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Of course, push on to allow expanded Human-Embryo Research

by | Mar 21, 2022

By Wesley J. Smith

Back when embryonic-stem-cell and other types of experimentation on early embryos commenced, “the scientists” promised they would always limit their activities to embryos in Petri dishes to the maximum of 14 days in development. Just a collection of undifferentiated cells, they sophistically maintained. We’ll stop when the nervous system begins to develop.

It was all a ruse. The “14 day rule,” as it came to be known, only prevented that which could not be done. You see, the state of the science was such that embryos could not be maintained for longer. But it assuaged the peasants. Besides, the scientists knew that the boundary wasn’t intended to be permanent. It was just a way station until embryos could be maintained outside a woman’s body for more than two weeks.

That time is now arriving, and so, of course, the push is now on to expand the limit to 28 days.

How is that justified, based on past assurances? Well, first deploy relativism.

Scientifically, an embryo is an embryo, wherever it might be located. But we’ll pretend that what really matters regarding moral value is geography. From “The Time has Come to Extend the 14-Day Limit” [which appeared in the British Journal of Medical Ethics]:

Elsejin Kingma considers the idea that the ‘location of an embryo—whether it is in a pregnant woman or in a petri-dish—may affect its moral status and/or value’. She argues that it is not just the stage of the embryo that is relevant to its moral status or value, but whether it is, or will be, in an environment that promotes its further development. She concludes that this means there is (further) good reason for a moral distinction between ‘research’ embryos and ‘reproductive implanted embryos’.

Given that almost all — if not all — of these bioethicists believe in abortion on demand, this is a load of hooey. Yes, that is the logic, and the paper goes there:

Notwithstanding the importance of the scientific basis for human embryo research, there are ethical and philosophical reasons why this rule is now ready for amendment.

In the UK, in line with the Abortion Act 1967, an abortion is legally permitted up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Conventionally, a human embryo is termed a fetus from 9 weeks after fertilisation. It is legal to abort an embryo or fetus substantially ‘older’ than 14 days, and, with appropriate consent, to do research on its tissues, yet it is illegal to experiment on an embryo beyond 14 days that was never to be implanted.

Why stop at 28 days? What are the limiting principles? What is the permanent line with regard to unborn life beyond which science will never be allowed to go regardless of the potential knowledge to be attained — especially in the U.S., where some states have removed gestational limits on abortion and that is the goal of the national Democratic Party and Biden administration? I can’t see any.

How is this excused? Princeton’s Peter Singer — the New York Times’ favorite moral philosopher — and other bioethicists claim that human life, per se, is morally irrelevant. What matters are capacities — such as self-awareness — that earn that human being the label of “person.”

Embryos are not conscious. Neither are fetuses. They are, hence, human non-persons. So why not permit experimentation and body-part harvesting through the ninth month since, in essence, unborn life are mere things? Indeed, before that time arrives, why not pay women to gestate longer before obtaining an abortion so we could get the parts — an odious idea already proposed in the bioethics literature.

This isn’t just philosophical musing. We may soon have the ability to maintain fetuses in artificial wombs. Once that happens, what is to prevent scientists from creating embryos, implanting them in artificial wombs and treating fetuses as a mere natural resource to be exploited and harvested?

Live fetal experimentation was conducted in the late ’60s, after all, and was only stopped (pre-Roe) because people still believed in the sanctity of human life. That great moral principle no longer holds sway over great swaths of society. The important thing now is preventing suffering by almost any means necessary.

I could go on and on, and probably will. But the bottom line for this post is this: When scientists and bioethicists promise to draw ethical lines about experimenting on unborn life, they don’t really mean it. It’s all a big con. They will only agree to forbid that which they cannot — yet — do. And once they can “go there,” the lines will be redrawn to permit them to do whatever they want.

And then they wonder, “Where is the trust?”

Editor’s note. Wesley’s columns appear at National Review Online and are reposted with permission.

Categories: Human Embryos