They’re Going to Die Anyway

The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture, by Scott Klusendorf Today we are continuing our series of posts on the ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR). One of the arguments raised in favor of using leftover embryos in fertility clinics for research is that they are going to die anyway. So why not put them to good use saving lives? Scott Klusendorff in his interview with Crossway Publishers offers the following interesting thought experiment to help us see what is wrong with this argument.

There are moral considerations that call into question “they’re going to die anyway” argument. Suppose you oversee a Cambodian orphanage with 200 toddlers that are abandoned. The facility cannot care for them any longer. Water levels are critically low and food supplies are exhausted. It’s only a matter of time before starvation and disease set in. A scientist has offered to take the toddlers off your hands and use them for grisly medical research designed to cure cancer. He confronts you with the hard facts: Many of these children will die soon and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it, so why let all those organs go to waste? Nonetheless, you refuse. You could never, even for a moment, consider turning the kids over to the scientist on grounds that “these kids are going to die anyway so let’s put them to good use.” True, given your impoverished circumstances, you are powerless to save them, but you would never be complicit in actively killing vulnerable human beings, which is what ESCR does.

Related posts:
    • Scott Klusendorf on Embryonic Stem Cell Research
    • Alternatives to Embyronic Stem Cell Research


  1. John W says:

    I think to tackle this one, one must first back up and examine the moral ethics of fertility clinics and the manner in which they operate.

    Personally, I am against medical intervention where fertility is concerned. First, I have significant problems with the idea that multiple embryos are fertilized in the hopes that one of them works. What happens to the rest? If we examine fertility clinics from the pro-life, anti-abortion point of view, then aren’t fertility clinics guilty of murder? Indirectly, aren’t those parents guilty of conspiring in the same murders? … I want to note here that I am deliberately examining this from an extreme pro-life point of view. I am deliberately asking the extreme questions there. I do not lay claim to that extreme point of view, but only mean it as “serious points to ponder”.

    Second, adopt. As a Christian who has watched other Christians go through fertility issues, I am always baffled at why adoption is so far off the list. Yes, it is complicated, but is it really that much more expensive than the medical intervention for fertility issues? It would almost seem to be a “message from God”, and yet people ignore it with a passion that only seems explainable by Darwinian notions of passing on genetics.

    But back around to the point. If there were no fertility clinics, this would not be as big of an issue. There would be no spare embryos waiting to die.

    As for the comparison the author makes, I think that is apples to oranges. The embryos are being created out of (what I will harshly state as) a selfish desire for the parents to have a child of their own loins. If they were not creating the market for that business, there would be no spare embryos sitting in freezers. The children in the hypothetical scenario are not always so deliberately created, nor are they created through a market demand for such a service to exist.

  2. Ray Fowler says:

    John – Granted there is a difference in how the embryos came to be abandoned and how the Cambodian orphans were abandoned, but I don’t think that negates the argument. What if the Cambodian orphans were the result of a baby mill where mothers were having babies for the express purpose of adoption, but there was now an excess of babies? Would that change the situation? I still don’t think people would feel comfortable saying, “Well, they are going to die anyway, so we might as well do research on them.” Even if the process that produced the babies was wrong or immoral, that still does not give more powerful humans the right to use them for research.

    What your comment rightly points out is that there is a prior problem which is causing the problem of having these “left-over” embryos to begin with. I agree there are severe moral problems with fertility procedures that produce excess embryos that the parents have no intention of raising as children. I also agree that prospective parents should be more open to adoption when the Lord closes the womb.

    Incidentally, the Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program provides adoptive services for frozen embryos. Many couples have chosen to adopt frozen embryos and are now raising happy, healthy children who might otherwise have remained frozen or been destroyed.

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  1. Alternatives to Embyronic Stem Cell Research at Ray Fowler .org

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