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November 03, 2004

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Lutheran theologian or not, this argument is a straw man of the highest order.

What Christians are arguing against here is the harvesting of embryonic stem cells from aborted fetuses, not against stem cell research in general. It is a very slippery slope that we must avoid at all cost lest we consume our own young in an effort to live forever.

The argument gets even more ridiculous when it is apparent that adult stem cells operate in the same way as embryonic. Why sacrifice our young on the altar of Molech when alternatives exist, even if they are a fraction more difficult to cultivate?

This whole line of reasoning of using aborted fetuses in stem cell research is abhorrent to me. I believe it should sicken everyone. It is the only reason why Christians would even begin to argue against stem cell research. But given that adult stem cell research exists, and no thinking person--Christian or not--would be against that, why resort to embryonic? Truth is, there is no reason to pursue embryonic stem cell research when the alternative is so readily available.

DLE said re: the use of embryonic tissue for research: "It is the only reason why Christians would even begin to argue against stem cell research."

I agree.

The abilities of scientists to create and develop will continue. Some say our children now (4+ yrs & older) are the first generation that will see the change of two centuries -- that we are becoming a race of Centenarians because of the advances of medicine re: longevity and wellness. I think that is great -- sorta.

(1) I think DNA is not sacred and we can move forward scientifically on that road. but: if it is at the cost of embryonic life (i.e. either aborted fetuses or perti dish embryos) then the cost is too high.

(2) I think there has been far too little research into the cost the planet will pay for our longevity. We've been given rule over creation, but we are not being good stewards if we eat up resources at the rate we currently do. And we are doing an even more attrocious job f it if we keep that rate going, and make it possible for even more of us to do so!

~ Keith

This is a tough one because stem cells promise to help people with tragic diseases, but at the same time, it's really not beneficial, as Keith says, to just make everybody's retirement and failing-health years, longer.

Is DNA sacred? No, but that's a different question from whether a human embryo - regardless of whether the life or death decision has been made already - is sacred. I would argue that a human embryo, which is not substantively different from a child other than in size and age, is indeed quite sacred, as is all human life.

Having said that, I think the ethics of the stem cell debate depend heavily on whether we're just using cells that the embryos no longer need, or whether we're actually perpetually imprisoning human beings in petri dishes for our own gain, as in the Matrix - except we are the machines. I cannot stomach that kind of society.

" 'Genes can't possibly explain all of what makes us what we are.' In other words, DNA is not sacred."
Quite so, just fyi there are a few articles that point to this at my blog spot which show that genetic determinism is not order of the day:
http://nouslife.blogspot.com/2004/11/humans-chimps-think-different.html
And while not about genetic determinism the following does indicate the role that nnurture does or doesn't play in determining even the physical structure of the brain:
http://nouslife.blogspot.com/2004/11/infant-determinism-is-myth.html

I suspect that the more testing issue over embryo issues is the fact that before the empbryo cells start to specialise [ie while they are yet stem cells] one could be removed from an embryo without affecting the subsequent physical development. It is before this point that identical twins may develop -thus at this point an individual human is not in place. Take that with the sheer amount of *natural* 'wastage' of embryos in this position and there is a strong argument for defining the key point of hominisation as the point where stem cells start to specialise.

Perhaps a bit controversial but consonant with the scientific facts...

QUOTED (from DLE):
"...lest we consume our own young in an effort to live forever.
"

QUOTED: (from Justin):
"perpetually imprisoning human beings in petri dishes for our own gain"

Both these pictures are disturbing.

QUOTED: (from Andii)
" the fact that before the empbryo cells start to specialise [ie while they are yet stem cells] one could be removed from an embryo without affecting the subsequent physical development. "

That's very interesting.


I'm still hoping to hear someone's thoughts on Dr. Peters' "Prometheus myth."

Prometheus myth -glad you reminded us! I for one need to muse a bit more but it certainly is a 'meme' in popular cinema throught the middle and end of the 20th century ... though whether it's really the prometean myth or simply romantic disdain for tchnology and/or proto post-modernism is part of what I'm chewing over. Nevertheless, there is a promethian shape to it. More fundamentally I think that I would actually want to engage with the idea of it being a kind of visceral awareness of the fall -perhaps the Spirit whispers also in our nightmares? The promethian myth somehow makes the gods responsible for the consequences, when we might rather want to say it is our naivety in believing in our own power to control and to do good with our power that is truly to be questioned. The punishemnt is not an arbitrary penalty inflicgted by capricious forces but intrinsic to our own structuring of fallenness. 'God gave them up ...'

I voted in favor of it and I am glad that you shared this article with us. Life is very complex, why do so many Christians try to make everything a black and white issue? It shows they don't understand the complexity of the argument.

By the way, the slippery slope theory is another myth not based on truth.

Benjy-
I don't think anyone is making a slippery slope article as such. Could you elaborate on what you meant?

I see elements of the Promethean myth in some arguments, but overall, I think those opposed to embryonic stem cell research base it much more on the cost in human lives - not letting the genetic cat out of the bag, so to speak. That does find its way into the argument, and legitimately so, but the primary motivation is preventing the destruction of human life. I think Mr. Peters may be focusing too narrowly on one aspect of the debate and not looking at the whole of the pro-life arguments.

And while I'm certainly not as well versed in the science as you are, Andil, I don't think the potential for an embroy to split into twins prior to specialisation is an effective argument against viewing embryos as human life. In fact, it points to the fact that more than one of God's images might be destroyed in such research, making it even more problematic.

Personally, I think life & death is inherently a "black and white issue," and while the debate over this research is very complex, I don't think the opposition is over-simplifying the debate. However, granting that it is a *human* desire to have things simple and straightforward (and not just a failing Christians are especially prone to), why is that a bad thing? If an issue can be simplified so that it can be understood by those who are not technically proficient in the field, why shouldn't it be?

I prefer to think of the "slippery slope" theory in terms of mission creep. Take your social security number, for instance. Originally, it started out as just that - your tracking number for the social security system. But what is it used for now? You can't get a credit card, buy a car or a home, open a back account, get a cell phone (the list goes on and on) without having a SSN. Why? Because the system was poorly designed and the SSN makes things easier for many other institutions, like banks and credit bureaus, who now have a unique government issued ID number for all their customers. What does this have to do with stem cell research? Its human nature to take short cuts, to find the path of least resistance. It is entirely possible, if not probable, that truly therapeutic treatments developed from stem cells might be compromised into less than moral alternatives. It may happen as subtely as it did with our SSN, or it may not, but the potential is definitely there.

I guess I have to reprise this ;-)
"I don't think the potential for an embroy to split into twins prior to specialisation is an effective argument against viewing embryos as human life. In fact, it points to the fact that more than one of God's images might be destroyed in such research, making it even more problematic."

Not necessarily: I suspect that what I'm saying is [and I'm a father of identical twins btw] that the cluster of stem ce;;s is not to be regarded as a human individual. There is no doubt that we are dealing with human cells with the capability of becoming one or more individuals given the right cricumstances but we do need to note that many many of these 'clusters' do not ever reach the stage of implantation in the uterus or even of specialising into organs etc. I think what I'm suggesting -not even arguing yet- is that while sperm nd ova are human cells capable of becoming one or mure human indivudual, we don't accord them fully human status. I guess the refrain of 'every sperm is sacred' haunt me here. It does sem to me that simply having DNA and a capability under proper conditions of becoming a human being do not confer status equivalent to a human being. These pre-embryonic clusters are somewhere between the status of an ovum and that of an implanted and organ-diveryfying foetus. Unless they implant and begin to cellularly specialise they will not become a human being, in this they are like spermatazoa and ova. However they do have the capabilty of doing so and of forming a new and usually genetically unique [barring parthogenenesis and identical twinning etc] individual in a way that a simple ovum, for example doesn't.

So it depends on what you mean by human life ... no-one is defending the necessity to preserve ova, -are they?

In addition the language you use of God's language is problematic too: it kind of presupposes the anwer you come to and as such is a smuggled assumption. Surely the issue is in just what that image consists and at what point ... just stating it like that doesn't actually move us on, just gives the illusion of it.

Here's another thought:

Everything God made was pronounced good. Does this not make it sacred, even in a fallen world? Or perhaps we should think that everything that is redeemable is sacred in the eyes of God. Would this extend to our bodies and to their DNA?

Andii said "It does seem to me that simply having DNA and a capability under proper conditions of becoming a human being do not confer status equivalent to a human being."

I agree with you this far, but only when referring to separate sperm and eggs. Of course sperm are not sacred. But a fertilized egg is a genetically complete organism - a human organism. You said that it has the capability of becoming a human being - what else does it take? I cannot think of another point at which you could say "There! It just became a human being!" other than fertilization.

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