Logic and Stem Cell Research

By Wayne Jackson

In his epistle to the Roman saints, Paul rhetorically asked: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” The apostle then answered his own query. In the English versions it is variously translated: “God forbid” (KJV; ASV), “By no means!” (RSV); “Certainly not!” (NKJV). The Greek Testament reads: me genoito, an expression, used 15 times in the New Testament. It reflects a strong prohibition, a warning. The sense is: “You should never conclude such a thing! God forbid that you should think this! No way!” (Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, p. 482).

Allow me to slightly modify the apostle’s question. “Shall we continue to do evil that good may result?” The response would be the same — certainly not!

Now, let me apply the question to a current application — the controversy over using human embryos for stem cell research.

“Shall we [the powers that be] continue creating and destroying human embryos, so that good [a possible cure for certain diseases] may result?”

If the answer is “yes,” please explain the moral rationale by which that judgment is made.

The common response, being promoted over-and-over again, is this: “These embryos are destined for destruction anyway. We might as well use them, therefore, in research to help others.”

Surely it would not be inappropriate to make an appeal that some logic (common sense) be brought to bear upon this volatile matter? Some people appear to have lost the ability to “think” through an issue.

The embryo that results from the union of the male sperm and the female egg is either “a human life” (a “human person”), or it is not a human person. In the science of logic, that is what the “law of the excluded middle” demands. A thing either “is,” or it “is not.” One or the other must be true. With this premise clearly established, let us make this observation.

If human embryos are not “living persons,” then there is nothing wrong with manufacturing them in vast quantities and randomly using them for experimental purposes. Yet many are very opposed to such a practice.

On the other hand, if the embryo is a “human person,” and if human life is sacred (and, therefore, is to be regarded as possessing intrinsic worth; cf. Gen. 9:6), then it is not moral to produce it for experimental purposes. Likewise, once it does exist, it is not ethical to arbitrarily destroy it — even for utilitarian purposes. We are not “gods” who can play loose and easy with the lives of our fellows — regardless of how tiny and defenseless they are.

Several arguments, however, are commonly employed to negate the “personal” aspect of the human embryo.

  1. It is alleged that since the embryo is not viable, i.e., it could not independently survive, it must not be a human “person.”
  2. It is suggested that the embryo does not possess self-awareness, therefore, it is not a human “being.”

Exactly how far are we willing to pursue this line of reasoning?

Think about this. There are multiplied thousands of aged people in the convalescent homes of this nation. These helpless beings absolutely could not survive without the assistance of others. (In fact, none of us thrives without the assistance of others.)

Moreover, there are thousands of these pitiful folks who have no idea upon which planet they exist. They are virtually oblivious to their environment. These unfortunate souls are destined for imminent death anyhow. Why not “remove” them now? Why not harvest their “stem cells” and other body parts in the interest of helping others?

The thought is too horrible to contemplate. It smacks of Nazi-ism. But there’s not a dime’s worth of qualitative difference between the two forms of utilitarian brutality. Why is it that politicians cannot reason their way to a sane conclusion regarding this matter?

In a recent article in World magazine (“A new modest proposal” – July 28, 2001), Gene Edward Veith recalls the hypothetical “proposal” that Irish writer Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), author of Gulliver’s Travels, introduced in the early 18th century. In those days the Irish were crushed by poverty due to the cruel feudal policies of the elite.

Swift, who was greatly influenced by Christian principles, satirically argued, therefore, that one solution might be that Irish babies could be killed and used for food. That way, there would be more sustenance for adults, and fewer growing mouths to feed. The “balance” created would be a great benefit to society. In addition, “baby skin would make a really soft leather, making possible a new industry that would create jobs and boost the Irish economy.”

Swift’s writings awakened the consciences of many of his contemporaries, who were arguing the philosophy of pragmatic ethics (if a practice produces a useful result, it’s ethical). Veith points out, however, that in today’s society, university professors, who call attention to Swift’s literary argument on this theme, often find students sympathetic to the satirical suggestion. One student is quoted as saying: “Well, I don’t completely agree with him, but he does make some really good points.”

It is difficult to believe how crass we have become — and the end of the road is not in sight! Human embryos should not be created whimsically, nor should they be destroyed.


For a further commentary on this matter, see:

  • {glossSub (“Stem Cell Research”,“Ronald Reagan’s valuable view of life”)} by political commentator Cal Thomas.
  • {glossSub (“Gene Edward Veith”, “A new modest proposal:”)} Gene Edward Veith in World magazine (World Magazine articles are available for free. You must, however, register on their web site.)
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.