SIKESTON -- Debates across the state concerning the language of a stem cell research ballot proposal center on the same issue as many churches -- what constitutes a life?
"The Lutheran church acknowledges that life begins at conception and it is God's gift," said Alan Wollenburg, pastor at Concordia Lutheran church in Sikeston. "We are not opposed to stem cell research, but how they are harvested -- If that would include creating life, then we would be opposed to that. Life is God's gift -- we do not have the right to try to create it."
The language of the proposal that was upheld last week by a Missouri appeals court would allow somatic cell nuclear transfer, a type of cloning. The nucleus of an unfertilized egg is removed and replaced with that of another cell, such as a skin cell, in this procedure, where the resulting egg is stimulated to divide, then the cells are harvested. This is the type of stem cell research most churches oppose.
William Marshall, pastor at Trinity Baptist Church, said several questions revolve around the stem cell research issue for Southern Baptists and evangelicals, like "How do we value life?" and "Where does life begin?"
"They are all central to the issue," Marshall said. He compared the stem cell topic to that of abortions. "Both revolve around the issue 'do you value life or do you not?" he said.
Wollenburg said he knows of issues in other congregations where people face a struggle, for instance a gravely ill man who could possibly be helped by the use of stem cells. "The issue for us would be 'where do those stem cells come from?'" he said.
According to the "Our Sunday Visitor" brochure, a Catholic resource, the Church makes clear that it does not oppose all stem cell research, only that research involving the destruction of human embryos. Other methods can be used to obtain human stem cells from adults, and cells from the placenta, bone marrow and umbilical cord are being used to treat leukemia, the brochure said. Researchers have also had some success treating juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injury, immune deficiency and corneal damage with these adult stem cells.
"The Church teaches that all human life from the moment of conception must be protected," the brochure said. "If human embryos are killed to obtain a certain type of stem cell, this is morally unacceptable."
In late 2005, priests of all four Catholic dioceses took to the pulpit to share the Catholic viewpoint with their parishioners and convince them not to sign a petition with language that would allow the destruction of life for stem cell research.
Most religions share the same view -- that stem cell research is OK, as long as it does not destroy life. "It possibly could provide all kinds of opportunities for certain diseases and I definitely understand that," said Marshall, who is a diabetic. "But at the same time, I just have to trust in my Lord, that I have this disease for a reason and purpose and can trust in him without trying to do something unethical in trying to resolve this issue."
Although the stem cell debate has been a topic in the churches, it has not caused a big stir yet. "It's been mentioned in smaller conversations at time, but nothing on the official level has been done," Marshall said of attitudes at Trinity Baptist.
Wollenburg agreed. "It's a cut and dry issue for us," he said. "We don't have a lot of people to my knowledge that have grave issues about it."
On the other hand, Wollenburg said he has regularly counseled young women who will be giving birth to consider donating their afterbirth for stem cell research. "That's a legitimately derived stem cell source," he said.