The Sunday Saint Paul Pioneer Press included a story on a young man with disabilities who is taking part in an experimental treatment that includes the use of embryonic stem cells.
We knew this day was coming. But this particular story was alarming because of how it positioned Christians against the interests of the embryonic person.
The young man suffered a severe injury in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. From all accounts he is a young man who trusts Christ and attends church regularly.
But he and his pastor are using profoundly flawed logic to justify the use of embryonic stem cells in this young man’s treatment.
The cells implanted into his spine were obtained from embryos being discarded at fertility clinics, he notes.
“It’s not life. It’s not like they’re coming from an aborted fetus or anything like that. They were going to be thrown away,” he said. “Once they explained to me where the stem cells were coming from, once I learned that, I was OK with it.”
His pastor, Troy Bailey, of the Reynolds Holiness Church, came to the same conclusion:
Bailey realized he had to sort out his own stance, given that some people who, like him, oppose abortion also consider embryonic stem cell research to be immoral. But Bailey concluded that that he, too, believed the experimental treatment is acceptable because the cells were obtained from embryos that had never been implanted in a woman’s womb and so had no chance of developing into a fetus.
“I am adamantly against abortion in any form. It did cause me some searching and researching biblically what is the proper answer,” he said. “I don’t really see a baby’s life was destroyed for this to take place.”
‘Adamantly against abortion in any form,’ yet willing to use stem cells from embryos that were destroyed in the process.
It’s like one human being saying to another, “since I can’t save you, it’s ok for me to use you.”
The only difference between those embryos and an aborted baby is length of time in development and placement. The fact that the embryos were going to be discarded does not change the moral question one bit: they are still human beings.
This paper from Joni & Friends explains that we are dealing with a human:
Neurobiologist Maureen Condic, Senior Fellow at the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, has forcefully argued that based on universally accepted scientific criteria, the human zygote/embryo comes into existence at the moment of sperm/egg fusion, an event that occurs in less than a second. Upon formation, the zygote immediately initiates a complex sequence of events that establish the conditions required for embryo development. The behavior of a zygote is radically unlike that of either sperm or egg and is characteristic of a human organism.
Like you, I want a cure for disabilities like what this young man is experiencing, but not at the expense of the very lives of other human beings. The fact that fertility clinics have hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos is a huge and vexing problem. But a clinic’s callous destruction of embryos does not change the morality of embryonic stem cell research or their use in other people.
The reporter for this story noted this irony:
Atchison’s story reveals provocative insights into one of the most closely watched medical experiments, including what some may see as an irony: that a treatment condemned on moral and religious grounds is viewed by the first person to pioneer the therapy, and his family, as part of God’s plan.
“It wasn’t just luck, or chance,” said Atchison, who thinks, six months after the treatment, that he may be feeling the first signs that the cells are helping him.
“It was meant to be.”
He is right – it isn’t luck or chance. God is always purposeful. And the temptations to seek out any rescue from his disabling condition will be strong. Very few people in this culture will think twice about the decision he made and won’t mind that he’s wrapped it in religious language.
But we must stand ready to trust that God has a better plan that does not require the destruction of smaller human beings to change our life circumstances. We must demonstrate that God is greater, more valuable, and more beautiful than comfort in this present age. We must not let the clear evidence of humanity be clouded by the circumstances of their destruction. We must support those who have made the harder, deeply personal decision to not participate in embryonic stem cell experiments, like Joni herself:
I want people to know that not all Americans with disabilities believe in using human embryos.
And when pastors make poor decisions, we must respectfully yet persistently call them back to the Bible to study it more carefully. We must, peacefully, continue to stand for the little ones who cannot speak for themselves. And we must be more proactive in serving and being served in our churches by those who live with life-long disabling conditions.