Stem Cells — What’s the Deal?

Why not continue the heated political topics by wading into stem-cell territory. I’m only really interested in the Church’s perspective and how Latter-day Saints might view the topic. I’ll say up front that I support more stem-cell research, but also admit to being fairly naïve on the topic and can be swayed if someone demonstrates why it’s a bad idea (hopefully with a little more than “it’s a slippery-slope”).

My understanding is that there are upwards of 400,000 embryos frozen and sitting doing nothing around the country. Those opposed to the research strenuously argue that these fertilized eggs are human life and that it is immoral to destroy life to help save another life. They argue that we must speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. This is definitely an understandable perspective. However, if these are living things, why do we allow in vitro fertilization at all? The reality is several eggs are fertilized for couples just to increase the chances of pregnancy. Most are frozen indefinitely, or discarded if the couple stops paying for the storage of the embryos. By trying to help couples just get pregnant, we’re destroying plenty of “life” in the process.

The President’s recent comment that these embryos should be adopted seems a bit silly. It’s not like we’re talking about a giant orphanage with tow-headed little toddlers running around; the fertilized eggs only survive if implanted in a uterus. And in actuality, even then there’s little guarantee of survival. 70% of natural conceptions fail to attach themselves to the lining of the uterus. In theory, one could argue that couples just naturally trying to get pregnant are responsible for the death of a life. And if the defense of such action is that it’s natural, then why not do away with medical science altogether — why use medicine to keep someone alive who would have naturally died in the first place?

Further, the Church seems to have no objection to in vitro fertilization, and therefore, seems to not to be against this process of destroying fertilized eggs. The only stipulation mentioned is that couples should not use semen or eggs from anyone other than the couple, however, even that is only discouraged. From the Handbook of Instructions: “In vitro fertilization using semen from anyone but the husband or an egg from anyone but the wife is strongly discouraged. However, this is a personal matter that ultimately must be left to the judgment of the husband and wife, with responsibility for the decision resting solely upon them” (158). The only other comment in the handbook notes that, “Children conceived by artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization are born in the covenant if their parents are already sealed. If the children are born before their parents are sealed, they may be sealed to their parents after their parents are sealed to each other” (74).

Not exactly a stinging rebuke of destroying embryos. The Church remains silent on actual stem-cell research, though that could change at anytime. What should the stance of a Latter-day Saint be? When dealing with such weighty, ethical issues, is it always best to err on the side of life? Or is such a perspective oversimplified?


  1. Good question John. Can erring on the side of life be a bad thing?

    Perhaps it would be more helpful to explore the potential benefits of stem cell research — deciding which side is “the side of life” isn’t so easy.

  2. I think it is most telling that while Mitt Romney (to placate the Far Right) is coming out against this, every LDS senator is coming out in favor.

  3. What if you create the embryos before you are sealed, but they are implanted after the sealing? Are those children under the convenant?

    It seems odd that the Church discourages using other people’s eggs/sperm. In some cases, this is the only viable option.

  4. There are several layers to this debate. The first, and cheif one touched on here, is the thousands of embryos that already exist. In this layer there are still two classes, those scheduled for destruction and those that will be left “on hold” indefinitely. Very much like the main post there are many sides that would say these should not be destroyed at all. But for the momment if these are to be destroyed I have no objection to using them for research instead. At least some good can come from the destruction.

    For those that will be held onto indefinitly, we would need to know who “owns” them. Are they the property of the lab or the clients. I’m not even sure if this distincction is neccessary. But it seems that whoever “owns” these embryos should have the right to treat them as they like, keep, destroy or research.

    If the owner of these embryos is able to use them as they see fit then creation of the embryos can be done for profit or with the sole purpose of research, not neccessarily the creation of life.

    The second layer of research deals with this, the creation of embryos with the intent to destroy them. I am against this on the grounds that we do not know when life begins and ends. At this point I feel we should err on the side of life. Its true these embryos wont survive outside a uterus but neither would any child in the first trimester. It doesn’t matter if people are compensated for donating the tissue or not, although paying someone for such a proceedure would be imoral as well. It is the creation with the intent to destroy that solidifies my stance against this research.

    In vitro fertilization does not start with the intent of destroying, it is done with the intent of creating. The process results in several embryos which the best categories are then chosen from. This is clearly different than those who are creating embryos for the purpose of destroying them later.

    Stem cell research can produce great leaps forward in medicine but at what cost. Its one thing for a fully developed person acting on their on accord to donate their body to science. A parent can even do so with a child if that child is under their care. But it is imoral to have a child for the specific intent of snuffing out its life to use it for research.

    Two things on research. First, research is itself a gamble. It may or may not pay off. Alright, it pays off even if it fails by enlightening us to what does not work, but it will not always produce a desired effect. By terminating an otherwise healthy embryo for research is to destroy what is generally considered a sure thing for a chance. That is one reson this is imoral.

    Second, I have heard that much of the stem cell research can be done on adult tissue but it is more difficult to aquire and work with. So do we allow the creation and immenent destruction of life because it is easier, ie more convinient? I cannot say yes, and it seems that this too would be imoral.

  5. lyle stamps says:

    What is “silly” about embryo’s that aren’t going to be used by the existing couple being implanted in infertile couples that want a natural pregrancy and child bearing opportunity?

    Someone with more Church Handbook knowledge than me help here; but the “born in the covenant” theory seems to hinge on the “born,” not “conceived,” time period. A child conceived before sealing, but born after sealing (say, for an LDS couple getting sealed after a civil wedding, or new converts, etc) is “born into the covenant.” There is nothing known as “conceived in the covenant.”

    While I don’t think this creates a bright-line, stem-cell research is ok, rule for Saints…it certinaly doesn’t cut against it.

    Re: Romney. Before you malign the man and call him a puppet; perhaps consider that as an elected official, he has had to actually deal with the issues involved; aka abortion and stem cell research, on a first hand basis and probably feels directly responsible for what has/hasn’t happened under his watch. Denying someone the capacity to change their political views, unless deriding them as pandering, seems awfully short sighted.

  6. NFlanders – Perhaps your question could be answered by thinkin how the same situation would apply to someone who is pregnant before being sealed. Are those children in the covenant or not? Its unlikely but I can see how it might be done.

  7. lyle stamps says:

    Re: research, as Charles pointed out…there is no certainty that this will help. I find it self-serving that Sen. Spector is using his current physical ailment to push for passage of the Stem Cell bill in the Senate. And even if it did help…it certainly wouldn’t help him.

  8. Lyle, there’s nothing remotely silly about a childless couple being given the opportunity to have children. What struck me as silly as the naivete behind the President’s original statement. Who’s going to pay for the implantation of all these fertilized eggs? What about the ones that will naturally not attach themselves and then die anyway?

    I was merely pointing out how politicized the debate has become that we’re referring to this as “adoption”. If a couple wants to give it a shot and go that route, good for them. But it isn’t adoption and it’s yet another way to paint the otherside as the bad guys. Adoption implies that there are children already born out there that could be in loving homes if those evil-doers in support of stem-cells weren’t trying to harvest them for their nefarious purposes.

    The fact remains, whether or not stem-cell research is allowed to go forward, the vast, vast majority of these fertilized eggs will not survive, whether they are discarded or implanted in a woman.

  9. lyle stamps says:

    John: I don’t understand the factoid. Is it that 70% of _all_ fertilized eggs will, on average, fail to attach? or 70% of frozen embryos? Or…? Regardless, I find adoption to be the best and appropriate term, if one believes an embryo is a small baby. As to who pays, if the government could use tax dollars to pay for embryo destruction, why not pay the costs so that infertile couples can have babies? Increasing the tax base seems like a good policy decision.

    Charles: If an embryo is a life, it can’t be owned. If it isn’t a life, then your question _is_ the question.

  10. Lyle, 70% of natural conceptions fail after the egg is fertilized. I’m unsure about artificially fertilized eggs, though it can’t be much better than that since couples attempting in vitro fertilization always have more than one egg fertilized to increase the chances it will take.

  11. lyle stamps says:

    John: Ok, now I understand. So, in answer to your question:

    “What about the ones that will naturally not attach themselves and then die anyway?”

    Then answer is simple, and as given above: let the government pay and increase the tax base. If there is a 70% failure rate; require participating couples to sign up for two embryo implants at a time. Statistically, that will end up with a more likely than not outcome of pregnancy for the couple that wants a child.

  12. These are blastocysts you’re talking about, not embryos. There is a difference. And to not study something because “there is no certainty that it will help” is silly. That’s why its called research.

  13. lyle stamps says:

    A nice alternative, w/o as many ethical problems, from a draft of the President’s Bioethics Council (w/great accompanying story at on stem cells)

    1. Alter Embryonic Cells
    Proposal: Take human DNA and remove the genes an embryo needs to fully develop. Create [quasi] embryos with the altered DNA. They will produce usable stem cells but die soon thereafter. Spiritually speaking, Hurlbut argues, these almost-embryos are not human, so harvesting their stem cells poses no moral dilemma.
    Pro: Many religious leaders are enthusiastic. If the source isn’t human, it doesn’t have a soul.
    Con: The genetic manipulation is very difficult.

    Scott: Can you please elaborate re: blastocysts? Are they related to the teratomas suggested as a possible solution in the proposal above?

    Also, research isn’t silly. But promising cures, solely because Federal Research dollars will be thrown at “research”, for individuals currently suffering (aka Michael J. Fox, Spector, etc) is not only silly, its is dishonest, at a level far above John’s dislike of Bush’s use of “adoption.”

  14. a random John says:

    There is an article in this month’s Wired magazine discussing a method of creating stem cells that seems aimed at pleasing those with religious objections:

    I think that the article could be a bit more clear on what the process is, but it does seem that there might be ways of creating embryonic stem cells that haven’t been imagined yet that do not create the ethical dilemas that the current method raises.

  15. Just to throw some fuel on the fire…

    There are cases where the husband or wife has a genetic disease that they don’t want to pass on, such as those that ensure an early death. So they do in vitro fertilization, test the emybryos for the genetic defect, and only implant the ones without it.

    Is a fire that destroys a couple of tanks of frozen embryos an equivalent tragedy to a fire in a school that kills a couple of hundred children?

    The obsessing over pre-implanted embryos is looking beyond the mark, IMO. Is the issue really about life, or is it about strategy to get at abortion? I’m cynical enough to think that it is often about the latter (and I mostly oppose abortion).

  16. lyle stamps says:

    Jared: cynical or not, the nut of the question remains: When does life begin? And if LDS Doctrine doesn’t have a clear answer yet, what are the ‘gleanings’ to guide us? Or do we care, lacking a bright line rule for up above?

    Re: your hypo. Let’s answer it with another:

    Is a fire that kills 100 1st graders an equivalent tragedy to a fire that kills 100 10th graders?

    Again…the answer depends on the ‘when life’ begins question.

  17. Well, Senator Orrin Is-That-a-Pubic-Hair-in-My-Coke Hatch feels strongly enough about the issue to disagree with his President.

    “I understand why this form of stem-cell research may trouble some. However, after many conversations with scientists, ethicists, patient advocates and religious leaders and many hours of thought, reflection and prayer, I reached the conclusion that human life does not begin in a Petri dish.”

    For once—Ok, maybe it’s the second or third time—he is right. And doesn’t he speak for the Church—unofficially, I mean.

    Read the full text of his press conference here:

    And, yes I was being sarcastic about the spokes model for the Church comment.

  18. Seth Rogers says:

    The whole abortion question has always been one that I’ve been a little unsure of. I understand the arguments on both sides and sympathize with both to an extent. However, since I haven’t been able to make up my own mind, I decided a while ago to simply follow church policy on the question.

    In the area of stem cell research, we don’t get a great deal of guidance.

    So I have pretty-much decided in favor of stem cell research.

    On the one hand, I have frozen embryos who MIGHT be real people from a Mormon theological standpoint.

    On the other hand, I have victims of Alzheimer’s who I KNOW are real people from a Mormon theological standpoint.

    Sorry, I believe in serving real people before hypothetical people.

  19. Seth says: “On the one hand, I have frozen embryos who MIGHT be real people from a Mormon theological standpoint.

    The Church has not explicitly denied that embryos are souls (that is destined for resurection) One would think that if prenatal beings were destined for resurection, we would administer proxy ordinances on there behalf (in the instance that their parents were not sealed in the temple).

  20. Church policy: Abortion is (usually) wrong. Yet stillborn babies and miscarriages aren’t considered sealed to the family–at least no name is recorded.

    So we’re stuck between two policies without clear rooting in doctrine either way.

    Perhaps the Lord’s condemnation of (most) abortion has more to do with the thoughts and intents of the parents than it has to do with the fetus.

    Lyle, to your hypo I answer “yes.”

  21. lyle,
    Your hypo is of questionable equivalency to Jared’s. Would we hold a funeral for the 100 lost embryos? We would certainly hold one for the 1st and 10th graders.

  22. I don’t have time to repeat the effort, but last year I spent hours and hours patiently answering every question about embryonic stem cell research on this T&S thread

    To quickly respond to two points raised so far:

    Regarding the large number of embryos that fail to implant (the number usually cited is 40%, but that’s immaterial here), the fact that many human organisms die young is not a compelling argument against either their humanity or their moral worth. Imagine a primitive culture where, due to solely to natural causes, only 25% of humans (human organisms), survived to their first birthday (or their fifth). That fact would tell us nothing about the humanity or moral worth of infant children, or give us license to disect them for research because it was likely they’d die anyway.

    As for Jared’s hypothetical, we know that our emotional reactions are not accurate guages of a victim’s humanity. Three hundred years ago, for example, everyone knew that the deaths of 100 white kids was sadder than the deaths of 100 black kids. But that was a poor way for them to decide that black kids were not full human beings.

    Though I don’t have time to answer everyone’s questions, I can pretty much guarantee that your question and my answer is in the T&S thread. I’ll end with this excerpt from a comment I wrote there:

    “Even if someone feels we do not know that all independent human organisms are human beings, in the absence of knowledge, we must act as though they might be full human beings until we know they are not. We don’t shoot first, then find out if the thing rustling in the bushes was a deer or our hunting partner. We mustn’t kill what is argued to be a human being until we know it is not. Never in the history of the planet have those who have argued that a disputed class (women, infants, blacks, Jews, Indians, aborigines, handicapped, etc.) are indeed human beings in the full sense been wrong. To the contrary, in every historical example of contested humanity, those arguing for full humanity have been right. Recognizing that their side has been wrong 100% of the time should, hopefully, give pause to those asserting that human embryos may be human organisms, but not human beings in the full moral sense.”

  23. danithew says:

    I read an article on-line earlier and avoided posting a link to it because I didn’t want to irritate people. But since this thread is already running strong I’ll just throw it up here.

    What interested me about this article was that the author seemed so sure about the Mormon perspective on this issue. Here’s the quote of interest:

    he traditional right-to-life coalition against abortion has fractured somewhat, however, on the complex topic of embryonic stem cell research. Mormons, for example, oppose abortion, but find some embryonic stem cell research morally acceptable. According to Mormon belief, life does not begin until a human embryo attaches to the mother’s uterus after about 14 days. That is the moment, according to Mormon theology, at which the human spirit joined with human flesh and a resulting full human being is created.

    Maybe someone should have pointed the author of this article to one of these stem-cell threads.

  24. Danithew, the article’s author was probably relying on Orrin Hatch’s statements. Hatch said he prayed and was told something like “life begins in a woman’s body, not in a petri dish,” and embryos are implanted in IVF around day 14. As technology find ways to allow human organisms to develop outside the womb for longer periods, it’s hard to believe that Hatch will stick with his answer to “prayer”, and determine a person’s humanity by whether or not it ever spent time inside a woman’s body.

  25. danithew says:

    interesting. Maybe I should pray more about this issue.

  26. John: My analogy only holds if they are alive.

    Danithew: If folks are throwing Orrin Hatch’s opinions out re: Mormon theology on when life begins…

    I certainly hope that the Prophet prays and gets us a “real” answer. While I like Orrin about 50% of the time; I’m not happy with him being the public face of the Mormon Church and/or its beliefs.

  27. Oh, let’s not return to that T&S thread, please. Matt correcting the brethren, old gadfly Ed Enochs evangelizing, everyone indulging in reductio as absurdum, straw men and red herrings strewn all over the place. A low point in the ‘nacle, if you ask me.

    I certainly hope that the Prophet prays and gets us a “real” answer.

    I thought whatever the prophet says was the real answer, and if we’re not satisfied with it, it’s our problem.

  28. I quoted Hugh Brown on that thread, and I’ll quote him here again. If this doesn’t apply to the church’s (non-)position on stem cells, I don’t know what does:

    “Do not have the temerity to dogmatize about issues on which the Lord has seen fit to remain silent.”

  29. danithew says:

    Jeremy, I agree with you that the old T&S stem-cell thread was a low point — and I was one of those heavily involved in it. That’s why I’ve tried to avoid as much as possible expressing any of my personal thoughts or opinions on the matter. I’m done with that one.

  30. “Do not have the temerity to dogmatize about issues on which the Lord has seen fit to remain silent.”

    Jeremy, I find it hard to believe that you truly resent those who fought for civil rights for female human beings, African human beings, disabled human beings, or young human beings, despite God’s silence. Or are you saying that while it may have been okay to work for those ends, it’s inappropriate to express strong opinions on the matter until God’s mind is revealed?

  31. JeremY: No, I don’t. Revelation can start from either directions. If God isn’t _initiating_ the discussion; the prophet can always try to _initiate_ such.

  32. Or are you saying that while it may have been okay to work for those ends, it’s inappropriate to express strong opinions on the matter until God’s mind is revealed?

    Matt, I prefer not to legitimize the mismatched metaphor between the frozen contents of IVF tubes and slaves; I’ll only say this: Brown doesn’t counsel against opining, but against dogmatizing. I think it’s inappropriate to expess strong opinions on stem cells as if God’s mind had been revealed or is easily discerned, esp. when the people we ostensibly recognize as God’s oracles have made it clear that His will on the matter hasn’t been revealed to them. Assuming a strong voice to convey one’s convictions is laudable; assuming an ecclesiastically authoritative voice, when one lacks that ecclesiastical authority, worries me.

    If God isn’t _initiating_ the discussion; the prophet can always try to _initiate_ such..

    What bothers me, Lyle, is your implication that the lack of clear directive on this issue stems from sloth or inaction on the part of the Brethren. Are you assuming that, because they haven’t come back with an answer that satisfies you in its actionability, they haven’t brought up the subject? Surely the issue is on the radar at church HQ.

    One thing’s certain: the lack of clear-cut directive on this issue speaks to its complexity and particularity; hopefully a recognition of that complexity and particularity will inform the timbre of the debate.

  33. danithew says:

    Careful Jeremy. Some will argue with unwearyingness. In the meantime you could end up participating in the creation of a thread very similar to the one you critized earlier.

  34. lyle stamps says:

    Jeremy: There is no implication, unless you want to read one into it. As was the case with Pres. McKay, he asked re: universal priesthood; God choose not to answer/reveal yet until Pres. Kimball. The Prophets can ask…God answers in his own time; as it is when God initiates. There is no sloth; just patient acceptance.

  35. Lyle, I agree. That’s why you comment #26 bothered me. (You said, “I certainly hope that the Prophet prays and gets us a “real” answer.”) Perhaps I should have read some irony into the scare quotes?

    Danithew: I’m not sure I follow you.

  36. Matt Evans, I agree with you that it is immoral to try to push the boundaries of what constitutes human life, especially in the face of so many unknowns. That said, I believe that Hatch’s position is that life begins when the blastocyst implants in the endometrium. If science were to develop a technology that acted as a viable substitute for the endometrium, presumably Hatch would alter his position to accommodate this, but it needn’t involve anything more drastic than a simple reformulation: Life begins when the blastocyst becomes viable by virtue of its presence in an adequately nurturing substrate. I don’t myself agree with this position, but it strikes me as reasonable nonetheless.

  37. a random John says:

    Everyone note that AT has stated that something he doesn’t agree with is reasonable. Surely this is a red-letter day at BCC!

  38. lyle stamps says:

    Jeremy: good point. my diction, i.e. the tense, was present, so it was certinaly reasonable to infer that I was suggesting that they had yet to initiate a revelatory request.

  39. danithew says:

    In light of the discussion taking place here, this link might be of interest.

  40. Sorry, arj. I’m not just slipping on the Midgely fondue front.

    But seriously, I’ve often found arguments against things that I believe to be reasonable, as I have found arguments against things I do not believe to be unreasonable. Recently, for example, I defended Allison’s statement from Nate’s criticism on the Gender Essentialism thread (perhaps the implications of my formulation of a positivist outlook on gender essentialism were not obvious enough, but I don’t actually agree with the assumptions entailed by Allison’s outlook), where I felt that Nate’s initial criticism of an incorrect point of view was palpably unfair (though I found his follow up formulation to be quite palatable, if surprising coming from Nate).

  41. Seth Rogers says:

    I think Jared on #20 has the right idea.

    I think the impermissibility of abortion in our faith is more about the actions of the parents than the possible termination of a human life.

    To bring up another subject, the whole abortion debate has really bothered me ever since high school. In the last few years I figured out why.

    In essence, I think the whole debate is an incredible waste of societal attention. Passing laws and debating the practice of abortion is like applying band-aids when the patient is hemorraging internally.

    Rather than squabbling about whether embryos constitute a “human life” or not, we would be better served to look at the social problems that cause women to have abortions in the first place. Address those problems and the abortion question really becomes of secondary importance.

    I see the political action groups set up on both sides of this debate, efforts of the clergy, the organizational resources committed to protests and rallies.

    I can’t help but think that all that capital could be better spent elsewhere.

  42. a random John says:


    I think that if you look at number of abortions performed in this country it seems that “social problems” simply can’t be seen as the root cause. Of course that depends on your definition of “social problems”. If you mean to imply that women have abortions because they are in some sort of trouble and that if we could only solve that trouble there wouldn’t be any abortions, well, I don’t think that is the case at all.

    I do agree that an incredible amount of energy goes into this issue. Both sides use it to motivate their base, while knowing all the while that the status-quo will be maintained.

  43. Karl Butcher says:

    The church did once issue a press release about stem cell research, and the text can still be found on a few websites, such as

    However, the church has removed all references to that press release from, although I’ve seen the page both on when it was still there, and on a google cache of

    The key phrase : “The proclaimed potential to provide cures or treatments for many serious diseases needs careful and continuing study by conscientious, qualified investigators.”

    although the beginning of the statement says “the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have not taken a position”, this is hardly silence by the church.

    Although the removal of the press release from does seem to be the church re-silenceing itself on the issue.

  44. a random john:

    actually, i think that there is a good chance that roe v. wade will be overruled within the next 4 years. it will only take 3 new bush appointees to the supreme court.

  45. “Assuming a strong voice to convey one’s convictions is laudable; assuming an ecclesiastically authoritative voice, when one lacks that ecclesiastical authority, worries me.”

    Jeremy, if that is true, I don’t understand your gripe with me:

    1) the apostles haven’t taken a position on embryonic stem cell research
    2) I have never claimed to speak with ecclesiastical authoritaty
    3) I have expressed strong opinions on the matter, like Lowell Bennion did regarding civil rights

  46. Arturo,

    I haven’t read Hatch’s statements recently, but I remember him focusing heavily on the mother’s womb, as though she was necessary. If he was saying that the only human organisms that are human beings are those that are currently receiving nourishment, I don’t find that distinction particularly compelling.

    And according to either of our theories about what he meant, Hatch’s position still seems to require that the ontological status of the embryo turn on *where* it is, another view I find wholly unpersuasive. It seems that to answer the question, “is this a human being,” we should be able to answer simply by knowing all of the facts about the entity itself, without need to know where it is. I can’t think of any entity who’s ontological status changes based on its location.

  47. Matt, I think that a more charitable interpretation of Hatch’s view would characterize the function of nourishing or nurturing with potential viability as a trigger or a threshold. It’s not that the place matters. It’s that the fact that the blastocyst has begun to receive nourishment providing it with the potential for viability. This position is also consistent with the church’s position on IUDs (which, of course, prevent pregnancy by blocking the implantation of the blastocyst in the endometrium). One can hold a temple recommend and use an IUD.

  48. Matt:

    2) I have never claimed to speak with ecclesiastical authority

    I’ve felt that some of your comments in the bloggernacle on the stem cell issue have bordered on and sometimes amounted to “counseling the brethren” in a rather strident manner. I know others have shared this opinion as well.

    Perhaps you feel strongly enough to try to create a critical mass of sentiment within the church that will compel the brethren to consider your position more favorable, while not challenging their authority per se. In that case I would respond with two points. The first one is ancillary: is it okay for Mormons now to say that before the O.D. the brethren were just plain wrong about blacks and the priesthood, and we can dispense with the awkward excuses? (I’m not sayin’, I’m just askin’!). The second is more directly related to the subject at hand: is your goal to foster an anti-stem-cell-research stance in hopes that it will grow within the church and be adopted as Church policy, perhaps in the way that some did–quietly but diligently, within the bounds of church orthopraxy and governance–to prepare the way for the lifting of the priesthood ban? If that is your goal, and if that ties in somehow to your frequent comparisons between racial equity and the protection of embryos, I would say that for me the differences are simply too great, and I simply am of the opinion that the civil rights people were right and the frozen-embryo rights people are wrong.

    (If I had been a friend of Lowell Bennion, and if I were an old curmudgeon, I would at this point have to bite my lip to resist saying “I knew Lowell Bennion. And YOU sir, are no Lowell Bennion!” :) ).

  49. I can’t think of any entity who’s ontological status changes based on its location.

    Actually, we could think of this whole issue in precisely those terms: a spirit outside the body is a spirit; a spirit inside the body is a soul.

  50. Amy Foster says:

    This is my first time blogging.

    I have been totally blown away by all your intellegent comments.

    Our bodies a perishable items. Many lessons of life happen in that final stretch. Do you think that Christopher Reeves would have been such a champion for stem cell research had it not been for that life changing accident? This is one of the many topics of the in gospel that is not spelled out for us, so we must make the best decision we can with our experiences. Then we will have to account for that choice when we meet our maker.

    I have one adopted child, one artifically insemenated, and one suprise. So the thought of a innocent life means alot to me. That is my experience so far.

    Our country is going to have a huge crisis. The amount of births are not enough to support the aging community. Somewhere along the line we got off course and it seem the living, no matter the quality of the person, will take priority over the unborn.

    I can’t help to wonder at the possiblity that one of the embryos might grow up to invent the cure for illness or literally be the cure.

    I have heard that the science community has had more sucess with adult stem cells than with the embryonic.

    I also heard a story today that they are adopting out these extra frozen embryos to couples that have been unable to have children. It was touching. I imagine the church would want people to steer away from that because there are risk (Aids,and other) that could effect lives. It has happened before.

    As far as Hatch and Romney are concerned, I think of their chosen professions. My husband and I think that Hatch wants to some day be a Supreme Court Judge. This will benefit his career to be in favor of stem cell, and Romney is in one of the most Liberal cities in this country. Both of these men have to be middle of the road people or they will not make it that far. Politics does wierd things to people.

    So we are left were we began. We will all die. Our time is limited and that is a good thing. The LDS religion blesses us with room for our own understanding on many issues. It doesn’t get better than that.

    I hope this wasn’t too bad. I’m a housewife. I don’t get out much.

  51. Mark N. says:

    Lyle: Jared: cynical or not, the nut of the question remains: When does life begin?

    I thought the Church took the position that life began in the pre-mortal existence. :-)

    So I guess what this question means for Mormons is, “When does the spirit enter the body?”, with other related questions like, “If the body designated for a certain spirit to inhabit in mortality dies before birth, does the spirit get reassigned to another body?”, which leads to the question, “If God is omnipotent and omniscient, then he knows which bodies will not make it to a full term, and a spirit will never be designated to receieve said body, right?”

    Ain’t religion fun?

  52. Arturo,

    I don’t think that the lifeline you’ve graciously extended to Hatch actually saves him, at least as “potential viability” goes. All living organisms, including human organisms at every stage of life, are viable if and only if they’re in a suitable environment, so I think it’s improper to speak of an embryo’s “potential viability.” An embryo _is_ viable in a suitable environment, just like a fetus, an infant, a prepubescent child, an adult, or an dying adult with dementia. In each of those stages of life the person’s viability is contingent on their environment, another way of saying location. (Location is a necessary but insufficient variable for describing an organism’s suitable environment.)

    The Supreme Court’s use of viability as a measure of the baby’s rights was unconvincing for this reason. At 24 weeks, babies are viable inside Brigham & Women’s Hospital, but they’re not viable in the Brazilian rainforest, and it doesn’t make sense to say that the baby’s *moral status* turns on and off as her mother travels back and forth from the hospital to the jungle.

  53. Arturo,

    I meant to ask where you’ve read the church’s position on IUD — IUD isn’t mentioned in the Handbook of Instructions. (I couldn’t see references to any specific form of birth control, including condoms or the Pill.)

  54. Amy Foster, those were excellent remarks. I don’t get out much either other than to work where my main conversation is what is often one numbing call after another taking reservations. Well, sometimes I do have cool conversations with coworkers.

    As a former Catholic, this position is very difficult for me. At my last knowledge, the Catholic Church was against in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination. Also, they are against abortion except for cases where a mother’s life is in danger. They are opposed to abortion for even cases of rape and incest. So I find anything less than that stance hard to swallow. If you knew the level at which this is emphasized in my 12 years of Catholic schooling, you may appreciate this. I remember an older nun saying that if she asked most people if the single cell organism of when the egg and sperm were joined were destroyed if they would still be here that people would tell her that they would not be here. So I just have to take this matters of faith and hope that I never have to be involved in such a horrible decision. Some have used the rhetoric(politicians) that this is a very pro-life act because it increases the quality of the life of the living. However, if you come from the vantage point of the Catholic Church, those words go against the core of your beliefs. You know I feel LDS in almost every other way although I long for my Catholic roots as I had great experiences. I recognize the importance of having modern day revelation and am grateful for such with such ethical and moral dilemmas facing the world. Well, I shall see if this posts as I sort of left this forum last week.

  55. I wanted to add in my Catholic upbringing, I was not taught there was such a thing as a pre-existance. I am not sure if anyone has said for sure when the spirit enters the body as far as official LDS Doctrine. However, I have the impression from what I have heard that if it is the earliest stages of pregnancy that no spirit would be assigned to rise with that body in the ressurection.

    Also, I understand why there are exceptions in rape and incest as this is where the mother was forced and did not have a choice. If it is God’s will to abort such a pregnancy, then that is the correct action to take.

    I know this is off of the original topic at hand. Maybe nobody is interested in a former Catholic’s perspective. I am sorry if that is the case. If I ever comment in the future on this forum, I will try to do so with more focus to the central ideas already present.

  56. Jeremy,

    I haven’t singled out the church for instruction on embryonic stem cell research, and have never directed my statements to the brethren.

    Jon Huntsman lobbied the church on the pro-embryonic research side, taking some of his scientists to educate the apostles. It could be that experts from my camp explained the other side, but I haven’t heard of anything, and because the church’s non-statement didn’t respond to the kinds of concerns that would have been raised by experts opposed to destroying human organisms at any stage of development, I suspect that the brethren were lobbied only by the side with a wealthy and influential Mormon proponent.

    Your “spirit” and “soul” example is good — though I don’t believe there’s a moral distinction between them precisely because we consider a soul to be a spirit in different clothing.

    Don’t worry, I know I’m no Lowell Bennion. I brought him out only because he faced the same arguments you used against me. If you believe it’s moral to fight for a cause despite God’s silence only when *you* support the cause (the distiction between Bennion and me), well, I’ll just let that speak for itself.

    Finally, I should say I’ve been stunned by how many liberal Mormons have openly objected to my advocating an issue on which the “the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have not taken a position,” but who haven’t objected to those pushing gender and family issues addressed in the Family Proclamation, which begins, “the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles SOLEMNLY PROCLAIM . . .” The disparate uses of “the brethren” card are striking, and telling.

  57. Jeremy: Au contraire, I think Matt Evans fits nicely into the Bennion mold.

    Amy: Why apologies fo sharing your opinion. Nicely done. :)

  58. Barb, thanks for your comments. The church handbook says, “there is no direct revelation on when the spirit enters the body,” so for the time being we rely on reason.

  59. I haven’t singled out the church for instruction on embryonic stem cell research, and have never directed my statements to the brethren.

    Again, I don’t want to rehash the T&S thread, but your comments there took on the tone of correcting the brethren or at least filling the void left by their silence.

    If you believe it’s moral to fight for a cause despite God’s silence only when *you* support the cause (the distiction between Bennion and me), well, I’ll just let that speak for itself.

    I never said it was immoral for you to argue (unless you do it from an assumed ecclesiastical position), just that I disagreed with the argument.

    Finally, I should say I’ve been stunned by how many liberal Mormons have openly objected to my advocating an issue on which the “the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have not taken a position,” but who haven’t objected to those pushing gender and family issues addressed in the Family Proclamation

    That’s a generalization that I don’t think applies to me. And again, I don’t agree with your advocacy but I don’t oppose it unless it takes on the tone of “It should be clear and obvious to all good Mormons that… and if you don’t agree then there’s something you don’t get about Mormonism.”

  60. Tom Manney says:

    We are afraid to end what might be human lives in order to save what we know are human lives. I don’t know if that’s admirable or idiotic.

  61. Matt, I’ve been rather unclear in my use of the term viability. Please allow me to clarify: I’m not talking about viability as a test for the embryo. I’m applying the term viability to the nurturing environment. An endometrium is, for example, a viable nurturing environment. A freezer, on the other hand, is not. This is quite separate, therefore, from the Supreme Court’s definition (which I believe is folly). The idea is that entrance into such a nurturing environment is the threshold after which we are morally obliged to protect the embryo. Before this, no particular moral significance is attached to the survival of the embryo.

    The church says nothing to differentiate IUDs from other birth control that prevents conception. Thus, for example, neither taking the pill nor using IUD prevents a temple recommend .

  62. Tom: So, should we legalize the drinking of blood? Accoring to legends, which are about as factual as conjecture re: ‘possible’ cures for ‘currently’ born beings, these could yield cures too…maybe even immortality…

  63. Tom, I would rephrase it thus:

    We are afraid to kill what we know to be fully human organisms in order to pursue technologies that might prolong the lives of other fully human organisms.

    This is especially troublesome given the existence of other promising and dilemma-free sources of stem cells, such as bone marrow and umbilical chord blood.

    Jeremy, I doubt you could find a single instance where I pretended to speak with ecclesiastical authority or suggested that those who disagreed with me weren’t good Mormons, but if you interpreted me that way, I apologize for any miscommunication on my part.

    I’ve only intended to needle people who are unable to think as clearly on the issue as I do. Their religion has nothing to do with it. : )

    Arturo, thanks for the clarification, though that position raises new questions. Researchers want the embryo to develop for up to 14 days prior to destroying it, and that development is only possible in a “viable” environment outside the freezer. According to the distinction you offered, the moral-respect threshold would seem to be met when the embryo is introduced into the environment that allows it to begin developing itself.

  64. Tom Manney says:

    No, lyle, scientific “conjecture” is far more compelling than mere superstition. Many respected medical and scientific experts see compelling possibilities for embryonic stem cell research leading to valuable life-saving treatments.
    The argument reminds me of recent creatonist attacks on the law (and it is a law) of evolution. You may not like science’s conclusions, but you can’t dispute that they are arrived at through careful thought, research and experimentation. If God Almighty ever makes a clear and straightforward statement that squarely refutes a particular scientific conclusion, I’ll gladly believe God over the scientists, but I’m not sure God has ever done that. Perhaps it’s beneath his exalted station to trvialize over the material mechanics of the universe, I don’t know, but I find that what most Christian fundamentalists (including most Mormons) construe to be the scientific facts about life are based on assumptions and questionable scriptural interpretation. Religious disputes with science are usually based on conjecture arrived at less rigorously than than those arrived at by scientific means. I’m not knocking religion, just most religious people. I think people of faith who approach issues of life more rigorously will find that God is actually quite vague on the subject.

    And, no, Matt Evans, I don’t know that they are “fully human organisms.” That is pure conjecture. ;-) I think Arturo’s point, that viability requires a nurturing environment that can foster growth, is critical. I do not believe that the leftover embryos from in vitro fertilization (the ones which will otherwise be discarded because the parents have chosen, for whatever reason, not to attempt fertilization any more) are human. They are no more human than individual sperm or unfertilized eggs. They haven’t passed the threshold of moral obligation, as Arturo puts it. If they had, wouldn’t God and the Church be up in arms over the practice of discarding embryos? The genocide of millions of humans, tossed into the incinerators of medical labs all over the world? If God considered that murder, I would think we would have heard something by now, don’t you?

  65. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    The recent articles about the Korean stem cell research breakthroughs did not mention that they had also cloned stem cells from samples of patient’s skin (see the link below). That seems like a greater breakthough to me.

  66. Hi Tom,

    Human embryos are human organisms, there’s consensus on that point; every embryology textbook says that life (as a distinct organism), begins at fertilization. An embryo is a distinct organism, whereas sperm and eggs are cells (parts) of an organism. Here’s the example I gave on the T&S thread:

    Take a horse egg with sperm cells around it. If one of those sperm cells unites with the egg, it will form a thoroughbred chestnut mare. Another sperm will create a cross-bred stallion. Another sperm will create a long-eared mule. Upon fertilization, the embryo is a thoroughbred mare, or a stallion, or a long-eared mule. That’s why embryologists say that our life begins at fertilization. That first, single cell is the first time we are who we are.

    Where people part paths isn’t regarding whether human embryos are human organisms, but on the question of whether all human organisms are equal, or have full moral rights.

  67. Floyd, that story, and many many others like it, give those of us opposed to destroying any human organisms for research purposes reason to believe we’re not sacrificing technological gains by requiring stem cells be harvested from alternative sources, as was apparently done here.

  68. Tom: So, the Word of Wisdom’s condemnation of alcohol; despite scientific studies showing it is good for the health in certain amounts/types, isn’t a direct contradiction?

  69. Matt,

    A couple of your previous comments on the subject:

    I still think that the stem-cell statement by the “First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” is so shoddy that I refuse to believe it was written by college graduates, let alone inspired prophets.

    First of all, immediately before they (I don’t know who the “they” is that wrote the statement; I’ll proceed with the assumption that it was a couple of volunteer interns from the church’s communications office) state the apostle’s position on stem-cell research – that it “merits cautious scrutiny” – they say the apostles take no position on stem-cell research. ??!!

    Second, the statement says that religious viewpoints demand that ethical guidelines be followed. Yes, and water is wet.

    . . .

    I do want the apostles to pray for revelation on this issue, it’s too important for them to just shrug their shoulders or leave it to volunteer interns to write.

    . . .

    I don’t believe this statement could possibly be inspired. It is embarrassingly bad. If anyone wants to defend the reasoning behind the statement, I’ll “explore” it with them. And Kaimi, please tell me I’ve never based an argument on a church statement this mindless.

    . . .

    Hopefully you see that I haven’t attacked modern revelation. To the contrary, I believe the current statement is so boneheaded that I can know it wasn’t written by an appostle because none of them are boneheaded. It seems to me that only someone without respect for the apostles’ capacities (and I’m not saying you’re one of them) could suggest one of them wrote this.

  70. There are two distinctions missing from the discussion. The illnesses that may be treated by successful research are either those that hinder the quality of life or cut life short.

    I don’t think anyone would argue that if a person would otherwise lead a long natural life, they would want the quality of that life to be the best it can. The question then becomes, is the destruction of possible life, or the termination of something we know has the possibility of becoming a human being worth less than another person’s comfort. In this aspect I believe it is pretty clear where we should err on the side of life and seek other ways to improve the quality of a person’s life.

    The other aspect of illness are those terminal illnesses that will lead to an early death for those who suffer them. There might be more support for research in these cases but we must still consider the value of life. Consider instead of stem cells a fully developed person or child, completely healhty, could be sacrificed to save another patient. Is it ethical to sacrifice one life for another? If this trade off is found unacceptable then how can we accept the same trade off with lesser developed people.

    Finally, there is the issue of research that may lead to prolonged life. We should seriously ask ourselves, how long do we have a right to live for. IF we can develope medicine that can allow a person to live for 1000 years or more, do we have a right to impliment it. Just because we can should we?

    Just a few thoughts on the situation.

  71. Jeremy,

    While we don’t know who from the church communication’s office wrote the statement I was critiquing, we know they weren’t speaking on behalf of the brethren because they specifically open the statement by saying the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles haven’t taken a position on the issue. My guess is that the brethren were embarrassed when they saw the statement released by the communications department, and that’s why they’ve had it removed from the church website. Most likely they decided not to hire the interns responsible.

  72. we know they weren’t speaking on behalf of the brethren because they specifically open the statement by saying the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles haven’t taken a position on the issue.


  73. Jeremy,

    The communications department, which made the statement about stem cell research, noted that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had not yet taken a position on stem cell research in order to ensure that listeners would not attribute the statement to the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

    When the brethren do announce their position on stem cell research, we can be confident it will not include the words “the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have not taken a position . . . on stem cell research.”

  74. When the brethren do announce their position on stem cell research, we can be confident it will not include the words “the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have not taken a position . . . on stem cell research.”

    I’m not at all convinved that you’re right. After all, an “official non-position” was pretty much what the brethren’s “position” on evolution was. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if the brethren don’t ever give more decisive or partisan counsel on the stem cell issue. At any rate, I might know of some churchgoing and politically liberal mormons that have been concerned or even somewhat conflicted about some of the church’s stated positions on certain issues (gay marriage, etc.), but I honestly don’t know anyone in that camp who has been as openly and downright dismissive of a church statement as you seem to be of the statement on stem cells.

    The fact that the church would make a point of articulating the brethren’s “non-position” is, to me, very telling, and suggests that the issue (and hopefully the dialogue surrounding it) transcends the binarisms (ensouled human vs. blastocyst) that generally dominate our discussions of abortion. It also suggests to me that the complexity of the subject certainly warrants more nuanced consideration than the rhetorical extrapolations that both sides sometimes indulge in. (On the left: “miracle cure worth any ethical price!”; on the right: “well we might as well start harvesting organs from six year olds then!”).

    I think what it comes down to is that you think the use of embryos is a black and white issue, and you’re awaiting the brethren’s confirmation of your position regarding where the line between black and white falls. I think the issue is a _fundamentally_ gray area, so I find confirmation of my opinion, for the time being anyway, in the brethren’s “statement of non-position.”

  75. It is amazing how the most straight-forward of statements by the Church can be twisted and interpreted to fit whatever the listener wants. I still smile when I think of Gayle Ruzicka (head of the Utah Eagle Forum who is slightly right of the John Birch Society) took it upon herself to interpret a Church statement on hate-crime legislation in Utah. After she told everyone what the Church really meant, the Church issued another statement correcting her, and re-emphasizing its original statement.

    I’m also reminded of the number of times I’ve been told that the Church has to stay politically neutral for its tax exempt status, but that it really wants us all to vote Republican. Good times.

    The statement on stem-cell research seems pretty clear to me. The day may very well come when another statement is issued that draws the line in the sand – I think no one has a problem admitting that. But in the meantime, I think I’ll take them at their word.

  76. Jeremy,

    If one believes that all human beings have equal moral worth, then one believes everything can be neatly divided into black-and-white groups: things that are my equal, and things that aren’t. Everything in the universe either is or is not my equal. If we later learn by revelation that all human organisms are children of God (our equal), then there won’t be any question how we should handle requests from the biotech industry to kill innocent and dependent children of God for scientific research.

    If we learn by revelation that human embryos aren’t children of God, or our equal, then the ethical issues of embryonic stem cell research will be more like other bioethical controversies that concern the degree to which we should seek to control nature or “play God,” but which do not raise the concern that we’re destroying full human beings.

    Jeremy and John H.,

    I agree that the apostles have not stated their position on embryonic stem cell research and that we can infer from their silence that they’ve not received revelation on the matter. (Though that inference assumes the revelation would include instruction to share it publicly.)

    What I’d like to know is who actually wrote the position on stem cell research that was read by the church, and whether they really were fired once the brethren saw their statement and removed it from the website. Other than knowing the position wasn’t from the brethren — who haven’t taken a position — we aren’t given many clues regarding the statement’s authoriship aside from the author’s use of banal statements like, “religious viewpoints demand that ethical guidelines be followed.”

    Does Sunstone have any inside sources who could provide juicy details, John?

  77. Marc Bohn says:


    I hate to burst your bubble Lylem, but it’s going to take a lot more than simply “3 new Bush appointees to the Supreme Court” to overturn Roe v. Wade. First of all, whatever Justices Bush appoints must replace Justices who support Roe v. Wade. The looming appointment to replace Rhenquist whenever he steps down will not significantly affect the Court’s make-up on the issue. And beyond that it’s no sure bet at all that Bush will have the opportunity to appoint another Justice, much less a Pro-Roe-v.-Wader (Surely you must concede that Bush’s presidency will be factored into a decision by Stevens or others to retire). And Secondly, even if Bush DOES have the opportunity to replace a Pro-Roe-v.Wader, it’s no sure bet that the replacement will vote to strike down Roe v. Wade. Supreme Court Justices have proved suprisingly hard to peg on specific issues (Especially on abortion. See Justices O’Connor, Kennedy and Souter).

  78. Seth Rogers says:

    Matt, your comment reflects legalistic American thinking and does not necessarily reflect the reality of scriptural history.

    You presume that if embryos get a legal definition as “human life” that automatically means stem-cell research is out.

    Personally, I tend to agree with you on this point. But remember that historically, human life has never been an absolute value in the eyes of God. It wasn’t an absolute value in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, the great flood, the Israelite conquest of Canaan, stoning of adulterers, etc.

    Again, I agree with you that embryonic stem cell research shouldn’t be conducted if the embryos constitute “human life.” However, God is not bound to American legalistic arguments such as:

    Human Life = an absolute prohibition on killing.

  79. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    As I was driving to a High Council assignment Sunday, I was listening to Al Kresta on Catholic radio. Leon Kass (of the President’s Council on Bioethics) was discussing alternative sources of pluripotent stem cells. He said that a white paper is scheduled to be released on the subject ( He was concerned that embryonic stem cell research was getting the lion’s share of the press to the near exclusion of other sources of stem cells. He gave several examples of adult stem cell research that had given significant results. One was the stem cells removed from the patient’s olfactory tissue were used to reverse spinal cord damage. He mentioned that a significant number of embryos prepared for in vitro fertilization were not viable. Stem cells from these dead embryos were removed and used. This process he likened to organ donation from a recently deceased person. The embryo could not continue to live on its own, but the stem cells could be harvested.

  80. lyle stamps says:

    Marc: Thanks for the non-bursting. However, given that Stevens is in poor health; and O’Connor also…3 is a fairly likely number. And if both of those appointments were pro-life; and Rehnquist’s replacement was; or even if all three were Federalism lovers…the issue would be returned to the states. Yes, it isn’t sure. Duh…this is politics. What I said was IMO, and is possible. If you don’t like my characterization as ‘likely’…fair enough. :)

  81. Saw this today on under “Mistakes in the News”:

    Embryonic Stem-Cell Research
    Lincoln Journal Star, 26 May 2005

    Misstatement: “Mormons, for example, oppose abortion, but find some embryonic stem cell research morally acceptable. According to Mormon belief, life does not begin until a human embryo attaches to the mother’s uterus after about 14 days. That is the moment, according to Mormon theology, at which the human spirit joined with human flesh and a resulting full human being is created.”

    Fact: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no official position on the moment that human life begins. Further, the Church has not taken a position on the issue of embryonic stem-cell research.

    Mistakes in the News

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