Letters to the Editor
This letter is regarding the article titled “Embryo Ethics” in the Summer
2004 issue of Response.
So many statements made by Ted Peters alarm me that I could not possibly address
them all here. It seems to me Peters is grossly minimizing the most compelling
argument for abstention from use of human embryos in stem cell research, and
that is this: the very possibility of a soul being denied its right to life
makes destruction of a human embryo a potential murder.
We would surely agree that all human beings have souls. When do we come into
possession of our soul? It is critical to know that a human soul is not being
sacrifi-ced when an embryo is destroyed for the purpose of research. The
Scriptures tell us that God knew us all even before He formed us in the womb.
reasonable to allow that at the very moment of conception God imparts a soul
to a human being? Wouldn’t it then follow that destroying a human embryo means bringing an untimely death to a soul?
It is tragic when diseases and genetic disorders plague our loved ones. I
have a dear friend whose 7-month-old daughter just completed her second open-heart
surgery because her heart was malformed. If I could ease that family’s burden
with a new heart for baby Madeline, I would. Her parents have trusted God completely
through all of the difficulties so far in their daughter’s young life. They
look for the beauty God will bring out of their tragic situation. And He has
granted them the privilege of seeing many people brought to Christ through
their testimony of faith in this hardship.
Ted Peters admittedly doesn’t know the moment at which a developing human being comes into possession of its
soul ... and where there is a doubt in a matter of this gravity, a follower
of Christ should err on the side of the preservation of life. The unborn have
no voice. We, as followers of Christ, have the responsibility to be their voice.
Horn Linder ’90, Everett, Wash.
IN RESPONSE TO THE ARTICLE “Is Our DNA Sacred?” by Ted Peters in your last
issue, I would like to say that while I fully agree that we should
found our ethics on reason and understanding, I do think that he missed stating the salient question: When does God give to man his soul? If the answer
is at conception, then anything that follows except what is meant for the
intended purpose would be a mortal sin. However, if it is sometime
later, such as after implantation, then there might be some room for argument.
He hints at this when he says, “I
am fascinated by the fact that it is only when an embryo attaches to
the uterine wall of the mother that its genes begin to be expressed.” Old rabbinical
teachings suggested that God would not impart the soul until sometime
after the last chance of forming a twin, because they felt that God would not
split a soul. This, perhaps, gives better support to this theme.
— Jack Doepke,
Biology Teacher, Seattle Christian School, Seattle, Wash.
I WAS SADDENED BY Ted Peters’ article on embryonic stem
Rather than providing information on this little understood topic, this feature was mostly editorial opinion. The author concludes, “Research on human embryonic stem cells and the potential for therapeutic cloning should go forward.” His position isn't too surprising as Mr. Peters is a consultant for the Geron Corp, "a biopharmaceutical company focused on developing and commercializing therapeutic and diagnostic products for cancer based on its telomerase technology, and cell-based therapeutics using its human embryonic stem cell technology" (7/27/04 news release).
Mr. Peters uses utilitarian reasoning, which he calls “beneficence,” in
supporting embryonic stem cell research. However, he never comes
to terms with the central issue of this debate, which, according
to former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, is “the inevitable death
of the human embryo that occurs when the embryo’s stem
cells are harvested.” This fact ties embryonic stem cell research
to abortion. How can we take a stand for life inside the womb and
ignore the reality that embryonic stem cell harvesting destroys human
life outside the womb?
Mr. Peters questions the thinking of Dr. Leon Kass, chairman of the Presidents Advisory Council on Bioethics. Indirectly, Mr. Peters accuses Dr. Kass of "hysteria" and suggests that he lacks "reasoning and understanding." All this because Dr. Kass calls the killing of human embryos "repugnant." Dr. Kass believes there are certain things — torture, rape, genocide, incest, murder — that demand we respond with repugnance. In the words of Dr. Kass, “Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.”
We need to hear from someone like quadriplegic
Joni Eareckson Tada, who opposes embryonic stem cell research from
her wheelchair. She pleads that no “beneficence” can justify the
taking of human life, and asks that scarce dollars be allocated
to an area with a proven record: adult stem cell research. Adult
cells have been used to mend bone and cartilage, heal hearts,
treat injured retinas, help patients with immunodeficiency, advance
diabetes research, and even help paralyzed patients regain partial
function. In contrast, the success of embryonic cells in humans
is unproven and, so far, fraught with complications.
box of embryonic stem cell research is open. We are no longer content
to use “unwanted” embryos
scheduled for destruction: Two private companies are creating
human embryos for the sole purpose of stem cell research. Human
life is now a commodity.
The inherent value of human life is the
most important moral issue of our time. If SPU, with its wonderful
history of Christian principles and action, does not take a
strong stand on this issue, what hope have we for the culture at large?
Nunn Mickley ’73, R.N., Lynden, Wash.
I REALLY ENJOYED THE ARTICLES pertaining to the ethics of
cloning, et al., in the Summer 2004 issue of Response. My reason for writing
is to expose what I consider to be one of the many platitudes that may be comforting
to some, but inspire skepticism for others, when talking about this issue.
I refer to a statement by Randy Maddox in his article, “Clarifying Christian
writes [about whether or not clones would have souls], “The God
who graciously provides rain for the unjust as well as the just
(Matthew 5:45) would never withhold the benefits of full humanness
from any human fetus — however
it was produced.”
this statement were true, how could we possibly explain the
many fetuses born without essential organs such as brains? Cognizance
of the thousands of children/fetuses born into situations that
completely preclude all possibility of realizing “the
benefits of full humanness” prevents meaningful consideration
of this comment.
— Doug Tullar ’50, Georgetown, Texas
I AM WRITING
IN REGARDS to the article titled “Is Our DNA Sacred?” by Ted
Peters. I think that the writer missed a few important points
in the debate about stem cell research.
First, it’s not “our” opinion
of the issue that matters. God’s opinion, based
upon what I read in His word, is that all human life is sacred.
Second, embryos that come from human eggs are human life — it doesn’t take a “rocket scientist” to figure that one out — end of story.
Third, Peters is correct to say that “DNA
is not sacred.” Every
living thing has DNA, but not every thing that is living has
a soul. Humans have souls because they are made in the image
Hence the controversy about stem cell research which, as you know, requires the destruction of human life.
Fourth, Peters makes the statement, “Our
souls have everything to do with our relationship with God.” While
this is true in one sense, it is not true in another. Again,
humans have souls because they are created in the image of
God, not because they have a relationship with God. If you
followed that line of logic, then it would stand to reason
that any person who is not a believer does not possess a soul,
making them a potential stem cell donor.
Fifth, two wrongs never make a right. The Bible says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but in the end it brings death.” Allowing humans to conduct experiments upon other humans (albeit very tiny ones) is morally wrong. Creating human life in a test tube, only to destroy it for experimental purposes, is also morally wrong. Either way you look at it, it is destroying humans. There is no amount of “beneficence” to be gained that justifies the purposeful destruction of human life.
but not least, while I’m all for medical research to find cures
for the ailments that plague mankind, I think that we must adhere to God’s
foundational moral laws in the process. I would agree that
there needs to be much more thought and discussion about the
issue of stem cell research. However, in Christendom anyway,
it needs to be in the context of what we already know about
God and His character.
M. Austin, Clarksville, Mich.
THE THREE ARTICLES ON “Embryo Ethics” in the summer edition of Response were rather interesting. What really surprised me was that the authors did what the mainstream media has done for years — ignore the basic controversy.
The articles dealt with two areas: embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) and cloning. The primary purpose of cloning is to obtain embryos for ESCR. Because cloning is based on the supposed need for ESCR, this article will deal only with the latter.
Cynthia Fitch came the closest to the issue when she said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to continue to vigorously research adult stem cells, their potential therapies and their varied resources before agreeing that embryonic stem cell research is the ‘all, and all’ for regenerative medicine.”
The introduction on pages 8-9 presented the debate on stem cell research. It talked about figures such as Christopher Reeve arguing for embryonic stem cell research. Although it said that opposition was “just as emotionally charged,” the only argument against it was a quote that “the president doesn’t believe we should be creating life for the sole purpose of destroying life.”
The pro-life argument may be valid, but it is weak for secularists, and that entire context ignores the true debate. The debate is not whether there should be stem cell research but whether to use embryonic stem cells or adult stem cells. To my knowledge, no one is opposed to stem cell research. President Bush has approved millions of dollars for adult stem cell research.
The fact is embryonic stem cells have not produced one positive result and many very negative results. There is no valid hope that it will change. Adult stem cells, on the other hand, have produced positive results in many areas including the following:
● Spinal cord injuries
● Heart tissue regeneration
● Corneal reconstruction
● Autoimmune diseases: Diabetes, Lupus, Crohn's, Multiple Sclerosis
● Parkinson’s Disease
● Immune deficiencies
● Other diseases (e.g., Hurler's syndrome)
On November 29 (this week as I write), I received an email about a South Korean woman paralyzed for 20 years who is walking again after her spinal cord was treated with stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood. Advocates of embryonic stem cell research can only dream about this type of result.
There is no lack of adult stem cells. They can be obtained from amniotic fluid, umbilical cord blood, fat, bone marrow, placentas, neuronal sources, and olfactory tissue.
The successes of adult stem cell treatments are becoming evident, but treatments using embryonic stem cells have not only produced no clinical successes, they have also resulted in tragedies and, in some cases, grotesque results.
For instance, in 2001, the National Institutes for Health released the results of a federally funded experiment in which fetal cells were implanted into the brains of 20 Parkinson’s patients. Many of the participants showed no improvement, and some of the younger patients suffered "catastrophic" results. Unfortunately, there was no way to turn the experiment off for any of the patients.
Another example: In China, embryonic stem cells were injected into a suffering Parkinson's patient. They grew wildly and developed into one of the most primitive and terrifying cancers, a “teratoma.” When finally autopsied — the cure killed the poor soul — they found at the brain site of the injection “a tumor full of hair, bone, and skin."
Why should time, money, and energy be wasted on fruitless research? Our investment should be in what has been and promises to be successful.
— Allen Marsh ’60, Nampa, Idaho
WOW. TED PETERS COMES out in support of embryonic stem-cell research, dismisses our DNA as non-sacred, assures us that the phrase "playing God" is not a theological term, and explains that our essential nature is not to be found in Adam — all in the context of a lead article that is also featured on the cover of Response, a publication of an (evangelical?) Christian university.
This piece resonated with me as well, much like a vibrating bed or even an earthquake — distinctive, unexpected, and unsettling. In an effort to be brief, I'll limit my remarks to the following:
- According to Peters, the current U.S. administration takes the view "that a cloned embryo is a potential human being." If it is not a potential human being, then exactly what is it?
- If our DNA was made by the Creator, and if sacredness is defined as something that is made by the Creator, then a basic syllogism would seem to me that our DNA is indeed sacred. Or am I missing something?
- If pluripotent stem cells are found in early embryos and can be removed only by destroying the embryo, is not the deliberate and willful destruction of this embryo something that should give a Christian pause?
- If Jesus Christ was God become incarnate through a human birth, can we not say with some amount of certainty that this act by the Holy Spirit involved God Himself following the path of embryonic development, and that at one point the human life of the eternal Son of God was expressed in pluripotent stem cells?
- Peters writes that "Our essential and original nature is to be found not in Adam — our past — but in Christ — our future." We are indeed anticipating a redeemed life, but I was under the impression that St. Paul, thinking and writing his way through Romans using Old Testament Scripture and the teachings of Jesus, indicated that our fallen nature was a focal point of the work of salvation, and that Christ, the Second Adam, redeemed us from the curse of the law and our sinful nature, and that the one was very pertinent to the other.
This area is indeed controversial, but the difficulties arise only if you discard some fundamental biblical premises on the origin and meaning of life. For Christians who hold a high view of Scripture it seems to me to be really quite simple in its basic orientation. And I don't think I'm being at odds with good science or the desire to explore, create, and better our lot as human beings.
I fully support SPU's aim of engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ. But at the same time it seems to me that this must needs involve a strong defense of biblical orthodoxy, and that a failure to do so will result in an accommodation to the religious and scientific fashions of the day, and a concomitant loss of any ability to impact society with the truth of the gospel, which is — or at least used to be — the power of God unto salvation.
— Ron Boydston '73, Tacoma, Wash.
I READ THE “EMBRYO ETHICS” articles in the Summer 2004 edition of Response and then saw an article in The Seattle Times on September 24, 2004, titled “Adding Women’s Voices to Debates Over Bioethics.” I forwarded this article to Response because I felt that highlighting women’s questions is critical to the debate about biotechnological research.
We women are different from men in such ways as:
- We can do different things — bearing children is a prime example, though both men and women competently raise children.
- We are socialized differently, and we see and experience the world differently — we may relate to people, things, and events in terms of relationships, not simply the facts.
- We have different hormonal cycles and we may react to drugs differently.
These are generalizations. There is, however, one place we are not different from men: We are all children of God, made in God’s image and likeness, and loved by God our parent and provider.
As I was doing some reading before writing this short piece, I went to the Web site of the Women’s Bioethics Project here in Seattle
(www.womensbioethics.org/issues.htm) and found their "representative Issues” with such questions as:
- How should we weigh the benefits of stem cell research and in-vitro fertilization and the short- and long-term effects of egg donation on women’s health?
- Who is harmed when women are excluded from disease studies and clinical trials of new drugs?
- What are the policy implications from the impact on women’s lives of lifelong care-giving of children and elderly parents?
- Are there circumstances when it is appropriate to require a woman to have a Caesarean delivery against her wishes?
I quote only a few of the questions stated there. Obviously there are many more important questions waiting to be formulated, asked, researched, and answered through such means as scientific research, policy discussion and implementation, other as-yet-undiscovered processes, and perhaps most importantly — prayer.
— Katherine McEwen ’81,
I WAS DISAPPOINTED in the responses of SPU professors to Ted Peters' arguments in favor of embryonic stem cell research and cloning. Peters' obvious weaknesses were not answered, and Professor Maddox's comments had problems of their own.
Peters attempts to "differentiate between cloning for reproductive purposes and cloning for therapeutic purposes." He asserts that reproductive cloning "is almost universally disapproved of in the scientific community" and if done, would like "be a rogue scientist, not the scientific mainstream."
Has Peters not seen the drastic decline of culture in the last few decades, where many things once thought reprehensible are now presented as "mainstream"? It is only because of those with a high view of the absolute value of human life (primarily Christians) that culture has not degraded past the sewer. As night follows day, so-called "therapeutic" cloning will lead to reproductive cloning.
But "therapeutic" cloning has its own problems. Both Peters and Maddox refer to embryos as "potential" human beings. But even as far back as 1871, in the Transactions of the American Medical Association (Vol. XXII, page 250), we read — quoting an even earlier work — "Physiology considers the foetus as much a living being immediately after conception as at any other time before delivery, and its future progress but as the development and increase of those constituent principles which it then received." "Conception" in this context, reinforced in Journal of the AMA (November 6, 1886), refers to the union of the sperm and ovum, not implantation. It doesn't matter that "there would never be any intention of implanting the cloned embryo" (Maddox: "embryos being suggested for use are scheduled for destruction anyway"); it is already biologically a living human being (a point that Fitch did not make).
Further, what if some "rogue scientist" experimenting with an artificial womb managed to steal a "therapeutic clone"? Peters attempts to tie any humanity of an embryo to when it attaches to the mother's uterus; Maddox echoes this. But technology to create an artificial womb is not out of the question, and guess what they would have to do to make it reliable?
Of most concern is Peters' argument of "beneficence" — the "good" we can do, such as healing diseases and regenerating organ tissues. We are bombarded with the pleas from celebrity sufferers such as Christopher Reeve or family members such as Ron Reagan Jr. (even though "mainstream" scientists admit that embryonic stem cells would be of little help for Alzheimer's). In California, Proposition 71 on the November ballot would allocate 3 billion taxpayer dollars for stem cell research, with "priority" given to those forms not getting federal dollars (read: most of it for embryonic stem cells). Rarely do the press interview someone like Joni Eareckson Tada, the quadriplegic founder of Joni and Friends (www.jaf.org), or anyone else who dares to disagree with the dominant press view. They won't sell out the life of an embryo in order to have usable arms, legs, or other parts.
Would we even have this "beneficence" debate were it not for another "beneficence": in vitro fertilization? Both are attempts to "help God." But when Sarai got well past child-bearing years and God's promise of a son hadn't occurred, she tried to "help God" and told Abram to have a child by Hagar. Need I recount the history of the Ishmaelites? Yet we create lots of embryos, knowing most will be killed — uh, "terminated" (Peters).
I recommend reading an opposing article: "A New Ethic for Medicine and Society" in California Medicine (September 1970), published by the California Medical Association. That's right: 34 years ago, and two years before the Supreme Court heard “Roe v. Wade.” The article does not talk about cloning or stem cells, but demonstrates the attitude and ethic that got us where we are — and will take us where we do not want to go: "Medicine's role with respect to changing attitudes toward abortion may well be a prototype of what is to occur." It also contains an admission: "the scientific fact that human life begins at conception [fertilization] and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices."
Those last three words are Peters' "beneficence."
— Larry Bickford, San Jose, Calif.
Note: Response received a number of letters about our articles
on cloning and stem cell research in the Summer 2004 issue.
Several of these letters were lengthy and were
edited to fit the magazine's limited space. The full letters, plus
additional letters, are now posted on this site.
God in the Garden
THANKS FOR THE WONDERFUL article by Debra
Prinzing about God in the garden [Summer 2004 Response].
There is a deep well of insight and spiritual significance in God’s
work in creation that we as Christians need to keep continually
before us. I would like to suggest to Debra and anyone else
the excellent book Monastic Gardens by Mick Hales.
This is a sumptuous pictorial with excellent commentary on
the historical and theological significance found in gardens.
There is a local connection as well. It has inspired me greatly
in this year’s
Wilson, Gold Bar, Wash.
I HAVE NEVER BEFORE read an issue
of Response. The articles are diverse — from provocative
to winsome — crisply
edited and published.
As an avid gardener and pastor, I read
with interest Debra Prinzing’s “Finding
God in the Garden.” Her take on the general revelation of
God the creator and benefactor through the lens of nature
entices the secular naturalist to wonder, “What’s
behind all this magnificence?”
Gardens beg a second God question.
Why do we garden? Why the botanical collections, the seed
banks, the obsessive nature of humans to put into cultivation
all arable land? I believe it is the witness of God in every
heart that we were created to tend the Garden of Eden, which
is our true home and to which we will return one day in Christ.
Eichner, Rector, The Church of the Holy Cross Episcopal,
Jake DeShazer and War
MICHAEL BADE’S CHIDING letter [Summer 2004 Response] relative to the war-related
illustrations chosen for the Jake DeShazer article [Spring
2004 Response] demands a rebuttal from one who was there
and remembers when Jake came on campus. The generation that
flew the bombers so distressing to Mr. Bade knows well that
there comes a time when words alone fail in defense of our
story can never be told without visually contrasting his “few
his subsequent life of ministry. Your choices of illustrations
and layouts were appropriate, necessary, and excellent. Right
on! It distresses me that the retelling of Jake’s story
fails to overcome the predisposition to appeasement current
among a generation never confronted with total war.
Camano Island, Wash.
THANK YOU FOR THE Response magazine. It certainly keeps us informed as to programs at SPU, about the building progress, and other informative subjects. It was a delight for me to read about Jake DeShazer’s “Flight Into Eternity” in the Spring 2004 issue.
I was a sophomore in pre-nursing at SPC when Jake came home from the war and enrolled at SPC. So it was good to read an update about him. Jake was “the person to know” on campus in those days. He was often asked to speak to various groups and organizations to tell about his experience as a Doolittle flyer, his 40-month captivity, and release from prison. Most impressive was his desire to return to Japan as a missionary. May God bless Jake and Florence in their retirement days.
— Ruth Lundberg Martinez ‘49, Santa Barbara, Calif.
THIS IS AN OVERDUE response to Response. The Autumn
2003 Response was an amazing issue. Both my wife and I read
it from cover to cover and were most impressed. Of course,
being Buechner groupies helped, I’m sure!
And, how impressed we were that Now
and Then was a suggested
read for the wider SPU community. What a grand plan that
Every issue since the above-mentioned one has retained
the same high standard — great
articles/features/reports and a very attractive layout. Having
taught at another Christian university for 30 years, and
our children having attended two other Christian colleges,
we receive similar magazines from four institutions, and
SPU leads the way. The bar has been raised a couple of notches.
Yes! to your creativity, ingenuity, and high standards.
Wiebe, Fresno, Calif.
What Do You Think? Don't be shy!
We'd like to hear your opinion about Response or any articles printed in the publication. To tell us what you think, send email to email@example.com, or visit www.spu.edu/response. You may also write Editor, Response, Seattle Pacific University, 3307 Third Avenue West, Suite 116, Seattle, Washington 98119–1922. Letters must be signed and will be printed as space permits.