Never before has humanity found itself facing such difficult ethical options in relation to the use of science and technology. In a fairly recent development, science now has the power to destroy civilization and the planet with the atomic bomb, global warming and the manipulation of life with diverse forms of biotechnology.
Today it is possible to prolong life, even after brain death. And it is also possible to impede birth with pre- and post-conception methods; to maintain an unlimited population of frozen embryos through in-vitro fertilization; to benefit the rich with treatments that permit them to live longer and better.
Soon it will also be possible to induce genetic mutations, benefiting the social class that pays for this service and thus breaking the similarity of the species.
These options, therefore, must be based upon ethical values and humanistic beliefs. This should be debated freely so that the decisions will consider both individual beliefs and the common interest. Every opinion should be heard, and no one should be left out. This is the case in deciding whether to use frozen embryos in stem-cell research. Although there are moral and religious reasons against this, at least five justify the research.
The first reason is a moral one. Anyone who defends life should defend the right to birth and to the full maintenance of life and health that science and technology can offer, as long as the life or the health of one person is not obtained through sacrificing another’s.
The decision to authorize research with human embryos depends upon the choice between the birth of a new life and the loss of that which would be in formation in the embryos. Knowing at which moment life emerges is a scientific and religious question but knowing when life ends is one of science alone. And scientists affirm that, after the embryo has remained frozen for three years, it is impossible for a life to emerge from it.
If there is life at the moment of conception, what now exists is a dead being. There is not, therefore, any moral reason to consider its use as an assault against life. It is not an act similar to abortion or to euthanasia. If a moral error exists, it would have occurred with the in-vitro fertilization and freezing of an embryo for such a long time.
The second reason is humanistic. The right to life cannot be seen only as the right to be born. We need to consider the right to be born and to continue living. Were this research to proceed, many persons would be able to live.
Anyone who does not defend the right to survive and the quality of life for everyone is not fully defending life. There is no way to speak of the right to life without considering the right to remain alive, the right not to die before one’s time due to the lack of advances in scientific research.
The third is political. Brazil is a secular country. Brazilians have different religions, and all these religions should be respected. In some countries, religion is confused with the State; in these, crime and sin are the same thing. But this is not the case in Brazil. Here we cannot consider a crime something that is a sin for some people.
Those adherents of each religion have, moreover, the right to not accept medical developments; they can refuse organ transplants or blood transfusions. But for political reasons, we cannot imagine that one faith should be imposed upon the entire population.
The fourth reason is a social one. Independently of Brazilian law, this research will be done in other countries. If we do not authorize the research, wealthy Brazilians will go to the United States and to Europe; later, they will go to Argentina and to Paraguay, or to other countries that will develop their research. Socially, we cannot tolerate some people benefiting from research because they have money while others do not and will not.
From the political, moral, social and humanistic points of view, therefore, there is justification for embryonic stem-cell research. But besides these, there is yet another to be considered: the patriotic point of view. Brazil cannot set aside scientific dominance in such a fundamental area of medicine. If we prohibit the use of embryos in research, we will take a step backwards in relation to the nations that will be able to conduct this research.
Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his new website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at email@example.com.
Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.