There are two sides to every question, Lord Herbert Samuel pointed out almost a century ago, because when there no longer are two sides, it ceases to be a question. Lately, sides have been forming around the question of stem cell research. In November 1998, researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Johns Hopkins University found that human embryos with cells in the earliest stages of development hold out hope for cures for diseases as diverse and devastating as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and diabetes.

Should they be used?

The preponderance of logic comes down on the side of those who wish to permit such research to continue and expand over the coming years.

Embryonic stem cells are, of course, available because of a comparatively new phenomenon--the ability of doctors to fertilize an egg outside the

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  • uterus. For many couples, such fertilization is their one hope for conceiving a child who is biologically theirs. And because most of the fertilized eggs implanted into the woman's uterus will not "take," far more eggs are fertilized than are needed. Thus, once the woman becomes pregnant (perhaps several times), the remaining eggs are very often destroyed. It is estimated that currently there are approximately 100,000 embryos in fertility clinic freezers that will never be used.

    Opponents argue that these fertilized eggs are the biological, and therefore moral, equivalent of human beings and that such research amounts to medical experimentation on, and murder of, human beings. If true, such experimentation would be grossly immoral. You don't murder some innocent people to save or improve the lives of others. (Even in "just wars," the death of innocents is justified only when they are the unintended but inevitable, as when bombing a legitimate military target will kill innocent people. "Just war" doctrines wouldn't permit killing as an end in itself, even to shorten the war and save lives.)

    But if fertilized eggs truly are the equivalent of human life, then why hasn't there been a similar hue and cry over these past years at the discarding of fertilized eggs? In truth, as former Florida Senator Connie Mack, who is pro-life, argues, "as long as the fertilized egg is not destined to be placed in a uterus, it cannot become life." In other words, a fertilized egg is not life, because a sperm and an egg alone can't make life; you also need a womb.

    I understand (even if I don't usually agree with) many of the arguments of the pro-life forces on abortion, but their refusal to distinguish between a fertilized egg (which was created independent of any sexual relationship and is now in a freezer) and a fetus inside a mother's womb is not reasonable.

    I would submit that equating a fertilized egg with a human life is an act of faith. I certainly believe people have a right to accept theological premises that do not seem reasonable to someone outside their faith. I don't expect others, for instance, to accept my belief that God chose my ancient Israelite ancestors to make Himself known to the world. Nor can I ask them to be bound by my faith.

    Perhaps a more pertinent parallel is once from the Catholic tradition. In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council accepted the doctrine of transubstantiation as official dogma. This asserted that the wafer used at the Mass was miraculously transformed into the body of Jesus. The wafer was thenceforth to be regarded

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