A Voice in the Crowd: Human embryos are not humans

Do you like beans? I love all kinds—lima, pinto, chili, navy and more. But, besides being served around the world as entrees and side dishes, they have other uses.

In elementary school science classes, we were asked to bring beans to school so that we could learn how plants take root and grow. We were told to place the beans on a blotter. We put the beans and blotter between two pieces of glass and secured the whole thing with a couple of rubber bands. Our ersatz gardens were then put, end up, in a shallow pan of water.

We youngsters watched with awe, and some impatience, as the bean sprouted a stem and roots and, finally, rudimentary leaves. My first biology lesson was a success. That simple and educational experiment helped me become a more curious and interested student.

Neither sperm (pollen) nor ova can become anything else by themselves. They are just bits of biological matter. But, whether from flora or fauna, when they unite a seed, be it a bean or an animal, an embryo is formed.

Without nurture, a seed remains just that, a seed. Many plant seeds, when dried, become food for animals. Beans for humans, nuts for squirrels, oats for horses, corn for cattle, and so on. On the other hand, animal seeds, or embryos, because they require special growing conditions, have had no other use except as seeds.

That is, until now. After it was discovered that embryos can be preserved by freezing, researchers found several medical uses for them. Uses, which after more research and development, can have various positive effects on the quality and longevity of human lives. However, because the embryos are human, the religious biases of this nation’s decision-makers have stalled the research, resulting in a derogation of the human condition in this country.

Sure, the embryos are human, but they’re not human beings. Like beans, oats, and corn, until they are placed in a nurturing environment, they are just seeds.

To produce plants, beans, oats, and corn must be placed in good soil in an appropriate climate, given water, and freed of intrusive weeds. To produce animals, embryos need the safety and nurture only a womb can provide. Thus, until planted in soil or womb, a seed or embryo is just a bit of food or research material.

Other nations are far ahead of the U.S. in embryonic research. It only makes sense that our scientists not be prevented but be encouraged to delve as deeply into the subject as their minds and facilities allow.

Jim Spelman is an attorney and Rockford resident.

From the July 27-Aug.2, 2005, issue

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