The opponents of embryonic stem cell research
claim that their position is rooted in “respect for human
life.” They say 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
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.
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
contribute to 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
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.