Since the infamous Supreme Court decision in 1973, murderous hands have reached into the wombs of willing mothers—designed to be a safe haven for the innocent—and butchered millions upon millions of precious babies. Many are the excuses given to justify such barbaric practices. One of those reasons is “research.” A recent scientific breakthrough may bring salvation for many of those innocent souls yet to be carelessly tossed aside.
Due to President Obama’s March 2009 executive order, restrictions on embryonic stem (ES) cell research that President George W. Bush had signed into effect were lifted. The order allows federal funds to be used for ES cells from “donated surplus embryos originally made for reproduction” (Hyun, 2014, p. 28). So, living embryos that were not used during in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures can be used for ES cell research. In vitro fertilization is a procedure in which a woman’s ovaries are stimulated to generate several eggs, which are sucked from the ovaries and put into a sperm bath in a Petri dish for a few days. Selected embryos are then implanted by catheter into the uterus. The process has been used successfully for decades, with over 200,000 IVF babies being born since 1981 (Nivin, 2015).
From a biblical standpoint, is there anything wrong with this procedure? There are various issues with IVF from a Christian perspective, but one significant problem is the death of many fertilized eggs—i.e., babies—whether intentionally or unintentionally. According to the Bible, the life of a human begins at conception (cf. Jeremiah 1:4-5; Isaiah 49:1; Miller, 2006, p. 36ff.), making IVF essentially premeditated murder. In IVF, only selected embryos are implanted into a woman. The rest are discarded or frozen (typically, eventually to be discarded). Of those that are implanted, most miscarry. Transabdominal selective reduction is further utilized in the process to wipe out those implanted zygotes that are deemed “inferior.” [NOTE: Transabdominal selective reduction is a procedure in which the number of fetuses present in a uterus are reduced (through abortion), typically by inserting a needle through the mother’s stomach, into the uterus, and then into the desired fetus, injecting a potassium chloride solution into the baby, which burns and poisons it, ultimately stopping its heart (Healthwise Staff, 2014). Fetuses chosen for survival are selected on the basis of gender and health status (“Multifetal Pregnancy Reduction,” 2013).]
ES cell researchers step in at this point. In ES cell research, the goal is to grow cells that can be used for various purposes. Researchers hope to use those cells to learn about the human body and growth patterns and, especially, for harvesting cells that can be transplanted into individuals with various physical conditions (e.g., macular degeneration, leukemia, spinal cord injuries, etc.). Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) is typically used in ES cell research—the process used to clone the famous sheep, Dolly. In SCNT, the nucleus is removed from an egg and the nucleus from a skin cell is transferred into the egg. The egg recognizes that it has been fertilized and begins growing like a normal embryo. The embryo is subsequently destroyed to harvest its cells for the generation of ES cell lines.
You might ask, “Why not use adult stem cells instead of embryos?” The reason is that cells differentiate as they grow—i.e., change into cells with specific functions. For example, a cell will differentiate from a naïve embryonic state during development to acquire the unique characteristics of, say, a bone or liver cell. For many medical purposes, however, researchers need undifferentiated cells without those cell-type specific programs. So, ES cells are used. Scientists could not figure out how to reprogram a differentiated cell back to an undifferentiated state until 2006. Elizabeth Landau, a science reporter for CNN, explained that
[t]he first developments in the field of stem cell research used leftover embryos created by the union of sperm and egg fromin vitro fertilization. But embryonic stem cell research is controversial because to use the stem cells for developing medical treatments, the embryo is destroyed. Embryos have the potential to develop into a fully formed human [NOTE: Christians would argue that they are already fully humans—JM], bringing up ethical questions. Scientists later realized that it’s not necessary to use embryos to obtain stem cells that match patients. Shinya Yamanaka won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for discovering how to make “induced pluripotent stem cells,” or [iPS] cells (2014).
And that brings us to the good news.
Shinya Yamanaka and Sir John Gurdon received the Nobel Prize in October 2012, when Yamanaka’s lab discovered that “mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent”—i.e., they figured out how to reprogram cells by defined factors after they had already specialized (“Shinya Yamanaka—Facts,” 2014). By doing so, they made iPS cells, pluripotency being that characteristic of “stemness” that is required for medical purposes. They discovered how to reprogram almost any kind of cell by inserting genes into “mature cells that already have specific functions,” turning back the clock on those mature cells (Landau). First, Takahashi and Yamanaka succeeded in reprogramming cells back to an undifferentiated state using differentiated, embryonic fibroblasts in mice (2006). Subsequently, Yu, et al. (2007) successfully applied the process to differentiated, embryonic fibroblasts in humans, while Takahashi, et al. (2007) successfully applied the process to adult human somatic cells, rather than embryonic cells.
This groundbreaking research promises to eliminate the need for cloning embryos for ES cell purposes. Deiter Egli, senior research fellow at the New York Stem Cell Foundation, explains that “[t]he cloning method takes a few weeks, and is not significantly faster than generating [iPS] cells” (as quoted in Landau). So, time is not a factor in the process. In fact, Egli notes that nuclear transfer advantages “would have to be considerable to beat out [iPS], which is ‘much more efficient and less ethically contentious’” (Landau).
Gretchen Vogel, writing in Science magazine, highlighted in 2014 that several states have banned human SCNT research. She explained: “The political energy needed to overturn those laws might be hard to generate given that there’s now an embryo-free alternative to producing patient-specific stem cells” (p. 462). And that is good news. How can anyone justify destroying embryonic human life when he can get the human cells he needs without embryos? Thank God for Yamanaka and Gurdon, whose research may help repair the breaching dam holding back the proverbial river of American baby blood shed at the hands of abortionists.
Healthwise Staff (2014), “Multifetal Pregnancy Reduction,” WebMD, reviewed by Kathleen Romito and Femi Olatunbosun, http://www.webmd.com/infertility-and-reproduction/tc/multifetal-pregnancy-reduction-topic-overview.
Hyun, Insoo (2014), “Regulate Embryos Made for Research,” Nature, 509:27-28, May 1.
Landau, Elizabeth (2014), “Cloning Used to Make Stem Cells from Adult Humans,” CNN Health, http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/28/health/stem-cell-breakthrough/.
Nivin, Todd (2015), “Infertility and In Vitro Fertilization,” WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/infertility-and-reproduction/guide/in-vitro-fertilization.
Miller, Dave (2006), Sexual Anarchy: The Moral Implosion of America (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
“Multifetal Pregnancy Reduction” (2013), The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Ethics, Num. 553, February, http://www.acog.org/-/media/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Ethics/co553.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20151005T1420301791
“Shinya Yamanaka—Facts” (2014), Nobelprize.org, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2012/yamanaka-facts.html.
Takahashi, K., K. Tanabe, M. Ohnuki, M. Narita, T. Ichisaka, K. Tomoda, and S. Yamanaka (2007), “Induction of Pluripotent Stem Cells from Adult Human Fibroblasts by Defined Factors,” Cell, 131:861-872, November 30.
Takahashi, K. and S. Yamanaka (2006), “Induction of Pluripotent Stem Cells from Mouse Embryonic and Adult Fibroblast Cultures by Defined Factors,” Cell, 126:663-676, August 25.
Vogel, Gretchen (2014), “Therapeutic Cloning Reaches Milestone,” Science, 344:462-463.
Yu, J., M.A. Vodyanik, K. Smuga-Otto, J. Antosiewicz-Bourget, J.L. Frane, S. Tian, J. Nie, G.A. Jonsdottir, V. Ruotti, R. Stewart, I.I. Slukvin, and J.A. Thomson (2007), “Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Lines Derived from Human Somatic Cells,” Science, 318:1917-1920, December 21.
[SPECIAL THANKS TO: Dr. Michael Kareta (Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from The University of California, Davis), currently at the Department of Pediatrics & Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford University, for reviewing this article.]