Letters


The New Bioethics

It doesn't make sense to me that members of the Religious Right are opposed to human embryonic stem cell research ("The New Bioethics," FI, Winter 2002/03). Christians should embrace this practice wholeheartedly. As soon as the embryo is sacrificed for his cells, his soul, being sinless, goes straight to heaven, with no possible chance of going to hell. Whereas an embryo that is carried to maturity and born could grow up to become an atheist and thereby end up in hell. So it makes good Christian sense to create as many souls as possible for this sure trip to heaven. This goes for the souls of aborted babies as well.

Robert A. Bloomer

Bonnieville, Kentucky

I was happy to see all the recent attention to bioengineering addressed in your latest edition, especially the trendy obsession over human cloning. I can't see what the fuss is all about. May I be the dissident in the trendy fray and suggest that human cloning will never be anything more than a silly parlor trick used by a few well-connected but happily ephemeral fools.

Julius Wroblewski, M.D.

Vancouver, British Columbia

Canada

I congratulate FREE INQUIRY and your contributors to the Winter 2002/03 issue, particularly Don Marquis ("Stem Cell Research--The Failure of Bioethics") and Bent Brogaard ("The Moral Status of the Human Embryo"). In discussing "moral status," you have developed an unlikely concept: the secular equivalent of the soul.

Consider the parallels. Like the soul, moral status cannot be measured, quantified, or charted. Like the soul, its presence eludes all scientific tests, relying upon authorities--academics instead of priests--to proclaim its presence. Like the soul, discussions of moral status are intended to influence another, more concrete concept: legal status.

The soul/moral status is a wonderfully fluid concept, perfectly fitted to serve as a warrior in whatever embryonic developmental position one wants to take. Does the thought of destroying human embryos make you queasy? Simply declare that the soul/moral status is acquired at the instant of conception. Do you support stem cell research but view abortion with distaste? Then find some rationale that the soul/moral status is acquired after conception but before the zygote/blastocyst/embryo develops to the point that the woman is aware there's anything there to abort. Do you support a woman's right to choose, but only up to a certain point? Then identify some specific stage in development between "Yes, yes, yes" and "It's a (girl, boy)" that precedes the onset of your discomfort and concoct an argument that that's when the soul/moral status is conferred.

Parenthetically, one argument against stem cell research is that the zygote possess a soul/moral status because, given the right conditions, it will develop into a person. However, this is also true of the unfertilized egg, one of the "conditions" being the availability of a functioning sperm. Yet curiously, nobody seems to be fulminating against menstruation or tampons.

Once again, thank you for providing secularists with a tool that enables us to engage in debates that are as woolly minded as those of our theological counterparts.

Jolyon Hallows

Burnaby, British Columbia

Canada

It was interesting to read the articles in the Winter 2002/03 FREE INQUIRY exposing the religious basis of almost all opposition to embryonic stem cell research. However it was disheartening to read the non-existent ("Stem Cell Research--The Failure of Bioethics") and irrelevant ("The Twinning Argument") secular defenses of stem cell research.

Author Don Marquis came closest to the truth by asking whether pre-gastrular embryos qualify as human research subjects, and especially close by raising the issue of consciousness. Unfortunately he then fell off track by failing to see a moral distinction between unconscious matter that triggers development of consciousness and conscious beings in states of sleep. …

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