President Obama made a controversial decision earlier last month to lift the Bush-era ban on government-funded embryonic stem cell research, and we support that decision. But it’s not because we are pro-life or pro-choice; it’s not because we believe life begins at conception or in the third trimester or even at birth. We believe embryonic stem cell research is important and productive to our society because of staggering statistics.
Whether you are highly religious or just don’t believe in abortion, there is no denying that in the U.S., more than one million legal abortions happen every year (statistics from the Alan Guttmacher Institute). In fertility clinics across the country, according to USA Today, there are estimated to be more than half a million frozen embryos, and thousands of embryos are destroyed every year. On the other side of the issue, the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System Report announced last year that there were more than 510,000 children in the foster care system in the United States.
Based on these numbers alone, this country is in a severe crisis, and stem cell research has nothing to do with belittling the life of unborn children. We already have hundreds of thousands of children waiting to be adopted, and abortion numbers show that thousands, if not millions, more could have been added to that wait list. And frozen embryos? Anyone who is a parent understands the connection to a biological child — but are we in such a state that we have to freeze our unborn children until we are ready to have them? Why can’t we become a part of the solution and adopt a child rather than spend thousands of dollars to freeze embryos?
Finding the solution to deal with the alarming number of unwanted pregnancies has been ongoing for decades. From the time abortion became legal in 1973, approximately 45 million unwanted pregnancies have been terminated. The issue of unwanted frozen embryos at fertility clinics is so new, our legislators are just starting to consider this issue. We aren’t going to be able to tackle any of these issues any time soon, but we have already made decisions that have put us in a place to destroy embryos. Why shouldn’t we do what we can to use them to help those who are living? There hasn’t been any data showing that because unwanted embryos will be used for scientific research, abortions will increase or fertility clinics will discard more fertilized eggs.
Research has shown, however, that the use of adult stem cells has helped those suffering from heart disease and other debilitating illnesses ( Because so little research has been done with embryonic stem cells, the possibilities may be endless —unless we get started, we may never know.
Right now in this country, more than 1.5 million people suffer from Parkinson’s disease, more than 5.3 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s, roughly 11,000 people will suffer from a spinal cord injury each year, and more than 700,000 people will suffer from a stroke annually. Stem cell researchers are eager to study embryonic stem cells, hoping they may hold the cure to these debilitating diseases and conditions.
While this research is very controversial, we can’t just ignore the facts. We need to recognize that no matter what we think about when life occurs — be it at conception or at birth or somewhere in between — we are throwing away what could be saving lives or helping others to live better ones. Researching embryonic stem cells is not an ethical issue — but throwing away that which can help those suffering should be.