Playing God?

An article on the science journal Nature published on July 23, 2009 details an experiment by Qi Zhou and Fanyi Zeng in which the two Chinese scientists attempt to use adult skin cells of mice to create a viable embryo.  The entire article can be read in its entirety here.  To summarize, Zhou and Zeng were successful in giving live birth to infant mice 27 times, and have successfully mated these mice to the extent that they have created over 100 third-generation mice.
The implications of this study are staggering, to say the least.  This study has the potential to both offer the saving grace of one ethical concern while opening an entirely new can of worms in another.  On the one hand, the use of these induced pluripotent Stem (iPs) cells, may prove very useful in the argument against using embryonic stem cells in scientific research for various cures.  Certainly, there has been an ongoing debate between the use of adult stem cell versus embryonic stem cells (You can read a review of “Lines that Divide,” a movie centered on the debate, from Chuck Colson here).  It stands to reason that by providing a scientific study that demonstrates at least the possibility of a non-destructive option in the search for stem-cell oriented cures, Zhou and Zeng have given new life to the opposition of embryonic-stem cell research.
For all of the benefits of the study by these two determined scientists, however, a nagging question that begs to be answered comes into play.  With the successful creation of viable embryos and the eventual development of living adult mice from these skin cells, where have we come to in the realm of cloning?  This study gives further rise to the possibility that human cloning, though a leap of expansive proportions from cloning mice, may eventually happen.  While Zhou is very quick to point out that “It is not intended to be a first step towards using iPS cells to create a human being,” the fact still remains that we are left with this exact implication in their study.  It has long been considered that the production of cloned mammals is an exceedingly difficult endeavour.  However, Zhou and Zeng have managed to create entirely new life from these iPS cells that originate from the skin cells of an adult mouse.  Therefore, the door now lies wide open for the potential of these technologies to eventually be used for cloning humans.
This study certainly proves why Christians need to be looking at every piece of news and scientific advance with a discerning mind and heart to formulate a thoroughly educated opinion on the subject.  While I, as I am sure many other Pro-Life advocates do, laud the significant advance in the battle against embryonic stem cell research, I also am left with a major concern about the potential for this science to extend to unethical levels.  At what point does the line extend beyond “understanding reprogramming” of iPS cells and reaches into the world of cloning?  What regulations will be in place to ensure that this does not occur?  What do we, as Christians, do with such an ethical double-edged sword?    Do we  celebrate the potential to save thousands of embryos and potential human beings, or do we prepare to answer the questions of the ethics of human cloning?
I suggest it is the responsibility of Christians to do both.  It is absolutely astounding that these scientists have given us an alternative to embryonic stem cells, and we should rejoice that God has given these men success in this arena.  We also need to prepare, as always, for the possibility that someone may use this technology (eventually) for unethical applications.  The ethics of this advance are contained entirely in the usage of the knowledge ascertained from this experiment.  If used for the benefit of mankind in a way that is within the confines of God’s Word, then this advance is yet another of God’s many blessings.  If used for unscrupulous purposes, then this knowledge is just another dangerous and disconcerting tool in the hands of a secular culture bent on demonstrating an utter lack of love and a lack of desire for truth.


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