ELCA Draws Up Social Statement on Stem Cells, Cloning

The largest Lutheran denomination in the country on Thursday released a draft social statement on genetics.

The statement, which will be considered by leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America next year, is intended to provide a framework for discussing such topics as stem cell research, cloning, and other advances of genetics.

"We recognize that contemporary power presents human beings with choices and responsibilities for which we are accountable to God," the draft statement reads. "What is the appropriate human role in God's creation with regard to genetic knowledge and technology?"

The 63-page draft statement was drawn up by the ELCA Task Force on Genetics and is designed to assist the church and its members to "reach informed judgments on social issues from a perspective of faith." Though a theological and teaching document, the social statement is not intended to serve as "a list of specific decisions on particular genetic issues," Janet Williams, co-chair of the task force, told the denomination's news service.

The word "genetics" is never used in Scripture, the statement points out, but the task force notes that "God's word in Scripture illuminates the challenges and issues posed by genetic knowledge and its application."

The statement acknowledges both the promise and peril of the developments of genetic research. And it makes clear: "This church believes that the greatest danger in genetic developments lies in the sinful exercise of radically extended human power and not in any specific scientific or technological development per se."

On the issue of human cloning, the task force rejects the practice as "unacceptable experimentation."

"No individual should be brought into life for the sake of repeating another individual's genotype," says the statement.

But it adds, "Should reproductive cloning progress, this church would honor the God-given dignity of cloned individuals and would welcome each to the baptismal font like any other child of God."

In regards to the contested issue of embryonic stem cell research, the ELCA panel says "embryo farming" is incompatible with the church's understanding of the value of life.

"The ELCA has maintained that 'human life in all its phases of development is God-given and, therefore, has intrinsic value, worth, and dignity,'" the statement reads. "This church's respect for the 'value, worth, and dignity' of human embryonic life precludes the creation of embryos expressly for research purposes."

While supportive of finding alternative sources of pluripotent stem cells that do not involve the use of embryonic human life, the panel says the church "accepts the use of surplus frozen embryos that were created for infertility treatment but are no longer needed."

"Since they are unlikely to be implanted and will ultimately be discarded, it seems preferable that they be used in research that may be beneficial to millions of humans and future generations."

Other issues addressed in the social statement include agricultural biotechnology and genetic research on animals.

Though appreciative of the developments of genetic research and technology, the church places its trust "not in human achievements, but in the Triune God who creates, redeems and will finish making all things new," the statement reads.

ELCA social statements set policy for the church, guide its advocacy and aid its life as a public church. They are developed through an extensive process of deliberation involving the whole church and are adopted by a two-thirds majority of a churchwide assembly. The final text of the statement on genetics is scheduled to be presented at the next assembly in August 2011.

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