Stem cells and embryonic experimentation

By Brian Edgar

The Lockhart Committee was formed by the Australian Federal Parliament to review the situation with regard to human embryos, stem cell research and cloning.  The review “An Assessment of the Lockhart Review: stem cell research and embryonic experimentation”   (7,500 words) was done for the Australian Evangelical Alliance when I was Director of Public Theology. Obviously, the matter has moved on politically since then, but the issues it discusses remain the same.

The Lockhart report rightly recognises the benefits of stem cell research, and the Committee is to be commended for resisting the argument that an embryo can be defined as coming into being at some point of development, such as at 14 days or implantation.  But the Committee errs in finding that the value of the human embryo can derive from the intention of the researcher rather than from the intrinsic nature of the embryo.  Thus the finding of the Committee that it is ethically appropriate to destructively research on both ‘specially created’ and so-called ‘spare’ embryos is inappropriate.  And there is a real concern that by defending the essential humanity of the early embryo and yet allowing for destructive research, there is the potential for moves for further destructive research on embryos beyond 14 days of development.

This assessment also includes a much broader analysis of the parameters of the whole notion of the significance of a technological approach to human life.   This is not a rejection of the notion of technological development, nor a call for an end to research or progress.  But it is the recognition that technology creates a particular view of the world and thus there is a need for a more distinctly theological approach to the issues which are dealt with technologically.  While some see technology as either neutral or even a good, which nonetheless needs to be controlled and used responsibly, the reality is that the use of technology inevitably creates a view of the world which can be at odds with a Christian interpretation of human life. This does not necessitate a rejection of technology, but it does require constant reassessment from a biblical, theological point of view.

The full analysis is  7,500 words and it may be downloaded here: An Evaluation of the Lockhart Review on Stem Cell Research and Embryonic Experimentation

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