Human Exceptionalism

Defining Embryo Death

A research team from Columbia University has identified criteria for determining whether an embryo has died. I was aware this work was being pursued. When I was presenting at a stem cell symposium in Rome last year, Drs. Donald Landry and Howard Zucker discussed this issue, and I was impressed with their thoughtfulness and earnest desire to find a way out of the moral impasse in which we find ourselves over ESCR. Here’s the idea: If an embryo has died, then taking its stem cells would be no different than, say, removing organs or corneas from a corpse. Since no human life will have been destroyed, there would be no ethical problem. Thus, identifying the “dead” embryos for use in embryonic stem cell research could be a way for both sides of the great debate to achieve their goals and objectives.

The problem is: It ain’t about embryonic stem cells from leftover IVF embryos, anymore. It is about human cloning, which is not a synonym for stem cell research–although many biotech propagandists and their willing allies in the media pretend that it is. Moreover, the stem cell/cloning debate is about much more than the sum of its parts. At its core, it is a struggle to determine which value system will control the public policy of society.

So, I applaud the Columbia professors for working on the problem in good faith. Unfortunately, the controversy is much bigger than the relatively narrow issue they are seeking to resolve.