I was asked a couple of weeks ago to briefly discuss the issue of embryonic stem cell research, having made a comment about the ballot referendum in California that provided $3 billion in government money (in a supposedly cash-strapped state!) to fund such research. The issue was the cause celebre of the Hollywood left and the Democratic Party tried to use it to galvanize voters to support John Kerry. The death of Christopher Reeve, a committed supporter and figurehead, added fuel to the fire. So did Nancy Reagan (though she never went so far as joining Democrats!) and her hapless son Ron Jr. (who did!), having been told that such research would cure Alzeimer’s disease. Remember John Edwards saying that if Kerry were eleted the lame would walk???
The research in question essentially desires to use human fetuses (or as those of us outside the mainstream media would say: unborn human beings) as tools and subjects of research. (Disclaimer: I don’t fully understand what exactly a stem cell is or does.) The argument is that there are thousands of embyros sitting in storage in freezers or whatnot that are probably never going to be dealt with. (This, of course, presents its own set of ethical dilemmas that gets into issues of invitro fertilization and other modern medical conundrums). Why not harvest these embryos to be used in medical research that could cure Parkinson’s disease, paralysis, etc.?
The problem with such research, of course, is that it shows a lack of respect for human life. How, you ask, does a desire to improve the lives of those who suffer from such diseases and conditions actually betray a lack of respect for life? While this is not overtly a part of the mindset, the truth is that it betrays a utilitarian approach to human life – meaning that it is valued and viewed in terms of its usefulness. By contrast, the biblical worldview gives the utmost respect to human life, believing that it inherently posesses great dignity and value because humans are made in the very image of God. The creation account in Genesis 1, for example, is written in such a way that it is apparent the human beings are the pinnacle of creation, because they alone are made in God’s image.
In the utilitarian mindset, by contrast, human life becomes a commodity like anything else that can be used or discarded depending on if we need it, want it, can use it, etc. Abortion functions in the same way, doesn’t it? The euthanasia debate is often couched in the same kind of terminology. When people are past their usefulness we do not afford them inherent dignity and respect as human beings; instead we stick them in nursing homes and begin talking about “ending their misery.” It is not a big leap from there to snuffing out the life of those with certain disabilities, especially mental disabilities like Down’s Syndrome. Is it difficult to imagine a day when insurance companies will mandate abortions for pregnancies when the babies are shown, through genetic testing in utero, to have such disabilities, and refuse coverage if the parents choose not to abort? It’s terribly frightening but no longer requires a huge stretch of the imagination, I think.
It’s not a far cry in my mind to see the harvesting of human embryos for use in this and other forms of research. Is it possible that we could see the day when there are ultra-scientific embryo farms (baby farms) like there are fish farms? Then there is the specter of therapeutic cloning. I see a dangerous and slippery slope.
The issue, then, is one of worldview. Do we value human life as having inherent dignity bestowed by God? Or do we view human life as something less than that? Do we view human life as nothing more than a collection of molecules and particles that have, through random and chance mutations over zillions of years, evolved into human life? The latter is the view of Naturalism, the belief that the universe, that matter, is all there is. If such a view is correct than indeed there is no intrinsic value to anything at all, human life, animal life, the environment, etc. Neither is there any meaning or or purpose to anything in this world, including your life (and mine).
While there may be people who profess to believe that, very few actually live that truth out practically. They believe that they have meaning. Peter Sanger, an infamous Princeton ethicist who advocates infanticide and euthanasia along the lines discussed above, visited his ailing elderly mother every day to care for her. Ironic, eh?
I hope this helps explain why the issue of embryonic stem cell research is a serious one for our day, striking at the very heart of competing worldviews and Truth.