Me and My Stem Cells

July 29, 2006

Bush used his veto power for the first time last week to put the kibosh on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. His veto means that federal funding cannot support research using stem cell lines derived from embryos left over from fertility treatments.

As you can imagine, with women waiting longer to procreate, there are a lot of these frozen nuggets around waiting to be unceremoniously dumped or incinerated.

Bush says these “human embryos” are not “spare parts” and should be treated as human life.

“It’s a very clear issue to the pro-life community,” said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a leading opponent of the research. “Is the youngest human a person or a piece of property?”

I know the ethics of stem cell research has been beat to death as an issue. What it symbolizes for me on a greater level is the continuing knock-down drag-out between people who subscribe to and feel most comfortable with binary, black-white classification systems and those who do not.

In many ways, the binary thinkers are winning, because they keep throwing up absolute choices and we keep taking the bate: A frozen embryo is either a person or property. It cannot be both. Being someone who believes in a more complex realities and gray areas is seen as morally weak. Maybe even a touch French.

I’m really sick of the binary frame. An embryo has the potential to become a person, but it is not yet a person. It has a long way to go. It also has the potential to save a life, to be a spare part, to end up in the clinic dustbin or on my maxipad. All these potentialities coexist. The eggs left in my ovaries can also become people, but they are also my property, and I could sell them to an infertile person (well, if I was ten years younger…) and no one would call it slavery.