Debates about embryonic stem cell research are ongoing. The issue has turned many so-called pro-lifers into virtual high priests for the culture of death. But whether the folly is coming from Hillary Clinton or Arlen Specter, let’s look at how destroying human embryos for scientific advancement is “justified.”

One argument for human embryos’ destruction pops up often – the argument that these embryos aren’t alive. As such, proponents say, they have no right to exist unharmed. I, however, disagree. The idea that human embryos aren’t alive ignores our modern understanding of biology.

Human embryos undergo the processes that define forms of life. Among these are assimilation of nutrients, a form of respiration, excretion, etc. Even a fertilized ovum, let alone a more developed human embryo, begins to divide and starts the first phases of life. So, if life doesn’t begin at conception, where life functions occur and when we are chromosomally complete, where does it begin?

Certainly not at birth since the fetus has had for some time a mind, a beating heart and extra-natal viability – surely not at some nebulous point after conception where cells are dividing and teeming with life. No, the time to consider a human being alive, logically and biologically, is at conception. This, however, makes embryonic stem cell research murder.

This aside, many stem cell research supporters still deny that embryos are alive. I think, however, there’s reason to doubt that they are sincere in their denial. To illustrate this point, I shall propose something horribly asinine and ridiculous like using human embryos to test chemicals, or to use as frisbees. Even those who insist that embryos are lifeless objects, would be offended and angered by these proposals. Yet why do these proposals sound so offensive? Because using human embryos for asinine purposes would be a frivolous waste of life. But, if embryos are mere lifeless objects, as is often asserted, then it wouldn’t be morally wrong at all to toss them around, destroy them arbitrarily or test chemicals on them. If embryos were lifeless, then we could treat them like other inanimate objects. Yet the extent of the revulsion that meets such suggestions reveals that even proponents of embryonic stem cell research do regard these entities as life.

On the other hand, other supporters of stem cell research agree that human embryos are alive, but say we should still destroy them for science. They say the frozen embryos are simply going to eventually die – be thrown out – anyway, so “why not put them to good use?” To me, it’s horrific to think if something is just going to die anyway, that we may destroy it for science. By this logic I could take an old man off the street, chop him up, harvest his organs and offer them to people needing transplants. I mean, hey, it saved lives and he was just going to die anyway, right? Ridiculous. There’s no other area of life to which we would apply this reasoning. Why do it here?

Now, some would grant that embryos are alive, but the reason we can still apply the “they are going to die anyway” standard to embryos and not to an old man on the street is because these are two different kinds of life.

Some say, it’s a different thing to talk about life as a glob of cells inside between a petri dish, and life as a person with life experience living in the real world. I mean, aren’t there different kinds of human life, such that we can treat different kinds of life differently?

Far from it, I say. I’d like to point out how dangerous this view actually is. Once you abandon the idea that innocent human life of any kind is sacrosanct, precious and worthy to live, then you’ve opened the door to a new world of horrors.

Once you start to differentiate forms of human life and assign different values to each, you welcome euthanasia, eugenics and genocide.

If the right to life isn’t inalienable for all innocent human beings, then the same logic allowing you to think, “this embryo’s life isn’t worth the same as the man on the streets,” will allow you to think things like, “this infant is brain damaged, let’s put it out of its misery.”

It will allow you to believe “this old woman is a burden to herself and others – her life isn’t worth the same as ours, so let’s euthanize her for her own good” or “this is a minority, who will face undue hardship – let’s assist in this person’s suicide in order to spare him the pain.”

You may gasp, how can I equate stem cell research with euthanasia and genocide? It’s simple – only the hard and fast rule that all innocent human life is worth saving will disallow the logic that justifies atrocities against human beings. Start differentiating forms of life, calling them different kinds of life that get different treatment, and the dominos will fall, resulting in a disregard for different kinds of life.

A related point – it’s interesting how the political right uses death as a type of punishment and the political left uses death as a kind of gift. A Republican will suggest that someone die for being a convicted criminal, a terrorist or an opposition soldier. Death in each case is punishment.

A Democrat will say someone should die for his own good, be he an old man with a debilitating disease awaiting euthanasia, a fetus awaiting abortion who would otherwise be born into poverty or a person in a persistent vegetative state. I insist, however, that death is never a gift. It is a means to an atrocity – embryonic stem cell research included.

Republicans endorsing stem cell research are prodigiously short-sighted and betraying their own values. And the average citizen who supports this research is sorely in error.

Mack can be reached at jmack@campustimes.org.



The Clothesline Project gives a voice to the unheard

The Clothesline Project was started in 1990 when founder Carol Chichetto hung a clothesline with 31 shirts designed by survivors of domestic abuse, rape, and childhood sexual assault.

Zumba in medicine, the unexpected crossover

Each year at URMC, a new cohort of unsuspecting pediatrics residents get a crash course. “There are no mistakes in Zumba,” Gellin says.

UR Softball continues dominance with sweeps of Alfred University and Ithaca College

The Yellowjackets swept Alfred University on the road Thursday, winning both games by a score of 5–4.