This question was posed by Peter Griffin in Family Guy when he had a stroke and received stem cells in the episode “McStroke.” The truth is, we are. However, I only support one type of stem cell research. And that is adult stem cell research.
Before I dig deeper into the reasons behind this, let me explain what the two types of stem cell research are. Embryonic stem cell research is conducted on stem cells created by the marriage of a sperm and egg. By conducting research in this way, the embryo created is killed. Any type of human cell can be created from this type of stem cell. Adult stem cell research is conducted using stem cells which are extracted from healthy, living adults. It does not kill the adult, however this type of stem cell has a particular drawback: not every type of human cell can be created.
Now, about the controversy. For adult stem cells, it is accepted that while not every human cell can be created, the collection and subsequent research on such cells is both ethical and consensual. For embryonic stem cell research, there is much controversy. Embryos are created by the bringing together of sperm and egg, yet the embryo is killed shortly thereafter. However, in Genesis 2:7 it also states that Adam’s life began at his first breath, so I am not entirely sure that a, “Thou shalt not murder,” debate would be applicable here. The truth is, the Bible does not state exactly at which point life begins outside of this verse.
So, I will be exploring the more secular debates. According to Matthew Hseih, M.D., “typically, stem-cell recipients must take immunosuppressants all their lives.”1 However, an exception was noted for patients in which a partial-transplant regimen was followed, such as in sickle-cell anemia. So it’s pretty clear. If you receive embryonic stem cells, you’re most likely going to be taking powerful (not to mention expensive) drugs that weaken your immune system so as not to attack the stem cells living in your body. The problems you run into as a result will be much the same as an organ recipients’. Even then, your body still may reject the cells.
Science holds that life begins at conception.2 So, for everyone to read, the Bible does not define the point at which a fetus becomes a living human being. Science does. And it defines life beginning at the point when a sperm meets an egg.
Embryonic stem cells have a tendency to mutate over time and acquire mutations that could cause them to become tumorous.3 It is hard to take something which is designed for growth within a womb and make it grow in a way that is desired by human design. Simply put, embryos were destined to be children, not to be harvested for human organs.
Embryonic stem cell research is an ethical and scientific debacle which the church refuses to fund and that I personally believe is unethical. The scientific evidence is pretty clear, however, so to answer Peter Griffin (well, Seth MacFarlane), at least in the case of embryonic stem cell research, we would funding an endeavor which, according to science, shows little therapeutic efficacy and is morally wrong.
1NIH/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Adults stop anti-rejection drugs after stem-cell transplant reverses sickle cell disease. ScienceDaily (1 Jul 2014). http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140701170154.htm.
2Ertelt, Steven. Scientific Fact: Human Life Begins at Conception, or Fertilization. LifeNews (18 Nov 2013). http://www.lifenews.com/2013/11/18/undisputed-scientific-fact-human-life-begins-at-conception-or-fertilization/.
3Weiss, Rick. Embryonic Stem Cells Found to Acquire Mutations. Washington Post (5 Sept 2005). http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/04/AR2005090401004.html.