Running the Wrong Race – A Look at Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources


“The pressure to compete, the fear somebody else will make the splash first, creates a frenzied environment in which a blizzard of information is presented and serious questions may not be raised.” (Carl Bernstein, journalist)

The state of Wisconsin is currently considered the stem cell research capital of the nation. Although California is making a strong effort with its $3 billion embryonic stem cell research initiative, it is still overshadowed by Wisconsin. Why? Wisconsin is at the front of the pack and works hard to keep it that way.

In the May 19, 2006 business section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the subtitle of a story on the issue of stem cell work reads, “State must work to lead field, UW scientist says.” “We got to win!” In the rush to stay ahead of the pack, serious questions are either not being raised, not being answered, or are being ignored because people don‘t the like the answer.

The Wrong Competition

This competitive spirit seems a component of human nature. Adam and Eve could not resist the competitive appeal to “be like God” when they succumbed to the temptation to eat the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3). Cain couldn‘t handle losing out to his brother, Abel, in the competition to be favored by God (Genesis 4). The mother of Jesus‘ own disciples sought the competitive edge of a favored place in God‘s kingdom for her sons (Matthew 20:20ff).

In all of these circumstances, people missed the point. They were not asking the right questions, or they were ignoring the answers. This legacy of sin prevails to this day.

A student is convinced she will lose her chance to get ahead with the discovery that she is pregnant while in college. The solution – the unborn baby must die. A family moving in social circles, climbing the corporate ladder, and enjoying the many recreational pleasures of life, fear they will lose their competitive edge if they get bogged down by having to care for an ailing parent or grandparent. The solution – actively or passively shorten the life of that ailing family member.

Stem Cell Research

On the surface, stem cell research holds some promise. In the course of asking a few questions, however, things are revealed that are not always what they seem.

First of all, talking about stem cell research is like talking about drinking alcohol. Research suggests a modest alcohol intake is healthy. Even the Bible suggests the value of taking a little wine (1 Timothy 5:23). What is not acceptable is drinking alcohol when it leads to drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18).

Stem cell research has a good side to it. Research using umbilical cord blood stem cells and adult stem cells holds wonderful promise (see www.nationalcordbloodprogram.org/ and www.stemcellresearch.org). It does not carry with it the ethical baggage of the destruction of unborn life. This research with cord blood and adult stem cells is something Christians can get excited about.

What isn‘t explained, however, is the mention of a different form of stem cell research that is problematic. It is called embryonic stem cell research. This research is conducted with human life that has already begun and has grown into the embryonic stage. That life must be destroyed in order to extract the stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are extolled as being the most flexible and therefore offer the greatest potential for tissue regeneration and cure of sickness and disease.

If the truth be told, this is what the race is all about. Whether it is former first lady Nancy Reagan, television and movie star Michael J. Fox, or spokespersons for the stem cell program in Wisconsin, a determined effort is in place to lead in the cause of destroying unborn children for the sake of scavenging their stem cells.

Is this embryonic stem cell research really wrong? The question must be asked. As we become increasingly capable of looking microscopically at the earliest stages of life, it doesn‘t look very human. Yes, there are cells and cell division, but there are no lips to smile, hands to grasp, or tongues to speak. A quick conclusion is that life at this stage is nothing more than growing cells.

God’s Opinion

The problem is that those engaged in this reckless race forget to seek out God‘s opinion. It is God who talks of the mysterious way life as created in the womb (Psalm 139). It is God who talks about accountability for sin – not just from birth, but from conception (Psalm 51). It is God who forbids us from killing (Exodus 20:13).

The problem with stem cell research has nothing to do with its potential to cure diseases. There might actually be incredible discoveries of cures from the destruction of embryos. There might also be incredible discoveries of cures from experimenting on prisoners or killing the infirm to study the dying process. This is not a debate about whether embryonic stem cell research accomplishes anything. This is a debate about the wrongful ending of human life.

God‘s Word does talk about competitiveness. By using analogies about

While we may reason that the unborn child must die for our good or the good of others, we come out as losers in the only competition that counts – competing as God‘s children.

However politically incorrect, socially unacceptable, and personally challenging it may be, our first questions are not to be, “How can we stay ahead?“ “How can we beat them out?” or even “How can we help others?” The first question is, “How do we glorify God in this opportunity?”

Stem cell research holds promise, but when it involves the killing of the most defenseless, it goes too far. It means we are running the wrong race that puts us on a different course than God would have us on.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)


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