Friday, August 05, 2005

Clone and kill?

I would love to join Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and many other conservatives who have decided to support federal funding for wide-ranging research in a hugely promising new area — embryonic stem cells. I'd love to, but I can't.

Stem cells can be made to generate nearly any type of human tissue, including types that might cure disease and save lives. They are taken from human embryos that are destroyed in the process. But the results might help alleviate horrific human suffering.

In 2001, the Bush administration sponsored legislation to allow federal funding of stem cell research. But funded research was restricted to the stem cell colonies in existence at that time. Frist and others would expand funding to cover new stem cell lines created from frozen embryos left over from fertility treatments, embryos that would otherwise be discarded. (It's possible that new techniques could yield stem cells without destroying embryos, but those techniques are still experimental.)

Why would anyone oppose Frist's new position? Because embryos are potential infants just as infants are potential adults. The human embryo is a tightly closed bud that will bloom one day if we let it. The difference between bud and blossom is only luck and time. If it seems OK to destroy embryos but not full-term fetuses, that's only because embryos look less human. The distinction rests not on justice but on squeamishness.

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