Why all the fuss about Stem Cells?

Why all the fuss about Stem Cells?
Allan J Day, November 2007.




Emeritus Professor (Physiology) University of Melbourne, and Fellow of ISCAST Australia.


Current Australian Federal legislation (2002, subject to a 2007 sunset exclusion clause) provides for surplus (IVF) embryos to be used for the production of embryonic stem cells. The creation of embryos (by cloning or other techniques) for stem cell production however has been specifically proscribed. This issue is now being revisited with pressure from the scientific community etc. to liberalise this legislation both to bring Australia in line with other communities (including the UK) where such liberalised legislation already exists and to enable the potential medical benefits of such procedures to be explored in Australia.
Many conservative Christians oppose this situation, as indeed they did the 2002 bill, on the basis that the early (pre-implantation) embryo represents a person whose life must be protected in the same way as other mature humans. Destruction of early embryos therefore represents an ethical line which must not be crossed irrespective of the potential benefit. The debate, subject now to a private members bill and a conscience vote, has evoked strong reactions and not a little incorrect understanding of the issues. What are embryonic stem cells and what do we mean by therapeutic cloning? Is the early embryo a person and what are the criteria of personhood? These are some of the questions we should as Christians have some interest and exposure to.

Key words

Stem cells, embryos, personhood, human, DNA, ‘image of God’, cloning, ethics

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