If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you know that President Bush recently vetoed another bill that allocated funding to research on embryonic stem cells saying that “Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical.”
This is a disappointing development that is apparently backed by faulty reasoning. If Bush were really so opposed to the destruction of embryos, then he should be actively campaigning for an end to in vitro fertilization (IVF), which would serve as the source of embryos for the research that this bill concerns. What is so immoral about using cells from embryos that would otherwise be discarded to help cure diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s? Since the act of destroying embryos by itself isn’t worth Bush’s attention, why is using them to help others so immoral? There doesn’t seem to be any reasoning behind this view.
Further down, there is another argument that lies at the heart of many pro-life mindsets, and that is that anything that can be defined as a human life somehow has intrinsic value that should not be breached. This is the view behind the idea that abortion of any sort is murder, as human embryos can be defined as human life and thus should be treated as if they were people.
While such a view is internally consistent (it would be nothing short of embarrassing if such a popular and influential view were not) and understandable if one takes simplistic view of morality and value, it is flawed. Value is given by circumstance, not by definition, and the circumstances surrounding human embryos are most certainly different than those surrounding newborns, children, adolescents, and adults. For one thing, early embryos lack a nervous system, making them unable to feel, think, or desire anything.
Another difference is that not nearly as many resources are needed to arrive at an embryo as are needed to arrive at a newborn. Basically, all that is needed is one egg cell to be successfully fertilized by a sperm cell. In the case of IVF, this is achieved in a lab, though the act is more conventionally initiated in the bedroom. What is produced is a cell that multiplies, creating a ball of cells. This organism, while technically human, is capable of little.
For visual purposes, this is a microscopic view of an 8-celled embryo courtesy of Wikipedia:
The value of this organism lies completely in its potential. If, as in the case of IVF, multiple embryos are created and some are unused by the owners, the potential for these embryos to become human beings will go untapped. Of course, this is not to say that these embryos become valueless. These embryos are made of stem cells, which have the potential to differentiate into any type of human cell possible, which gives them great value in the realm of stem cell research.
This brings us back to the original topic. By throwing out these embryos, we are discarding something of great potential value. And so, by saying that vetoing this funding bill it is Bush that is pushing the immoral position and that is to destroy something that could be made useful in the medical field.