Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pro-embryo research rhetoric misses the point

In the largely inaccurate Pioneer Press article on the MCCL-University of Minnesota exchange, there's this telling (and very common in news articles) passage:
Abortion opponents are also against the creation of new stem cell lines from human embryos, because potential human lives are destroyed in the process.

U researchers counter that embryonic cells may unlock treatments for diabetes and cancer.
Putting aside the scientifically flat-out wrong phrase "potential human lives" (whatever that means), note the two competing claims. Pro-lifers are against embryo-destructive research because it involves the killing of innocent human beings; embryo research advocates respond by talking about the potential medical benefits of that research. But something doesn't make sense here.

If we're talking about the killing and harvesting of valuable human persons (say, all the people of a particular racial or religious group), then clearly just appealing to the potential benefits for the rest of us would not justify that moral atrocity. The embryo research advocate is presupposing that embryo killing is NOT the killing of valuable human persons -- but that's the very position he needs to defend.

Pro-lifers argue that the human embryo is a rights-bearing human being worthy of respect and protection; it is incumbent on our opponents to argue that the human embryo is not worthy of such respect. That (the moral status of the embryo) is what the debate is all about. But as the article reveals, embryo research advocates will often just assume their view, not argue for it.