Summary Remarks of Russell E. Saltzman, Pastor of Ruskin Heights Lutheran Church, Kansas City, Missouri, before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, September 14, 2000.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Senators, for the opportunity to appear before this subcommittee this morning. I count it as a privilege. I once worked for a Member of Congress and I know the energy and the time you bring to this work and how difficult your decisions sometimes are, and you are to be thanked for your efforts.
I am here as a person with diabetes to testify against the use of human embryonic stem cell research. But I shall first reveal something of myself. I am the adopted child of Harry and Lola Saltzman, my parents who live yet in the home where I was raised in Olathe, Kansas.
Since I am an adopted child, you might guess, accurately, that the circumstances of my conception were not ideal. In the summer of 1946, I was an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy. My birth parents were members of the same family. In fact they were step-siblings. Very possibly my conception was the result not only of step-sibling incest, but step-sibling rape.
There is no question in my mind – given the circumstances current these days – that my birth mother would have been urged to accept abortion and very likely would have sought one as the means of solving the dilemma I represented. I am unable to look at abortion in any light except those of my origin. When I say that appearing here is a privilege, I hope I also convey my sense of the miraculous, for had my conception occurred after 1972, I would not be here at all.
And suddenly it comes to mind that – having been aborted – the fetal parts that were once me might have become research material for somebody’s investigation into the very disease I have come here to discuss.
So at the outset, I say it is a terrible thing we undertake in these discussions, not only because the matter touches me so personally, but also because I know our common origin, the base humanity that links us one to another, whatever our stage of development or maturity. We all once sprang from an act of union between egg and sperm. We all once were human embryos. We all once were fetuses quickening in our mothers’ wombs. We are all, each, human life. We may hope that all of us were conceived in love, but in my case that matters not at all. Whether I was conceived in love or in violence, what is important for me is the fact that I am here in the first place. My existence by itself has some considerable consequence for other people, not least for my seven children, two of whom are adopted.
I suffer from diabetes. Since my diagnosis in 1995, I have learned that the burden of a chronic illness is a real burden. I have experienced the progression of this illness from a time when simple diet alterations controlled it, to the point now where I am completely insulin-dependent. It is the chronic part that constitutes the real burden, knowing I shall never be rid of it, knowing my life will always be governed by diet and injection schedules, and knowing, too, that my death probably will be the result of some diabetic complication. When I say I wish I did not have it, I am saying there is almost anything I would do to get rid of it. Almost.
The prospect of stem cell therapy derived from human embryonic research – involving the destruction of a human embryo – touches me in a most profound way. I would never consent to any treatment for my diabetes that directly or indirectly came about as the result of destroying a human embryo. What I find disturbing about this incessant rush to harvest stem cells from embryos is the fact that no researcher to date has been able to develop a pancreatic cell from the techniques presently used, this while there are several promising avenues of research that do not involve destruction of a human embryo.
Most recently, I have learned about investigations by Canadian researchers that employed pancreatic islet cells from cadavers. The technique successfully eliminated insulin-dependence of several diabetics who received the procedure. The procedure is subject to further trials and it must be nuanced in application. But this holds greater promise for a diabetic cure than anything else I have heard about – and islet cell transplant is ethically neutral. It has no moral implications associated with it. Yet, we here in the United States seem in a rush to use what is arguably the most ethically objectionable method available, while other morally neutral medical technologies virtually are at hand. The President’s own National Bioethics Advisory Commission has said that because human embryos deserve respect as a developing form of human life, destroying them “is justifiable only if no less morally problematic alternatives are available for advancing research.” The fact is, those alternatives exist.
It comes to a question. Is the human embryo human life, or is it a mere bit of research material? If it is mere research material, then why should any human life at any stage of development – yours or mine – carry any special privilege? But if the embryo is human life, then we should have in place some restraint that cautions the strong against using the weak for their own purposes.
I would commend to your reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Written in 1933 Huxley, with astonishing prophetic foresight, created a world of genetic clones and what he called “decanted babies.” All this arose because in the world of his novel, the human embryo was merely research material. He worried that science was being twisted all around. Where once, as with the sabbath, science was made for Man, he foresaw a time when Man would be made for science. In Huxley’s fictionalized world the process that turned science around was methodical and deliberate, and without moral regard. In our own world, the process going on is less tidy but no less deliberate, and, I fear, with equally little moral regard.
If a cure for diabetes and a host of other ailments require the production and destruction of human embryos, then I beg you to consider the possibility that some diseases are better than their cure.
~ Russell E. Saltzman