Destruction Of The Human Embryo In Stem Cell Research And The Moral Status Of The Unborn In The South African Regulatory Framework—A Christian Assessment -- By: Callie Joubert

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 15:1 (Mar 2013)
Article: Destruction Of The Human Embryo In Stem Cell Research And The Moral Status Of The Unborn In The South African Regulatory Framework—A Christian Assessment
Author: Callie Joubert


Destruction Of The Human Embryo In Stem Cell Research And The Moral Status Of The Unborn In The South African Regulatory Framework—A Christian Assessment

Callie Joubert1

Abstract

One of the most prominent controversies of the last decade has been human embryo research, as obtaining stem cells typically requires the destruction of the embryo. The South African Bill of Rights excludes the embryo from the right to life, yet, in legislation, it is acknowledged that the unborn can suffer harm. The aim of this paper is to help Christians make sense of this state of affairs. First, it highlights a few anomalies in the South African regulatory framework. It then turns to the scriptures, followed by a clarification of crucially important metaphysical concepts and distinctions without which no position on the moral status of the embryo can be adequately assessed and critiqued. The final section comprises a brief response to three objections to the view that the human embryo is in fact a human person.

1. Introduction

South Africa’s history took a turn in 1996, when the new Constitution (no. 108 of 1996) and the Bill of Rights (henceforth ‘the Bill’) came into being. Just as momentous was the passing of the Choice on the Termination of Pregnancy Act (henceforth ‘the Act’) the same year. Government statistics reveal that 500,000 legal abortions have been recorded from 1997 to 2004 (McGill 2006:195-196, also fn. 1). For Christians, the proliferation and legal permissibility of these practices could easily lead to a view among their fellow citizens that human life has very little value, let alone that the ‘good’ of abortion counts towards the common good (Anderson 2002; De Freitas 2001, 2006; Meilaender 2005; McGill 2006; Vorster 2011).

South Africa is on the verge of entering another phase in its history. Researchers recognised the potential of stem cells2 to treat a wide range of human illnesses and diseases which are currently difficult or ‘impossible’ to treat (Pepper 2010; Schuklenk and Lott 2002; Sommer 2011; Steinbock 2011). What makes human embryonic stem cells so special is that, on the one hand, they are thought to have greater potential for differentiation into a wide range of tissues, and, on the

other hand, procuring them requires the destruction of the human embryo.3

Destruction of the embryo is widely acknowledged and discussed as problematic for our und...

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