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Why the Stem Cell Battle Isn't Over
October 14, 2010 Chuck Colson
I've got good news for you and bad news. First, the good news:
Scientists, led by Derrick J. Rossi of the Children's Hospital in
Boston, have announced that they have developed a safe and highly
effective alternative to embryonic stem cell research. It's one that
could potentially produce treatments and cures for everything from
Alzheimer's to spinal-cord injuries.
Researchers love embryonic stem cells because they can easily
differentiate into many cell types, what's called pluripotency. People
like me concerned about protecting human dignity object to embryonic
stem cell research, because it requires the destruction of innocent
human life. But the new technique, using molecules known as "messenger
RNA," reprograms ordinary skin cells into pluripotent cells that are
virtually identical to embryonic stem cells.
The best news is that researchers don't have to sacrifice human life in
order to obtain these new mRNA cells. Reporting on the breakthrough, the
Washington Post said it "could mark a pivotal moment in the long,
contentious history of embryonic stem cell research."
Now for the bad news: Despite the breakthrough, the war over embryonic
stem cell research is far from over. Dr. Rossi, lead researcher, said
embryo-based research should continue-if for no other reason so that
alternatives to it can be "validated."
This stubbornness makes no sense, until you realize that it is part of a
larger pattern. For the last 50 years, scientists have developed more
than 70 treatments and cures using morally uncontroversial adult stems
cells, such as skin cells, including for conditions such as nerve cell
damage and multiple sclerosis. Yet for years, researchers said they
needed to have access to pluripotent embryonic stem cells, which so far
have produced exactly zero cures.
Then a few years ago other scientists developed what are called induced
pluripotent stem cells, which appear identical to embryo-based
cells-again, without the killing. But researchers, citing potential but
not actual risks of the induced pluripotent research, insisted that
embryonic stem cells are still needed.
Now, in the face of new, ground-breaking research that addresses even
these purely hypothetical concerns, scientists' first impulse is to say
they still need life-killing embryonic stem cell research. Over the
decades, every scientific objection to discontinuing this research has
been answered, and yet they still want the right to dispose of human
Could it be that this argument isn't ultimately about science, which
involves carefully looking at the evidence? The evidence is clear, and
is becoming ever more clear by the day. It's really about worldview, and
the secular worldview so prevalent among scientists today says that
human beings are simply clumps of raw material to be exploited for the
greater good. Many scientists have forgotten the Christian worldview
which gave rise to science in the first place, and which sees every
human life as worth protecting because we are made in God's image.
That's why we will never win this argument simply offering pragmatic
responses. Such arguments have their place, of course, but we have to
help people see the moral implications of their worldview.
And that means showing them why killing innocent human life is always
wrong, whatever the latest scientific breakthrough says.
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