This argument is an extension of the “Right to Life” argument
used by those who have long sought to deny women their right
to make the ultimate decisions respecting their own bodies.
Not content to ascribe civil and moral rights to the unborn,
the opponents of abortion and stem cell research now wish
to extend their protection to the uncreated.
This is hardly a new issue. Humans seem to have an ingrained
fear and mistrust of the advancement of knowledge. After all,
Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating
from the tree of knowledge, and Prometheus was consigned to
eternal torment for passing the knowledge of fire to man.
There are many for whom the “good old days” are preferable
to the present, and the status quo and the known are certainly
to be preferred to a future that is unknown. The past is thus
enveloped in a cloak of “tradition” and “moral righteousness”
and the present is dedicated to its “preservation.”
As for “human rights,” what are these, precisely? The Declaration
of Independence affirms that all are endowed with “inalienable”
rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – and
the American Constitution embodies means to preserve and protect
them. Yet some of these rights are in clear conflict with
others, and American society has a long tradition of placing
limits on its own citizens. Convicted criminals are subject
to restrictions of their civil rights, in some cases even
beyond their legally imposed punishment. Children do not enjoy
the same rights as adults. Even some adult citizens find their
rights limited based on their lifestyle or behavior. So, with
no clear conception of human rights, and varying criteria
as to how it could be extended or denied, how can it be used
as an excuse to prohibit research?
In order for human rights to be fully realized, these rights
must be taken in their widest, most inclusive context possible.
To use the defense of embryonic human rights to exclude and
deny the rights of living human beings is at best, hypocrisy.
At worst, it undermines the very principles we wished to affirm
in the first place. Rights should serve as a light to the
future, not a barred door denying it.