A new form of cell research that requires the destruction of human embryos is both unethical and illegal and should continue to be prohibited by Congress, specialists in ethics, law, medicine, science, and theology say in a recently released statement. Among the 100-plus signers of the document are several affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention's seminaries and ethics agency.
The statement calls for Congress to maintain its ban on federally funded human embryo research and to clarify that the prohibition applies to recently discovered stem-cell research involving the destruction of such embryos. The signers also call for Congress to provide funds for research into other treatments that do not result in destroying human embryos.
Southern Baptists signing the statement were Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Steve Lemke, provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Daniel Heimbach, ethics professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and C. Ben Mitchell, consultant on biomedical and life issues for the ERLC.
The statement was released in Washington after several months of preparation of a response to the November announcement that stem cells had been isolated from human embryos for the first time and the subsequent decision by the federal government to fund such research. This form of stem-cell research results in the killing of the embryo, however.
All 210 kinds of tissue in the human body develop from stem cells, the statement says. The landmark achievement of isolating stem cells from human embryos provides hope for producing cells and tissues to use as replacements in treating such conditions as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, strokes, and burns.
While they agree providing treatment and healing for afflicted persons "is a great good, we also recognize that not all methods of achieving a desired good are morally or legally justifiable," the signers say in the document, which is titled On Human Embryos: An Appeal for Legally and Ethically Responsible Science and Public Policy.
Federal, state, and international laws already provide protection for human embryos and make stem-cell research requiring their destruction illegal, the statement says.
The scientific and medical gain possible from such research would not justify it, the statement says. "Human embryos are not mere biological tissues or clusters of cells; they are the tiniest of human beings," the statement says. "Thus, we have a moral responsibility not to deliberately harm them.
"The prospect of government-sponsored experiments to manipulate and destroy human embryos should make us all lie awake at night. That some individuals would be destroyed in the name of medical science constitutes a threat to us all."
Instead, the government should promote the development of alternative ways of repairing and redeveloping human tissue, the signers say. Promising sources of stem cells are available from bone marrow and from the placenta or umbilical cord blood in live births, from fetal bone marrow and from living human nerve tissue, they say. Another method of tissue regeneration is somatic cell gene therapy, in which "a gene that controls the production of growth factors can be injected directly into a patient's own cells," the statement says.
Even if such alternative treatments do not prove as efficient as stem cells from human embryos, the latter method is still not justifiable, the signers say.
Mitchell, one of the drafters of the statement, said one of its purposes was "to plant a flag around which concerned individuals and groups can rally."
"We must not allow human beings, even the youngest of us, to be used as means to the ends of lethal research goals," he said.