The respite will be brief, however, unless President Bush and others who share his concern exercise vigorous, intelligent leadership on this issue. Not all scientists support cloning embryos and killing them to extract their stem cells. But scientists who do support this work are the ones engaging in it, naturally, and the ones who will also, just as naturally, lobby fiercely for ever-increasing federal funding for their work, which they will inevitably portray as the most promising in the field.
The thoughtful and distinguished ethicist, University of Chicago Professor Leon Kass, whom Bush appointed to head his new national council on stem cell work, will have his hands full. Since nobody is talking about nominating me to the council (surprise, surprise), let me take this opportunity to throw in my two cents' worth. Here are some of the questions that haven't even made it onto the moral radar screen for the council's consideration:
EXCESS EMBRYOS. Why are there so many excess embryos floating around anyway? This is not parents' fault. When you divorce baby-making from sex (not my idea, but hey, it happens), it is people in lab coats who decide how many of your eggs will get fertilized and recommend how many get implanted. This is one reason the idea of creating a class of embryos that "would be destroyed anyway" is such a science fiction.
Once you transform human embryos into a medical commodity, there is no way to distinguish between the embryos that are truly "excess" from those manufactured to meet the new taxpayer-financed demand for itsy-bitsy body parts. Maybe it is time to reconsider allowing private enterprise to transform the creation of human life into an industry unregulated, not only for moral but for safety conditions.
When doctors create excess embryos, one of four things happens: Either they are destroyed, they are adopted by other infertile couples, they are left in frozen limbo, or too many are implanted in the mother's womb, leading to expensive multiple births. Except for adoption, none of these are ideal outcomes.
CONSENT. President Bush properly made much of the ethics of experimenting on human beings without their consent. OK, but who can consent for human embryos discarded by their parents? We are really on untrodden ground here.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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