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Stem Cells: February 17, 2006
Stem Cell Questions in Missouri
Missouri’s cloning war came to the Capitol on Thursday when two Washington University scientists wrangled over research on early stem cells and the laboratory techniques used to grow them. The Kansas City Star reports the essense of their debate:
The conclusion? It comes down to whether you view the cells created by the process to be a person.Unfortunately, the question has been framed in a grossly inaccurate manner. The use of terminology is important and those predisposed to deny the value of immature humans often demean the new life by emotively representing it with characteristics erroneously not thought to be human (i.e., "clump of cells", "a group of cells in a Petri dish", etc). In doing so, an appeal is made based upon an incorrect portrayal of what the new life is, which results in a false association.
The "cells" are not just an arbitrary group of cells (e.g., blood cells) but are, by definition, a new human life possessing unique characteristics. The "clump" or "group" will not develop into a human but rather is already a human individual.
I suppose the question above could be better framed by asking, “When is a human being a person?” or “What is the value of human life?”
Robert George and Patrick Lee, in their New Atlantis article Acorns and Embryos, explain:
Each of us developed by a gradual, unified and self-directed process from the embryonic into and through the fetal, infant, child and adolescent stages of human development, and into adulthood, with his or her determinateness, unity and identity fully intact.To endorse the destruction of an immature human by classifying the individual as a group of cells is to presume that humans are valuable not because of what they are but rather because of changeable and subjective accidental characteristic such as developmental status, capability, contribution to society, etc.. To support the assertion that ESC research does not kill a human is to reject the premise that humanness is intrinsic, a principle on which equality and modern democracy are based.
George and Lee argue,
We value human beings precisely because of the kind of entities they are?. Indeed, that is why we consider all human beings to be equal in basic dignity and human rights ...As mentioned above, the language used to frame questions is important because it reveals significant presuppositions which drive the argument. The characterization of a human being as a group of cells is a false representation commonly used is used to support abortion and more recently to justify embryonic stem cell research practices involving the destruction of a human person. Intellectual honesty necessitates the rejection of such dishonest language in favor of representations that carry with it the dignity of human life, endowed by the Creator, and recognized by society.
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