It is widely known that embryonic stem cell research has the potential to revolutionize medicine and save millions of lives. Yet many Congressmen are frantically working to defeat a measure that would expand federal financing of this research. Why are they (and so many others) opposing embryonic stem cell research–and doing so under the banner of being “pro-life”?

The opponents of embryonic stem cell research claim that their position is rooted in “respect for human life.” They say that the embryos destroyed in the process of extracting stem cells are human beings with a right to life.

But embryos used in embryonic stem cell research are manifestly not human beings–not in any rational sense of the term. These embryos are smaller than a grain of sand, and consist of at most a few hundred undifferentiated cells. They have no body or body parts. They do not see, hear, feel, or think. While they have the potential to become human beings–if implanted in a woman’s uterus and brought to term–they are nowhere near actual human beings.

What, then, is the “pro-lifers'” reason for regarding these collections of cells as sacred and attributing rights to them? Religious dogma.

The “pro-lifers” accept on faith the belief that rights are a divine creation: a gift from an unknowable supernatural being bestowed on embryos at conception (which many extend to embryos “conceived” in a beaker). The most prominent example of this view is the official doctrine of the Catholic Church, which declares to its followers that an embryo “is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized.”

But rights are not some supernatural construct, mystically granted by the will of “God.” They are this-worldly principles of proper political interaction rooted in man’s rational nature. Rights recognize the fact that men can only live successfully and happily among one another if they are free from the initiation of force against them. Rights exist to protect and further human life. Rights enable individual men to think, act, produce and trade, live and love in freedom. The principle of rights is utterly inapplicable to tiny, pre-human clusters of cells that are incapable of such actions.


Cartoon by Cox and Forkum

In fact, to attribute rights to embryos is to call for the violation of actual rights. Since the purpose of rights is to enable individuals to secure their well-being, a crucial right, inherent in the right to liberty and property, is the right to do scientific research in pursuit of new medical treatments. To deprive scientists of the freedom to use clusters of cells to do such research is to violate their rights–as well as the rights of all who would contribute to, invest in, or benefit from this research.

And to the extent that rights are violated in this way, we can expect deadly results. The political pressure against embryonic stem cell research is already discouraging many scientists and businessmen from investing their time and resources in its pursuit. If this research can lead, as scientists believe, to the ability to create new tissues and organs to replace damaged ones, any obstacles placed in its path will unnecessarily delay the discovery of new cures and treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Every day that this potentially life-saving research is delayed is another day that will go by before new treatments become available to ease the suffering and save the lives of countless individuals. And if the “pro-lifers” ever achieve the ban they seek on embryonic stem cell research, millions upon millions of human beings, living or yet to be born, might be deprived of healthier, happier, and longer lives.

The enemies of embryonic stem cell research know this, but are unmoved. They are brazenly willing to force countless human beings to suffer and die for lack of treatments, so that clusters of cells remain untouched.

To call such a stance “pro-life” is beyond absurd. Their allegiance is not to human life or to human rights, but to their anti-life dogma.

If these enemies of human life wish to deprive themselves of the benefits of stem cell research, they should be free to do so and die faithful to the last. But any attempt to impose their religious dogma on the rest of the population is both evil and unconstitutional. In the name of the actual sanctity of human life and the inviolability of rights, embryonic stem cell research must be allowed to proceed unimpeded. Our lives may depend on it.

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David Holcberg and Alex Epstein

David Holcberg is a media research specialist and Alex Epstein is a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute (http://www.aynrand.org/) in Irvine, CA. The Ayn Rand Institute promotes the ideas of Ayn Rand--best-selling author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and originator of the philosophy of Objectivism.

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