A lot has been written and said during this campaign season about whether, and under what circumstances, “pro-life” people may vote for Barack Obama. Almost all of what has been said concerns Obama’s extreme views about abortion. These views include his audacious promise to sign the Freedom of Choice Act as soon as he enters the Oval Office, and his startling opposition in the Illinois state senate to an anti-infanticide law. But abortion is not the only species of killing which to be considered when deciding whether to vote for Senator Obama. Abortion may not even be the most important life issue; embryo-destructive research — EDR — probably is. Though it has received far less attention than has abortion, EDR is not just the other life issue. In fact, Obama’s ghastly position on EDR — entirely aside from his extremism about abortion — makes it morally impossible for any one who is pro-life to vote for him.
When we turn to EDR and take a serious look at what Obama is determined to do, we are looking into the abyss. The express and unequivocal aspiration of embryonic-stem-cell researchers is to create a bank of cell lines that are both diverse genetically (for purposes of avoiding immune-rejection issues) and disease-specific (for purposes of studying all avenues of regenerative therapies). Realizing these aspirations will require the use and destruction of millions — and perhaps tens of millions — of human embryos. All of these tiny people will be created in a laboratory, experimented upon, and killed.
The vast scale of this proposed destructions means that we are not talking about the fate of so-called “spare” embryos. “Spare,” or leftover, embryos are those created for couples through IVF, but which were never implanted in any woman’s uterus for gestation and eventual birth. These tiny forsaken human beings are frozen in storage labs across the country. There may be as many as 400,000 of them. They remain largely under the legal control of the couple whose embryos they are. In no plausible scenario would more than a fraction of them ever be donated for research. According to the most authoritative analysis, only 2.8 percent of embryos in cryo-preservation (about 11,000) have been designated for use in research. Collectively they would constitute a tiny fraction of the proposed program’s human victims. These tiny human beings deserve the law’s protection, and all public officials should pledge to do just that.
Neither presidential candidate has made that pledge. Senator McCain has, in the past, supported research upon “spare” embryos, saying that it is the only way for some good to come from the bad situations of these forsaken ones. There is some intuitive appeal to McCain’s position. After all, if these embryos are really doomed (as they appear to be), how could it be wrong to gain some benefit before their inevitable destruction? This manner of thinking is, however, mistaken. No other doomed human being — on death row, for example, or in extremis at a nursing home — is subject to deadly human experimentation. At least, none should be. “Spare” embryos deserve the same respect.
Fortunately, Sen. McCain has opposed all other EDR, just as one would expect from someone who obviously believes that people begin at conception or, as the case may be, at fertilization. That McCain believes people begin at fertilization is the reason why he has always and at every juncture opposed abortion permissive laws. And he supports research upon recently developed alternatives to EDR, stem-cell techniques which are morally unproblematic.
Barack Obama’s is a very different story. He certainly doe not believe that people begin at conception or, as the case may be, fertilization or — in the case of cloning — when the egg cell is “fertilized” by introduction of a nucleus. And he acts like it. His boundless enthusiasm for EDR would, if he becomes president, lead us straight into a brave new world.