Monday, November 26, 2007

Bioethics: Stem Cells

Stem cell technology has the potential to change the face of medicine. Using stem cells, it may be possible to repair damaged or diseased organs. The benefits could be huge. But Christians have long opposed "therapeutic cloning", in which stem cells are harvested from artificially created human embryos. The embryos are discarded once their stem cells have been extracted. This process is ethically problematic because human life is being treated as a disposable commodity - a means to an end. The Bible insists that human beings are to be treated with dignity as God's image bearers from womb to tomb. This does not mean that Christians are opposed to stem cell research per se. It has long been recognised that stem cells can be obtained from milk teeth, the umbilical cord and human skin. Just recently cells culled from adult skin were manipulated to create beating heart tissue (see here). Professor Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the cloned sheep has said that he will now abandon embryonic stem cell research. He has not come to this decision primarily for ethical reasons, but because he recognises the success of experiments on adult stem cells (see here).
It has often been said the Christians with their bioethical concerns over embryonic stem cells are standing in the way of progress. Advocates of on embryonic stem cell research have sometimes resorted to emotional blackmail, suggesting that those who oppose such work are preventing scientists from finding possible cures for Parkinson's disease, heart disease and so on. But the evidence now seems to suggest that advances may be made in stem cell research that do not entail treating human life as a medical resource. It is amazing that the Creator has so constituted the human body that we each carry our own personal repair kits in the form of stem cells. Truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made. See here for the website of John Ling, a top UK bioethicist.

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