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Human Being, or Source of Spare Parts?

Saturday, September 4, 2004; Page A30

The Aug. 23 op-ed article "Facts on Stem Cells" by Ruth R. Faden and John D. Gearhart purported to be an objective look at the stem cell debate, yet all the "facts" were assembled to support embryonic stem cell research.

The controversies associated with this research were brushed aside and trivialized as fuzzy "moral values" contrasted with the "facts" of science. This was a curious approach considering that one of the authors is a biomedical ethicist, presumably conversant in the philosophical basis of human morality. Why are moral values not a valid concern? Moral values underpin much of the framework of our society.

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Disputes about moral values have led to much progress in society, including the rejection of slavery and the enactment of civil rights laws. Although much research can be conducted with embryonic stem cells, the concern is not whether we can perform this research but whether we should.

While alleviating human suffering is a noble cause, it is indisputably wrong to sacrifice one person to extend or improve the life of another person, no matter how sick or in need. The sale of human parts, such as kidneys, is banned as a moral wrong in most of the civilized world. Moral values inform both of these distinctions.

Many Americans agonize about the use of human embryos in research because this would turn human life into a commodity akin to raw material in a manufacturing process. Human life at its most vulnerable point becomes just a source of spare parts. If embryos have no objective value otherwise, what value does life later in the continuum really possess?

The only real distinction is timing. The fact that the life is "still a clump of cells invisible to the human eye" is neither persuasive nor pertinent.



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