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by Douglas Jacoby
Douglas Jacoby Podcast

Current Issues: Stem Cells


For additional notes and resources check out Douglas’ website.


  • Stem Cell Research (SCR) is an area of medical ethics.
  • The issues are complicated because of the science, and also difficult because the Bible does not address scientific or medical issues directly.
  • What are stem cells? "Stem cells are the body's raw materials — cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated. Under the right conditions in the body or a laboratory, stem cells divide to form more cells, called daughter cells. These daughter cells either become new stem cells (self-renewal) or become specialized cells (differentiation) with a more specific function, such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle, or bone. Stem cells are unique — no other cell in the body has the natural ability to generate new cell types."
  • The NIH has invested more than $500 million in human embryonic stem-cell research.
  • A research law passed by Congress in May 2011 gave the Obama administration the go-ahead to continue funding embryonic stem-cell research. Other presidential administrations had been resisting this research.

Two poles of opinion re: Embryonic SCR

  • For: "Support SCR if you care about disease." Paid ethicists may regard pre-implantation embryo as a clump of cells, not a person. ESCR touted as a panacea. Such a position disrespects the views of nearly all world religions. It also exaggerates the current success of ESCR, which are negligible.
  • Against: Conservative believers (esp.) hold that personhood begins at fertilization or conception. Psalm 139 gives us a “divinely inspired ultrasound." Oppose research if we're "playing God." Such reasoning has been used to oppose counseling, surgery, and science in general. Was Psalm 139 (as poetry) intended to give us scientific data about human life? Are those who oppose SCR against all SCR, or only against ESCR?
  • It’s not that simple; beware those who oversimplify.

Two sources for SC

  • Embryo, amniotic fluid, fetus, umbilicus, placenta. More than 400,000 fertilized ova are in cold storage.
  • ASC: can obtain from brain, lung, breast, liver, pancreas, tooth pulp, bone marrow – even adipose tissue.
  • We don't have to settle the difficult metaphysical issues in order to talk intelligently about scientific research.


  • ESC: Obtained from IV fertilizations (at about day 3) -- destroys the embryo. Risk of rejection; risk of tumors.
  • ASC: Obtained from adult (or from one's own body) -- reduction of rejection or tumorigenesis.

What works?

  • Adult stem cells far more successful than embryonic. Ease of procurement.
  • The technology is in its infancy, yet (as of time of this podcast), 514 clinical trials -- all with ASC, none with ESC.
  • ASCs have scores of over 60 therapies, ESC have none that I am aware of.
  • Applications: Leukemia, multiple myeloma, ovarian cancer, solid tumors, sarcomas, testicular cancer, brain tumors, retinoblastoma, breast cancer, neuroblastoma, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, renal cell cancer, autoimmune diseases.
  • IPSs (induced pluripotent stem cells) have eclipsed ESCs in terms of value because of lower cost, greater ease of production, and problems originating in genetic identity of the patient.
  • In financial terms, so far, ESCR has yielded a poor return.


  1. At the present, ASCR is far more promising than ESCR.
  2. Fine to have a position, but be willing to suspend while evaluating evidence.
  3. If you don’t understand the science, admit it’s beyond you--be humble.
    1. Some Christians I talk to admit they don’t understand.
    2. Others are dogmatic, yet it’s clear they haven’t any idea what the scientific evidence is behind their opinion.
  4. In any SC discussion we need to distinguish whether we’re talking about ESC or ASC.
  5. If you believe that life starts at fertilization and are contemplating medical intervention for pregnancy, or are discussing the issues with others, think carefully about your words and decisions. Will left-over eggs will be frozen and then destroyed? Or frozen, and later experimented on? Maybe implant all the eggs, or maybe hold off for now.
  6. We need a robust Christian ethic that recognizes God’s boundaries and values.
  7. Christians need to engage theologically in the issues of our day, not sit it out.
    1. Worst to have an ill-informed opinion!
    2. Actually better to have no opinion.
    3. But best to have an informed opinion.


  • Podcast on Abortion (as this site)
  • Dr. Oz on Oprah, click here.
  • Presidential debate at Saddleback. Click here.


Episode 19

Season 4

by Douglas Jacoby