Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Live and Let Live: A Christian Perspective on Biotechnology

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This is the age of cutting edge biotechnology. With the completion of the mapping of the human genome in 2000, we are poised for a great leap in life-changing biotechnological discoveries and innovations. Some of the many issues Christians shall face at the dawning of the 21st Century are:

• When does a human life begin?
• Is abortion allowed?
• Should Christian couples consider In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) or ‘test tube babies’ for their infertility problem?
• Should we allow ‘embryo reduction’ if there are too many embryos in successful IVF?
• What shall we do about ‘spare embryos’?
• What is therapeutic and reproductive cloning?
• Should human cloning be allowed?
• Is a ‘human’ clone a human being?
• Shall we allow embryonic stem cell research to continue?
• What are the promises of stem cell research?
• How will the practice of medicine be changed by new discoveries in biotechnology?
• Will you like to grow a new heart?
• Should scientist be allowed to make changes or ‘improve’ the human blueprint?
• Design your own baby?
• What is human eugenics?

The Bible does not give specific answers to these questions. Using biblical principles, this book seeks to help Christians to understand and be informed about these issues. Some of these questions may sound like science fiction. We have seen the way the silicon revolution of computers; mobile phones and the Internet have changed our lives within a decade. The biotechnology revolution has already begun. We are just beginning to experience its effect. We are living in ‘interesting times’.


Sze Zeng said...

Latest updates:
Researchers claim 'ethical' stem cell breakthrough.

Any idea what's about?

Alex Tang said...

Dear Sze Zeng,

The standard method of obtaining stem cells is to grow a fertilized embryo to 100 cells stage. Then the embryo was destroyed and the stem cells harvested. At that stage, the embryo is like a ball of cells. The outer layer of cells will develop into the placenta and umbilical cord while the cells in the centre will form the organs and the body. The cells in the centre are called stem cells. Hence obtaining stem cells will means destroying the embryo.

What Dr. Lanza did was to remove stem cell from the embryo without destroying the embryo. He has developed a technique which works with mice embryos. He allows a fertilised egg to develop into an 8 cells stage (blastocyte). Then he removed one cell which he culture in the lab to form a stem cell line. The remaining embryo with the 7 cells are reimplanted into the womb and was able to grow to term. The report was inaccurate in that Dr. Lanza did not work with human embryos. All experiments were done on mice.

On the surface, this will solve some of the objections to stem cell research. Many people objected to stem cell research because the embryo has to be destroyed to obtain the stem cells. Here no embryos were destroyed. However, it remains to be seen if it will work in humans.

I do have a question here, which Dr.Lanza did not address in his Nature articles or his company, Advanced cell Technology ‘s press releases. I am also surprised it is not noted in the few medical ethicists who commented on the issue. Is the one cell from a 8 cell blastocyte a stem cell? That is an important question which was not answered.

Sze Zeng said...

Thank you for the insight Dr. Tang. Appreciate it.

The Hedonese said...

Research can be done using adult stem cells without ethical issues too. This website has some discussions on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), an ethically unproblematic alternative to human embryonic stem cells (hESCs).


Also, got this from Scott Klusendorf:

"Despite claims to the contrary, embryonic stem cell research is not morally complex. It comes down to just one question: Are the embryos in question members of the human family? If so, killing them to benefit others is a serious moral wrong. It treats the distinct human being, with his or her own inherent moral worth, as nothing more than a disposable instrument. Conversely, if embryos are not human, killing them to extract stem cells requires no more justification than pulling a tooth. My friend Frank Beckwith sums up the crux of the debate this way: “If I have a bad eye and you have a good one, can I forcibly take your good eye to make my bad one better?” Reply: Not if the donor is human. Hence, the ethical debate comes down to, What is the embryo—a human being or something else?"