With the current debate raging about stem cell research, Christians would do well to educate themselves on the topic and its ramifications. To cure disease and alleviate suffering are noble pursuits, and the Bible clearly supports the battle against physical ills. A major feature of Jesus’ ministry was His healing (Matthew 4:23-24), and one of the New Testament writers, Luke, was a physician (Colossians 4:14). Stem cell research has shown great promise in the fairly new field of regenerative medicine, and many groups are actively pursuing new ways of harvesting stem cells and testing the cells’ plasticity—the ability to form a wide variety of mature cell types.
The most important question concerning stem cell research is not “Is it legal?” or “Is it cost-efficient?” but “Is it right?” The true issue is what is God’s will? Before we can answer the ethical/moral question, we must distinguish between the two types of stem cells: adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells.
Research on adult stem cells has been going on for decades and has proven that there are therapeutic effects in treating cancer, autoimmune diseases, leukemia, and heart disease. Adult stem cells are obtained from living bone marrow, blood, brain tissue, skin, and body fat. Other sources rich in adult stem cells are umbilical-cord blood and the placenta.
Embryonic stem cells, as their name suggests, are derived from human embryos. In order to harvest embryonic stem cells, an embryo must be destroyed. Central to the debate, then, is our view of the human embryo. The biblical teaching is that human existence begins at conception (Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:4-5). The international consensus of embryologists agrees with Scripture in that life begins at fertilization. At the moment of conception, the embryo is 100 percent human, with all 46 human chromosomes and a fully functioning, unique genetic code. Size and location do not determine humanity.
Because research on embryonic stem cells requires the destruction of a living human being, it is against God’s will. No amount of promised “benefit” to society or to medical knowledge can justify the killing of a human for spare parts. The end does not justify the means. It is never ethical—in fact, it is morally reprehensible—to mark people for death in order to conduct utilitarian experiments on their body parts.
In contrast, research on adult stem cells does not require the loss of life. Adult stem cells have versatility and a proven track record, and they lack the moral difficulties of embryonic stem cells. Therefore, we believe that research on adult stem cells is a legitimate field of study, well within the will of God.