of stem cells, as researchers from the Hanson Institute at South Australia’s Royal Adelaide Hospital have shown. See Aussie scientists get teeth into stem cell Research.
Elmer Price, of the University of Missouri – Columbia, has ‘isolated adult stem cells from blood that can be directed to turn into five types of cells, including bone, blood vessel and nerve cells. The study is the cover article in the August edition of Stem Cells and Development’ according to Researchers grow neural, blood vessel cells from adult stem cells. This article quotes Dr Price on both the advantage of this procedure to produce another kind of MAPC and the disadvantage of embryonic stem cells (more on the latter below):
Embryonic stem (ES) cells are able to give rise to the remarkable diversity of cell types that constitute a whole organism such as a human. However, this ‘pluripotency’, or the ability of the cells to become anything, can also be a curse because ES cells can be misled by biochemical signals when they are transplanted into an adult during cell transplantation experiments. This often leads to the generation of unwanted cell types and, on occasion, tumor formation. Because of this, ES cell transplantation can raise serious safety issues. In this study, we developed adult stem cells from the blood of an mature animal that were able to be directed into specific cell types such as neurons and blood vessel cells, but they were not as pluripotent as ES cells. We have not observed any evidence of tumor formation. …
In theory, embryonic stem cells have the ability to become almost any cell type or organ. Very complex chemical signals need to be in place with embryonic stem cells in order for them to develop into the appropriate type of cell. However, we have shown that if you can isolate adult stem cells, you can make them generate the appropriate type of cell with much more ease and specificity. One day, we may be able to isolate similar adult stem cells from a patient, manipulate the cells in a petri dish, and then re-introduce them back into that same patient as a therapy.
According to the World Science article
Breakthrough may let scientists make stem cells on demand:
‘Two research teams say they appear to have sucessfully turned ordinary human cells into powerful stem cells, which could permit breakthrough medical treatments. “We are now finally in a position to make patient-specific stem cells for therapies without fear of immune rejection and to make disease-specific stem cells that will reveal the underlying cause of many human diseases,” said Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, lead author of one of the new reports [his paper will be in Cell, 30 November 2007].
‘A separate team of researchers with the University of Wisconsin-Madison reported achieving similar results in another reort, published in the Nov. 23 issue of the journal Science.
‘“The induced cells do all the things embryonic stem cells do,” said stem cell scientist James Thomson, a member of the University of Wisconsin team. “It’s going to completely change the field.”’
- 29 January 2014: BBC News reports that stem cells can be made from blood cells:
Now a study shows that shocking blood cells with acid could also trigger the transformation into stem cells—this time termed STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) cells. Dr Haruko Obokata, from the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Japan, said she was “really surprised” that cells could respond to their environment in this way.
She added: “It’s exciting to think about the new possibilities these findings offer us, not only in regenerative medicine, but cancer as well.”
The breakthrough was achieved in mouse blood cells, but research is now taking place to achieve the same results with human blood.
The scientific paper is Obokata Haruko and seven others, Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency, Nature 505:641–647 30 January 2014 | doi:10.1038/nature12968.
Update: the images in this paper have been questioned.See Bob Yirka, Image anomalies cast shadow on acid-bath stem-cell study, phys.org, 18 February 2014. Riken national research institute concluded that Okubata fabricated and doctored images. The paper was subsequently retracted.
- 2 September 2014: with all the publicity about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, it’s worth noting that even the ALS website must admit:
Most significantly, stem cells can be created from skin cells (induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells).
iPS cells have emerged in recent years as by far the most significant source of stem cells for ALS research. A simple skin biopsy provides the skin cells (“fibroblasts”). These cells are treated in a lab dish with a precise cocktail of naturally occurring growth factors that “turns back the clock,” transforming them back into cells much like those that gave rise to them—stem cells.
Embryonic stem cells can be isolated from fertilized embryos less than a week old. Before the development of iPS cells, human embryos were the only source [not true as shown above] of human stem cells for research or therapeutic development. The ethical issues involved hindered development of this research. Most stem cell research in ALS is currently focused on iPS cells, which are not burdened with these issues.
‘Our first observation was the fact that one can take a single stem cell and induce it to grow and differentiate into a full-functioning organ, containing all the differentiated, end-stage cells found in the exocrine pancreas.’
The above examples demonstrate very clearly that there is vast potential for adult stem cell research, so the pleas for embryonic stem cell research are unnecessary from a scientific point of view, quite aside from the moral issues discussed below. Therefore the quotes by authorities below are amply supported by real experimental evidence:
Geneticist Dr David Prentice, who teaches life science at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, says:18
‘[A]dult stem-cell research … has already shown itself to be extremely promising for treating numerous degenerative diseases such as heart disease, stroke, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. Adult stem cells have been shown in animal models to repair heart damage, provide therapeutic benefit for stroke, and reverse diabetes. And adult stem cells have already been used successfully in human patients to relieve lupus, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis, to name a few.’
Markus Grompe, a professor of molecular medical genetics at Oregon Health Sciences University reinforced this point when commenting on another study:19
‘This would suggest that maybe you don’t need any type of fetal stem cell at all … that our adult bodies continue to have stem cells that can do this stuff.’
‘The current debate in Washington over funding destructive embryonic research is completely overshadowing this ethical and very promising research. In fact, most media reports fail to concede that research using embryonic stem cells has not produced a single cure or successful treatment yet.’20
Interestingly, an article supporting ESCR and criticizing President Bush’s veto of a bill to allow federal funding for it, and generally dismissive of adult stem cells (e.g. for alleged shortage of supply), had to admit:
‘Adult-derived stem cells are the only form of stem-cell therapy to make it to the clinic so far. For example, stem cells from bone marrow have been used for more than 30 years to treat blood disorders. Adult stem cells are less likely to cause tumours than embryonic stem cells, and less likely to be rejected by the immune system.’51
See also a summary, Benefits of Stem Cells to Human Patients: Adult Stem Cells v. Embryonic Stem Cells.
Two papers in Nature in April 200221,22 have resulted in huge glee from the media, including claims from ESCR proponents such as ‘couldn’t have come at a better time’, and a widely-reproduced Associated Press report quoted a U.S. researcher from an ESCR company as saying the two studies ‘call into question almost all of the data generated using adult stem cells.’ The British newspaper Daily Telegraph called the papers a ‘serious setback’ to hopes for adult stem cells, and its compatriot The Independent, proclaimed ‘Study Weakens Anti-Abortionists’ Adult Tissue Claim’. The Washington Post subheading baldly asserted: ‘Adult Cells Found Less Useful Than Embryonic Ones’. Agence-Presse France announced: ‘“Breakthrough” in Adult Stem Cells Is Hype, Studies Warn’. In Australia, the AAP declared, ‘New Research Tips Debate on Stem Cells’, which seems to have influenced some Australian politicians.
But what really happened? Adult stem cells from mouse brain and marrow were mixed in a petri dish with embryonic ones. The researchers found that while the NES cells had started to differentiate into mature tissue, in at least some cases this was only because they were fusing with the embryonic cells. And they found a potential danger in these hybrids because they had two sets of chromosomes, something that could prove dangerous if it occurred within the human body. One Tom Spears, a Canadian science writer, really took the biscuit by describing these as ‘Hybrid “Frankencells”.’
From this problem with mixing adult and embryo cells, the incredibly illogical conclusion was drawn that adult stem cells are a waste of time, and we should intensify ESCR. But aside from ignoring the proven successes above, it shows amazing intellectual dishonesty not to pass at least some blame on the co-culprit, the very embryonic stem cells they are trying to promote! And how it could be construed as the slightest evidence for danger to humans from adult stem cells boggles the mind, since real patients as opposed to petrie dishes have no embryonic stem cells in sight for the adult ones to fuse with!
The lead author of the first study, Dr Naohiro Terada, said, ‘our message was somehow distorted by media people.’ He admitted that the research:
‘turned out to be a cautionary tale for scientific interpretation of some of the previous reports describing pluripotency of adult stem cells. But we never said adult stem cells are no longer hopeful, nor dangerous. If someone took our message that way, that is a misinterpretation.’
Dr Terada explained that the entire program at the University of Florida was aimed at:
‘trying to prove therapeutic roles of adult stem cells (not human embryonic stem cells), and that is the central policy of our program.
‘My lab’s standpoint is that there are still so many things to learn from mouse embryonic stem cells for basic understandings of stem cells. We do hope we can apply such knowledge obtained from mouse ES cells to a better use of human adult stem cells.’
Leading adult stem cell researcher (and not an opponent of ESCR) Prof. Perry Bartlett (see above) agrees that the problem was most likely caused by the embryonic stem cells, not the adult ones—see Doubts about adult stem cells premature.
As shown, this should be a non-event because of the widespread availability and superiority of non-embryonic stem cells, but the reason it is an event will be discussed below. All the same, the debate over embryonic stems cells raises important moral issues where there has been sloppy thinking driven by emotive rhetoric. The question could be, would it be right to use embryonic stem cells to alleviate severe diseases if there were no alternative?
When does human life begin?
Because Creation Ministries International uses the Bible as the basis for its thinking in every area, it has always taken a strong pro-life position, i.e. that innocent life should not be intentionally harmed from conception (fertilization) till natural death—see Q&A: Human Life: Abortion and Euthanasia. As explained in Abortion — The answer’s in Genesis, this is because the Bible states that murder, the intentional killing of innocent humans, is wrong (Exodus 20:13, Matthew 19:18, Romans 13:9); and that life begins from conception (Psalm 51:5). Here, the Psalmist explicitly states that it was ‘me’ that existed from conception, not some blob of cells that later became ‘me’. The whole tenor of Scripture is that the individual is a human being right from the beginning of biological life; there is nothing to indicate that there is any secondary event of ‘ensoulment’ after the beginning of biological life.
While the Bible doesn’t explicitly mention the union of sperm and egg, this is the scientifically irrefutable beginning of the individual’s life. Note that this doesn’t deny the sufficiency of Scripture, but uses real experimental science to elaborate on its clear teaching. Throughout church history, theologians have applied this principle to oppose abortion right from the moment the new individual was present in the womb.23
It is analogous to using hybridization studies to elaborate on the boundaries of the created kind to eludicate the Biblical teaching that animals reproduce ‘after their kinds’. E.g. the wholphin, a (fertile!) hybrid of a (false) killer whale and a dolphin shows that they are really members of the same created kind, despite man’s classification of them into different genera. See Ligers and wholphins? What next? It is very different from the long-agers who use ‘science’ (really uniformitarian assumptions about the past) to contradict the plain teaching of Scripture on creation in six literal days about 6000 years ago, or theistic evolutionists who contradict the ‘after the kinds’ teaching and assert that one kind turned into another. See refutations of Progressive Creationism and Theistic Evolution.
Much of the populist ‘pro-choice’ rhetoric can be diffused by bringing the questioner back to the key issue: the nature of the being involved. If this is indeed a human being, then substitute, say, ‘two-year-old’ for ‘the unborn child’ in all the pro-abortion arguments, as in this response to someone offended by the term ‘Baby killers’. This substitution would imply that it is acceptable to murder a two-year-old if this would mean that some vital organs could be harvested that would greatly improve the quality of life for others.
However, with the rise of evolution, many pro-abortionists accept that the baby is human, but deny that there is any basis to believe the Biblical teaching that it is wrong to take innocent life simply because it is human. Atheistic philosophers such as Peter Singer have extended this denial of sanctity of human life beyond unborn babies to newborns and elderly people, and he explicitly relates this to the ‘fact’ of evolution and its corollary of a denial of a Creator who sets moral absolutes. His popularity among academia in the former Allied nations shows that they haven’t learnt from Nazi Germany what happens when a society bases morality on evolution. The Germans have, and Singer has had much difficulty spreading his neonazi beliefs there. People like Singer show that it is ultimately futile to try to build a Christian ethic without Christian theology, which in turn is all ultimately based on God’s creation as recorded in Genesis.
Disadvantages of Embryonic Stem Cells
One obvious one, as mentioned before, is tissue rejection by most patients. Another was discovered by a team led by Dr Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, who recently published in the journal Science.24 They showed that embryonic stem (ES) cells used in cloning mice often result in severe abnormalities because the epigenetic state of the ES cell genome was found to be extremely unstable. That is, the genes per se were OK, but the ES cells had lost much of the switching information, so that they no longer turned on and off the right instructions at the right time. An alleged strong point of embryonic stem cells over adult ones is that they would be the most undifferentiated, so supposedly have the most potential to grow into different types of tissue. But this experiment shows that such pluripotent cells may be in reality too undifferentiated. This also explains the tendency for ES cells to form teratomas, benign tumours containing mixtures of tissue types.25
The Washington Post reported:26
‘If the same is true for human embryonic stem cells, researchers said, then scientists may face unexpected challenges as they try to turn the controversial cells into treatments for various degenerative conditions.’
To demonstrate the politically charged atmosphere (and further exploding the myth of the ‘unbiased scientist’), the researchers, at the last minute, deleted a sentence in their article alluding to this problem. Instead, they added a sentence emphasizing the cells’ therapeutic promise, because they were:
‘afraid that any mention of that potential problem in the article might be exaggerated by political factions that oppose the research on religious and ethical grounds.’
It’s difficult to see why pointing out real experimentally proven dangers of using ES cells should be considered ‘exaggerating’.
‘Embryonic’ stem cells from unfertilized egg: may avoid moral problems
There is a possible exception to the rule that embryonic stem cell research is immoral: embryonic stems cells resulting from unfertilized eggs. Since individual human life begins at fertilization, if the egg is not fertilized, then a new human being hasn’t formed. Fulvio Gandolfi and Tiziana Brevini of the University of Milan, Italy, claim to have formed such stem cells via parthenogenesis (from Greek παρθένος (parthenos) virgin and γίνομαι (ginomai) born). Normally, unfertilized eggs have two sets of chromosomes, and one set is expelled during fertilization. But the Milan researchers managed to coax the egg to divide for a few days with an electrical or chemical shock. Such human parthenotes can’t survive any longer, because certain genes required for development come from the sperm. The stem cells extracted here exhibit most of the molecular markers of pluripotency.48
But for the rest of this article, ESCR refers to stem cells from real embryos that come from fertilized eggs.
There is a strong link between ESCR and human cloning. Unlike tissues derived from the patients own adult stem cells, tissues derived from embryonic stem cell are very likely to face rejection. That is, unless the embryo was the result of cloning, i.e. making an individual who is genetically identical copy of the patient. The link between ESCR and human cloning was demonstrated in practical, economic terms when the stock of companies involved in ESCR plummeted when the US Congress banned human cloning.27,28 Therefore it’s worth summarizing the issues (for more information on both the scientific and ethical issues involved in both human and animals cloning, see Q&A: Cloning).
The fact that life begins at fertilization is the main reason that human cloning is wrong. Such experiments would inevitably cause embryos, i.e. tiny human beings, to be formed and intentionally destroyed. This can be shown by comparing the effort required to make the first mammal clone, the famous Dolly the lamb. Dr Ian Wilmut, her ‘maker’, took 277 tries to get it right. This would be a loss of human life, which is unacceptable, and University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Art Caplan called it ‘barbaric human experimentation. The way this science is now, it’s not working well in animals. You don’t want to do it in people.’29 Significantly, Dr Wilmut also does not support human cloning.29
[After the first draft of this article, he changed his mind, without any attempt to retract the biological science behind his former reasoning, and now plans to clone human embryos by the same process of nuclear transfer. However, in his recent book After Dolly: The uses and misuses of human cloning, Wilmut argues that it is ‘criminally irresponsible’ to clone humans. And in November 2007, Wilmut decided that he won’t pursue it after all, because ‘a new method pioneered by Japanese scientists has better potential for creating embryonic stem cells by growing them from a patient’s own cells and forgoing the destruction of human life. He was referring to Professor Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University, who has ‘shown he can turn mice cells into versatile stem cells capable of overcoming disease. It reverts adult stem cells to their embryonic state.’ See British scientist who created Dolly won't engage in human cloning.].
Also not surprising is that Dr Panos Zavos, a former University of Kentucky researcher, who announced plans to clone humans (outside the USA), claimed that human cloning is ‘part of human evolution’.29 If he means goo-to-you evolution, he’s talking nonsense, because by definition a clone has identical genetic information, while evolution requires information to increase. But there is some truth to his comment, although not in the way he meant it. As stated, evolution does lead to a moral vacuum, as admitted by atheists Lanier and Dawkins, and human cloning is very much part of this. Instead of refraining from murder, human cloning treats one class of people as disposable.
This surprising question arises because of recent newspaper headlines, e.g. ‘Senators use Bible for lessons on life in stem cell debate’.30 Gordon Smith, a Mormon Republican senator of Oregon, who normally opposes abortion, is reported as providing this amazing exegetical ‘insight’ on Genesis 2:7:
‘After reading the passage, Smith said it described a “two-stage process” for creating humans: First, God formed man from the dust of the ground. Then, the verse says, God breathed into man’s nostrils “the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
‘Cells, Smith said, are like the dust of the earth, giving form to man but not the “breath of life”. To gain that spirit, he said, the cells must be placed in the mother’s womb.’ …
‘“I believe that life begins in a mother’s womb, not in a scientific laboratory”, Smith said.’ [Smith’s fellow Mormon Republican senator, Orrin Hatch of Utah, also supposedly pro-life, is probably even better known for this argument]
It’s notable that former US President Bill Clinton also (mis)used this verse to try to impress gullible evangelicals that he was one of them, but he instead claimed that the mention of ‘breath of life’ shows that babies aren’t human until they start breathing, i.e. until they are born. This was an excuse for him to veto even bans on ‘partial birth abortion’. But several points must be made in response to these claims:
- The creation of Adam and Eve was a special case—neither of them had mothers or came from an embryo, so it’s illegitimate to extrapolate from their example. It would be just as (il)logical to claim that since they began lives as adults, human life today doesn’t begin till adulthood!32,32
- Following on from this, the passage teaches nothing whatever about the embryo gaining a spirit when placed in a mother’s womb, because obviously wombs are not remotely in view here.
- Smith’s [and Hatch’s] argument commits the opposite error of pro-abortionists who claim that while the baby is in the mother’s womb, s/he is not a separate individual who must be protected from murder. That is, both sides erroneously believe that where a being is makes a vital difference to what a being is. Smith would presumably reject the pro-abortionist argument, but seems unable to see the inconsistency of his own position.
- Since this passage says that Adam ‘became a living soul’ (Hebrew נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה, nephesh chayyāh), on a superficial reading this would seem to indicate, if anything, that the life and soul occurred together. It’s certainly hard to imagine that someone could use this to teach that a soul enters some time after biological life begins. But in reality, this passage isn’t trying to address the issue—‘soul’ in this context is not referring to the non-material aspect of a human being that survives physical death, although it sometimes has this meaning, e.g. nephesh in Genesis 35:18 and the Greek equivalent psyche in Matthew 10:28. Rather, in the first two chapters of Genesis, nephesh chayyah means ‘living creature’, and is applied to vertebrate animals including land and sea animals as well as man.
Other pro-abortion rationalizations
There are several other pro-abortion arguments that have surfaced recently, although they are not new.
Ref. 30 cites claims that it is ethical to research embryos up to 14 days, because there is the possibility of forming identical twins. This supposedly means that it is ‘illogical … to treat an embryo as an individual if it could still become two people’, and claims that a minority of Roman Catholic philosophers reason ‘that the soul, the hallmark of the individual, could not enter an embryo that has the capacity to divide in two.’
But this is fallacious. Twinning may be a form of asexual reproduction, where one embryo divides into two, but this doesn’t mean that s/he wasn’t an individual before then. Rather, s/he was one of those rare individuals with the capacity for asexual reproduction. As usual, the point can be clarified by substituting teenagers for embryos, a morally valid substitution if the embryo is human, and positing a world where a small percentage of teenagers split into two identical ones on their 16th birthday. Then it would be less plausible to argue that the teenager wasn’t alive before s/he split, or that life didn’t begin till 16.33
The early embryo doesn’t look human?
Newsweek34 uses a picture of a 3-day-old embryo, apparently with the aim of convincing people that it doesn’t look human, so it isn’t truly human. But arguments from appearance are often deceptive.
- Statues and store mannequins look human, but are not; abnormal-looking humans like the ‘elephant man’ are still human. The important thing is that the latter and not the former are individual members, like us, of the single created kind humanity i.e. descendants of Adam and Eve (corresponding to the man-made classification of genus Homo).
- Therefore, the 3-day-old embryo, being an individual descendant of Adam, does look human—just the way a 3-day-old human should look! A five-year-old doesn’t look like an adult human, but it doesn’t mean that a five-year-old is not human—rather, s/he looks like the way a five-year-old should look.35
Most zygotes never make it to term?
On a recent BBC series, The Human Body, there was fascinating live photography of conception and the growth of the embryo. But the program asserted that only one in six survive to term. Other figures are very different, saying that 50–80% survive.36 This rather seems like the various figures bandied about with human and chimp DNA similarity—they seem to grow with the telling—is it 96% or 99%?
But this is irrelevant to the humanness of the embryos. For comparison, there are parts of the world where there is a high infant mortality rate, but this doesn’t mean that infants are not human. And of course, all we humans have virtually a 100% mortality rate! But the fact that all people will die naturally does not make it acceptable to commit murder, so an allegedly high embryonic mortality rate does not make it acceptable to destroy embryos intentionally.
The 1 July 2001 cover of Newsweek read: ‘The Stem Cell Wars: Embryo Research vs. Pro-Life Politics: There’s Hope for Alzheimer’s, Heart Disease, Parkinson’s and Diabetes. But Will Bush Cut Off the Money?’37,38 Unfortunately this is typical of the media deceit about pro-lifers—usually there are emotive arguments about denying ‘a woman’s right to choose’, raising the phony spectre of horrific back-alley abortions,39 and more recently, claiming that the handful of shootings of abortionists (which we deplore—two wrongs don’t make a right) is somehow typical of the millions of pro-lifers. This time the media are trying to lay a guilt trip on pro-lifers for allegedly denying hope to sufferers of diseases and disabilities. As shown above, this is deceitful, mainly because it downplays the real human lives that would be extinguished, and also because it ignores the many successes of non-embryonic stem cells.
The agenda seems to be—convince people that it’s OK to discard embryos in the name of research, which will entrench a view in the public mind and the law of the land that embryos really have no humanity. Or else it will encourage the idea that it’s acceptable to kill one class of humans to benefit another. Then the pro-abortionists would have won the entire argument that the preborn have no real intrinsic rights. The slippery slide is that all unborn babies could be defined as disposable tissue rather than a unique human individual. And as Peter Singer shows, the slippery slide won’t stop at birth. If a culture discards Christian morality, advanced scientific knowledge won’t prevent disaster, but rather, make it more horrific. Germany at the time of the Nazis was the most scientifically and culturally advanced nation in the world.
The media and religion
Often, media hectoring of pro-lifers is accompanied by thundering about keeping religion separate from politics, imposing morality on others, and abusing ‘fundamentalists’ who actually believe that the Bible is important in deciding moral questions. Two points:
- People might get the wrong impression that the secular media really are against religion mixing with politics or imposing morality. They are not! The important questions are: ‘Which religion should be mixed with politics?’ and ‘Whose morality should be imposed?’ Humanists have no qualms about imposing the religion of humanism on society, especially the government school system. And of course, all laws impose morality—laws against murder and rape impose on murderers and rapists the moral view that murder and rape are wrong! It seems the only acceptable morality to impose is one that agrees with the media élite. Imposition is certainly the right term—pro-abortionists not only want the ‘choice’ to kill unborn babies, but to coerce taxpayers to fund this ‘choice’.
- The media aren’t opposed to quoting Bible verses! Not, of course, if the verses are used to support what’s generally understood to be traditional Christian morality—that would be unthinkable. But it’s OK to twist Scripture to support a liberally-approved cause. This was amply shown above in the inane eisegesis by Senator Smith quoted with approval by the news reporters. The media also tend not to mind wrenching out of context passages against judging others (the context was always against hypocritical judgments, while righteous judgment is commanded—John 7:24)—but only to justify a ‘non-judgmental’ view of practices approved by the liberal elites, e.g. abortion, homosexual activity, fornication etc.—judging ‘fundamentalists’ and creationists is OK, of course!
- Stem cells are those with the potential to form many different types of tissue
- They are found not only in embryos but in many types of non-embryonic and even adult tissue
- Their potential for growing many types of tissue means that they show promise for treating many types of diseases and disabilities
- The best treatments to date are from non-embryonic stem cells, and the best source so far is liposuctioned fat
- Conversely, embryonic cells have had no successes, and experiments have shown potential dangers
- Embryonic stem cell research is closely linked with human cloning, to avoid the problem of tissue rejection that is a non-issue for somatic stem cells derived from the patient
- Human life begins at fertilization
- Therefore, ESCR and human cloning inevitably lead to death of tiny human beings
The Bible teaches that humanity starts at the beginning of biological life
- Since murder, intentionally killing human life, is wrong, it follows that ESCR, human cloning and induced abortions are wrong because they all involve intentional killing of human embryos
- Genesis 2:7 does not support the view that the human embryo does not have a soul or humanity
- The secular media is largely biased towards abortion
- The secular media is not against imposing one’s religion or morality, as long as it’s humanistic religion or morality
- The successes of non-embryonic stem cell treatment have largely been overlooked
- Justifying the killing of embryos for research or medical benefits will help dehumanise them in the eyes of the public, and perpetuate the idea that one class of humans is expendable
- The previous point seems to be the real agenda behind the push for ESCR
CMI, along with many conservative Christian groups, is pleased that President Bush decided to forbid funding of any more destruction of human embryos, and with his restatement of his strong opposition to human cloning. He also refused to allow harvesting of stem cells from 100,000 embryos frozen at fertility clinics, as many evolutionary scientists would prefer, but which we oppose. The President also affirmed the uniqueness of each individual embryo and cited with approval an ethicist who dismissed as ‘callous’ an attempt to pretend that the early embryo isn’t really human. Further, he affirmed that ‘human life is a sacred gift from our Creator’ and that ‘we recoil at the idea of growing human beings for spare body parts or creating life for our convenience.’ The President also affirmed the important Biblical principle (cf. Romans 3:8) ‘even the most noble ends do not justify any means.’ On 14 August, President Bush promised to veto any congressional bill that would allow embryos to be destroyed for research.
He also correctly pointed out that stem cells are readily available from non-embryonic sources, on which there has been a virtual media blackout, as pointed out in this article. Fortunately, after President Bush’s decision, there seems to be a slight increase in the media’s admitting this fact. But he said:
‘However, most scientists, at least today, believe that research on embryonic stem cells offers the most promise because these cells have the potential to develop in all of the tissues in the body.’
As has been shown, this appears to be contrary to the experimental evidence.
However, President Bush’s go-ahead for funding on 60 already-existing stem cells lines obtained by past killing of embryos has raised far more debate among conservative Christians. Some have said that since nothing will bring these embryos back, we may as well research these stem cell lines that might save lives in the future. We recognize the agonizing moral dilemma that led to the decision. A similar dilemma was faced by medical researchers concerning the results of ghastly Nazi medical experiments involving the torture-murder of living prisoners. Here was data which could possibly save human lives; should its source mean it should not be utilized to possibly do good? So, on this view, we should be grateful that the President has at least stopped further embryo destruction for research purposes, and we should recognize that there is a limit to how much a politician can achieve against substantial opposition even within his own ranks.
But others have claimed, in our view correctly, that while we should indeed be grateful for President Bush’s decision to abolish funding for more embryo murders, his other decision to allow research on existing stem cell lines still perpetuates the view that human embryos are disposable commodities rather than human life (e.g. the Family Research Council response). Therefore it makes it harder to defend embryos from the mass murder perpetrated in abortion mills in the Western world. This is the contrast with the ‘Nazi dilemma’ mentioned above — the Nazis’ atrocities have ceased, but thousands of unborn babies are murdered every day.
There is also a key moral principle that profiting from immoral acts makes one a participant in them, and provides an incentive to commit them. By allowing research to continue, the President has inadvertently rewarded those who committed an act he himself said was unethical, i.e. those who destroyed these embryos in the first place. Further, the President’s ban on funding of more research, while good in itself, when combined with the limited permission, actually gives these people a monopoly on selling embryonic stem cell tissue to federally funded researchers.
[Update 2006: see also an analysis of more recent political events involving stem cell research:
- US Senate passes embryonic stem cell bill; President vetoes.
- Legalized Cloning in Australia: What are the issues?]
- Hall, A., Awaiting the Miracles of Stem-Cell Research, Business Week Online, 29 November 2000. Return to text.
- Cited in Hall, ref.1. Return to text.
- a) Cohen, P., Stem cells could save sight, New Scientist 175:(2354):18, 3 August 2002. Return to text.
- Newman, L., Transplanted Stem Cells May Aid AMD Patients, Ophthalmology Times, 15 February 2001; commenting on research by Young, M.J. and Klassen, H.J. in Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, September 2000. Return to text.
- Coghlan, A., Hair today, skin tomorrow, New Scientist 170(2296):19, 23 June 2001. Return to text.
- Cell Therapy: Stem Cells Reverse Diabetes in Mice, Applied Genetics News, March 2000. Return to text.
- New Technique May Create Embryonic Stem Cells Without Using Embryos, Wall Street Journal, 3 August 2001. Return to text.
- Zuk, P.A. et al., Multilineage Cells from Human Adipose Tissue: Implications for Cell-Based Therapies, Tissue Engineering 7(2):211–228, April 2001. Return to text.
- Liposuctioned Fat Is Good Source of Stem Cells, Say Researchers in Tissue Engineering, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. (Biotechnology publishers). Return to text.
- Toma, J.G. et al., Isolation of Multipotent Adult Stem Cells from the Dermis of Mammalian Skin, Nature Cell Biology 3(9):778–784, September 2001. Return to text.
- Rietze, R.L. et. al., Purification of a pluripotent neural stem cell from the adult mouse brain, Nature 412(6848):736–739, 16 August 2001 — see online abstract. Return to text.
- Jochen Ringe et al., Stem cells for regenerative medicine: advances in the engineering of tissues and organs, Naturwissenschaften 89(8), August 2002. Return to text.
- Yuehua Jiang and 15 others (including Verfaillie), Pluripotency of mesenchymal stem cells derived from adult marrow, Nature 418(6893):41–49, 4 July 2002. Return to text.
- Stem cells do their stuff for Parkinson’s patient, New Scientist 174(2338):5, 13 April 2002. Return to text.
- Stuff of miracles, New Scientist 174(2337):7, 6 April 2002. Return to text.
- Body builders, New Scientist 173(2336):16, 30 March 2002. Return to text.
- Randerson, J., Stem cells fix the damage, New Scientist 177(2377):14, 11 January 2003. A more recent article is Check, E., Cardiologists take heart from stem-cell treatment success, Nature 428(6986):880, 29 April 2004: ‘Adult stem cells have long been viewed as less flexible than embryonic stem cells, which can divide to produce any cell type in the body. But recent studies of human cells suggest that adult stem cells can also turn into many cell types, including heartm brain and liver cells.’ Return to text.
- Interview With Genetics Prof. David Prentice on Stem Cell Research, National Review, 8 June 2001. Return to text.
- Fumento, M., Embryonic stem cell research alternatives exist: Use them, Washington Times, 31 July 2001. Return to text.
- Right to Life of Michigan, 27 July 2001. Return to text.
- Terada, N. et al., Bone marrow cells adopt the phenotype of other cells by spontaneous cells fusion, Nature (416(6880):542–545, 4 April 2002. Return to text.
- Ying, Q.-L. et al., Changing potency by spontaneous fusion, Nature (416(6880):545–548, 4 April 2002. See also commentary on these two papers, same issue, pp. 485–487. Return to text.
- Beckwith, F.J., Politically Correct Death: Answering the Arguments for Abortion Rights, pp. 140–141, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, USA, 1993. This is the most comprehensive demolition of pro-abortion arguments, covering science, ethics, law and Scripture. See my review, Antidote to abortion arguments. Return to text.
- Humphreys, D., et al., Epigenetic stability in ES cells and cloned mice, Science 293(5527):95–97, 6 July 2001. Return to text.
- Orkin, S.H. and Morrison, S.J., Stem cell competition, Nature 418(6893):25–27, 4 July 2002. Return to text.
- Weiss, R., Clone Study Casts Doubt on Stem Cells: Variations in Mice Raise Human Research Issues, Washington Post, 6 July, 2001. Return to text.
- Wesley J. Smith, Cloning Debate Proves ESCR “Bait and Switch”, National Review, 3 August, 2001. Return to text.
- Christian Medical Association; 2 August 2001. Return to text.
- Human cloning attempt to be outlined Tuesday, CNN.com, 7 August 2001. Return to text.
- Zitmer, A., Senators use Bible for lessons on life in stem cell debate, The Greenville News, 19 July 2001. Return to text.
- Beckwith, Ref. 23, pp. 145–146. Return to text.
- Geisler, N.L., Christian Ethics, pp. 138–139, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, USA, 1989. This is a good presentation of Biblical Christian ethics both in theory and in practice (see also his online article Any absolutes? Absolutely!), and Ch. 8 covers the abortion debate well. Both this and Ref. 30 refute the argument used by Clinton, but I don’t think anyone had thought of Smith’s outlandish argument when either of those books were written. Return to text.
- Beckwith, Ref. 23, p. 97. Return to text.
- The Stem Cell Wars, Newsweek Cover, 1 July 2001. Return to text.
- Beckwith, Ref. 22, pp. 97–98. Return to text.
- Beckwith, Ref. 22, pp. 96–97. Return to text.
- Ref. 34. Return to text.
- See also the critique of Ref. 34, Miller, J.J. and Ponnuru, R., Cell Games: Newsweek vs. pro-lifers, Washington Bulletin, National Review Online, 3 July 2001. Return to text.
- Beckwith, Ref. 23, pp. 54–59 documents the deceit of pro-abortionists in inflating statistics of deaths from illegal abortions. Sometimes they were so absurd that the quoted numbers turned out to exceed the deaths of woman of childbearing age from all causes! Most importantly, this appeal to pity is totally irrelevant—because abortion kills innocent humans, it amounts to claiming that murder should be legal and safe, because people will murder anyway, and if it’s not safe they could get hurt unnecessarily. Return to text.
- Pluchino, S. et al., Injection of adult neurospheres indueces recovery in a chronic model of multiple sclerosis, Nature 422(6933):688–694, 17 April 2003; Steinman, L., Collateral damage repaired [perspective on this paper], same issue, pp. 671&8211;672.Return to text.
- Stem cells cure MS mice, New Scientist 178(2391):22, 19 April 2003. Return to text.
- Forging ahead at the forefront of science, Courier Mail, 5 July 2003. Return to text.
- Rietze, R.L., Valcanis, H., Brooker, G.F., Thomas, T., Voss, A.K., and Bartlett, P.F., Purification of a pluripotent neural stem cell from the adult mouse brain, Nature 412(6848):736–739, 16 August 2001. Return to text.
- Pilcher, H.R., Turning back the clock, Nature 424(6946):265, 17 July 2003. Return to text.
- Nature 427(6974):478, 5 February 2004. Return to text.
- Kang KS, Kim SW, Oh YH, Yu JW, Kim KY, Park HK, Song CH, Han H., A 37-year-old spinal cord-injured female patient, transplanted of multipotent stem cells from human UC blood, with improved sensory perception and mobility, both functionally and morphologically: a case study, Cytotherapy 7(4):368–73, September 2005. Return to text.
- Rodríguez, L.V., Alfonso, Z., Rong Zhang, Leung, J., Wu, B. and Ignarro, l.J., Clonogenic multipotent stem cells in human adipose tissue differentiate into functional smooth muscle cells, PNAS 7(4):368–73, 31 July 2006; <www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0604850103>. Return to text.
- Geddes, L, Virgin birth stem cells bypass ethical objections, New Scientist 191(2558):19, 1 July 2006. Return to text.
- Price, E.M., Prather, R.S. and Foley, C.M., Multipotent adult progenitor cell lines originating from the peripheral blood of green fluorescent protein transgenic swine, Stem Cells and Development 15(4):507–522 , August 2006. Return to text.
- Chamberlain, J.S., Stem-cell biology: A move in the right direction, Nature advance online publication | doi:10.1038/nature05406; Published online 15 November 2006. Return to text.
- The lure of stem-cells biology, Nature 442(7101):335–336, 27 July 2006. Return to text.
- Clinical transplantation of a tissue-engineered airway, Lancet doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61598-6, 19 November 2008. Return to text.