Timothy J. Atchison, a 21-year-old nursing student in Alabama was involved in a tragic car accident on September 25, 2010, which left him paralyzed from the chest down. Atchison says that while he lay at the accident scene he asked God’s forgiveness and thanked Him for preserving his life, and promised, “From here on out, I’m going to live for you and nothing else.” That he survived is indeed a testimony that God has more plans for his young life. That he turned his heart and mind toward God in the first minutes after his accident is a grace bestowed on him, and possibly a reflection of Christian upbringing (or at least exposure to the Truth). His upbeat, positive outlook of “God keeping me up” shows a right orientation toward the One who gave him life, and the Only One able to sustain it.
However, young Atchison, T.J. as he is known to those closest to him, sadly is mistaken, already, in what God’s plans for him seem to be.
T.J. has become the first U. S. patient to receive trial treatment for a spinal cord injury with a drug made from human embryonic stem cells – human embryos, the earliest stages of development of the human person, the human child, after conception.
The Washington Post has done two articles on the young man and the procedure, which in laboratory rats using their species’ embryonic stem cells have shown promise, i.e., they regained the ability to move. The first article, in which T. J.’s identity was revealed, detailed the history and background to this first-ever procedure: how the United States’ Food and Drug Administration gave permission to Geron Corporation of Menlo Park, California to test the procedure on 10 patients; that the 2 million nerve cells infused into his spinal cord were cells were “obtained from days old embryos left over from fertility treatments” (although it does not say from how many embryos these cells were derived); that 7 sites were selected and staff there trained, including the Shepherd Center, a spinal cord rehabilitation facility in Atlanta, Georgia where T.J. was transferred after his initial emergency care had taken place; that the criteria for a patient was chest-down paralysis within 2 weeks of onset; that the main goal of the trial is to assess safety while also testing if any sensation and movement are restored. The article does note that spinal cord injury patients often improve with standard therapies, and that the injuries themselves are unpredictable, therefore it will be difficult to determine if the embryonic stem cells have contributed to any progress the patient makes.
While not quoting individuals, the author also notes the controversy over the use of embryonic stem cell treatment as presenting both moral and ethical conflicts.
In the second article, T. J. reveals his belief that being asked to take part in this trial was God’s will: “It wasn’t just luck or chance…. It was meant to be.”
How exciting it must have been for T.J. and his family to learn of a revolutionary new procedure, in which he would make medical history just by participating, that might cure him – give him back his freedom to move of his own volition, really, to give him back life as he once knew it. How understandable it is that he might have thought, “I prayed. Then they came to me with a solution. It must be God’s will.”
And how very difficult it is to say, “ You’re correct: this opportunity is not luck or chance. It is temptation, son, and no, this is not God’s will for you.”
It is necessary to look at what Pope John Paul II referred to in Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) as “innocuous” and “ambiguous” terminology “which distract attention from the fact that what is involved is the right to life of an actual human person.” (EV,11).
Here’s another way of reading the various passages in these two articles, with an eye toward revealing what the terms really mean:
“…embryonic stem cells obtained from days old embryos left over from fertility treatments…”
“…young, human child cells obtained from days old children left over from fertility treatments…” (emphases/underlining mine)
“…moral objections to research using the cells because human embryos are destroyed to obtain them…”
“…moral objections to research using the cells because human children are destroyed to obtain them…” (emphases mine)
Given the rhetoric presented to him, no wonder T.J. could say,
“It’s not life. It’s not like they’re coming from aborted fetuses or anything like that. They were going to be thrown away. Once they explained to me where the stem cells were coming from, once I learned that, I was okay with it.”
Really? The Gospel of Life tells us that “abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence…” (EV, 58). This is ~exactly~ what an embryo is! A standard embryonic stem cell is taken from a child, an embryo, approximately 5-7 days old. The only way to extract the stem cells is through the killing of this newly-formed human being.
While T.J. may not have been truthfully informed of the basis for the treatment he received, nonetheless the act remains gravely serious. Due to the sins of their parents and others, the least among us – children in their embryonic stage of life, are now the fruit of and fodder for human scientific manipulation instead of the loving embrace of their mother and father. Created but not claimed by their parents, IVF leads to embryonic stem cell research. Sin begets sin. All who share in the process share in the responsibility for it. What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground. Perhaps if it were explained in the terms used above, T.J. may have decided differently. I would certainly give this young man, with young faith, the benefit of the doubt.
Pray for T. J.’s recovery, and for God’s will to truthfully unfold in his life.