Frozen Embryos: Stem Cell Source or Human Life?

 We live in an age of increasing disregard for the value of human life. The youngest members of our society are viewed as a commodity for use in research and for the development of possible cures for various diseases. The most vulnerable members of the human race often are referred to as “excess” embryos, “frozen tissue” in IVF clinics, “potential” human beings. Even members of Congress known to be pro-life have wavered on the issue of harvesting embryonic stem cells from frozen embryos destined to be discarded from fertility clinics across the country. 

The more recent arguments surrounding the controversy of using taxpayer's money to support embryonic stem cell research have revolved around the Castle-DeGette bill (H.R. 810). The focus of this bill, passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, May 24, 2005, is to override President Bush's earlier ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research on embryonic stem cell lines derived after August 2001. While those who contend that these embryos are only potential human beings believe that they should be used in research because they may possibly be useful for curing diseases, others disagree. Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay stated that the bill would use taxpayer funding for "the dismemberment of living, distinct human beings" (BBC News, 2005).1

In fact, "the dismemberment of living, distinct human beings" is an excellent description of the process of embryonic stem cell research. These frozen embryos are not just “potential” human beings; they are in every way human life.

It is ironic that on the same day Congress passed a bill aimed at using taxpayer dollars to fund the destruction of frozen embryos from IVF clinics for research purposes, President Bush was supporting the adoption of these same embryos. On Tuesday, May 24, 2005, President Bush welcomed to the White House families who had adopted so-called excess embryos, as well as those who had given their embryos for adoption. The President also welcomed Nightlight Christian Adoptions and applauded their embryo adoption program, Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption. The President praised the families who gave up their embryos for adoption for choosing a "life-affirming" alternative for their frozen embryos (The White House, 2005). As a result of those choices, twenty-one children, adopted as embryos, were present for Mr. Bush's remarks.

The adoption of frozen embryos is an excellent alternative to their being discarded or destroyed for research purposes. Nightlight's Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program began in 1997, and has matched 230 genetic families with 145 adopting families. Currently, 81 babies have been born and more are on the way (Nightlight Christian Adoptions, 2005).2 The fact that “excess” frozen embryos can be adopted and allowed to develop into fully functioning members of the human race also indicates that these embryos are not just potential human beings. In fact, these embryos truly are the smallest and most vulnerable people in our society, and they should be given the same respect as any other member of society.

President Bush took a firm stance on the fact that embryonic stem cell research destroys human life. He stated, "In the complex debate over embryonic stem cell research, we must remember that real human lives are involved—both the lives of those with diseases that might find cures from this research, and the lives of the embryos that will be destroyed in the process." He further explained that while he has increased funding for adult stem cell research, he believes that the Castle-DeGette bill "would take us across a critical ethical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life." Indeed, as the President stated in reference to those in the audience, "The children here today are reminders that every human life is a precious gift of matchless value" (The White House, 2005).3


1 BBC News (2005). Accessed June 2, 2005 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/Americas/4576307.stm.

2 Nightlight Christian Adoptions (2005). Accessed June 2, 2005 at http://www.nightlight.org/snowflakes_faqs.asp.

3 The White House (2005). Accessed June 2, 2005 at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/05/20050524-12.html.