Faith and Freedom Foundation

On the president's statement on embryonic stem-cell research

By Alan Keyes

August 18th, 2001

The president's statement on embryo stem-cell research, and the decision to fund the exploitation of the tiny bodies of human beings already destroyed, are deep disappointments to me and to many ordinary citizens who have served in the pro-life cause. If this decision and especially its rationale continue to be embraced as a victory by prominent leaders of that cause and, if they have their way, they will have put their own principles on the path to extinction. Even if there are benefits from killing the innocent, we don't have the right to derive those benefits at the expense of human dignity, and it is as simple as that.

Americans are being tempted to think that we should make moral decisions based on a calculus of costs and benefits instead of on a clear understanding of principle, and that it is licit to eat the fruit of the poisoned tree. It used to be a well-understood principle in our law that if you have obtained a profit by violating a person's rights, you may not keep your ill-gotten gains. But the policy we now follow violates this principle by approving the use of stem cells, i.e., body parts, however small, that have come from what the president called "life and death decisions already made." From now on, this government will encourage research that is only possible if human lives are, or have been, intentionally destroyed.

Even though most Americans including the president believe the killing of embryos is morally wrong, the policy means that it is a kind of good fortune, a "windfall," that some have already been killed for the sake of using their parts, and we may, without moral peril, invite the research community to see what use can be made of their remains. But there would be no such parts, if those who killed human beings to use them as lab fodder thought there would be sanctions against this barbarism.

Now we reward with government funding some who have broken the ethical code on human experimentation. Will not they and will not others now be tempted to continue pushing the ethical frontier? Have we not already heard cries from the enemies of life that there are "not enough" of these embryonic stem-cell lines for their exploitation? Market demand, and the scientific and medical "advances" (uses) that will emerge from such ruthless exploitation, will conspire to further blunt outrage over these and other practices, while increasing the pressure for supplies of embryonic specimens. The gates may be barred for now, but profit and pity will misguidedly and relentlessly beat upon them.

Before the great stem-cell research flurry, adoption of "extra" embryos was emerging among the in-vitro fertilization community as a promising option to give these tiny persons their chance to be born. But now the market push to see in embryos "property and product" is on with a vengeance. And government funding will not bring ethical regulation, it will bring subsidies and a rapidly expanding market pressure to trade in human flesh. With this policy we now have the distinction, as a regime instead of "merely" as a generation, of being morally complicit in a new slave trade. We are indeed in a brave new world.

Innocent human life will likely now be sacrificed upon utilitarian principle, and human persons reduced to the status of property. This would violate all norms of bioethical standards, including the norms that have informally and formally pertained in American in-vitro fertilization medical practices, until now. Natural death or cryo-preservation for embryonic human life has been widely respected up to this point. But human equality and the Hippocratic Oath are in danger of being cast on the ash heap of history with the full sanction, authority and, yes, international prestige of the American federal government. Now, the pressure is on to routinely relegate embryos to the status of "products," and market or otherwise exploit them. This is, of course, a long-anticipated and dreaded outcome of the logic of abortion, and an extension of the industry in human body parts it has spawned.

Even minute embryonic life has an intrinsic claim to dignity equal to that of every live human being, in whatever condition or stage of development, from the instant of creation to the instant of natural death. Neither we, ourselves, nor anyone on our behalf, has the right to transfer, sell or trade our life nor forfeit or fatally dispose of our life. Innocent life is not ours, in other words, to "consent" away. That's what it means to deem the right to life "unalienable." Parents have no natural or legal right to have a child killed "wanted" or not.

Killing embryos to use their bodies violates not sectarian theological principles, but American ones. We back away from the Declaration principle that all men are created equal when we start making up lines of demarcation between the equal people and the less equal people. Today, to suit our convenience, we contemplate placing embryonic human beings in the lab on the wrong side of the line. Meanwhile, to suit another set of conveniences, and with an unrelated set of justifications such as "privacy," we draw the line against babies in the womb. And when abortion and embryo-harvesting have helped us get used to basing the boundary of humanity on accidents of time and place, we will move on to draw other lines, as the false logic of apparent utility shall reveal them to us.

The crucial battle that must be fought now is not against diseases of the body, however urgent that battle may be. It is the battle to make the new world of technological possibility safe for human dignity. To do this, we must act in the light shed by the Declaration of Independence, that we are all of us created equal, and that no scientific board, or councils of elders, or court or any other human power gets to decide and impose a view of inequality based on benefits they hope to derive from where the line is drawn. In the long and dark past of humanity, when self-interest has been put in competition with principle, principle has all too often lost. If we, in our time, acquiesce in such line-drawing, instead of posting a principled "no-trespassing" sign in defense of all human offspring, we will have darkened our future immeasurably.

Originally published at WorldNetDaily.