THE National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS), of which The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) is a member, supports and encourages all stem cell research so long as it does not result in the killing of human embryos.
This is the stand of the NCCS, which gave its feedback on the issue of human stem cell research to the Bioethics Advisory Committee (BAC). The BAC sought feedback on the issue following the rapidly growing interest in research in, and exploiting the potential of, the Life Sciences.
In a statement, the NCCS said that it “supports and encourages all stem cell research so long as it does not result in the killing of human embryos” as in the case of Adult Stem cell research (AS) cells and other sources such as aborted foetuses. The therapeutic potentials of Embryonic Stem cell research (ER) can never outweigh ethical concerns over their destruction.
The Christian tradition, while supporting scientific, and medical science, in particular, as “instantiations of the divine grace” and the alleviation of human suffering as an expression of the Christian ethic of love, is all too aware that science has also been used to harm humans as well. Scientific enterprise is tainted by sinful aspirations of glory and economic gain.
Embryos: Human beings
At issue is the use of human embryos and foetuses, and centres on whether the embryo is a human being. Scripture and tradition clearly enunciate four arguments on which the Christian tradition views the question of ER:
1. Every human being is part of the divine plan and the result of divine agency, valued by God and stands in
relation to him;
2. The doctrine of the Incarnation tells us that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, was incarnated in human flesh, giving credence to the view that human life begins at conception;
3. The embryo or foetus is a human being, and thus is also a bearer of God’s image. The Bible makes no distinction between a “human being” and a “person”: a human being is a person; and
4. Both science and philosophy could be said to support this view – science views the zygote as already endowed with its own genetic code and its human nature, and we thus affirm the fact that it is a human person, and does not undergo any metaphysical change after the 14th day that enters a non-human pre-embryo into a human embryo; philosophically, since the zygote of human parentage cannot articulate itself into another animal, it is therefore already a human being sharing in the nature of its parents.
It follows, therefore, that the issues of abortion and ER are inseparable: if the embryo or foetus is a human being in the image of God, destroying it is tantamount to the killing of an innocent life. By implication, the NCCS does not countenance the use of abortuses for ER, except where foetuses have been spontaneously aborted and where human intentionality does not come into play, and where excess embryos created in vitro are used.
Similarly, the NCCS would object to “therapeutic cloning”, which involves the deliberate creation of embryos by nuclear transfer for the purpose of harvesting stem cells, necessitating their destruction. It maintains that animation or humanisation is immediate, and therefore, the procedure “goes against the moral idea that the human being is not to be treated as a means to an end, but only as an end”, a principle enunciated by the BAC document itself.
These ethical concerns are shared by not only the Christian community but the collective wisdom of mankind as a whole, born out of the immense struggles in history whose fruit is best summed up in the Nuremberg Code and the 1975 Helsinki Declaration of World Medical Association which maintained that “concern for the interest of the subject must always prevail over the interest of science and society”.
Earnest Lau is the Associate Editor of Methodist Message.
BREAKTHROUGH IN 1998
IN 1998, scientists in the United States for the first time successfully isolated and cultured what are known as human pluripotent stem cells harvested from fertilised human embryos less than a week old. These are capable of giving rise to most tissues of an organism and generated great enthusiasm among scientists, and patients suffering from a broad range of diseases, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Further research may help generate cells and tissue for transplantation, improve our understanding of complex events that occur during normal human development and help us understand what causes birth defects and cancer, and the change the way drugs are developed and tested for safety.
However, scientists and others have been concerned about the ethics which govern the manipulation, and in terminating of the embryonic life of these cells.