Stem cell lecture cites religion

Even though he was asked beforehand to omit it, religious figure Dr. David Menton still cited a Bible verse at the end of his stem cell research presentation April 11, sponsored by the Student Nurses Organization.

The lecture left some baffled as to whether Menton’s logic was fact or opinion.

Menton is from the organization “Answers in Genesis,” which states that it seeks to expose the bankruptcy of evolutionary ideas.

He began his lecture at Northern Kentucky University with the question “when does life or a person begin? Life doesn’t begin in the womb. Science says all life comes from previous existing life; it’s a continuum, a continuum from when life first began, whether by a creator or a chance process. Life has a continuum and since then should never be interrupted.”

According to Menton, embryonic stem cells come from living embryos, must be created and destroyed and are pluripotent (have the ability to make every cell type in the body). Extra embryos used from invitro fertilization will die if thawed out and also raise ethical questions when used for research.

Adult stem cells can come from tissue or umbilical blood, don’t involve creating and destroying embryos, are multipotent (have the ability to make a variety of types of tissues), and are ethical.

Menton listed three problems with the usage of embryonic stem cells: risk during egg donation (hormonally induced ovulation), requirement of a life-long use of drugs to prevent rejection of tissue and the possibility of the stem cells producing tumors from rapid growth when injected into adult patients.

On the other hand, Menton said adult stem cells can use a person’s own cells, eliminating the need for a donor. He said these cells don’t result in tissue rejection, can treat over 70 diseases and can be found in areas such as bone marrow or hair follicles. Menton brought up the possibility of using SHED stem cells, which are stem cells from human exfoliated deciduous teeth. These cells are from babies’ teeth; one can even “bank” those teeth or save them.

Menton ended his lecture with a Bible verse from Psalm 139:13-14, which stated “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Sarah Haines, a junior liberal studies major at NKU, said the lecture was informative but very opinionated. “I thought most of his comments about religious views and ethics were more of an opinion than factual,” she said. “I don’t know whether to believe his facts, which were more opinionated, or things I’ve read in books. So now I’m more confused coming out of the lecture than when I went in.”

Nursing major and president of the Student Nurses Association Molly Krumm said when she had signed off on scheduling the lecture she hadn’t realized Menton was with Answers in Genesis. “As a student of higher education, I think it’s important to keep an open mind and have a lot of knowledge about different topics, but unfortunately, in this presentation, I think it was very skewed with his opinions,” she said of the lecture. “Facts were made and I didn’t know where they came from.”

Krumm also added that the Student Nurses Association had specifically asked Menton not to put the bible verse at the end of the lecture.

Adele Dean, an assistant professor at the school of Nursing and Health professions, said parts of the presentation were interesting, such as the differentiation between adult and embryonic stem cell use, but thought it was given at a rather low level of content. “I felt like this talk may have been something he used for lay audiences,” Dean said. “For nursing and biology students and faculty, this may have been a little disappointing, if not insulting.”

Professor Charles Hawkins, the chair of Physics and Geology, had sent out an e-mail to his fellow chairs addressing the appropriateness of Menton as a lecturer. Hawkins questioned if it was ok to control the activities of student organizations.

“When I first saw this notification in the midweek that Dr. Menton was going to speak and that he was associated with Answers in Genesis, my concern was that this is a religious organization,” Hawkins said. “This (Student Nurses Association) was a student organization that is science or applied science related and the way the announcement was phrased made it look as though the organization was endorsing this person. When it looks as though a science organization is endorsing a religious speaker, then I have an issue with it.”

Hawkins said that it’s important not to leave the appearance that the science-related organization is endorsing a religious or political speaker.

“Looking at (Menton’s) background on the Web site, he has many years of experience in the medical field so apparently he’s qualified from what I can tell,” Hawkins said. “My concern is more to do with his affiliation with Answers and Genesis, which upholds very definite religious views rather than medical or scientific views.”

In response, Menton said that religion can be interpreted very broadly and doesn’t necessarily involve the concept of God, listing Buddhism as one that does not incorporate God. He also asked why someone should be concerned about his philosophical world views.

Hawkins said he felt much better after the Student Nurses Association told him that its goal was to have another speaker come to NKU to articulate another viewpoint.

Dr. Margaret Anderson, the chair of the Nursing and Health professions, said the student nursing organization is trying to understand the backgrounds of all people. Students may work with anyone once they leave NKU, and they need to understand the different viewpoints that people have on a variety of subjects, Anderson said.

Dr. David Williams, director of the Division of Experimental Hematology at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, is scheduled to speak Sept. 19 at NKU to shed a different light on the topic.