Why Not Use Embryonic Stem-Cells For Research?

I recently had a conversation with an ex-lawyer regarding stem cell research.  I would suppose that most of you are against embryonic stem-cell research.  However, this ex-lawyer believes that if abortions are going to continue, why can’t we just use those embryonic stem-cells?  The main thrust to his argument was the fact that we will take the organs from another human who was murdered and send those off to be transplanted into others thus possibly saving many lives.

His argument was first that abortion is murder and consequently, the aborted fetus (his terms) should be looked at as “just another murder victim.”  He argued further that the stem-cells are nothing more than donated organs.  Second, he argued that we should make the best of a bad situation and try to help as many others as possible.

What do you think?

Now, I was having this discussion because I completely disagree with his line of thinking.  With that being said, I would like to use this discussion to initiate a conversation here.  I realize this is a touchy subject and we don’t want beligerant comments. I ask that you keep it civil even with those who disagree and remember that we are discussing this in a venue where are aim is to glorify God in all that we say and write.

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27 Responses to Why Not Use Embryonic Stem-Cells For Research?

  1. Jerry says:

    Do we actually use organs from murdered people? I would think that the nature of a criminal investigation would render organs unusable. Having served as a Police Chaplain I have attended several homicides, and normally the body isn’t moved for some hours and is then subject to an extensive autopsy.

    I know that Communist China regularly uses the organs from executed criminals. Does your lawyer friend want to use this as an example to support his argument?

    Jerrys last blog post..Christian Freedom – Duty, or Delight?

  2. My friend was a states attorney for 12 years, an assistant states attorney for 8 years, and is now a funeral director. From what he says, they have seen organs donated from a homicide victim that is not vital to the investigation.

  3. The idea has Nazi medical experimentation written all over it.

    Sick.

  4. This is Terry’s wife.

    There are situations where the victim isn’t DOA (dead on arrival) and later dies in the hospital. I would imagine it is a very rare scenario but there could be a situation where the family would request that the organs be harvested from the victim if (s)he dies at a hospital and the police do not need an autopsy (this also assumes the doctors had enough time to figure out what the victim’s injuries are previous to death). This is definitely not the norm for a homicide but has been known to happen.

    Terry Delaneys last blog post..A Twittered Entry

  5. julieH says:

    In the case of organ donation, a person has the opportunity to choose whether to donate their organs or not. How are we able to ascertain the will of the embryo?

  6. Brother Hank says:

    Why not?

    For starters, (to take the line of argument your friend used) if we allowed this practice in light of abortion, we would be allowing the murderer to give permission for the organs of the murdered to be used for research. A parent who murders their child has given up all legal standing to speak in the child’s “best interest”, seeing as how they have demonstrated that is not what they really have in mind in the first place. I shouldn’t be able to murder my 2 year old, and then philanthropically donate his organs to science. It would give a whole new meaning (or perhaps, the same old ancient meaning) to doing evil that good may come…

    Brother Hanks last blog post..God’s Reign in Our Families: Does Family Planning Have a Place in the Kingdom of God?

  7. Bradley says:

    It seems to me whether police donate murder victim’s organs seems beside the point.

    This discussion should probably revolve around an analysis of a general principle (which I have attempted to extract below) that might justify the action in question, paying special attention things like:

    1) Do we use this principle already to justify making the best out of a bad situation so that our objection against it in this case would be hypocritical?

    2) Would adopting this general principle have consequences that everyone invovled in the discussion see as unacceptable (i.e. what would happen if the general principle were adopted accross the board)?

    3) Is it possible to adopt the principle in some cases but not others? If so, the question isn’t whether the principle should or should not be adopted, but WHEN such a principle should be adopted. At this point, the most productive conversation would revolve around what criterion one would use to determine when to and when NOT to adopt the principle in question.

    The starting point of a intelligent discussion is perhaps one of the more tricky parts: isolating the general principle from the specific example. Here’s a shot at it:

    General Principle: When a people have no power to stop something bad from happening (in this case outlawing abortion), but does have the power to make the situation better once it’s already happened (in this case organ donations), whether it would be morally permissible to, without sanctioning the evil, change what they can about the situation in attempts to “use evil” for good, or make the situation better, or add a redeemable element to a bad thing, etc.

    And finally, now that I have taken a shot at the principle invovled, it might be helpful to point out that another productive line of discussion might revolve around questioning one or more of the premesis of the general principle. For example, you might ask, “is organ donation in this specific case a ‘good’ thing? if the will of the embryo is unascertainable?”

    I’ve said enough … I hope this will guide discussion to a more productive end.

    Bradleys last blog post..Flashback: Remember This?

  8. Brother Hank says:

    Bradley-

    I think you’re on a good track with the general principle thing, but I don’t think you give proper credit what what kinds of principles we are dealing with. Perhaps the most important aspect of this discussion is that we are dealing with something that is patently theological. Therefore, our means, ends, and heart must be evaluated by Scriptural standards, and not merely some idea of ‘societal good’. These issues must be laid squarely in an historical redemptive understanding of Scripture’s authority in lives of believers and the way we are called to “think” about these things.

    That being the case, I am exceedingly hesitant to lay out any general principles apart from those that show a biblical value of the sanctity of human life, and even the human body in death (1 Chron 10:11-12, in the treatment of Saul’s body after his death). Thus far, I can see no redemptive element in the idea of enabling the state to murder a child, and then harvest the victim’s organs for scientific research for, perhaps, even more morally dubious purposes.

    Brother Hanks last blog post..God’s Reign in Our Families: Does Family Planning Have a Place in the Kingdom of God?

  9. @Bradley: I agree that the general principle must be the guiding principle for the specific, but I think I disagree with your general principle. I think something can be done about outlawing abortion. I think we are thisclose to seeing it outlawed given who is sitting on the Supreme Court right now. However, the face of the Supreme Court will change with the election of the next president. However, that is not necessarily germane to this conversation–only to your general principle.

    I think your second point about not sanctioning evil and making the best of a bad situation is the key. I just don’t see abortion being in the same category as murder insofar as the abortion is in the womb and the baby has done nothing wrong whereas the victim of murder has made decisions to be where he or she is at the time of the crime.

    @Hank: No one said anything about “enabling the state to murder a child, and then harvest” organs. What is being discussed is whether or not it makes sense to allow researchers to acquire the stem cells from babies that are aborted. How would you argue (could you argue?) that we all, not just Christians, should not worry about the “societal good” and base our ethics based on the Bible? While I do agree that we (Christians) should, I don’t know that we can say that about everyone even though Romans 1 says that everyone will be held accountable to the same standard.

    @ All: I guess that my biggest problem is are we being consistent? Is it consistent to be accepting of organ donations from homicide victims and deny “organ donations” from aborted children?

    Something that might be a different twist, but one I do think is implicit in this conversation is that of cremation. If we are against cremation on the grounds of Scripture (which I do agree with), then is it consistent to be an organ donor (which I am a registered organ donor)?

  10. Scott says:

    Historically speaking, the Nazi experiments on Jews and others during their reign of terror did indeed provide at least some foundation to today’s transplant industry medicine.

    Medically speaking, a family, in the absence of clear delineation to not donate on the part of a victim — murder, suicide, accident — can indeed give permission to donate the nearly deceased organs. Now, how do you get to the point where the deceased is so declared? This gets into discussions on cadaveric versus non-cadaveric organ donation. Many organs can be used from bodies in which the heart has ceased to function. Brain death determination is what happens in non-cadaveric organ donations and ranges anywhere from loss of high brain function to complete loss of brain stem function.

    Ethically speaking, these are concerns for embryonic stem cell “donation”. With other proven methods, embryonic stem cell research is not as viable in light of even skeptical medical protocols. Is it a means to an end? Is it glorifying to our Creator (for that matter is organ donation, but that is another post I suspect). Is killing a human being ever the right thing to do?

    Lest any think I merely post here to fill up space on the blogosphere, I submit to you that in my secular profession of 20+ years in the health care profession, I see these very arguments played out every day. As you wrangle with this here, just remember you are talking about people — maybe the same people you will one day be called to minister to.

    Scotts last blog post..Living Babies

  11. Jason Vaughn says:

    Question?

    Are aborted children actually used in this research? I believe that most embryonic research is from embryos created via fertilizing eggs harvested for invitro fertilization.

  12. @Jason: Answer! As of right now, President Bush has allowed only a limited number (7?) of embryonic stem cells to be used for research. I am only asking the question because of the conversation I had this past weekend. I am now wondering if we are consistent with in our ethics (see comment #9).

  13. Brother Hank says:

    @ Terry –

    I think the distinction that you make between abortion and murder as one of “decided location” is untenable. Murder victims rarely decide to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. And your distinctions don’t leave room for an understanding of the murder of infants, the infirmed, or the elderly who have little to no decision as to where they are taken, or how they are murdered.

    Secondly, in regards to my comment on “the state”: abortion is a state sanctioned and state sponsored crime (it’s the law of the land, and millions of your tax dollars go to fund it). To argue that the state has the right to murder someone, and then hand over their vital organs (even if it is to private research companies) has 1984 written all over it.

    The issue with applying biblical ethics to society at large is that we often have a narrow view about what that would look like. Something that would clarify this issue is Natural Law. And that’s another post…

    To answer your questions, I do not think it is consistent to accept homicide organs and not accept the organs of aborted children. However, if we accepted both, I think we would be consistently unbiblical in light of the doctrine of the body and the imago Dei.

    And as to your issue with cremation and organ donation: I think you are correct in highlighiting the relationship between the two; but I don’t think they are identical issues (of course). One highlights a disvaluing of the human body, and another highlights the sanctity of human life in, well, life. It’s worth making the distinction…

    @ Jason –

    invitro fertilization is a whole ‘nother can of worms, that I would be more than happy to open if Terry will give me the chance. :)

    Brother Hanks last blog post..God’s Reign in Our Families: Does Family Planning Have a Place in the Kingdom of God?

  14. @Scott: Thanks for your sage words of wisdom. The fact that we will have to minister to these issues is one reason why I brought this up in the first place. The second reason is I am wondering about the consistency of the ethics involved. I strive to be consistent both internally and, perhaps more importantly, biblically.

  15. @Hank: Yeah, you are correct in correcting me. I was merely thinking of homicide victims and not cases of euthanasia or other “thorny” death situations.

    The Imago Dei is a central point to this conversation and it is that that I am wanting to remain consistent. With that in mind, is it safe to say that organ donation does not violate the Imago Dei because it may (or may not) help another human to live? It would seem to me (and I am only seeking to better understand for my own mind) that organ donation would somehow violate the Imago Dei because of the loss to the person “giving” the organ. (I hope that makes sense.) I don’t see how the end justifies the means. That being said, I am against cremation but for organ donation, as I said earlier, and am only seeking consistency in my ethic.

    What are your thoughts?

  16. Bradley says:

    Brother Hank,

    My analysis assumes a Christian worldview in which certain of our Christian ethical principles are in tension. The same biblical principle of the sanctity of life that might lead a Christian to consider abortion as murder can also lead her to consider “research that would save lives” a positive moral good (moral in the Christian sense of the word–i.e. pleasing to God).

    Not sure why you accuse me of not being aware of the theological nature of our discussion, the authority of scripture, and the need to honor biblical principles. Not sure how you managed to interpret what I said as undermining biblical authority in favor of some “societal good.”

    Your argument from 1 Chronicles is vulnerable to ambiguity and hermeneutical presumption. Ambiguity: 1) What are saying the passage proves? (that God condemns organ donors because the valliant men buried Saul’s body without harvesting his organs?). Presumption: 2) Your argument assumes that the passage is not merely descriptive, but prescriptive. You can’t just pick random narrative passages in the OT and assume they are prescriptive for New Testament believers. Proof texting from the OT the way you have done in your argument does not demonstrate sensitivity to hermeneutical principles in dealing with narrative genre’s in the Bible.

    Finally, no one on this thread (as far as I can see) has taken the stance that we should “enable” the government to murder the unborn. The action in question is enabling the government to harvest organs from murder victims. You seem to have conflated the two.

    Bradleys last blog post..Flashback: Remember This?

  17. Bradley says:

    Terry,

    When you say, “I think something can be done about outlawing abortion,” your not actually disagreeing with my general principle, but with whether or not the specific case in question fits my general principle, since my general principle deals with cases in which the party does not have the power to change some evil (in the specific case, abortion).

    Bradley

    Bradleys last blog post..Flashback: Remember This?

  18. Brother Hank says:

    @ Bradely-

    No need to get defensive brother. I wasn’t intending my comment sounds like an attack on you. I just used your comments to highlight some issues that we all needed to keep in mind — that we can not afford to be ambiguous in our development of “general principles”. Passages such as that in 1 Chronicles don’t seal the deal, but they do show us that these questions are not new and, in fact, are not foreign to the biblical text. Since this is the case, we can not just assume a biblical worldview without practically applying that worldview in light of the sanctity of human life and death that we find in Scripture.

    Brother Hanks last blog post..God’s Reign in Our Families: Does Family Planning Have a Place in the Kingdom of God?

  19. Steve says:

    First, great blog!

    Second, one of the biggest implications of that lawyer’s reasoning is that of “utilitarianizing” the practice. If we begin using aborted fetuses for medical use, the medical community will want more. They will push for and promote further abortions. There could even be a call for forced abortions in “undesireable” groups. To side with this philosophy would be to add strength to tyrrany.

    Steves last blog post..Another Race Card

  20. Bradley says:

    Steve,

    Thanks for your contribution to the discussion.

    You may be right, but your argument commits a logical fallacy: the one where you argue on the basis of what “might” happen without providing any evidence that would suggest that where this practice has been put into place in other areas, it has led to the kind of evils you are worried would happen.

    Yet, a lot of things “might” happen. Someone with a more optimistic perspective could easily think up of another scenario in which what you think “might” happen doesn’t actually happen, or where something really positive and good happens instead.

    How do we know that legalizing the donation of organ donors from murder victims would necessarily lead the government to allow for “forced” abortions? You may be right, but you may be wrong. Just because it could happen doesn’t mean it would happen.

    Therefore, you argument is speculative in nature.

    Bradleys last blog post..Flashback: Remember This?

  21. Bradley says:

    Brother Hank,

    I didn’t take it personal brother, just trying to address the logic of your comments.

    “I just used your comments to highlight some issues that we all needed to keep in mind”

    Looking back at the comment you made, it still seems like you were arguing that my analysis did not “give proper credit to the kinds of principles” you mentioned: 1) that the issue is “patently theological. … 2) must be evaluated by Scriptural standards” and 3) not some “societal good,” and that 4) you thought my analysis did not “show a biblical value of the sanctity of human life,” and 5) that I was arguing for “enabling the state to murder a child.”

    It seems this way because the whole paragraph is directed to me. Your complaint that my analysis did not give proper credit to certain principles was immediately proceeded by a list of principles involved. Therefore, I assumed that these were the principles you thought I was not giving proper credit to in my analysis, not merely principles that are simply good for everyone to keep in mind.

    Here are again is your comment:

    “Bradley … I don’t think you give proper credit what what kinds of principles we are dealing with. Perhaps the most important aspect of this discussion is that we are dealing with something that is patently theological. Therefore, our means, ends, and heart must be evaluated by Scriptural standards, and not merely some idea of ’societal good’. …That being the case, I am exceedingly hesitant to lay out any general principles apart from those that show a biblical value of the sanctity of human life, …Thus far, I can see no redemptive element in the idea of enabling the state to murder a child.”

    I’m not taking it personal, just wanting to make sure you realize what it is you actually said. If the principles you mentioned (labeled above as 1,2,3,4, and 5) were not intended to be a list of the principles you had in mind that my analysis did not take into account, then what principles were you referring to?

    Bradleys last blog post..Emotional Scars and the Power of Forgiveness

  22. Brother Hank says:

    Bradley-

    Granted, I said that I wasn’t attacking you, but I did not say that I wasn’t prodding your argument for more specific ties to Scriptural authority and clarity in application of your “general principles”. I really did think you were on the right track, and I figured you were assuming a biblical worldview, but I wanted to invite/prod you (and whoever else read the comment) to further elucidate your statements (i.e. – conversation is good!). If you’ll take a look at your first comment, you make no mention of any Biblical authority, no mention of redemptive historical context (apart from an ambiguous reference to adding a “redeemable element” to something), and no comment upon how (or even if) these principles are rooted in the sanctity of human life or some other “good” that would “justify the action”. I did the exact same thing in my own original comment, with one difference: I wasn’t claiming to lay out any general principles whereby to judge the ethical nature of the issue. To share an application of a biblical worldview, I didn’t need to explain how I arrived at my decision. But to lay out a general framework as how one could go about evaluating the ethical nature of such an issue, the “who, what, where, why, and how” become infinitely more important — especially in the Christian context. Which is the reason that I pressed you on it. Make sense?

    Brother Hanks last blog post..40 Days for Life: Shaking Louisville for the Kingdom

  23. Bradley says:

    Brother Hank,

    Ahhhh … I now see your concern.

    I guess I don’t see the need to start the discussion by arguing for the sanctity of life and authority of scripture, etc., to Christians who already share these convictions. I think it’s better to start by assuming those basic Christian principles in order to spend more time on the question that our Christian principles raise in the situation addressed by the post. The biblical principles in play are too many to establish in a comment section on a post like this. Some of the obvious one’s are 1) the sanctity of human life, 2) that human life begins at conception, 3) that murder is wrong, 4) the ultimate authority of the Bible, etc. etc.

    I think the question raised by the post can be analyzed from a biblical perspective in the comment section without having to first re-establish everything we Christians already believe.

    But … I still think the sprit of your concern is valid: we need to be sensitive to biblical teaching.

    Bradleys last blog post..Emotional Scars and the Power of Forgiveness

  24. Steve says:

    Bradley,

    I am not sure we can call it a logical fallacy, but a speculative one indeed. Isn’t that exactly what we are all doing? We cannot “prove” any certain thing will happen. While I don’t have any articles and quotes to point to at the moment, I can point to the continual push by research scientists for more freedom toward obtaining stem-cells and toward cloning. There have also been projects done on chimerism. Scientists continue to push the boundaries of what is possible, often without consideration of what is moral. This is largely the effect of the overall rejection of the Bible as a source of truth.

    So my point is that it does not matter if “something really positive and good happens,” because it is tainted by problematic ethics. Again, positive and good cannot be in the end alone (utilitarianism), but in the means as well. Further (and you touched on this in your last post), we need to be careful how we define “positive” and “good.” Our definitions will contribute directly to both our acceptance of practices and our view of the outcome. Thanks for the great interaction.

    Steve

    Steves last blog post..Creach and the Command to "Utterly Destroy": A Second Glance

  25. Bradley says:

    Steve,

    Thanks for your feedback.

    1. LSAT logic categories do actually define this type of argument as a logical fallacy, I just can’t remember what the name for it was. That’s why I labeled it a fallacy.

    2. You said, “Isn’t that exactly what we are all doing?”

    No. That’s not what I’m doing anyway. I have tried to get the discussion to revolve around the real ethical question at hand, not around speculations about what “might” or “might not” happen, because they don’t address the question of whether it would be right or wrong regardless of consequences. If we judge the action merely on a utilitarian principle (what consequences the action will bring about for the masses of people) without giving attention to the ethics of the action itself, we will fall victim to precisely the error you are cautioning about.

    Your argument was that we shouldn’t allow for the harvesting of organs from murder victims based on unwanted negative results (i.e. results that are displeasing to God).

    You said:
    “If we begin using aborted fetuses for medical use, the medical community will want more. They will push for and promote further abortions. There could even be a call for forced abortions in ‘undesireable’ groups. To side with this philosophy would be to add strength to tyrrany.”

    But this discussion distracts from the real ethical question about whether enabling organ donations from aborted fetus’ is IN AND OF ITSELF wrong. Since arguments based on what “might” happen are speculative, they don’t carry much weight. Therefore, it’s probably a better focus for our discussion to answer the question of whether enabling organ donations from aborted fetus’ is IN AND OF ITSELF wrong.

    Hope that makes sense.

    Bradley

    Bradleys last blog post..Welcome to Our World

  26. Steve says:

    Bradley,

    Thanks for the correction. I don’t see my argument as a distraction but I can see your point about it not carrying as much weight, logically. What do you accept as far as an argument is concerned? We have nothing biblical that directly deals with the topic. Therefore, we have to infer by indirect biblical considerations or philosophy. Do these things carry enough weight?

    I assume that does on account of your previous statements, such as, “our means, ends, and heart must be evaluated by Scriptural standards, and not merely some idea of ’societal good’. …That being the case, I am exceedingly hesitant to lay out any general principles apart from those that show a biblical value of the sanctity of human life”

    According to the quote above, you sound as though you are approaching a dichotomy between “Scriptural standards,” and “societal good”. Did you mean to do that? I wonder, do you think that the societal good is not based, whether wittingly or unwittingly, on Scriptural standards? Or did you just mean a random set of beliefs about what forms the societal good?

    By-the-way, I am in complete agreement with the last sentence of your quote, “I am exceedingly hesitant to lay out any general principles apart from those that show a biblical value of the sanctity of human life.” We have to have clear definitions and frameworks for our beliefs.

    Steve

  27. Bradley says:

    Steve,

    Starting from your second paragraph, you’ve got the wrong guy. Brother Hank is the author of the quote your interacting with there, not me.

    About your first paragraph …

    Your right. There is no scriptural passage that explicitly addresses the action in question. That’s why we have to think carefully about it and make sure we don’t commit logical fallacies. *The Bible is not a moral manual intended by God to address every possible situation (although it contains moral teaching).* Once all the biblical principles are factored in and assumed, we have to use reason to the best of our ability to come to a conviction that BOTH honors biblical principles, AND “makes sense” (i.e. does not entangle the biblical truth with logical fallacy).

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