Christian Scholar: Stem Cell Research Is Not 'Baby Killing'

Lutheran pastor and theologian Dr. Ted Peters outlined the “moral framework" under which he supports stem cell research while speaking at the Christian Scholars’ Conference at Pepperdine University last week.

Peters, who co-authored Sacred Cells? Why Christians Should Support Stem Cell Research, said that Christians should respect all sides of the stem cell debate and understand the basis for support of the research.

“I think we have the opportunity to dramatically help human health and well-being,” Peters told the audience. “I don’t think it dehumanizes people to do stem cell research.”

Referring to a scientific process within stem cell research that separates the fertilized egg prior to its cell generation, which occurs normally at 14 days old, he said, “I don’t think we are baby killers when it comes to disaggregating the blastocyst.” The blastocyst, which becomes the embryo, forms after five days.

Stem cells are biological cells found in all multi-cellular organisms, which can divide through mitosis and differentiate into diverse specialized cell types and self-renew to produce more stem cells. In a developing embryo, stem cells can differentiate into all the specialized cells, but also maintain the normal turnover of regenerative organs, such as blood, skin, or intestinal tissues.

The embryonic stem cell research debate is over religious and ethical ground, with some people of faith convinced that the research amounts to killing innocent lives. On the other hand, some people cite the moral imperative to alleviate suffering. There are also plenty of believers caught somewhere in between.

“It is clear that we’ve had a war and people in churches have got involved in this war, but a lot of people who are not religious are part of this war,” Peters said. However, he added, “We don’t have to think that there’s some sort of irreconcilable war.”

Peters argues that “everyone wants to do the right thing” based on their priorities or “framework” of protecting embryos, furthering the discovery of regenerating healthy cells, or saving lives.

Christians should respect competing commitments, Peters said. They should understand with empathy the coherent logic of each framework, and be guided by faith, acting in love, he added.

“If you find you are making a strong moral conviction in way of the moral frameworks, take a stand with courage just don’t have malice towards those that disagree with you,” he said.

Peters currently serves on the Scientific and Medical Accountability Standards Working Group for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the Genetics Task Force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. He was one of several speakers at the conference themed, “The Path of Discovery: Science, Theology, and the Academy.” Organizers of the event stated the aim of the conference this year is to promote harmony between the scientific and Christian communities.

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