Embryonic Stem-Cell Research: Is there a biblical position?


My last post brought up the issue of embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR) and some questions to which Christians must find an answer. As a Pastor, I always ask myself, “What does the Bible say?” There are some, though, that would say the Bible does not address issues like these, that the authors of the Bible could not have possibly envisioned issues such as ESCR. I will agree that one cannot find a treatise on ESCR in the letters of Paul, Peter, or any other biblical author. However, I think that there are principles contained in Scripture that are timeless in their application to our lives.

Following I will restate the questions I listed in my previous post and include my thoughts as to how we might answer them biblically:

(1) Are frozen embryos dead or alive? This question is of some importance. If the frozen embryo is in fact dead and not alive, we cannot argue that we are mistreating a living thing. Our argument would have to change to something along the lines that we are not treating the dead with respect (if you think the dead should be treated with respect). However, I think too many people answer this question too quickly in the affirmative, that a frozen embryo is alive, because there is a problem with this position. Would we consider a human adult who is frozen as being alive?

The scientific and medical answer is that when any living thing is cryogenically frozen, as the embryos are, that it is not alive while frozen. This is because there is no cellular growth or reproduction. It is as though the “clock” for that embryo has been paused. The problem the medical community is having is that cells often rupture from ice crystals that form from the freezing process. Therefore, the cells die before they are even “thawed out.” The second problem is that they have not exactly figured out how to properly thaw and revive an organism. So the short answer is that embryos are considered to be dead while frozen (often referred to as cryonic suspension). There is a short, but rather detailed article about cryogenics here.

(2) Are we “torturing a person” when we freeze an embryo? You will remember that this question arose because I hold the position that we receive our souls at conception. So the question was really wondering if the soul remained with the embryo while frozen. However, my intuition (as well as science) is that an embryo is not alive but is dead. I believe the Bible clearly teaches that when we die, our souls depart from our bodies. The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord… We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it (2 Corinthians 5:6, 8-9, NIV).”

There is also an understanding that the body and soul do not die together or are inseparable. Jesus stated, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28, NIV).” From this statement, it is clear that we as humans can kill one another’s bodies, but not each other’s souls. There is also an understanding in Scripture that the soul can depart from the body and then later return to the body (Jesus’ died, was buried, and was resurrected; Lazarus resurrected [John 11:43-44]; Jairus’ daughter resurrected [Luke 8:53-56]; etc.). Particularly note of Luke 8:55 which states, “Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up.” So it becomes completely evident to me that we are not “torturing” these souls contained in a frozen embryo because I believe they die when frozen and so the soul departs. If you, however, believe that we receive our souls at birth or some point later in embryonic development, then this question is probably a moot point for you.

These are just some of my thoughts about how to biblically answer these questions. I am do not claim that I have got these things figured out. I would love to hear some different thoughts or perspectives on how to answer these questions. What I do think is important, though, is that we are working through these things as Christians and not ignoring “the problem” and hoping it will be resolved without us having to be involved. I will be making some follow-up posts because I didn’t address all the questions that I listed in my initial post.
What'd you think? 


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