Politics & Policy

Leftover Lives

Life and death in Congress.

Let’s take a look at the human face of what Congress will do Tuesday if they approve taxpayer funding of destructive human-embryo research on the so-called “leftover” lives that “will die anyway.”

Her name is Zara. She is a beautiful baby girl being raised by two loving parents who suffered the heavy burden of infertility. Like many American children, Zara will no doubt be captivated by the tales of Dr. Seuss that have enriched our culture for so many decades. She will likely learn to identify especially with a popular Seuss tale, Horton Hears a Who.

Think back. That’s the one about the elephant named Horton who was mocked for being the only creature in the jungle who could hear the tiny Whos living in Whoville, which happened to be located on the inside of a precariously floating dandelion. You’ll remember that Horton persevered and ultimately succeeded in his mission to bring the Who’s to safety, despite the fact that the monkeys maligned him and the kangaroos nearly defeated him before they too heard the loud cries coming from inside the dandelion, “We are here, we are here, we are here!”

Zara will be able to relate to that story. Like Horton, Zara’s story is fantastic and unbelievable. But unlike Horton, Zara’s story is no fairytale; it’s the true story of a child born into our brave new world. You see, Zara began her life in a petri dish as the result of a fertility procedure called in vitro fertilization (IVF). Strange as it may sound, Zara was a microscopic human being at the embryonic stage of life and living in the cryogenic storage tank of a fertility clinic when her new parents heard the call to adopt her.

For whatever reason, Zara’s biological mother chose not to implant embryonic Zara in her womb. The likely reason was that previous implantations of IVF-created embryos had been successful and the biological parents decided not to enlarge their family.

It is very likely that at the time Zara’s biological mother underwent fertility treatment, she was not informed of the heart-wrenching emotional and legal decisions she would have to face concerning the excess embryos that the physician created for purposes of economy. Yet, when faced with the reality of this already existing life hanging in the balance, the biological parents agreed to sign an act of donation permitting the fertility clinic to adopt out their embryonic offspring.

Yes, Zara was one of those “leftover” human embryos that we read about so often in today’s news–the ones that some scientists and celebrities want to destroy to obtain embryonic stem cells for their so-far fruitless embryonic stem cell research.

That means that Zara could have been a science experiment. But she’s not. She’s a blue-eyed blonde with a million-dollar smile. Her life was rescued through embryo adoption–a relatively new concept with which mainstream America is largely unaware.

So here’s Zara’s story: While Zara is now at the toddler stage of life, she was at the blastocyst stage of life when she was cryogenically frozen for future implantation. At the blastocyst stage, Zara’s DNA was unique and indistinguishable from the DNA that will characterize her physical identity for the rest of her life. However, her body at the blastocyst stage was identical in appearance to the bodies that each of us had at the origins of our lives–a not-so-cute clump of about 200 undifferentiated cells.

Using a California-based embryo-adoption agency called Snowflakes, embryonic Zara was transferred to Pennsylvania, thawed, and then implanted in her adoptive mother’s womb which had been prepared via artificial administration of hormones.

Yes, Zara was adopted by her new parents when she looked like a “clump of cells,” as those who advocate destructive human embryo research often say. But aren’t all human beings at the beginning of their lives simply a clump of cells? Aren’t we still simply a much larger clump of cells that have been allowed to differentiate into the varied structures of the body? And should the location of that clump of cells known scientifically as a human embryo determine that individual’s human rights to be protected from destructive human experimentation?

And that raises the issue of the source of human rights and their equal applicability to every member of the human family. Are human rights a product of the government that is arbitrarily granted to only some human beings at only certain stages of the life continuum; or do human rights truly spring from the truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?

Why is it that some big names push for embryonic-stem-cell research without regard for established medical ethics when rapid advancements in adult-stem-cell research from bone marrow, fat cells, umbilical-cord blood, and placentas are already resulting in scores of treatments for a host of diseases, including multiple sclerosis, leukemia, diabetes, and sickle-cell anemia?

And why is Big Biotech pushing for each of us to pay for their unethical science experiments on human beings at the embryonic stage of life with a relentless and misleading lobby for state and federal taxpayer funding? Could it be because they’ve burned millions of dollars of private investors’ cash without one treatment for any human patient to show for it, and the private investor money has dried up?

Could it be because the end game of some scientists is to fund publicly human cloning under the guise of finding cures, when they really stand to gain notoriety and lucrative profit from wealthy individuals who seek to clone themselves or lost loved-ones, such as the American fertility specialist who recently received payment to create cloned embryos of deceased human children.

These questions may occur in the mind of Zara at some point in her future when she contemplates the great gift that she received when her adoptive parents rescued her through embryo adoption. As Congress considers the fate of the “leftover” lives that science wants to lay on the chopping block, perhaps those of us human beings who seek to make life and death decisions for others should give serious consideration to these questions as well.

Dorinda C. Bordlee is senior counsel and executive director of the Bioethics Defense Fund and serves as spokesperson for the Cures not Clones campaign.

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