Statement on Human Stem Cell Research
As evangelical Christians we applaud the relief of human suffering and attempts to cure disease. Our calling is to follow Christ, who himself “went to all the towns and villages . . . healing every disease and every sickness” (Matthew 9:35, HCSB), and who taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
Regenerative medicine—the replacement of defective or diseased human tissue with healthy new tissue derived from stem cells—has moved quickly over the past decade from hopeful speculation to some early clinical successes. The potential this has to heal chronic debilitative diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease, and serious injuries, such as spinal cord injuries, could result in a great blessing to humankind since these types of diseases and injuries are among the leading causes of death and disability in the industrialized world.
But, while affirming the promise this research has for good, we object strongly to the notion that pursuing cures for some ever justifies intentionally destroying other human lives to achieve those cures. Thus, while we embrace the experimental research and therapeutic use of adult stem cells, we reject embryo-destructive research or therapy.
Stem cells are the unspecialized “master cells” of the body. They are able to produce all of the other types of cells (skin, brain, muscle, etc.). Human embryos have been promoted by some as an excellent source of stem cells. Nevertheless, a human embryo is a human life, no matter his or her age, manner of conception (natural conception, in vitro fertilization, or cloning), or location (uterus, test tube, or Petri dish). Embryonic stem cells can be obtained only at the cost of ending these innocent human lives. We cannot accept the destruction of these young and defenseless humans. It is incumbent on a just society to protect the lives of these little ones and to search for alternative sources of stem cells.
Researchers are currently making great strides with stem cells from non-embryonic sources. Stem cells can be found in many of the various tissues of the body, as well as from placentas and umbilical cords. Stem cells from these tissues are known as adult stem cells, and obtaining them does not require the destruction of human life. Furthermore, we note that adult stem cells—in contrast to embryonic stem cells— have shown initial success in the actual treatment of human disease. Embryonic researchers cannot report such findings even in laboratory animals. Also, adult stem cells have not shown the high rate of tumor formation found with embryonic stem cell experiments. Some have questioned honestly whether embryonic stem cells will ever be a reliable source of replacement cells in humans. Only the most committed ideologue would continue to encourage embryo-destructive research in the face of these facts.
On August 9, 2001, President Bush banned federal funding for research on living embryos while authorizing tax-funded research on embryonic stem cells from embryos which already had been destroyed. We affirm the desire to create a “culture of life” in America, and, therefore, call on the public and private sectors to affirm the sanctity of human life by rejecting human embryo-destructive research and pursuing adult stem cell research.
One proposed source of human embryonic stem cells is so-called “therapeutic” cloning. Cloning, put simply, is the generation of a human being by means of non-sexual reproduction. Yet, manipulating the process of conception does not mean that scientists are able to create a category of human life that is less than a gift of God. The moral status of a cloned human embryo is the same as a naturally conceived human embryo. While the American public has expressed its repugnance toward cloning, nevertheless, cloning advocates intend to generate human embryos for the express purpose of cannibalizing them for their stem cells. In addition to the inherent immorality of cloning, “clone and kill” protocols will erode the public’s revulsion of cloning, lead to the crass commodification of human life, and further coarsen our regard for the special dignity of human life.
The most important question in this debate is whether we ought to engage in cellular manipulation that results in the destruction of our youngest human beings. Neither the scientific community nor the biotechnology industry should decide this question. We all have a stake in this matter since it threatens to redefine our understanding of what it means to be human and undermine the respect we owe to individual human lives, born and unborn. Adult stem cell research provides the opportunity to participate in the potential benefits of regenerative medicine without compromising deeply held beliefs about human life. Human embryonic stem cell research represents a barbaric assault on the dignity of humankind and, therefore, erodes one of the fundamental values that have shaped our civilization.
The Fellows of the Research Institute
Daniel Akin, Ph.D., President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina
Don Buckley, M.D., Pensacola, Florida; member of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee
L. Russ Bush III, Ph.D., Academic Vice President; Dean of the Faculty; Professor of Philosophy of Religion, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina
David Dockery, Ph.D., President, Union University, Jackson, Tennessee
Barrett Duke, Jr., Ph.D., Vice President for Public Policy and Research, Director of the Research Institute, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Leland House on Capitol Hill, Washington, D. C.
Timothy George, Th.D., Dean; Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama
The Late Carl F. H. Henry, Th.D., Ph.D., Theologian and author; founding editor of Christianity Today, Watertown, Wisconsin
Richard Land, D.Phil., President, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville, Tennessee
Steve Lemke, Ph.D., Provost and Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana
C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Bioethics and Contemporary Culture, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois; Consultant on Biomedical Ethics and Life Issues, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville, Tennessee
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Ph.D., President; Professor of Christian Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky
Paige Patterson, Th.D., President; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas
Shannon Royce, J.D., Legislative Consultant, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Leland House on Capitol Hill, Washington, D. C., 2000
Randy Singer, J.D., Executive Vice President, The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Alpharetta, Georgia, 2000
Jerry Sutton, Ph.D., Senior Pastor, Two Rivers Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee, 2001
Gregory Thornbury, Ph.D., Director of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Christian Leadership, Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, Union University, Jackson, Tennessee, 2001
Craig Blaising, Th.D. Ph.D., Executive Vice President and Provost, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, 2002
Malcolm Yarnell, D.Phil., Associate Dean of the Theological Studies Division, Director of the Southwestern Center for Theological Research and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, 2002
Douglas K. Blount, Ph.D., Assistant Dean for Ethics and Philosophical Studies, Managing Editor, Southwestern Journal of Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2003
R. Philip Roberts, Ph.D., President, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2003
Daniel Heimbach, Ph.D., Professor of Christian Ethics, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina, 2004
Jerry Johnson, Ph.D., President, The Criswell College, Dallas, Texas, 2004