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America's Culture War: Stem-Cell Research

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Some Races are Worth Losing

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

Even with federally restricted limitations, embryonic stem cell research continues within the private sector in the United States. But according to National Geographic, the U.S. may be in jeopardy of losing the race to create the first FDA-approved embryonic stem cell therapy (Weiss, 2005). In an obvious move to create anxiety about falling behind in this scientific “race,” National Geographic’s July 2005 issue featured a cover story on the topic of embryonic stem cell research. Stephen Minger, the director of the Stem Cell Biology Laboratory at King’s College in London, remarked: “I know a lot of people back in the U.S. who would like to move into embryonic stem cell work but who won’t because of the political uncertainties. I think the United States is in real danger of being left behind” (as quoted in Weiss, p. 17).

The proper response to such a statement? “So what!” Here are two questions that we should all strongly consider: Would it be such a bad thing to lose a scientific race that treats human embryos as simply a clump of cells? Would it be a bad thing if the United States stood up and told the world that we are not going to treat our citizens (from embryos to elderly) in that horrible fashion? Now is the time for the United States—a country in which the Founding Fathers were not ashamed to admit and defend their biblical beliefs—to make a firm moral statement by getting out of the embryonic stem cell race altogether. This is a race we should not be involved in, and this is a race that the rest of the world should rethink. Just because a “race” exists does not necessitate that the United States funnel billions of tax dollars to win it.

The July cover of National Geographic asked the question: “How Far Will We Go?” The answer could be found written between the lines of Jennifer Holland’s contributing article on “The Stem Cell Race,” in which she quoted Roman Catholic Fiorenza DiFranco: “If a therapy can help people, it’s not the role of the church or government to ban it” (2005, p. 9). Thus, the argument is made that the United States cannot give up embryonic stem cell research because it might “help people.” Are we going to adhere to this type of logic for every clinical trial—even when we are dealing with destroying life that was created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27)? If there is even the remotest possibility that it may “help people” then by all means we should not place any regulations on it? This attitude puts us well on our way down the slippery slope.

Thankfully, the article also featured some information about adult stem cells, but the spotlight was firmly focused on embryonic stem cells and their “potential” benefit. The underlying message was that these clumps of cells should be used to “help people.” Jennifer Holland maintained that “[a] five-day-old embryo is smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. It has no identifying features or hints of a nervous system” (p. 10). Again, the underlying message is that since no nervous system exists, the child cannot feel pain, so we should not feel guilty about ripping them apart to harvest their stem cells.

Holland continued: “Supporters (for embryonic stem cell research) point out that embryos slated for disposal by fertility clinics are a wasted resource” (p. 10, emp. added). Weiss then gives one of the most common arguments in support of embryonic stem cell research, noting that they alone are “pluripotent,” i.e., only embryonic stem cells have not yet differentiated, and thus can become almost any cell in the body. Weiss declared: “Unlike adult stem cells, which appear to have limited repertoires, embryonic stem cells are pluripotent—they can become virtually every kind of human cell” (p. 15). However, if Weiss had done his homework, he would have learned that in 2001 scientists already had successfully purified pluripotent adult neural stem cells from brain tissue (Rietze, et al., 2001, 412:736). Jennifer Holland acknowledged this very point when five pages earlier she admitted: “Adult stem cells may prove more abundant and malleable than previously thought” (2005, p. 10, emp. added).

This admission can be seen in the article where more than eight times the authors record advancements being made with adult stem cells! In fact, on page 13, a table is given that lists some of the progress made in adult stem cell therapy treating heart disease, leukemia, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and Type I diabetes. [NOTE: For a more detailed list of research studies that have been performed using adult stem cells the reader is encouraged to see “Presidential Elections, Superman, Embryonic Stem Cells, Bad Science, and False Hope,” at].

If adult stem cells are “more abundant and more malleable” than previously thought, why do we need to destroy human life and press on with embryonic stem cell research? The truth lies in the fact that embryonic stem cell research is receiving a tremendous amount of support from abortion rights activists. If they can sell the idea that an embryo has no nervous system and is valuable to scientific research, then why not use aborted fetuses and leftovers from in vitro fertilization? American’s must rethink this race and its ethical implications. Maybe, for once, we would send a stronger message by losing this “race” than by winning it.


Holland, Jennifer (2005), “The Stem Cell Race,” National Geographic, 208:9-10, July.

Rietze, Rodney L., Helen Valcanis, Gordon F. Brooker, Tim Thomas, Anne K.Voss, and Perry F. Bartlett (2001), “Purification of a Pluripotent Neural Stem Cell from the Adult Mouse Brain,” Nature, 412:736-738.

Weiss, Rick (2005), “The Power to Divide,” National Geographic, 208:2-27, July.

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