There is little agreement in churches when it comes to stem cell research and U.S. scientists now say they are uneasy about moving forward as new laws on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research are challenged.
On Capitol Hill, Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker told fellow senators that the issue of stem cell research was a matter of conscience for him as “millions of Americans” are deeply troubled by the idea that their taxpayer dollars may be used to destroy another human life when there are other proven techniques that are available.
A federal judge in August ordered the U.S. government to temporarily stop paying for research while a lawsuit moved forward. Filed by two researchers who opposed embryonic stem cell research on religious and ethical grounds, the lawsuit alleges that it is against the law for the U.S. National Institutes of Health to fund the research. The legal action and confusion follow President Obama’s lifting of the ban on embryonic stem cell research more than a year ago.
Dr. Francis Collins, National Institutes of Health director, told Congress that as a person of faith he believed that the use of human embryos destined to be thrown away by fertility clinics was an ethical choice. Dr. Collins has a longstanding interest in the interface between science and faith, and has written about this in The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press, 2006), which spent many weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. He is the author of a new book on personalized medicine, The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine (HarperCollins, 2010).
As some scientists are cautiously stopping research until all the legal issues are settled, the Catholic Church maintains its position that because such research involves the destruction of human embryos it is related to abortion, euthanasia and other attacks on innocent life.
Meanwhile in a new book by scholars affiliated with the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, Christians have plenty of reasons to support stem cell research. Sacred Cells?: Why Christians Should Support Stem Cell Research was released in paperback last month and is a collaborative effort of Ted Peters of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary; Gaymon Bennett of Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and Karen Lebacqz of the Pacific School of Religion.
The book documents the ethical frameworks used in approaching the stem cell debate in addition to providing a brief overview of the science behind it. It also outlines the possibilities that embryonic stem cell experimentation offers. As the stem cell research debate begins anew after its beginnings more than 10 years ago, a fresh look at this issue from both the ethical and the scientific perspective is not a bad idea.
Another public discussion of the issue will be taking place at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, on October 28 as part of a series of public talks on biomedical ethics sponsored by the Albertus Magnus Society. Irina Calin-Jageman, assistant professor of biology at Dominican, will focus on questions regarding the origin of stem cells, the applications for stem cell therapy and the ethical implications of stem cell harvesting.