Section 13B... Social Issues/
Stem Cell Research


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Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Gregory Koukl

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   Ron Reagan and the Stem Cell Research Issue .. Is it really what it has been made out to be?

And  The Big Stem-Cell Breakthrough That you're not hearing about (below)



You have to have a human being before you can get human stem cells.

    I want to talk to you about an idea, a concept - the underlying moral principles that drive ideas. My deep concern about our nation is that there is radical confusion, not just in the population in general, but in the church in particular, about how to do moral thinking. One of the most immediate examples of such a thing is the area of embryonic stem cell research and cloning. You know that Congress is debating right now whether to allow human cloning or not, and whether to allow the cloning of embryonic stem cells for research. Actually those are both the exact same issue.

    There has been an attempt to obfuscate (confuse) the issue morally, an attempt to draw a distinction between a blastula (the earliest stages of human development) and the later stages, as if in the first case you don’t have human beings and in the second you do. People will say that is not a human being, that is just an embryo or that is just a blastula. You know, when you think about it, friends, there are many, many kinds of embryos. Embryo is not a thing — it is a stage. It is like saying a ten-day-old, or an adolescent, or a youngster. It does not tell you anything about the thing except for its level of development. It could be a young dog, or it could be a young parakeet, or it could be a young human being. It could be a fish embryo, it could be a dog embryo, it could be a human embryo. You see, embryo, or blastula, or blastocyst are just terms to describe this earliest stages of development where stem cells are present; these are just words that identify a stage of the development of a thing. It does not give you any information as to what that thing is that is developing.

    To say that an embryo goes from an embryo after a certain level of development into a human being is to create a kind of category error, it is mixing terms. It is kind of like saying this thing went from a ten-day-old to a young rabbit. A ten-day-old what? Well, a ten-day-old baby rabbit into a young rabbit. These are terms that represent two different categories of things. To be clear about these things, we have to acknowledge that distinction. So when we say embryo, we are talking about a stage of development, we are not talking about the thing. (Also See The Face of Abortion}

    The question is what kind of embryo is it? And in this case the embryos are human embryos, the blastula are human blastula. You have to have a human being before you can get human stem cells. So, this discussion about the legitimacy of cloning for the stem cells versus cloning to create a human being, is a rationally confused distinction. There is no difference. You cannot get human embryonic stem cells but from a human embryo. So, you must create a human being first in its embryo stage, which then is either allowed to grow into subsequent stages, fetus, newborn, adolescent, etc., or is destroyed before it can begin to develop into other stages and is then cut up an used for body parts. But it still is what it is when it is destroyed — a human being in a blastula stage.

    The problem with this issue has to do with a challenge in trying to weigh means and ends. I have an article from the LA Times from March 6, 2002. Midway through the first section under "The Nation" is a compelling photograph of actor Christopher Reeve appearing on Capitol Hill with Senator Edward Kennedy and California Senator Diane Feinstein because he spoke before the senate in favor of what is called "therapeutic cloning" - cloning for disease research. That is, cloning to produce this young embryo that is then divided up and not allowed to grow to further stages. My point here is that there is no significant (pardon me for the use of this word, but it is the right word to use here) ontological difference (I’ll explain in a moment); there is no ontological difference between therapeutic cloning and cloning to create a human being.

    Ontology has to do with the nature of existence or the being itself. The question "What is that thing?" is an ontological question. What is the essence of its existence? The question with embryonic stem cell research is whether the distinction between therapeutic cloning and cloning to create a human being is meaningful. As I mentioned earlier, therapeutic cloning must first create a human being before it has human stem cells to be used for that purpose.

    Christopher Reeve's story is dramatic, of course. Christopher Reeve, the actor, the handsome Adonis, human perfection prior to his accident. Superman. A tremendous actor, actually. Good looking, healthy, and then he, after a horse accident that broke his neck, became a quadriplegic. There is some question as to whether therapeutic cloning might be able to produce a therapy that will help regenerate broken spines, or bad spinal columns, and the like, so that Christopher Reeve might be able to be healed. Now, I don’t know that he is holding out for himself, but he is certainly thinking about others like him.

    This is a powerful picture, and it goes along with the point that we have made many times in the past. If you want to have a moral impact on an issue, use pictures for their moral impact. Now, the important thing, of course, is you are not just using pictures for impact, but you are using pictures to go along with a good argument. This is the way we argue against abortion. You see the impact here. He has shown us himself to argue his case. Here is this dramatic moment where Christopher Reeve shows up, and everybody knows the way he was, they see the way he is. They see his indomitable spirit. They see him arguing for the use of cloning for the purpose of producing medicines that will help people in his circumstance. It has a powerful emotional impact.

    I will tell you what is troubling me about this. Those of us who opposed embryonic stem cell research do not realize the good that can come from this kind of experimentation. We have to have a quadriplegic paraded before us to soften our stony hearts so that we would realize what is really at stake here. Open your eyes. In fact, the article opens up with this statement: "His 13-year-old daughter at his side, Hollywood director Jerry Zucker lamented the fact that Congress might pass a law ‘stopping us from trying to save my daughter’s life.’" Apparently, his daughter has an affliction that might be healed by embryonic stem cell research. So he sees these actions as merely hard-hearted actions that are just meant to hurt people. The same thing with Christopher Reeve. Don’t you guys get it? Wake up! Are you so callus that you don’t see the good that can be done from therapeutic cloning?

    My answer is, we get it! That’s not the issue. Here is our lesson for today. The whole question that we are faced with in this is whether the ends justify the means. That’s it. It is a question of means-and-ends relationship. And the whole question of ultimate ends, the benefits, all of the good things that might come out of embryonic stem cell research justify whatever means is necessary.

    By the way, I am just granting that for the sake of argument because it is not clear that all these good things will come out of embryonic stem cell research. And it is also not clear if stem cell research can produce good results that there are not other less morally questionable means of getting those same results. Granting all of that, let’s just say this is the only way to do it and this will cure all these diseases. That does not settle the question because the whole question of ultimate ends is completely irrelevant without a clear answer to the question of means. As you know, a noble end, in this case healing or preventing debilitating disease, is only moral given the means that we use to get there. What do we have to do to get to this thing? {Also See The Big Stem-Cell Breakthrough That you're not hearing about }

    There are two extremes on this, and one extreme is from our side. And people say things that turn out to be not helpful. On the one hand, we have to avoid statements like, The ends never justify the means. Think about that statement for just a moment. You don’t believe that. The ends never justify the means? Well, that’s not what we mean. As stated, this is not a helpful moral guideline because there is always a relationship between means and ends. Certain means are justified by some ends but not by others. And whether a certain means is justified or not, whether the method you use to get what you want is right or not, depends entirely on what it is you are trying to get. So you can’t say the ends never justify the means. You have to ask whether the ends in this circumstance do justify the means in this circumstance. There is a relationship there.

    For example, killing may not be a justifiable means to get a seat on the bus. Killing - that’s the means. Well, obviously, those ends do not justify the means. But what if the same means here — killing - was to accomplish a different end, that is, maybe to save someone else’s life. You have a child under attack and you use lethal force to stop this lethal attack on a child’s life. There you have the same means, killing, but you have a different end. In the first case it was getting a seat on the bus, but in the second the means does justify the end. So whether a certain means is justifiable or not depends entirely on what it is you are trying to accomplish. And when the circumstances change then the moral equation changes with it. Now, some people are uncomfortable when I say it that way. They say, that is relativism. That is situational ethics. This is not situational ethics and this is not relativism if one clearly understands what those terms mean.

    Situational Ethics is a proper noun. It is a specific kind of ethical system developed by a man named Joseph Fletcher. And Joseph Fletcher is not a relativist; he was an absolutist. The absolute rule he believed was that you should always do the loving thing. The circumstance determine what is loving in any given situation. I am not advocating that. I am advocating that you must look at the situation itself before you can know what proper and appropriate objective or absolute moral principle applies. All moral decision making is situational in that sense. Is killing right? Well, it depends. Not to get a seat in the bus, but killing arguably is right in self-defense. Do you see the relationship there?.

    Relativism is when the moral claim is relative, not to the circumstances themselves, but is relative to the subject. It's also called subjectivism. In the same circumstances, different subjects have different moral rules. If you and I are in the exact same situation, I could say that one course of action is right for me, but an opposite course of action could be right for you. The only thing that is changed is you and I. That is relativism. See Section on Relativism

    All truth claims of any kind are always relative to the circumstances - you have to know which rule to apply in any given circumstance. We have to be careful to be aware that when we are making moral judgments with regards to means and ends, it is not enough to simply dismiss alternatives with the statement, The ends never justify the means. Oftentimes, the ends do justify the means. You have to look more closely. But, on the other hand, we cannot simply look at noble goals and act as if that is all that matters.

    We cannot just trot out people in wheelchairs before the Senate in place of a moral argument. Of course, it is a noble end; no one is taking exception with that. This question is what do we have to do to get the ends that you have in mind? It isn’t that people like us just want sick people to stay sick. We are callous and hard and need to see more handicapped people wheeled around in wheelchairs and more Alzheimer’s patients to finally melt our cold hearts. No, that is not what is going on. The key here to the means and ends discussion is in weighing the means and the ends to see if there is proportionality.

    We just have to ask the question whether the ends justify the means in this case. As I stated, there always is a relationship between the means and ends. We have to look at each individual case. We cannot just blanket it and say the ends never justify the means because sometimes they do. But do they, in this particular case?

    In the case of embryonic stem cell research, arguably, a human being is being sacrificed for her body parts so that someone else can survive or get healthy. Our view is about what is the price we have to pay to reach that end. It may be the case that human beings are sacrificed for other people’s benefit. Even with those noble ends, it should be clear to see that it is just simply wrong to take the life of one innocent human being to improve the health of another, or even to save that person’s life. Now, sometimes we may choose to sacrifice our own lives to save the life of someone else. That is called heroism, but heroism is not required morally and we ought not be forced to jeopardize our lives on behalf of others. Certainly when we do that, if we choose to, that is morally commendable. But in this case, we are not talking about that. We are talking about children, human beings, who do not have the capability of giving such consent, but are being sacrificed on behalf of others. Simply put, we do not carve up infants for their body parts to save the lives of other children. Or, in the Apostle Paul’s words, we don’t do evil that good may come.

    Back to the main point. The good ends are desired by everyone. We don’t need Christopher Reeve to convince us of that. But we must face this question: What is it that you are asking us to do to accomplish this noble end? And it brings us back once again to the pivotal issue, what is the unborn? A human being. Well, that is what needs to be discussed, not the good that can come from stem cell research. What is the embryo? The stem cells? The blastula? The blastocyst? Because as I mentioned, human embryos don’t become human beings; they already are human at a particular stage of development. That is the issue. We aren't against embryonic stem cell research per se; we are against killing human embryos to use their stem cells. That is the issue we have to focus on.

    Parading handicapped people before us misses the point. We’re just as concerned about these handicapped people as others. In fact, we would also campaign that you cannot take the life of these handicapped people because they are handicapped. You cannot remove the feeding tube. In Christopher Reeve’s own book that he wrote, Still Me, he said that he realized that even though he'd lost the use of his body that he was still the same person. And if he is intrinsically valuable before the accident, he is intrinsically valuable after the accident. We acknowledge that intrinsic value. He is not instrumentally valuable because he is formerly Superman. He is valuable because he is a human being made in the image of God. And if that is the case, then his value is the same as all other human beings made in the image of God, regardless of their size, their level of development, their environment, or their degree of dependency. As it turns out, the blastula, the embryo, is a human being that is just smaller, more dependent, in a different location, and less developed than a Christopher Reeve. It's valuable because of what it is, not how it can be used.

    Here is a commentary "First Test in the Biotech Age — Human Cloning", Wednesday, March 6, L.A. Times. Do we have the will and the wisdom to say no? ask William Crystal and Jeremy Rifkin, with regards to human cloning." I am going to read a bit of what they have written here because I think it really captures some moral consistency and moral clarity. First they argue for a moral rule and then specify its application, rather than simply looking at the application and saying, that is a great application so the moral rule does not matter. It’s another way of putting the means and ends discussion, and the relationship of the two. They write,

      "With regards to this brave new world prospect here, will we be content to frame the discussion in the old terms of religion versus science, or pro-life versus pro-choice? Or are we willing to see that the debate is over two distinct views of human life and the good society?" I think they have nailed it.

      "On the one side are the utilitarians. These are the ones who basically see cloning life in terms of markets and patents and progress. On the other side are those who believe in the intrinsic value of human life. They mention for various reasons, but whatever their rationale, religious or otherwise, this is what they believe. They all share a respect for the human and the natural and oppose efforts to reduce human life in its various parts and stages to the status of mere research tools and manufactured products. The utilitarians argue that the potential medical advances of harvesting stem cells from cloned human embryos for medical research justifies going ahead. However, those of us to hold to the intrinsic value of life believe that creating embryonic clones for research and eventually for the creation of spare body parts if unethical. Even though, we strongly support continued research on adult stem cells which has proved promising in recent clinical trials."

    They look at the distinction being made between reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning and are say that in both cases we are confronted with the same moral problem. We cannot treat them differently. They point out that these bills before the Congress right now would, in effect, authorize the creation of human clones and then mandate their destruction. Then they take the roof off. They show the natural consequence of this way of thinking.

      "If using a 12-day-old cloned embryo for producing cells and tissues is morally acceptable, what about harvesting more developed cells from say, an eight-week-old embryo, or harvesting organs from a five-month-old cloned fetus if it were found to be a more useful medical therapy."

    They are showing that when you take this to its logical conclusion, it produces morally absurd results. They are taking the roof off.

      "Humans have always thought of the birth of their children as a gift bestowed by God or beneficent nature. In its place, the new cloned progeny would become the ultimate shopping experience designed in advanced, produced to specifications, and purchased in the biological marketplace. A child would no longer be a unique creature, but rather an engineered reproduction. Human cloning opens the door to a commercial eugenic civilization where life science companies already have patented both human embryos and stem cells."

    How do you patent a human embryo? They go on, "Giving them ownership and control of the new form of reproductive commerce with frightening implications for the future of society."

    Friends, my point in cloning has always been that the greatest harm is not the cloning per se. I’m not sure. I’m troubled by cloning per se. I’m troubled by how one would view the bona fide human beings that would be the result of the human cloning process. A cloned human being would be a real human being with a soul. Clones would have souls. Dolly the sheep has a soul. CiCi the kitten has a soul. It is theologically sound. It is philosophically sound. Humans have a different kind of soul than animals have, but clones would have souls. A human body without a soul is called a corpse, okay? But the problem is, since the body, the human being in this case was accomplished through this highly scientific process, the question of ownership comes up. Do these cloned human beings belong to families and ought be treated like human beings as members of the families. Or are they merely the products of the laboratory and the property, therefore, of the scientist? That is the problem.

      They close, "As the Senate prepares to debate, we should not be fooled about the stakes. This is the first major test of the biotech age, a moment of decision for a civilization that may have gone too far already in their commercialization and the destruction of the human and ecological worlds. Do we have the wisdom and the political and the moral will to say stop?"

    Well written, a piece with moral clarity on this issue.

    ©2002 Gregory Koukl


    Ron Reagan and the Stem Cell Research Issue

    The August 23, 2004 issue of (usually left wing) Time Magazine carried an interesting article entitled “Why Lines Must Be DrawnStem cells present a complex moral issue. Shame on Democrats for polarizing it” By Charles Krauthammer.

    Not only a physician Dr: Charles Krauthammer is perhaps one of those who have most at stake in the stem cell brouhaha … When he was 22 he suffered a spinal-cord injury and has not walked in 32 years.

    His opening lines say this..

      “In an election year, it is too much to expect serious and complicated moral issues to be treated with seriousness and complexity. Nonetheless, the way Democrats have managed to caricature and debase the debate over embryonic stem-cell research stands in a class by itself”.

    These words can well be used to describe former U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s son Ron Reagan who spoke to a huge crowd at the Democratic National convention.. (One has to pause to wonder what President Reagan would have thought of that).  Ron Reagan called on Americans to "cast a vote for embryonic stem cell research" at the polls in November” adding that stem cell research may lead to the "greatest medical breakthrough in our or in any lifetime." Reagan painted the Bush administration as heartless bureaucrats "who would deny the federal funding so crucial to basic research.” Adding that they are “grinding a political axe and they should be ashamed of themselves and that We only need to try “to put an end to this suffering,” Going even further he spoke of a 13 year old he know who has juvenile diabetes, asking ‘what we should tell her’.

    There are three separate issues here…

      1) The Bush administration has a ban on stem cell research. (John Kerry has also referred to this mythical ban)

      2) Diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s will be cured as the result of stem cell research.

      3) That there is a distinction between an embryo and a fetus. An embryo is not a human being according to Reagan.

    Dealing with them one at a time..

    1) Quoting Charles Krauthammer….

      Stem-cell research is legal in the U.S. and has been so since human embryonic stem cells were first isolated in 1998. There are dozens of groups studying them, including major stem-cell centers recently launched at Stanford and Harvard. Perhaps Democrats mean a ban on federal funding for stem-cell research. But, in fact, there is no such ban. Through the Clinton years there was a ban. Not a single penny of federal money was allowed for any embryo research. In his first year in office, however, President Bush reviewed the issue and permitted the first federal funding of stem-cell research ever.

    He also said Bush’s nationally televised address presented both sides of the question with “fairness and respect”. Bush allowed funding research using existing stem-cell lines but not to create stem-cell lines which  inevitably involve the destruction of human embryos.

    2) Doctor Krauthammer asks why Reagan was addressing the nation on a subject of which he knows nothing.

        “Because his famous father died of Alzheimer's, and some (including, sadly, Nancy Reagan) have been led to believe that Alzheimer's is curable using stem cells. This is nonsense. Cynical nonsense. Or as Ronald D.G. McKay, a stem-cell researcher at the National Institutes of Health, admitted candidly to the Washington Post, a fiction: "People need a fairy tale." Yet Kerry began his radio address with the disgraceful claim that the stem-cell "ban" is standing in the way of an Alzheimer's cure”.


      “There's nothing less compassionate than to construct a political constituency of sufferers (and their loved ones) by falsely and cruelly intimating that their disease is on the very cusp of cure if only the President would stop playing politics with the issue”.

     “An Oregon Health & Science University study is defying a long-accepted assertion among many scientists that stem cells repair diseased tissue by transforming into other cell types in a process called plasticity. The first study from OHSU's new Oregon Stem Cell Center, published in the current issue of the journal Nature Medicine, found that mature macrophages derived from bone marrow stem cells, and not bone marrow stem cells themselves, are what fuse with diseased liver cells, ultimately curing a genetic liver disease. "The most important discovery is you don't need to transplant stem cells at all," said study co-author Markus Grompe, M.D., professor of molecular and medical genetics, and pediatrics, OHSU School of Medicine, and director of the Oregon Stem Cell Center. "If you transplant only macrophages, you'll get liver cells that correct liver disease in mice."”. [www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/07/040708014035.htm]

    3) Stem cells typically are taken from days-old human embryos and then grown in a laboratory into lines or colonies. Because the embryos are destroyed when the cells are extracted,

     In the Time Magazine article Krauthammer goes on to say that he thinks..

      “…it is more important to bequeath to my son a world that retains a moral compass, a world that when unleashing the most powerful human discovery since Alamogordo—something as protean, elemental, powerful and potentially dangerous as the manipulation and re-formation of the human embryo—recognizes that lines must be drawn and fences erected”


      “this is not an issue of reason vs. ignorance, as the Democrats have portrayed it, but of recognizing two important competing human values: the thirst for knowledge and cures on the one hand and, on the other, the respect for even embryonic human life and a well-grounded respect for the proven human capacity to misuse newly acquired powers, in this case, the power to manipulate, reshape, dissect and redesign the developing human embryo”.

    He says he would be delighted to walk again. “But not at any price”.


    The Big Stem-Cell Breakthrough That You're Not Hearing About
    by Wesley J. Smith
    (Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture)

    DID YOU SEE THE SIZE OF THOSE HEADLINES? "Stem Cells Used to Create Artificial Liver," the New York Times screamed on its front page. "Breakthrough! Stem Cells to One Day Create Organ for Liver Transplant," was how the Washington Post put it. "Stem Cell Breakthrough Demonstrates Viability of New Science," yelled the Los Angeles Times. "Stem Cell Hope for People with Liver Disease," agreed USA Today. The story was so big that Katie Couric narrated a special report, expressing her profound gratitude for the hope these dedicated stem-cell scientists had brought to suffering humanity.

    What's that? You didn't see those headlines? You say you somehow missed the story? Well, don't blame yourself. You are not out of touch. The above headlines never appeared, the stories have not been written.

    Don't get me wrong: The breakthrough described in the fictional headlines is real. British scientists have created an artificial liver--from scratch--using stem cells. The research does offer tremendous hope for the alleviation of human suffering. But you probably didn't hear about this amazing achievement because the stem cells the scientists used to build a human liver did not come from embryos: They came from umbilical cord blood.

    This made their scientific achievement politically incorrect. A story that doesn't validate the stem-cell mantra that embryonic stem cells offer the "best hope" for future cures isn't worth much attention. Even the most important adult or umbilical cord blood stem-cell breakthroughs usually receive only minor, inside-the-paper coverage. This is the primary reason why so many people still don’t know about the many advances being made on a continual basis in human research with ethical, adult and umbilical cord blood stem cells. [www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/012/519gzqaa.asp]

    HERE'S THE STORY: Two scientists from Newcastle University, Nico Forraz and Colin McGuckin, have built dime-sized human livers using stem cells found in umbilical cord blood. The livers are already sufficient for use in drug testing--perhaps in place of using some animals and humans as research subjects. The scientists believe that within five years, stem-cell generated liver tissue could be sufficiently perfected for use in treating human diseases caused by injury, disease, and alcohol abuse. Perhaps in 15 years, the technique could even be employed to manufacture whole human livers suitable for transplantation. [www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2429760.html]

    Contrast this general media's shunning of this major story with its sensationalistic reporting several weeks ago of the bogus story that scientists had obtained embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos. That story, unlike the umbilical-cord-blood-stem-cells-into-liver breakthrough, got front-page play and major television coverage. It was deemed news because it was seen as undermining President Bush's stem-cell policy.

    Indeed, if this new breakthrough had been accomplished with embryonic stem cells instead of umbilical cord blood stem cells, the headlines would have been enormous. The second paragraph of the stories would have accused President Bush of holding up potentially life-saving cures. Notable scientists and bioethicists would have been touting the new dawn of regenerative medicine that was coming into being, despite Bush's resistance.

    Instead, we hear the sound of silence--thanks to the news blockade that doesn't care much about stem-cell breakthroughs unless they come from destroyed embryos.

    Contemporary Social Issues