By Diana Hsieh
This post is drawn from Ari Armstrong's and my new policy paper: The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception. I'm currently posting the full paper as a series of blog posts. You can read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.
The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception
By Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Ph.D
A policy paper written for the Coalition for Secular Government (www.SecularGovernment.us)
Published on August 31, 2010
The Destructive Effects of 'Personhood'
Bans of Embryonic Stem-Cell Research
"Personhood" laws would ban all medical research that might harm embryos--even though such research may help save and improve the lives of countless born people. The National Institutes of Health summarizes some of the potential benefits of embryonic stem-cell research:
[S]tudying stem cells will help us to understand how they transform into the dazzling array of specialized cells that make us what we are. Some of the most serious medical conditions, such as cancer and birth defects, are due to problems that occur somewhere in this process. A better understanding of normal cell development will allow us to understand and perhaps correct the errors that cause these medical conditions.Advances in mid-2010, while still in clinical trials, point to the potential benefits of embryonic stem-cell research--and the hostility such research generates from religious opponents of abortion. Abroad, London's Telegraph reports: "Researchers used more than a 100 spare embryos left over from treatment at fertility clinics to establish several embryonic stem cell 'lines.' One of those lines...was transformed into blood stem cells before they were converted into red cells containing haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying pigment." Such research may lead to safe, abundant blood supplies. A Catholic critic who once ran for office with the ProLife Alliance party condemned the research as "proposed destructive use of embryos."
Another potential application of stem cells is making cells and tissues for medical therapies. ...Pluripotent stem cells [from human embryos] offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat a myriad of diseases, conditions, and disabilities including Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, spinal cord injury, burns, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
In the U.S., CNN reports:
The first human clinical trial of a therapy involving embryonic stems cells has been approved [by the FDA] to proceed... The purpose of this first phase of research in humans is to test the safety of a therapy in patients with spinal cord injury. Candidates for the trial are those with the most severe injuries.In response to the development, the National Catholic Register pointed out that any destruction of an embryo defies official Catholic policy: "The killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act." While the article also discusses potential scientific limitations to the research, it presents a religious position that would oppose embryonic stem-cell research regardless of its effectiveness.
In the name of "respecting life," "personhood" advocates would impose a death sentence on the real people whose lives might be saved through embryonic stem cell research.
Amendment 62 Is Anti-Life
Considering the logical implications of Colorado's Amendment 62 and comparable "personhood" laws, one can only rationally conclude that these proposals are profoundly anti-life, not "pro-life" as its advocates pretend.
To summarize the findings of this section, if fully enforced, Amendment 62 would threaten severe legal penalties, possibly including the death penalty, for intentionally harming a zygote, embryo, or fetus.
It would outlaw all elective abortions, forcing pregnant women to give birth against their judgment of what's best for their lives, and it would encourage dangerous illegal abortions.
It would outlaw medical intervention that might harm an embryo or fetus except in cases of severe risk to the woman's life, and even then the measure might strongly discourage doctors from intervening. In cases of risks to a woman's health only, or in cases of uncertain risk to life, Amendment 62 would threaten a doctor with criminal prosecution for taking action to help a pregnant woman.
Amendment 62 would ban abortion even in cases of rape, incest, and terminal fetal deformity.
It would ban any form of birth control, including the pill and IUD, that might prevent a zygote from implanting in the uterus, thereby forcing couples to resort to less effective forms of birth control and causing more unplanned pregnancies.
It would effectively ban fertility treatments, thereby preventing hundreds of Colorado families from having a child each year.
And it would ban embryonic stem cell research that could save or improve countless lives of actual, born people.
Calling Amendment 62 a "pro-life" measure, when it would actively damage, prevent, or destroy the lives of so many actual people, is an appalling inversion of the truth. Amendment 62 is an anti-life measure that should be morally condemned as such.
Read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.