For those who missed me or at least my column last week, I was away at a conference as a guest speaker on the subject of stem-cell research. The conference was hosted and attended largely by conservatives in a luxury resort complete with some very high-profile speakers, a golf tournament and a black tie dinner.

The first evening reception and dinner included the famed football coach Lou Holtz. I have always been a big football fan hailing from the University of Miami and the five-time national champion Hurricanes. So as I eagerly awaited his speech, I faced the usual but nonetheless awkward hurdle of “small talk” with guests I didn’t know seated at the dinner table.

I’ve never been a very good schmoozer. What’s worse, I don’t much like talking shop after business either. That means despite my rather opinionated views, I usually find myself hoping someone else will take over conversation lest an uncomfortable silence descend upon the table and I begin clock watching until the lead speaker takes the stage.

Fortunately, my husband attended with me (did I mention there was a golf tournament), and he usually runs interference on dinner conversation with the agility of a seasoned politician. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for everyone to know I was invited to speak. And with such a controversial subject as stem-cell research on the table, it was only minutes before I was embroiled in a polite but heated exchange.

The kerchief slap came when one woman proudly proclaimed that if she could donate her eggs to create embryos to produce stem cells and a cure for anyone she knew – she would do it. Her boyfriend responded to the apparent generosity of her offer with approval and a hardy “Amen, sister.”

I hesitated to respond, knowing the bowels into which such conversations often descend, but nonetheless posited that human life is on a continuum from conception. I explained that from the moment of conception every human life is genetically human, genetically and sexually distinct, a complete (albeit immature) life form that is able to direct its own growth and development. These characteristics distinguish human life and the embryo from any other clump of cells or tissue produced in or by the body.

I further explained that conception is the only non-arbitrary point at which we can choose to protect human life. Beyond conception, there is no set of human characteristics that even “reasonable” people will agree qualify human life for protection. In other words, there is no logical argument to be made after conception to protect human life at one point that cannot be countered by some other point further along in development.

For example, some argue protection should begin when the heart begins beating at 4 weeks or when brain waves can be detected at 6. Others argue protection should begin when the face becomes distinguishable at 8 weeks or when the child can sense pain at 4 months. Some think it is the point of viability at 24 weeks – when the child can live independently outside the womb. But that is an ever-moving target with advances in technology.

The truth is some people obviously find it acceptable to take a child’s life moments before it is born. And under New Jersey law, it is permissible to kill a child that is created for therapeutic cloning purposes even after that child is born. Some renowned academics suggest parents should have a few months after the child is born to legally terminate his or her life – kind of like a 90 day money-back guarantee on products not meeting with your satisfaction or approval.

While the dinner guests agreed out loud that the law in New Jersey was ridiculous, they could not see that their position was as arbitrary as the one held by the New Jersey legislators. Nor could they see that their very position opened the door for abortion on demand, the killing of children created through cloning and even other such common practices as physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Proof of my argument can be easily seen in the Netherlands where doctors have recently received government-approved guidelines for killing newborn babies – a practice rooted in government-approved euthanasia that started more than 20 years ago.

My opponent’s response was to scrape the tip of his knife into a pad of butter and hold it across the table in my direction with the statement: “This is not human life.”

Never mind the size of an embryo at 3 weeks (just about the same as the swath of butter he held at the end of his knife) has started to develop recognizable body parts. I realize there is just no getting through to some people.

As an interesting aside, his daughter, who looked to be about 15 or so, became enthralled with my argument and was quite bold in taking the position opposite her dad – a trend among generation Xers that present pro-lifers would be wise to nurture.

To their credit, the whole family attended my presentation the next day. And while no obvious conversions took place, they were excited to learn about the alternatives in adult stem-cell research. Afterwards, they admitted that it was the more promising and ethical options provided by cord blood and adult stem-cell research that made their participation in embryonic stem-cell research unnecessary and unlikely – another trend pro-lifers would be wise to nurture.

So what are these alternatives to embryonic stem-cell research, and what is the cutting edge right now? Stay tuned for next week’s column to find out.

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