From a philosophical perspective- an alternative view
It is not mere coincidence that an editorial about abortion would be printed the day after President Barack Obama lifted the ban on using federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. I commend the author for offering a look at both viewpoints on the issue, but I strongly disagree with his conclusions.
It is interesting that the author would use what he deems "scientific fact" to explain why an embryo is as alive as an adult, considering that the whole tenet of defining human life — in the eyes of Christians — is not scientific but spiritual. It is why, Christians argue, humans are different from dogs, cats and other organisms, which are just as alive — at least scientifically — as humans. If the author believes that a human embryo has that special spiritual element, then that is fine and his argument is more tenable. But by claiming that a human embryo and an adult human are the same because they both have 46 chromosomes, the author's argument based on his version of scientific fact is weakened. By the author's own definition, a tissue culture grown from somatic cells of an adult human would be as much as "alive" as that person him or herself because it "has the exact same genetic makeup," even though I doubt that is a position he would agree with.
By claiming that the appeal of being pro-abortion rights is because "being anti-abortion rights is hard," the author belittles the ideals and values of pro-abortion rights individuals. I won't claim omnipotence of all pro-abortion rights individuals, but I certainly did not shape my beliefs on this issue because, compared to being anti-abortion rights, I took the so-called "easy way out." I shape my beliefs based on the notion that I do not want the government to have control over a woman's body and her medical decisions. By no means do I personally think that abortion is the appropriate method of "after the fact" birth control, but in the pursuit of free choice and free will, that is the affected woman's decision to make, not mine.
Though the author focuses primarily on the word abortion, it is very clear that his intent is to link embryonic stem cell research to the procedure. Where I disagree with the author is the notion that programming embryonic stem cells into specialized cells is the same thing as aborting a third-trimester fetus. I have to believe that the large majority of developmental biologists agree with me, because if they believed otherwise, they would not be conducting their research. Simply put, I do not believe that a ball of 16 totipotent cells is the same thing as a human being.
Overall, the notion of religious morality is the focus point for the debate on when life begins. Those who are anti-abortion should not try to use science to defend their ideals, because their ideals are not ordained by science in the first place. That is why their definition of life is placed within quotation marks; their definition of "life," in relation to human beings, relies upon us having a soul, something that other alive beings do not contain. There are those who believe that a day-old embryo and a 6 year old are moral equivalents, such as Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; his encounter with Harvard stem cell scientist Douglas Melton is detailed in a recent Time magazine cover story. In a brilliant response, Melton asks "why society accepts the freezing of embryos but not the freezing of 6-year-olds." I have yet to hear a reasoned counter to Melton's question, and I won't hold my breath for one either.
Michael Convente is a senior majoring in molecular biology and biochemistry. In the fall, Michael will begin pursuing a doctoral degree in cell and molecular biology at the University of Pennsylvania.