Wasting Embryos


The Caller to

May 26, 2005

Stem Cell

KEMC’s Marvin Granger
hosts a call-in program called, “Your Opinion, Please”. Tonight’s
first caller addressed the stem cell research bill pending in
Congress. He called the vote, “the most important…ever”.
(Historians would shudder.) He supports stem cell research. The vote
could hardly be called the most important ever because it is sure to
be vetoed by President Bush. That makes the vote practically
meaningless, and meaningless things are, by definition, unimportant.
Granger tried to point this out to the caller, unsuccessfully. Maybe
the caller means that stem cell research is the most important thing
ever undertaken by human beings. He suggested that the treatment of
disease was paramount. Maybe that is what he means by “most
important”. Also, this bill only affects federal funding, a small
part of the scene in biomedical research. Private labs and foreign
labs will go forward with or without US taxpayer dollars.

The caller first pointed
out the contradictory beliefs of those opposing stem research who
are, to him, the same citizens who like war in Iraq. (Basically he
meant that these citizens are happy to kill Iraqis and send soldiers
to be killed in Iraq, but unwilling to kill embryos.) Certainly
President Bush matches both criteria. He carelessly named the
religious Right as the larger group. Maybe he calls the group of
which he is a part the Darwinian, un-religious Left.

The caller said all these
embryos would just go to waste, and that using them would be a
non-crime in comparison to warring against Iraq.

One thing each person
should remember when talking about human embryos is that they started
out as an embryo. Human embryos have a higher value and status than
animal embryos, animals or insects. This status requires some

But let’s look at the
caller’s objection to waste. We allow much waste. We think it
improper to experiment on aborted, living fetuses. We waste them. In
China, the bodies of executed prisoners are sometimes harvested for
their organs. We prefer to let the bodies of executed prisoners “go
to waste”. In many European countries, the bodies of the dead
become the property of the state, to alleviate the waste of a
valuable resource. In America we do not allow hospitals to keep
basements full of newly dead, brain dead, ventilated and intubated
bodies so they can harvest skin and bone marrow for ten years. This
constitutes a great waste from a healing and economic point of view.

To say, “They’re just
going to waste”, steers our thinking into considering the 400,000
embryos as “waste” to start with. That is the first mistake we
should guard against. The second is forgetting that human dignity
already prompts us to “waste”, wisely, many human bodies and
organs that could be put to profitable use in healing and research.

Once we get comfortable
prodding, severing, cutting, tweaking and otherwise performing
research on these 400,000embryos, which come from in vitro
fertilization labs, we will likely find it important to continued
success in research to create embryos just for this purpose.
The caller would seem to approve of this, because so much medical
progress could be made toward the treatment of disease. Prudence may
necessitate stopping here in order not to be tempted to go there.

I went to the
Congressional website and read the text of the bill. It requires the
“parents” of the embryo to sign over the use of it. If scientific
progress is so imperative, why do we let the rights and interests of
the parents, or the father and mother, or the donating parties, if
you want to be so crass, get in the way? The use of the term
“parents” puts this matter in quite a different light, too, at
least for me.


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