Stem Cell Research: An Orthodox Response

Written By: on Nov 1st, 2009 and filed under Articles, Youth And Faith.

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It is always presumed by the World that Christian Orthodoxy is a path that is old and outdated that it can not have any constructive and positive response to any problem from the modern world of epistemological advancement. Is this true?

Stem Cell Research is a very modern field of medical research and it postulates a number of goodies towards curing from degenerative illnesses and ailments that can have a permanent bearing upon the suffering human being. Does Orthodoxy blindly oppose Stem Cell Research? It is worth to ponder upon these questions.

Primarily Orthodoxy has a fundamental approach towards knowledge creating techniques, however, it s not fundamentalistic. I want to draw a line between being fundamental and fundamentalistic. In the second chapter of the Gospel according to Mark (23-28|| Mt 12:1-8; Lk 6:1-5), there is an incidence in which Jesus confronts people asking Him why His disciples were plucking and eating heads of grain during Sabbath. Jesus’ response is very simple. Sabbath is for humans and humans are not for Sabbath. Orthodoxy has a very similar approach towards every controversial question. Is it for human good or are we simply arguing for the sake of arguments? Orthodoxy postulates that every knowledge shall be for the human improvement and otherwise it is not good, which is the direct teaching of Jesus Christ and when it comes to Stem Cell Research as well, we have a very same stand point. It has to be for the human good that we support it.

My words did imply a negating notion towards Stem Cell research, I hope and exactly the opposite is my intention. Orthodoxy does not oppose Stem Cell Research out rightly. If it opposes something, it shall have a very genuine reason to do so as well. Now, what is the stand of Orthodoxy towards this modern question that has a very genuine bearing on human curing as it is being popularized and advocated? In order to go deep into this question, it would be wise to briefly describe what Stem Cell Research is as well as its advantages and disadvantages In brief.

Stem Cell Research

Stem cells are capable of renewing themselves over and over again and hence the term ‘stem.’ In other words, stem cells are a type of ‘ancestor’ cell in humans and animals, which have two special properties. They are able to renew themselves to produce many more stem cells in perpetuity. They can also differentiate into specialized cells which then serve particular, specific functions in body tissues (bone, muscle, nerve etc.). Stem cells are present in the early embryo which differentiates to make all the cells of the eventual body. Stem cells are also found in some tissues of the adult human or animal, in the fetus, and in placental cord blood. These normally develop only into the cells associated with the particular organ or system of the body. In the adult, stem cells serve the function of maintaining healthy tissues or repairing damage inflicted by disease or injury. Perturbation of these renewal processes can lead to the death of the cells (and eventually of the organism). Their uncontrolled growth can, on the other hand, lead to cancer.

The first isolation of human embryonic stem cells (ES cells) in the USA in 1998 was widely seen in scientific and medical circles as a landmark event. It opened up the possibility of a potentially unlimited source of cells which could be used to replace cells lost in serious, and largely incurable, degenerative human diseases and other conditions. A matter of concern is the rhetoric sometimes accompanying both these claims and those made for adult and placental cord stem cells. These have often raised expectations which go far beyond what can presently be justified by the state of a science which is still in its early stages. While there is indeed exciting potential, a degree of caution is therefore needed, for many of these developments and possibilities raise important ethical and theological questions.

There are mainly three sources of Stem Cells. Stem Cells come from an adult body, from the Umbilical Cord of a new born child and from the very young and yet to begin cell division human embryo,

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1 Response for “Stem Cell Research: An Orthodox Response”

  1. Suraj Iype says:

    Excellent article from Fr Dr Mathew which really underlines the teaching of the Orthodox Church on the rights of unborn children .

    This article was a real pleasure to read.

    Suraj Iype

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