An open forum on the creation and use of human embryonic stem cells will be held on Monday, Feb. 16 in Christ Chapel at 7:30 pm.
The forum is sponsored by the Reformed Church in America’s Commission on Christian Action, and members of the community are invited to attend, ask questions of panelists and make comments. Students that attend are able to obtain chapel credit.
Dr. Sara Tolsma, associate professor of biology and also a member of the commission, will moderate the forum. “I’ve done several forums all over the country,” said Tolsma.
“I think people learn a lot. And I learn a lot from the questions and comments that are raised,” she said.
Tolsma will give a short presentation laying out the science and presenting ethical arguments on both sides of the issue.
Human embryonic stem cells are unique as they are unspecialized and have the ability to develop into all the specialized cells found in adult bodies such as heart cells, nerve cells or skin cells. Directed to differentiate into specific cell types, stem cells offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat medical conditions including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.
Some believe possibilities of stem cells seem too good to be true. However the creation and use of stem cells is not without significant ethical and moral controversy. Human embryonic stem cells that hold the potential to become any kind of specialized cells are most commonly derived from embryos.
Embryos used for establishing stem cell lines are destroyed in this process. If we are to pursue the remarkable promises of stem cell therapy the question of the moral status of human embryos must be addressed.
While adult stem cells exist, they do not appear to be as versatile as embryonic stem cells. However, recent research shows that adult stem cells may be manipulated into being more versatile than scientists originally believed they were. There is generally much less controversy around the use of adult stem cells.
Currently there are no laws in the United States against embryonic stem cell research, although the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research is significantly restricted.
Federal funds can be used on the 60 stem cell lines identified in President George W. Bush’s 2001 address, as well as stem cells that were derived (1) with the informed consent of the donors; (2) from excess embryos created solely for reproductive purposes; and (3) without any financial inducements to the donors.
The campus forum is among several that have been held all across the country in response to a 2002 RCA General Synod request after the Commission on Christian Action presented a paper concerning stem cells.
Tolsma believes that the goals of the forums are to educate and to listen to the perspectives of different people.“[This forum] is something I’m looking forward to very much, Christians seem eager to learn and think critically about this difficult issue,” said Tolsma.
The forum panel includes Dr. Byron Noordewier, professor of biology at NW; Dr. Syl Scorza, NW professor emeritus of religion; Dr. Jonathan Grossmann physician with Orange City Health System; Dr. Randy Jensen, NW associate professor of philosophy; and chaplain Rev. Harlan VanOort. A question and answer session will follow the forum.