Sunday, October 19, 2008

Stem Cell Research

For this class, we temporarily suspended the topic we had been studying (a Biblical defense of old earth creationism). Dr. Penny Girard suggested that we study another “Science and Christianity” issue, that of embryonic stem cell research. This is relevant to a Michigan ballot issue that people will be voting on next month, so it seemed good to interrupt our previous topic and study this topic now. Some web sites that are "pro" and "con" this proposal are given near the end of this summary (highlighted in red). There are also some “take home points” highlighted in light blue. This information may be compared and contrasted with some Scripture that relates to the nature of mankind, as given below. Note that these verses present a high view of the value of human life. There was much discussion of the issues in class, largely centering on the idea that using adult stem cells avoids most or all of the ethical issues and concerns that arise with "sacrificing" embryonic stem cells for medical research. This discussion will be continued on November 2.
Note that voting "yes" on the ballot issue means a vote in favor of embryonic stem cell research. Voting "no" means a vote against such research. While it is not the purpose of this class to tell people how to vote, it seemed that people would be interested in studying and discussing the scientific, ethical, and Biblical issues raised by this legislation. Having switched to this topic for the time being, we will also have a presentation on the related issue of various methods of birth control on November 2. This coming Sunday, October 26th, we will have a missionary speaker in our class as part of our annual missions conference.

26Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Gen 1:26

6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made man. Gen 9

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be. Psalm 139

5It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6But there is a place where someone has testified:
“What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
7 You made him a little lower than the angels;
you crowned him with glory and honor
8 and put everything under his feet.” Heb 2

Human Stem Cell Research

Proposal 2 is a proposal that will appear on the November 4, 2008 ballot in Michigan. This would amend the state constitution to allow embryonic stem cell research in Michigan. A “Yes” vote would allow embryonic stem cell research which proponents say is necessary for scientific advancement and disease treatment, whereas a “No” vote would prohibit embryonic stem cell research.

Some background on stem cell research:

What is a stem cell?
o A “master cell” that may become 210 different types of tissue in the human body.
o They have the ability to divide for an indefinite period of time.

Sources of stem cells
Embryo (from a fertilized ovum which is allowed to divide to a certain point, at which time the stem cells are harvested. This results in death of the embryo.)
Fetus (from tissues of an aborted fetus that would have become the ovaries or testes)
Umbilical cord (from blood remaining in the umbilical cord)
Adult tissues

Embryonic Stem Cells (ESC)
Difficult to grow and it is hard to get “pure” cultures
The cells are unstable and the genetic material changes in culture (mutates).
The cells that have become more specialized (differentiated) often behave abnormally. For example, cells that appear to have changed into pancreas cells may still not secrete insulin.
There have been few successes with ESC in animals, and cancerous tumors have formed and resulted in death of some animals. This is a serious obstacle that will have to be overcome before ESC research could result in therapies applicable for humans.
ESC may be rejected by the body, just like transplanted organs.
o For this reason, some researchers have proposed cloning individual humans to get suitable cells.
o Cloning humans cells presents its own set of problems
§ Cloning humans is illegal in the U.S. and is considered ethically not acceptable.
§ It would be VERY COSTLY (estimated $ 200,000.00 per patient), so only the very wealthy could afford it.
§ It might not solve the problem of rejection.
§ There may be problems with the cloned cells.
§ There are also concerns regarding exploitation and health risks to women as a direct result of the large number of eggs which would be required for cloning.
THERE ARE NO CURRENT CLINICAL TREATMENTS BASED ON EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS. Some researchers estimate that it may be 10-20 years or more before the technology becomes applicable, if many difficult problems above can be solved.

Adult Stem Cells (ASC)
Multiple sources from adult humans, umbilical cord blood and the placenta
Stem cells found in one type of tissue can repair damage in other kinds of tissue (ex. heart attack damage)
Can be obtained from a patient, grown in culture and transplanted back into the same patient. This means they are compatible with a person’s genetic make up and will not be rejected.
Long life span
Work in many different ways to repair damaged tissue
Little manipulation is needed, so cost is much more reasonable. ASC seem to automatically migrate to the location of cellular damage
No ethical concerns since harvesting cells do not cause death of a genetically human organism.
Biosafe since there is no transfer of genetic, viral or other diseases
ALREADY PROVIDING CURES IN ANIMALS AND HUMAN CLINICAL TRIALS-there are more that over 80 successful therapies already in use which use adult stem cells. These include heart muscle damage, diabetes, brain injury from stroke, and others. This technology is used over 20,000 times per year. There are also 1,200 studies underway for new therapies utilizing adult stem cells.

Sources of Adult Stem Cells
Bone marrow Fat Brain
Skin Lung Liver
Pancreas Breast Tooth pulp
Blood Muscle Salivary
Cornea Tendon Cartilage
Thymus Synovium (joints) Umbilical cord

Current successful therapies with Adult Stem Cells
See the attached list, or it may be viewed at
The University of Michigan has 40 researchers and unknown numbers of undergraduate and graduate students working in the area of stem cell research, and is considered one of the leaders in this area.

Problems with Proposal 2
There are no therapies utilizing embryonic stem cells despite at least nine years of research.
Promising research is already underway with adult stem cells.
In medicine, it is considered unethical to sacrifice one human being’s life to save another human being, much less to use them for experimental research. The following are secular codes of ethics that have been adopted to guide scientific research:
o Nuremburg Code: “No experiment should be conducted where there is a prior reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur.” This code was adopted as a direct result of the atrocities of Nazi Germany.
o Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, 1997-“Prohibits experiments that are not for the benefit of the patient and requires protection of the human embryo if it is experimented upon.”-This is a summary of a rather extensive document by Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA).
o American Medical Association’s ethical statement:
”Adequate safeguards must be provided for the welfare, safety and comfort of the subject. It is fundamental social policy that the advancement of scientific knowledge must always be secondary to primary concern for the individual.”
o Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This is also problematic from a Christian frame of reference.
o The Bible states that humans are made in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26, Psalm 139:13-16, Hebrews 2:6,7)
o Man is not to take life unjustly. (Genesis 9:6, Deuteronomy 5:17)
o Many believe that life begins at conception.
o Many also believe that personhood is not based on one’s capacity or external factors, such as: implantation, brain development, pain sense, self-awareness, viability, or birth. In other words, at conception, the fertilized egg contains distinctly human genetic material—therefore, identifying it as “human.”
The embryos to be utilized for embryonic stem cell research would come from embryos created for in vitro fertilization (IVF). Currently, many of these embryos are frozen in “banks.”
Currently, there are 400,000 embryos in frozen storage.
Of these, 88% of parents plan to utilize their embryos for future pregnancies
This leaves the following:
9,200 embryos which parents plan to give for embryo adoption for infertile couples
8,800 embryos which will be destroyed. (Thus, a very small number would be “discarded.”)
18,000 which are “in limbo” because parents have not decided what to do with them
Therefore, NATIONWIDE, 11,200 embryos would be available for ESC research. This could result in 275 embryonic stem cell lines, approximately 5 per state. Some think improved techniques might result in 500 cell lines at best. This is FAR too few for research purposes.
Embryos not suitable for implantation probably have genetic problems that would prevent their use for embryonic stem cell research. In vitro centers now grade embryos to help increase the level of success, so embryos unsuitable for IVF are also unsuitable for ESC.
Informed consent? Some have raised the question of whether parents can give consent for the destruction of their offspring. Would this not be the “ultimate form” of child abuse?
Monetary “incentives” have occurred in other states. Although this, technically, is not allowed, parents have been compensated in other states for the entirety of their IVF expenses. Due to the thousands of dollars involved in IVF therapy, this could prove powerful incentives for parents to donate embryos for research.
There is a problem getting enough embryos in California
See the statistics on available embryos above.
California researchers are creating embryos for research.
Researchers are now trying to get women to donate eggs and are trying to get laws changed to allow them to pay thousands of dollars to women beyond their direct expenses as incentives for egg donation.
The last clause prevents any future law that would regulate or limit embryonic stem cell research in the future, in effect, resulting in UNRESTRICTED EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH. Another constitutional amendment would have to be enacted to reverse this.
o It could prevent institutions from prohibiting embryonic stem cell research and could override rights of conscience protection laws.
o Provides nearly total immunity to embryonic stem cell researchers. They could create chimeras*, hybrids^ (“interspecies” organisms which combine human and nonhuman cells* or genetic material^) or other new entities created for embryonic stem cell purposes.
o Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project (former U of M geneticist): “It would be mistake to simply leave these decisions to the scientists….Their moral sense is, in general, no more or less well-developed than that of other groups, and they are unavoidably afflicted by potential conflict of interest that may cause them to resent boundaries set by nonscientists.”


There are no current clinical treatments utilizing embryonic stem cells.
There are already over 80 successful therapies in use utilizing adult stem cells. Is embryonic stem cell research really necessary and practical?
Embryonic stem cell research violates accepted secular ethical standards (“moral codes”) of scientific research involving human subjects.
Embryonic stem cell research is problematic from a Christian point of view since Christians believe that humans are made in the image of God.
Proposal 2 could result in unrestricted embryonic stem cell research. History has shown that unregulated scientific endeavors can have detrimental ramifications (Nazi Germany, Tuskegee Institute syphilis experiments).

Websites: Website of Michigan State Medical Society with sites supporting and opposing Proposal 2
To research the “Pro” side of the embryonic stem cell ballot proposal visit these websites:

To research the “Con” side of the embryonic stem cell ballot proposal, visit these websites:

Petition Language:

A Proposal to Amend the Constitution of the State of Michigan by adding a new Article I, Section 27 as follows:
Article I, Section 27. (1) Nothing in this section shall alter Michigan’s current prohibition on human cloning.
(2) To ensure that Michigan citizens have access to stem cell therapies and cures, and to ensure that physicians and researchers can conduct the most promising forms of medical research in this state, and that all such research is conducted safely and ethically, any research permitted under federal law on human embryos may be conducted in Michigan, subject to the requirements of federal law and only the following additional limitations and requirements:
(a) No stem cells may be taken from a human embryo more than fourteen days after cell division begins; provided, however, that time during which an embryo is frozen does not count against this fourteen day limit.
(b) The human embryos were created for the purpose of fertility treatment and, with voluntary and informed consent, documented in writing, the person seeking fertility treatment chose to donate the embryos for research; and
(i) the embryos were in excess of the clinical need of the person seeking the fertility treatment and would otherwise be discarded unless they are used for research; or
(ii) the embryos were not suitable for implantation and would otherwise be discarded unless they are used for research
(c) No person may, for valuable consideration, purchase or sell human embryos for stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures.

(d) All stem cell research and all stem cell therapies and cures must be conducted and provided in accordance with state and local laws of general applicability, including but not limited to laws concerning scientific and medical practices and patient safety and privacy, to the extent that any such laws do not:
(i) prevent, restrict, obstruct, or discourage any stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures that are permitted by the provisions of this section; or

(ii) create disincentives for any person to engage in or otherwise associate with such research or therapies or cures.
(3) Any provision of this section held unconstitutional shall be severable from the remaining portions or this section.

No comments: