Scott Tibbs
Published by the Hoosier Project, 07-16-2001

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Stem cell research not acceptable

On March 21, 1997, I was officially diagnosed with cancer. I had suspected my body harbored the disease from warning signs it exhibited in the weeks leading up to my surgery, and the urologist who removed the diseased organ strongly suspected cancer when he ordered the operation two days earlier. While the diseases that scientists believe stem-cell research would find treatments for don't affect me directly, it is my history with a life-threatening disease that makes me particularly interested in this debate.

The moral questions are indeed complex. Even staunch pro-life advocates are arguing amongst themselves over whether or not to destroy human embryos to harvest the stem cells some scientists claim are so valuable for medical research.

Many people would find it very difficult to look at someone suffering from Parkinson's disease or a spinal chord injury and tell them that we should not proceed with the research that may cure their ailment. Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman wrote that people "who may not identify with a desperately pregnant woman in search of an abortion find themselves siding with a desperately sick person in search of a cure." In fact, actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed in an accident a few years ago, has filed a lawsuit to force federal funding for stem cell research.

But while stem cell research may hold promise to cure diseases and injuries, we must remember the principles that our nation is founded on. No one person is more valuable than another is and each person has "certain inalienable rights", which along with liberty and the pursuit of happiness, includes life. In fact, without life, all other liberties are worthless, because if someone's life is not protected, they cannot possibly enjoy any other liberty.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) said, "Stem-cell research is pro-life. It will save lives, not take them." If only this was true, there would be no problem with stem-cell research. A principle of the pro-life movement is that every human life is valuable and must be protected from destruction. The human embryos that are destroyed in harvesting stem cells aren't just random cells taken form someone's body, but a living human being that, given time, shelter, and nutrition, will develop through the various stages of life. An embryo is simply a stage of life, just like a toddler, a teenager, or a senior citizen, and has a completely unique DNA code from the moment he or she is formed. The only biological difference between an embryo and a five-year-old is that the five-year-old has had more time to develop, and has received the nutrition, shelter and care needed to get that far. This is true whether the embryo is formed through sexual intercourse or through scientific intervention in a test tube.

Following the horrors of Josef Mengele's research on live human subjects in Nazi Germany, the 1947 Nuremberg Code declared that voluntary consent is "absolutely essential" when dealing with human test subjects. But how is it possible to get "consent" from a human being who isn't developed enough to be self-aware, much less able to logically weigh the societal benefits of the experiment with their own situation?

Opposition to stem cell research can bring cries such as the following: "You have no compassion! How dare you put your moralistic views above the needs of sick people! Not everyone believes an embryo is a person!" Of course, it's eminently provable that an embryo is a member of the human species, just at a different stage of life, so the "no compassion" argument can be thrown right back at stem-cell research supporters. The ability to feel pain or think also shouldn't be a factor in protecting innocent human life, because people can always be anesthetized before they are killed and because the lives of severely mentally retarded people are protected too. "Ethicists" like Peter Singer may disagree on protecting the mentally retarded, but then again Singer supports bestiality.

It's important to note that if President Bush does indeed keep his campaign promise and protect newly formed human beings from destruction at the hands of "scientists", he is not eliminating stem-cell research as a possible method of finding treatments for Alzheimer's or spinal cord injuries. Scientists are now exploring ways to use adult stem cells, as well as stem cells harvested from umbilical cords. We simply need to be patient and thoughtful, and support life-affirming science, not life-destroying "science".