Depending on Source, Stem Cells Can Kill or Heal
Stem cells continue to show promise for dramatic healings, but reporters don’t always clarify what lived or died to produce the cells. Adult stem cells inhabit all living humans; embryonic or fetal stem cells require a human death.
Adult Stem Cell News
Cord blood awakens boy: Parents of a boy with pediatric cerebral palsy are glad they froze samples of his cord blood when he was born. At age 2-1/2, he had a cardiac arrest with severe brain damage that left him in a persistent vegetative state. Now, Science Daily reported, after the first successful treatment with stem cells from his autologous cord blood, the boy has awakened. He can move and speak simple sentences.
Mesenchymal stem cells and ALS: It’s an odd reversal of ethics to put human stem cells in rats, but Medical Xpress reported progress against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) by injecting engineered human mesenchymal stem cells into the furry rodents, causing them to produce growth factors that delay onset of the disease. The article pointed to a benefit of adult stem cells: “By using adult mesenchymal stem cells, the technique avoided the danger of tumor that can arise with the transplant of embryonic stem cells and related ‘do-anything’ cells.”
Blood stem cells and cancer: Science Daily reported on significant improvements in survival for cancer patients with lymphomas, leukemias and other blood cancers, thanks to adult blood stem cells from donors and the patients themselves. “The significant improvements we saw across all patient and disease populations should offer patients hope and, among physicians, reinforce the role of blood stem cell transplants as a curative option for life-threatening blood cancers and other diseases.”
Embryonic and Fetal Stem Cell News
hESC and blindness: New Scientist reported a rare success with human embryonic stem cells. Implanted into the retina, a man with a form of macular degeneration went from 20/400 (legally blind) to 20/40 (sighted) over time. Results have not yet been published.
Fetal stem cells and stroke: New Scientist reported modest improvement in stroke victims injected with stem cells in a new clinical trial. The article only mentioned where the cells came from in passing. The researcher “thinks that the fetal neural stem cells injected into the volunteers’ brains may stifle inflammation and catalyse the formation of new blood supplies to stroke-damaged tissue.”
Cloner trouble: The embryonic stem cell success at University of Oregon (see 5/17/13) has come under fire for two things: a rush to publication, and sloppy errors. New Scientist and Nature reported the controversy. So far, it appears none of the errors affected the experimental results. Mitalipov admitted the mistakes but defends his work.
How This Translates to Policy
Protecting the right to kill: In the wake of the Mitalipov success, Nature‘s editors urged the journal’s scientific members to take ownership of the stem cell debate, lest public fears stifle progress. The editors acknowledged, “It is true that the research faces ethical controversy on three fronts: egg donation, embryo destruction and cloning.” They also acknowledged that induced pluripotent stem cells appear so far to work just as well as hESC without the ethical problems: “crucially they do not require egg recruitment, embryo destruction or cloning.” Yet the editors seemed more concerned about preventing a public outcry against the destruction of human embryos. Without proof, they said, “Whatever the outcome of those investigations, there are some clinical applications for which cloned stem cells could be the best option.” The prior week, though, Nature editors urged scientists to accept more social responsibility for risky new technologies.
Why stop at embryos? In an article entitled “Alzheimer’s disease, the soft target of the euthanasia debate,” Medical Xpress aired the views of Megan-Jane Johnstone (Deakin University) about euthanasia. Johnstone sees a softening of public attitudes about euthanasia with so many elderly declining into dementia. “The proposal to allow euthanasia as a morally warranted option in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is neither simple nor straightforward,” she said. “Anything less than an honest, transparent and accountable debate, which has been lacking to date, would be an assault on the integrity of all—both those for and against the euthanasia proposal—who are trying in their own ways to care for those who are confronting the hard-nosed reality of their inevitable mortality.”
Why stop at euthanasia? New Scientist provoked controversy with this eye-catching headline: “Is extinction really such a bad thing?” Consultant Shaoni Bhattacharya was not proposing it for humans or anything like that; she was just commenting on a new exhibit on extinction at London’s Natural History Museum. “A thoughtful exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum explores the benefits of extinction, and the possibility of humanity eradicating itself.” The world view is both Darwinian and Malthusian:
Survival is tough, and in a masterful stroke, the exhibition drives this home with a retro video game. In the species extinction game, the player must manoeuvre a Pac-Man-like creature around a world beset with creeping ice ages, fiery volcanoes and relentless winds, all the while competing with other animated species to snaffle sparse food supplies. A genius touch is the availability of “adaptation” tokens, which allow your creature to evolve traits to help it survive longer in its hostile world.
The museum portrays extinction as a part of life. “Extinction isn’t necessarily the end of the world, it could be just the beginning…,” one sign reads. “In a thought-provoking section, the museum presents the concept of Homo extinctus – humans wiped out forever.” Sweet dreams.
The choice is clear. Evolution is pro-death, creation is pro-life. Evolution sees death as a good thing; creation sees it as a curse. Evolution says “what’s the big deal?”; creation says humans, made in the image of God, are more precious than animals. Evolution sees millions of years of senseless struggle against elements just for the reward of passing on one’s genes in an endless cycle of meaninglessness that ends in a charred, dead world. Creation sees death as an intruder, an enemy, that will be conquered in the new heavens and new earth, and has been conquered for those who accept Christ’s death and resurrection on their behalf. Choose you this day.
The sanctity of human life is the dividing issue for stem cell research, abortion and euthanasia. It’s easy to see why evolutionists are so dismissive of the ethical qualms “religious people” worry about. They only see cells and fetuses as clumps of matter, when in fact, a human embryo, even from the single-celled zygote, contains the entire genetic program for an adult human being.
Evolutionists tend to be pragmatists. If people are having abortions anyway, why not grab some of the stem cells? (They fail to see how this legitimizes abortion and creates a market for it.) If women are producing eggs anyway, why not harvest them? (They fail to take seriously the potential abuses to women.) If human blastocysts can’t produce adult clones (yet), why not harvest their stem cells? If old people can’t communicate any more, why not help them die? If everything competes for resources, why not let humans go extinct? If humans are wrecking the planet, why not drastically cut their numbers? OK, evolutionist, set the example – you first.
The New Scientist article on extinction shows that some evolutionists still think Malthus had the right idea: competition for scarce resources guarantees lots of death. That notion that spurred Darwin to use the “struggle for existence” as a driver for natural selection has been debunked (7/02/09, 12/09/09 #3, 9/18/10) but it keeps returning. In actuality, freedom lets human society blossom, but tyranny destroys it. Need proof? The 20th century.
Evolutionists would not want to live in the world their world view is leading toward. Those who love Christ need to keep the leaven of his teachings spreading through a lost world. Keep the salt in the decaying meat. Keep the light shining in the darkness. All that is required for a brave new world to embrace death is for godly people to do nothing. “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).