News Articles

ERLC think tank: Embryonic stem cell research is immoral

WASHINGTON (BP)–Stem cell research that destroys human embryos is a “barbaric assault on the dignity of humankind” and should be rejected by both the public and private sectors, members of a Southern Baptist think tank said in a statement released Oct. 26.

The Research Institute of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission staked out its position on an issue that has sharply divided the American public and been debated in this year’s highly contentious presidential election campaign. In its 11/2-page statement, the institute, which consists of Southern Baptist academicians, ethicists and lawyers, endorsed regenerative medicine using stem cells from non-embryonic sources but condemned embryonic research because of its destructive nature.

“[W]hile affirming the promise this research has for good, we object strongly to the notion that pursuing cures for some ever justifies intentionally destroying other human lives to achieve those cures,” the statement said.

“Adult stem cell research provides the opportunity to participate in the potential benefits of regenerative medicine without compromising deeply held beliefs about human life. Human embryonic stem cell research represents a barbaric assault on the dignity of humankind and, therefore, erodes one of the fundamental values that have shaped our civilization.”

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues. They are found not only in human embryos but in adult sources, such as bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and placentas. The procurement of stem cells from an adult source does not harm the donor.

Supporters of embryonic stem cell research claim this line of study has the most potential for creating cures, but that is not evident in the priorities of the multi-billion dollar biotechnology industry, which has invested many times more in adult stem cell research. Also, embryonic stem cell research has experienced multiple failures, including the worsening of Parkinson’s symptoms in one human test group and a tendency to produce tumors in laboratory animals. Adult stem cell research, meanwhile, has already produced more than 40 treatments, including the repair of damaged livers and remedies for heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries. Recent research promises a cure for arthritis.

“Only the most committed ideologue would continue to encourage embryo-destructive research in the face of these facts,” according to the statement from the ERLC’s Research Institute.

A human embryo “is a human life, no matter his or her age, manner of conception (natural conception, in vitro fertilization or cloning) or location (uterus, test tube or Petri dish),” the statement said. “It is incumbent on a just society to protect the lives of these little ones and to search for alternative sources of stem cells.”

In 2001, President Bush announced his policy barring federal funds for stem cell research that destroys embryos. In their statement, the Research Institute fellows called for the government and the private sector to reject destructive embryo research and pursue adult research.

The statement also condemned “so-called ‘therapeutic’ cloning” while affirming the moral status of a clone. Research, or “therapeutic,” cloning is a potential source for embryonic stem cells. Cloning does not mean scientists “are able to create a category of human life that is less than a gift of God,” the statement said. “The moral status of a cloned human embryo is the same as a naturally conceived human embryo.”

Not only is cloning inherently immoral, “‘clone and kill’ protocols will erode the public’s revulsion of cloning, lead to the crass commodification of human life and further coarsen our regard for the special dignity of human life,” the statement said.

The Research Institute’s fellows issued the statement as a result of their increasing concern “about the confusion between embryonic and adult stem cells,” said Barrett Duke, director of the ERLC think tank. “This statement provides some much-needed clarity on the subject of stem cell research.

“Any good that may come from [embryonic stem cell research] will be forever morally tainted,” said Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research. “We trust that as people look more closely at this issue, they will agree that adult stem cell research is the only life-affirming stem cell research.”

Some opponents of embryonic stem cell research have charged advocates with misrepresenting the status of embryos in their efforts to gain government funds for such experimentation. Though normally less than a week old when stem cells are extracted from them, embryos are not just a clump of cells but genetically unique human beings, foes of embryonic research point out.

During the campaign, Bush has defended his decision to prohibit federal funds for research that involves killing embryos, but Democratic candidate John Kerry has said he will permit funding for such research. Bush’s policy allowed for funding of research on colonies of stem cells already retrieved from embryos. The federal government provides many millions of dollars for research on adult stem cells.

The full statement may be accessed under the “issues” section of the ERLC’s Web site, www.faithandfamily.com.

The statement was produced after the institute held a forum on stem cell research Sept. 22 at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. At the forum, five of the institute’s fellows addressed the issue. They were ERLC President Richard Land; C. Ben Mitchell, associate bioethics professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago; Steve Lemke, provost and ethics professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Daniel Heimbach, ethics professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and Jerry Sutton, senior pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville.

Other Research Institute fellows are: Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary; Don Buckley, a Pensacola, Fla., physician; L. Russ Bush, academic vice president at Southeastern Seminary; David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.; Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.; R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Craig Blaising, executive vice president and provost at Southwestern Seminary; Douglas Blount, assistant dean for ethics and philosophical studies at Southwestern Seminary; Jerry Johnson, president of Criswell College in Dallas, Texas; R. Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Shannon Royce, the ERLC’s legislative consultant; Randy Singer, executive vice president of the North American Mission Board; Greg Thornbury, director of the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Christian Leadership at Union University, and Malcolm Yarnell, newly elected president of Louisiana College in Pineville, La.