4 minute read

Life in the Blood

Does the chance of a cure for a terrible disease like diabetes make it right to sacrifice other people’s lives?

By Rev. Erik Rottman

Pastor Russell Salzmann suffers from diabetes. He knows he will not get better. He knows other diabetics who have lost toes, then feet, then entire legs to the disease. Pastor Salzmann has also heard about the dazzling promises of embryonic stem cell research with its potential to find a cure for the illness that will hound him the rest of his days.

The question for Pastor Salzmann, and for all Christians, is this: Does the chance of a cure for a terrible disease like diabetes make it right to sacrifice other people’s lives?

Forget the Fat—Kill the Baby

Stem cells can be harvested from a number of sources, including bone marrow, brain tissue, fat, and even the extra-rich blood of umbilical cords and placentas. Oh, by the way—stem cells are also found in unborn babies.

Stem cells are the building blocks that formed your body while you were in still your mother’s womb, creating your muscles, bones, cartilage, and blood. These cells hold the potential of creating “replacement” hearts or kidneys or other organs for those who need them. Many scientists also believe that stem cells will lead to cures for such deadly diseases as cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and yes, diabetes.

Amazingly enough,these stem cells even have the potential of creating a completely new blood supply. What seemingly great news! This means no more blood shortages, no more blood drives, no more fear of getting AIDS from a transfusion of dirty blood. Stem cells can save the day!

But wait a minute—the stem cells used to discover this new blood supply did not come from the umbilical cords left behind by the thousands of babies that are born every day in America. Nor were they coaxed from the quivering rivers of liposuctioned fat that daily flow out of America’s belly and backside. These things get thrown away by the gallon while researchers concentrate on something more grisly: embryonic stem cells. The stem cells that create this potential new blood supply are taken from little babies who are still too young to be born.

The Terrorism of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Many times, people do not concern themselves with a certain issue or problem until that problem lands in their own lap. Terrorism is an example. A few years ago, terrorists were someone else’s problem. Car bombs killed someone else’s family in far-away countries and it all went away when we turned off the TV. Now terrorism has come to the United States. We hear about it every day, we go through tighter security at the airport, and we always look twice at someone who might be from the Middle East.

Embryonic stem cell research has not yet fallen into the laps of American Christians in the way that terrorism has. Many Christians are morally opposed to it, but they do not yet have a personal stake in it. Most of us can still think of embryonic stem cell research as someone else’s problem—Pastor Salzmann’s problem.

An endless blood supply developed from embryonic stem cells promises to change all of that. Most Christians will probably never need a new heart or kidney (thanks be to God). However, there is a pretty good chance that many of us—or someone we dearly love—will someday need a blood transfusion. Blood created from a baby who was pur posefully killed. That’s a problem! 

Courage in the Face of Temptation

So what about Pastor Salzmann’s diabetes? He will not prey upon his neighbor in order to satisfy his personal needs. He would rather lose h is body than give up the faith that has been given to him in Christ Jesus.

It is not right for big, strong human beings to benefit themselves by preying upon weak, little human beings…just call me gimpy (Forum Letter #28.7, July 1999).

Pastor Salzmann is speaking about embryonic stem cell research and its potential for endless blood supplies and amazing cures. He is also saying that love for neighbor is much greater than love for self. But Pastor Salzmann is really speaking about the hope of the resurrection, given to us by Christ. “I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

There is no such thing as an incurable disease for those who are in Christ Jesus. “He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4) and gave us His resurrection in return. We need not rob a new blood supply from our helpless neighbors. The rich blood of Christ has already been poured out for us in endless abundance. In this blood, there is both life and salvation.

Rev. Erik Rottman is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Versailles, Missouri and a member of the editorial board of Higher Things. His email address is echo-romeo@sbcglobal.net.