Stem Cells

December 16, 1998

In the beginning, a single embryo cell becomes two, then four, then eight. Each cell is identical to every other one. There are no eye cells, no heart cells, no bone cells. But soon, cells begin to differentiate. Until they do, each embryonic cell has the potential to be any kind of cell. The medical and scientific community is now excited that scientists have been able to develop "stem cells" that have this potential.

These embryonic stem cells have the capacity of developing into all 210 different kinds of tissue. They could be cells that heal broken nerve cells, offering the possibility of treating Parkinson's disease and holding out the promise that someday Joni Eareckson Tada could walk. They could be used in internal organs to treat diabetes or heart failure. In essence, they hold the key to life itself.

But in the midst of all the excitement about stem cells, there's a catch. The stem cells come from spare embryos used at in vitro fertilization clinics. And that raises a significant pro-life question. Should we use embryos for basic research? Are we killing potential human beings in the form of embryos to advance medical science?

A good end does not justify an evil means, and that's what many pro-life advocates are saying. Let's not lose our focus here. The potential benefits are great, but the means by which they will be achieved is ethically questionable. Congress rightly banned federal funding for research that would harm human embryos. But pressure is already on Congress to remove that ban as President Clinton did with the one on fetal tissue experimentation.

How this debate develops will depend on one key issue: whether human embryos deserve protection. If they don't, then full speed ahead on the research. If they do, then we need to re-think the next steps.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.

© 1998 Probe Ministries International