January 22, 2008

Roe v. Wade: The 'Destruction' or 'Death' of Embryos?

January 22 is the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Courts decision to legalize abortion. In these 35 years, we've debated the issues from the perspective of women's rights, the right to life of the unborn, the health of the mother, the personhood of the fetus, etc. Images of dead babies ripped from their mother's uterus and the use of ultrasound to reveal babies in the warmth of their mother's womb have served to bring about wide range of emotions that have benefited the movement for life.

When we think of these images, we call them babies, people, and life. But when you see the image of an embryo, do you think of it as a human being whose life is at risk by the hands of scientists researching stem cells or women/couples who are utilizing ART's? The truth is, we don't speak of the death of embryos, we speak of their destruction. It seems perhaps we have adopted the language of science as we speak of embryonic people and this may prove to be a disastrous move on our part.

I believe part of why we speak of embryos being destroyed instead of being killed, destruction vs. death, is because the image of embryos does not conjure up the feelings we have for people at the infant stage. We are repulsed at the idea of small, vulnerable people experiencing a painful death at the hands of those who are expected to do no harm. While the image is important in retaining our sense of repugnance, it may be that this image has become the basis for our prolife position and is preventing us from being a stronger voice for the lives of embryos in frozen storage and/or being sought for research purposes. Without the images to generate our emotions, have we lacked the motivation to fight as hard for the embryo as we do for the child at a later stage of gestation? I believe this is the case, and this is why some of our republican presidential candidates are getting away with an inconsistent life position.

As this 35th anniversary comes and goes, remember the embryonic life at risk in cryopreservation and in research labs. We shouldn't need to have the bloody images to invoke our outrage and sense of humanity.

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