A response to Cal Thomas on Stem Cell Research
I am writing this in response to a commentary written by Cal Thomas and published in The Day on 7/22/2001. As a human embryo develops it starts out as a fertilized egg and progresses in complexity until it becomes a fully formed baby. It seems quite reasonable to deduce that a fertilized egg is not a baby. Superficially, it has no arms, no legs, no eyes, no nose, no mouth, but most importantly, no brain. It is the brain that is the root of what it means to be a human being. The brain houses the memories and thoughts and experiences that make us the person we are today. A human being who is 'brain dead' is far more human then a fertilized egg is; he has the physical structure of a human being, yet most of society considers it morally acceptable to unplug a person who is brain dead from life support machines. This is not considered murder, or even Euthanasia. In fact, the person is usually already considered dead, as the root of what it means to be a person and to be human and alive is the sum of all that persons memories, memories that are stored in the brain. If the brain is inactive, then for all intents and purposes that person is dead.
A fertilized human egg contains the entire genetic code of a fully functional human being. It contains in it the potential to one day learn and grow and have hopes and fears. These potentials cannot be realized, however, until the physiological mechanisms responsible for these abilities develop within that embryo. A single fertilized egg does not have hopes and dreams, as it does not contain even a single neuron to store a single memory in, let alone the hundreds of billions of neurons apparently required being a person. To merely have the potential to become a thinking living dreaming and loving human does not mean you are those things. Every cell in the body has this potential. 7 out of 10 fertilized eggs are spontaneously aborted in the women within days of fertilization. Does this mean a funeral should be carried out for each of these fertilized eggs? This seems to be the logical extension of Cal Thomas' argument.
We can look at some of our behaviors as a society to get a good idea of what people really think being a person means. Siblings who are identical twins are considered by everyone to be separate individuals. They are not collectively one person. Yet Identical twins are clones; they are absolutely identical to one another at the genetic level. If they are identical in this respect yet still considered separate individuals, then what makes a person a person must be something more then a genetic code. But a genetic code is the only thing a fertilized egg really has in common with a human. That something more, the something that makes identical twins individuals, that something that an out of the womb human has that a fertilized egg doesn't, is their thoughts and hopes and dreams, their capacity for reasoning and emotion and their memories. Fertilized eggs are, therefore, not thinking loving dreaming human beings. They become thinking loving dreaming humans beings (i.e. persons) after they develop the physiological mechanisms responsible and necessary for these qualities.
If you value human life then you should support stem cell research, because stem cells are not persons, they are not thinking loving human beings, and they do not have hopes and dreams and fears. Fertilized eggs and embryos when placed in the right conditions can become human beings and eventually develop personalities, but so can every cell in your body. Shall we mourn every lost skin flake as a potential human being now lost forever? People with Alziemheres and Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinsons disease are thinking loving dreaming human beings. They are human beings who are suffering and in pain. They are the people who can be helped by stem cell research.
Cal Thomas goes on to quote the July 23 issue of Time which said that "apes became humans" He then asserts that if this is true, that if evolution is true, then we are merely the products of an evolutionary 'accident'. In the very next sentence, he somehow uses this reasoning to justify racism. Evolution says nothing about any species being superior or more 'valid' then any other, let alone making any statements to the superiority (or lack there of) for such superficial traits as skin color within individual species. It seems more likely that Cal has mis-interpreted the implications of science and evolution to unintentionally further his own ideologies. Cal's comments seem to be based on a passionate respect for human life, but when we look closely at what it means to be human, sometimes good intentions can lead you down the wrong path. He advocates the protection of embryos and fertilized eggs as though they were thinking loving dreaming human beings. They are not. In the meantime, people who are thinking, loving, dreaming human beings are dying.
Humans do indeed share a distant ancestor with chimpanzees, and with apes,
although we are not descended from apes. Humans share an even more distant ancestor
with cats and fish as well, even with trees and slime mold if you go back far
enough. We are also 'merely' a collection of atoms and molecules, and are products
of an unfathomable number of specific events, many of which are random. When
a large number of these atoms and molecules get together for a specific function
then properties can emerge that were not present in any of the individual components.
In the case of animals, this can directly lead to the ability to learn from
their environment, and in humans, this can lead to the emergence of a personality
and self-awareness. The fact that this is our origin and these are our building
blocks, however, does not make the compositions of Mozart any less amazing,
or the pictures painted by Van Gogh and Da Vinci any less beautiful, or the
Pyramids at Giza any less astounding, or my love for my mother and father any
less wonderful, special, or valid. Science tells the story of our origins, it
does not tell us what to make of them, that is up to the individual.
The Time magazine article makes the statement that 'apes became humans' Apes did not become humans. Humans and apes have a common ancestor; in fact humans are much more closely related genetically to chimpanzees than apes. Humans and Chimpanzees actually share 98% of their genetic code. Which means that we are all 98% chimpanzee, or that chimpanzee's are 98% human. More specifically, it means that our genetic code is 98% chimpanzee, but since the genetic code is not what makes a human a person (consider the identical twin scenario), evolution offers no excuses to be racist. We may be 98% chimpanzee, but we are 100% human. Blacks, homosexuals, and the retarded are thinking dreaming loving human persons and it is not ethical to experiment on anyone who has these qualities. I found Cal's analogy to Nazism absolutely disgraceful and deplorable. The Nazi program was a state sanctioned eugenics program. An attempt to perpetuate an arbitrarily defined 'master race' The Nazi's criteria for being a 'person' was to be blonde and blue eyed, healthy and fit. My definition of a person is something that can feel, think, laugh, love, dream, remember things, and hope.
Cal Thomas then asks what moral, ethical or philosophical reason is there for justifying the use of stem cells or fertility clinic embryos. I would answer that the philosophical justification is that fertilized eggs are not thinking dreaming human beings, they are not persons, but the people lying in hospital beds and dying are persons, so this research is a necessary thing. Additionally, the physiological mechanisms responsible for our memories and personalities are usually considered to be the neo cortex portion of the brain, since damage to this portion of the brain seems to erase memories and drastically alter ones personality. In embryonic development, the neo-cortex is formed around the beginning of the third trimester. Thus any abortions (necessarily including partial birth) after the development of the neo cortex can and should be considered the murder of a person. That is, the murder of a thinking loving dreaming human being.
Cal Thomas then goes on to insist that by condoning stem cell research we will soon be supporting Euthanasia for the elderly and the handicapped, or, as he put it "euthenize" them. The implication seemingly being forced euthanasia. In logic the assertation that one thing will necessarily lead to another is known as a "slippery slope" and is a fallacious conclusion. Organizations that support Euthanasia maintain the freedom of choice for the individual. Just because I might support the right of a person who is terminally ill and sound of mind to choose to comfortably end their own life in no way suggests that I support someone else making that decision for them. Euthanasia is not performed on people by other individuals against their will, and probably no moral system would support this, as it is sanctioned murder. Organizations that support Euthanasia support it only on suffering and terminally ill patients who are of sound mind and who make the decisions of their own free will. Allowing research to be done on individual cells and eggs, structures of molecules and atoms that do not dream and hope and love is a far cry from sanctioning murder of individuals that are alive and have these emotions, and I do not clearly understand how this conclusion can be drawn by Cal.
Stem cell and cloning research on embryos and fertilized eggs will save lives
and will ultimately relieve physical pain and mental anguish of loved ones,
extending our life spans and allowing more time to live and love, to do the
things that makes being alive and being human worthwhile.