Jewish World Review May 27, 2005 / 18 Iyar,
Stem cell reasoning
The Kansas City Star, editorializing about the president's
threat to veto the stem cell bill passed by the House, described human
embryos as the "excess products of fertility procedures." The Los Angeles
Times, contemptuous of the president's ethical misgivings, declared: "It's
not a choice between a human life and an embryo's life. It's a choice
between real human lives and a symbolic statement about the value of an
The New York Times and others object that majorities in public
opinion polls support this research. Is that how we should evaluate moral
claims? Majorities also support the judges Bush has nominated, and yet the
Times has gone gooey for the "rights" of minority senators and the sanctity
of the filibuster.
Critics of the president's position frequently charge that Bush
is influenced by religious belief and that, therefore, his objections to
stem cell research are illegitimate. The New York Times is the master of
this argument. In an editorial titled "The President's Stem Cell Theology,"
the paper asserts that "his actions are based on strong religious beliefs on
the part of some conservative Christians, and presumably the president
himself. Such convictions deserve respect, but it is wrong to impose them on
this pluralistic nation."
Let's have a show of hands: Who thinks the New York Times would
object to a president who, say, endorsed unrestricted immigration on moral
grounds? Would the Times chide such a president for imposing his private
religious sentiments on "this pluralistic nation"? Hardly.
It isn't moral reasoning the Times and other liberal organs
dislike, it is moral reasoning that threatens to pinch. Advocates of
unlimited stem cell research believe or hope that this science will bring
early cures to diseases like diabetes and Parkinson's. Everyone hopes for
such breakthroughs though level-headed scientists caution against overly
optimistic expectations from this line of inquiry. Yet morally serious
people cannot focus only on the imagined cures and ignore the hard facts
about destroying or cloning human embryos.
The suggestion, repeated so often in the press, that only
conservative Christians oppose stem cell research, is simply false. One
influential voice against the practice belongs to William Kristol. As editor
of The Weekly Standard, he has offered moral objections to stem cell
research, euthanasia, abortion and other assaults on the sanctity of life.
Kristol is Jewish, but his arguments are couched in non-sectarian indeed,
in non-religious terms.
Steve Chapman, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, dispensed with
the sectarian argument in his title: "You don't have to be a believer to
think there is something wrong with destroying human life, however
Yes, it's difficult to think of human embryos ("entities") as
members of the human family. But those tiny dots, no larger than the period
at the end of this sentence, if implanted in a woman's womb, will not grow
up to be paragraphs or essays, but full-term infant boys and girls.
An embryo does not look like a baby, but that is part of the
miracle of creation (or reproduction, if you're looking at it clinically).
Surely the stem cell enthusiasts can recognize, if they reflect on it, that
denying the humanity of others is at the root of countless atrocities in
And yes, many of these potential human beings are being
destroyed at fertility clinics around the nation. That is wrong. But using
them for medical research does not mitigate that wrong, it compounds it.
Even if destroying embryos were certain to bring a cure for grave diseases
(and it is far from certain), it is never justified to use one human
being or even potential human being as a source of spare parts for
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.