A recent story about a new born baby in Louisiana powerfully suggests that human embryos are people too. The Associated Press reports:
“Rescued from a great flood while he was a frozen embryo, a baby boy entered the world Tuesday and was named after the most famous flood survivor of them all: Noah. Noah Benton Markham — 8 pounds 6 1/2 ounces — was born to Rebekah Markham, 32, by Caesarean section after growing from an embryo that nearly thawed in a sweltering hospital during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”
This is an amazing story that you can read about in today’s Washington Post
or watch on CNN (see the video here). But I want to consider the implications that this story has for how we think about the humanity of the unborn (which includes human embryos).
In the stem-cell research debate, we are told that human embryos are nothing but a clump of cells with no moral claim on a right to life. Yet in Noah’s story, the pre-born human embryo is treated as a person who needed to be “rescued” from destruction. What is the difference between Noah (whose pre-born life was regarded as precious) and the thousands of nameless human embryos that are marked to be destroyed for the purposes of research or because no one wants them? Why was the one in need of “rescue” while the others are not?
The answer is quite simple. If the parents of the embryo want to save its life, then the pre-born human’s life is valuable. If the parents don’t want to save the embryo’s life, then the pre-born human’s life is not valuable.
We live in a society in which a human embryo has rights to life if the parents will it to and does not if the parents do not will it to. Noah’s story is a chilling reminder that it is only a tragedy to kill an embryo if the parents don’t want it to be killed. Yet the destruction of human embryos for purposes of research is acceptable if the parents don’t want the embryo. The difference is not the humanity or the personhood of the human embryo. The difference is the desire of the parents. The rights of the weak are totally defined by the will of the strong (source, John Piper).
We can all be grateful for the birth of Noah and that he was rescued from the floods of Katrina. But we should also be sobered by the fact that we live in a morally confused society. In our country, Hurricanes like Katrina are not nearly as threatening to human life as is the culture of death that callously discards thousands of lives like Noah’s every year.