Human Embryos Merit Protection

Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer, OMI
Reprint with permission

Once again the human embryo is at great risk. Once again the sanction of American law is being sought for the embryo's willful destruction.

The most recent danger arises from a move to repeal or relax the existing congressional ban on the use of federal funds for research involving the production or destruction of human embryos. This ban was enacted in January 1996 in response to the then-increasing pressure to use human embryos as a source of cells and tissues to test their usefulness.

Since the process of extracting the desired stem cells is simultaneously the destruction of the embryo, legal sanction is being sought to destroy living human embryos for research and possible therapeutic purposes. But this recommendation clearly violated the letter and intent of the congressional ban on the destruction of human embryos and on all research dependent on their destruction.

Experiments with human stem cells are not per se moral violations of the sanctity of human life. The moral status of such experiments centers on the sources of these cells and the methods by which they are produced and procured.

The method being recommended tu use so-called "spare" human embryos that were produced in excess of the number needed for infertility treatment and then cryopreserved cannot be justified morally for any reason.

The embryo is a living human being, a unique individual person whose genetic identity is in place and whose process of embryological and human development is already set in motion. As a member of the human species, the embryonic human being has a special moral status and a moral claim on all of us for protection.

Stem cells need not be embryonic cells to be useful. Other studies indicate that it is possible for adult stem cells to recapture their pluripotentiality and develop into other tissues. Our government should generously support research into the use of stem cells from legitimate alternative sources to alleviate human disease.

Once again, it is clear that science and ethics need not be antagonists. Ethical consideration ought to precede science and its research. Science within reasonable ethical guidelines has the capacity to serve humanity; science without legitimate ethical constraints sacrifices humanity to its own ingenuit.