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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

These are sacred, those are not
Back when Roe v. Wade was about as recent as 9/11 is to us, Carl Sagan wrote the following:

The argument about the “potential” to be human seems to me particularly weak… [I]t is possible that in the not-too-distant future we may be able to clone a whole human being from a single cell taken from essentially anywhere in the donor’s body. If so, any cell in my body has the potential to become a human being if properly preserved until the time of a practical cloning technology. Am I committing mass murder if I prick my finger and lose a drop of blood?
That’s from “The Dragons of Eden,” well worth reading for chapter eight alone.

So what’s a “potential” human life? Opponents of stem cell research assert that the embryo has such potential and all the rights of a full-grown human. Unless the human is an Iraqi civilian, when it apparently becomes perfectly acceptable to end one life to protect another.

Activists call embryos “viable,” as if they’ll gestate in their Petri dishes and grow up to pull the Republican lever. However, they’re not viable until implanted in a womb, and successful implantation isn’t guaranteed under the best of circumstances. But activists don't want to end a life to save a life, of course.

Nevertheless “viability” remains an enticingly nebulous buzz-word for activists because it promises an ever-earlier point at which an embryo must be considered fully protected. But that’s the catch—when Carl’s drop of blood finally does represent “potential” “viable” life, the absurdity of those terms will become apparent, and anti-choice advocates will lose what they think is their strongest objection.

That, I think, is the source of resistance to stem cell research (and its thematic sibling human cloning). So where are we now? Well, the House passed a funding bill for stem cell reseach, Dubya plans to veto it, and the necessary two-thirds majority to override the veto doesn’t appear to exist. And that’s a pity, because it will impair research into a field appearing to hold wide-ranging therapeutic promise, and it represents yet another scientific frontier that our nation’s pioneers will have to explore sans federal funding.

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