Imagine a world in which groundbreaking scientific research has identified a way to cure certain deadly diseases. Imagine the hope felt by an individual who hears that his or her once irreversible, fatal condition can now be cured. Imagine the renewed sense of joy and purpose that would fill that individual’s spirit, and the recognition that ought to belong to the scientists who made such celebrations possible.
Now imagine that a government in this world bans this scientific research. This government creates an agency to end the development of the life-saving cure. Instead of heralding these scientists as heroes, the agency deems them criminals.
Dopp gasped. They looked just like the dishes that held embryos prior to in vitro fertilization. Horrified, he reached for one . . . . Instead of a clump of cells bound by a spherical mass—a primitive embryo—he saw a spread of individual cells . . . . A violent roar ripped through his throat, abrasive against his vocal cords. He shook with outrage, filled with unparalleled fury: How many babies had died?”
This is an excerpt from Kira Peikoff’s debut novel, Living Proof, which was released earlier this month and tells the story of one brave scientist’s battle to continue her quest for a cure in secret, risking life and limb in doing so. Set in the near future, the Department of Embryo Preservation (DEP) seeks to enforce the protection of all embryos, whose destruction is considered first-degree murder, rather than a means of scientific progress.
Peikoff’s futuristic thriller at first glance may seem fantastical, but upon reflection it is eerily reflective of today’s political controversies about the concept of human life. One major contender in the debate is the religious right, who advocate that a fertilized egg is a human being endowed with a soul. Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination shares this premise, even though his wife, an MS patient, would benefit from embryonic stem cell research. Romney’s associates, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum, all agree. Santorum, for example, says this:
An unborn child is not just a clump of cells. He or she is a human life, as worthy of basic dignity and respect as any one of us. Each precious, irreplaceable human life is too infinitely valuable to permit courts to redefine its meaning away.
Embryonic stem cells, they contend, are human lives that must be protected. Granted, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich may not explicitly state a Christian perspective like Rick Santorum or Ron Paul, but the fact that they give speeches to churches about the evils of stem cell research, claiming that protoplasmic clumps of undifferentiated cells are in fact human beings, speaks volumes about the ideological perspective from which they approach the issue.
But one ought to question the claim that God “ensouls” the embryo at conception. Should the following verse really be considered as a source of wisdom-informing government policies?:
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. - Jeremiah 1:5
Is there any doubt that this faith-based assertion erases rationality and scientific evidence from the discussion arena? Observation of embryos gives us no reason to believe in a floating, ethereal spirit inhabiting each clump of cells. The idea of a soul placed there by a divine being comes only from religious texts and from believers’ feelings. In other words, believers acknowledge that they might not be able to observe the soul under a microscope—just as they can’t view a God with a telescope—but they claim to know it because they have faith, because they feel it.
But no matter how intense the believers feel that something is, that doesn’t make it so. In the same way, many fifteenth-century theologians felt with all their heart that certain men and women caused cloudy weather through satanic witchcraft and therefore deserved death, but this didn’t make it true either. Christians today would probably not support the killing of Europe’s alleged “witches,” but those who rely on faith to attribute a soul to embryos are guilty of the same error. Emotions are no substitute for evidence.
There is no evidence for the existence of souls in embryos. Stem cell research ought to be commended not condemned, and more importantly, should never be forbidden by law. Living Proof is a celebration of today’s innovative scientists who are paving new roads to improving medical treatments of arthritis, strokes, as well as heart, kidney and liver diseases—treatments that could save hundreds of thousands of loved ones across the country from unnecessary pain and suffering.
The Undercurrent is a magazine distributed at college campuses and communities across the country. We release a print edition once per semester, and in the interim, regularly post additional articles, blog entries, and campus media responses reports to our website.
The Undercurrent's cultural commentary is based on Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. Objectivism, which animates Ayn Rand's fiction, is a systematic philosophy of life. It holds that the universe is orderly and comprehensible, that man survives by reason, that his life and happiness comprise his highest moral purpose, and that he flourishes only in a society that protects his individual rights.
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