Misleading Photos

It was an arresting photograph: President George W. Bush holding a baby, and surrounded by children, all of whom began life as “excess” embryos otherwise destined for destruction or possibly for use in stem-cell experimentation.

It is hard to imagine a more dramatic demonstration of the fact that human life begins at conception, and that the current debate over embryonic stem-cell research and cloning concerns the most fundamental questions about human dignity and the value of all human life.

At the same time, however, it was (like all photographs) an incomplete and even misleading picture, masking as much as it revealed about the moral complexities of stem-cell research. One was reminded of the similar way in which pictures of the once-robust actor Christopher Reeve, paralyzed in an accident, were used by advocates of stem-cell research. In the Reeve photo-ops, the public was asked to weigh medical treatments and cures for actual suffering persons against the almost abstract consideration that a microscopic embryo deserves to be treated as the moral equivalent of a person. Last month, driven by appeals like those made by Reeve, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to approve funding for embryonic stem-cell research. The research entails the transfer of the DNA of one cell into a human egg-cloning. In extracting stem cells from the newly created embryo, the embryo is destroyed....

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