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Life, Law and Logic: Unpacking the Stem Cell Debate

Contact: Ken Connor, Center for a Just Society, 202-374-9774


WASHINGTON, July 21 /Christian Newswire/ -- Ken Connor (Bio), Chairman of the Center for a Just Society, submits the following for publication and is available for interviews:


Life, Law and Logic: Unpacking the Stem Cell Debate
by Ken Connor

Americans who value human dignity received mixed news last Tuesday. There was good news: the Senate passed a bill that bans "fetal farming", a practice where scientists create human embryos for the purpose of harvesting "spare parts." Then there was bad news: the Senate approved a bill that would allow Federal money to support embryonic stem cell research. In other words, scientists could kill "excess" human embryos and use the remains in research funded by taxpayer money.

It gets worse. The bill permitting embryonic stem cell research passed 63 to 37, which means some supposedly pro-life Republican senators voted in favor of the unethical research. It is painful to read the flawed moral reasoning these senators used to reach their decisions. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is probably the most disappointing. His speeches and op-eds are logically incoherent. Here's how Senator Frist starts his recent Washington Post op-ed: "I am pro-life. I recognize that human life begins at conception..." So far, so good. A few lines down he says: "Each human embryo represents a nascent, genetically distinct human life and thus has tremendous moral significance." He's got that right! But then the next sentence says: "Because they have a property called pluripotence—the ability to become almost any other type of body cell—embryonic stem cells could eventually help treat spinal cord injuries, mitigate diabetes, repair damaged organs, relieve pain and preserve lives." (emphasis mine)

Talk about cognitive dissonance! One minute he is talking about the "tremendous moral significance" of every embryo, the next he is salivating over what might be done if these embryos are killed and cannibalized. On the one hand Senator Frist is saying "I am pro-life and I believe life starts at conception." On the other hand, he is effectively saying, "But, I support killing human embryos for research." Though he spends little time trying to reconcile these ideas, the closest he comes to finding justification for his ethical leap is when he says he only favors killing embryos left over from in vitro fertilization that are "ready to be discarded and destroyed." Senator Frist hopes "we can redeem this loss of life in part by using these embryos to seed research that will save lives in the future."

If Senator Frist truly believes that human lives are frequently "discarded and destroyed" in fertility clinics, one would expect that his first impulse would be to write a bill outlawing the practice. As a Senator, Frist's responsibility is to work toward the establishment of just laws, not to find creative ways to capitalize off of injustice. He would do well to recall the timeless moral principle, "Do not do evil that good may result." (See, Romans 3:8) In other words, we should not promote evil, even when it comes in handy.

Senator Orin Hatch's position is equally flawed. Senator Hatch has long been a pro-life champion in the Senate. He even sponsored a constitutional amendment once to overturn Roe v. Wade. At the same time, however, Hatch has become one of the most vocal supporters of embryonic stem cell research. How does he reconcile these positions? He simply denies the humanity of certain embryos. At various times, Hatch has said, "I believe that life begins in a mother's womb, not in a science lab," and "human life begins in the womb, not a petri dish or refrigerator."

Hatch's logic is specious. If human embryos made in labs are not human life, what are they? They are clearly human. They are clearly alive. Why, then, are they not human life? Hatch says it is because they are not in a mother's womb. He thinks the embryo's location is determinative of its humanity. What nonsense! Where we are does not determine what we are. Our essential nature does not change based on our location. The moral law is clear: we should value every human being—regardless of age, size and location—and treat no one as a means to our selfish ends. Senator Hatch's requirement that the embryo be in a mother's womb before it is worthy of protection is an artificial and irrational requirement.

Of course, these two senators are not alone. Other supposedly pro-life members of congress, including John McCain and Trent Lott, voted in favor of the unethical research. Obviously, dozens of pro-abortion senators joined suit, but this is no surprise. We are accustomed to absurd arguments from these men and women, though we must still attempt reasoned dialogue with even the most vigorous pro-abortion senators. Yet when those who typically defend life and who should know better fall into utilitarian reasoning, it is especially disappointing.

Thankfully, President Bush has stepped in and rightly vetoed this poorly conceived bill. The fact that the President would use his first veto on this sends an important message, one that is deeply appreciated. On Wednesday President Bush announced the veto surrounded by eighteen small children. He summed up the argument against embryonic stem cell research beautifully: "we must...remember that embryonic stem cells come from human embryos that are destroyed for their cells. Each of these human embryos is a unique human life with inherent dignity and matchless value. We see that value in the children who are with us today. Each of these children began his or her life as a frozen embryo that was created for in vitro fertilization, but remained unused after the fertility treatments were complete. Each of these children was adopted while still an embryo...These boys and girls are not spare parts. They remind us of what is lost when embryos are destroyed in the name of research. They remind us that we all begin our lives as a small collection of cells. And they remind us that in our zeal for new treatments and cures, America must never abandon our fundamental morals."

To which we reply with a hearty, "Amen!"