Friday, March 09, 2012

Pepsi with a Twist of Fetus

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Several times in the last few months I have seen FB peeps write things like "Company XYZ uses aborted babies to make their product! Ewww! Boycott!" and link to articles like this one. And every time, John and I talk about this and get all riled up, and usually I post some links, and then people end up telling me that I am not a Christian and I probably enjoy eating aborted babies.

Mmm! Tastes like chicken!

Or Pepsi. Whatever.

So I'm going to put it all out there, because I'm not 100% sure what I think, but I am hoping that I can have a conversation from a Christian perspective with people who won't accuse me of enjoying eating dead babies. Mmmmkay?

So, what's actually happening?

A novel line of HEK293 expresses a fluorescent green protein. Kinda pretty.
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In the 1970s, a woman had an abortion. Or a miscarriage. We actually don't know which it was, but many assume it was an abortion. If it was an abortion, we have no idea if it was elective or induced miscarriage (meaning the baby had died but the miscarriage process had not started, so drugs were given to force the fetus to be expelled before infection developed.)

With her consent, the fetus was retained and used by scientist to harvest the kidney cells.

Those kidney cells had part of their DNA modified and now are "immortalized" (think of this as self-sustaining and/or not dying.) Since the 1970s, those modified cells have been around and continue to "reproduce" themselves. The particular line of cells described in the article above is known as HEK293. You can read about the actual process of developing that line of cells here.

Since the line was developed in the 70s, the cells have been used for many purposes. Basically, the researchers can use the cells to "grow" various kind of human cells, allowing them to research all sorts of things like disease processes, medications, etc. In this article, the scientists are using the HEK293 to develop taste-receptor cells (like what we have on our tongue). Those taste-receptors are used to test flavor additives for Pepsi's products.

So, this brings up a few different moral issues:

  • Abortion
  • The use of aborted fetal tissues for research
  • The use of genetically-modified aborted fetal tissues for research
  • The use of genetically-modified aborted fetal tissues for profit
  • The reporting of this scientific process in this article
  • "Blaming" the Obama administration for "allowing" this process
Here's my take on these issues.

Abortion: I believe it is wrong- that it is killing a human life.. You don't have to agree with me, that's fine. But that is an important thing to know if you are going to discuss the moral implications of the use of aborted fetal tissue. Of course, abortion and induced miscarriage are very different things. And we really don't know which one is involved here.

The use of aborted fetal tissues for research: If aborted fetal tissues were being harvested and used right now, I would have a real issue with it since we have significantly better ways of obtaining human cells for research. However, HEK293 cells were harvested in the 70s (when we didn't know about other methods of obtaining cells). We know that the mother did not chose abortion solely for the purpose of cell harvesting and she consented to the use in science. 

If the cells being used were from any other source than an abortion (ie- from a miscarriage, cord blood, peripheral blood stem cell harvest), I would be okay with their use. So does the fact that a woman (potentially) made a decision that I don't agree with make the use of these cells immoral? 

What about other uses of human cells post-mortum? I am okay with cadaver organ and tissue transplants. I'm okay with donating your body to science. And neither of those choices are dependent on whether the donor died under murderous or evil circumstances.  

If something evil happens (abortion), can God then redeem the situation? Can good come from evil? According to Genesis 50:20 "You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people who are alive today because of what happened." 

I'm going with the same line I use when it comes to adoption: It's a horrible and evil thing when children are robbed of their parents through death or other circumstances, but God can use that situation- can redeem that situation- and bring good from it. Should we cooperate in the evil (abortion)? No. But can we look for and expect good to come from it? Yes.

Not everyone agrees. This is a very interesting article from a Catholic view of the creation of the cell line. On the other hand, the Vatican also argues that the use of human embryonic cell lines for the creation of vaccines was morally okay because of the amount of good that comes from vaccines.*** So even the Catholic Church seems divided on the use of these types of cells.

The use of genetically-modified aborted fetal tissues for research: For me, the big distinction here is that the cellular DNA has been modified from the original fetal cells... if you compare the DNA of HEK293 to the DNA of the fetus, they are actually different. I feel a lot more comfortable saying that the use of these cells is okay because we are not using the cells that God loving knit together for the purpose of creating human life, but rather modified cells. 

I mean, if we took a human fetus and removed part of the DNA and replaced it with dog DNA, would we say this is a human made in God's image? 

I couldn't resist putting this picture in this post. I think it's hilarious.
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No, of course not! This is kind of the same thing... the DNA has been altered so that this is not true "human" DNA- this is not "image-bearer" DNA- this is not "sacred". I am okay with using these cells for research.

The use of genetically-modified aborted fetal tissues for profit: I want to be indignant about this, but what it comes down to is this: I see no problem with the use of these cells for research, so why should I be upset if they are used for profit? I am okay with people using stem cells and human embryonic cell lines for profit in general- for instance, pharmaceutical companies use stem cells to develop cancer treatments and we know Big Pharma is rolling in the dough.... but I still am thankful for chemo!

So if it's okay to use these cells for profit for something I "approve" of, then why wouldn't it be okay to use these cells for profit for something frivolous?

The reporting of this scientific process in this article: I think this article is very misleading in the way it reports the scientific process. The headlines are sensationalized. The quotes chosen from the interviewees are inflammatory. The article fails to report that the use of HEK293 is ubiquitous in general research and is, in fact, a standard research tool for researching flavor enhancers and additives. That is why the SEC ruled that there was no need for a special disclosure of the use of these cells. 

"Blaming" the Obama administration for "allowing" this process: In 2001, George W. Bush sanctioned the use of HEK293 for research. So it's interesting to me that the Obama administration is taking heat for not forcing PepsiCo to divulge the use of HEK293 to it's stakeholders. The SEC was, in my opinion, correct; it would be very difficult for most people to understand the nature of HEK293 and how it was derived as well as it's specific use in research. 

Long story short: I am okay with the use of these cells. I can even understand why some do not agree with their use and would boycott Pepsi. 

But this article is crap. 

What about you? Do you think the use of human embryonic cells is okay? Would you boycott Pepsi? What about other products that use HEK293 for research (medications, etc)?


***Yes, this is on the Children of God for Life website, and their Executive Director is quoted in the Pepsi-fetus article. Interesting, no?

1 comment:

theadoptedones said...

I'm fine with using it. I am fine with donating my body to science - I won't be here anymore. I think it helps that I grew up with a doctor for a dad though.

The article was very biased as you correctly pointed out - not only to President Obama when it was President Bush's mandate to maintain the 60 stem cell lines already in existence.

Further, it is highly doubtful that the original fetus was an induced abortion of a healthy fetus, as no doctor/hospital would have done an induced abortion (other than if the fetus had already died) in 1970 before Roe vs Wade and then used the fetus for documented science...as it would have been a criminal offense and they would have presented evidence of their own crime. Hopefully that made sense.

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