“On January 16, 2007, a remarkable journey came to an end in Covington, Louisiana. Sixteen months earlier, Noah Benton Markham’s life had been jeopardized by the winds and rain of Hurricane Katrina. Trapped in a flooded hospital in New Orleans, Noah depended upon the timely work of seven Illinois Conservation Police officers, and three Louisiana State officers who used flat–bottomed boats to rescue Noah and take him to safety.
Although many New Orleans residents tragically lost their lives in Katrina and its aftermath, Noah’s story of rescue is, nevertheless, one of many inspirational tales of heroism from that national disaster. What, then, makes it unique? And why did the story of his rescue end sixteen months after the events of September 2006? The answer is that Noah has the distinction of being one of the youngest residents of New Orleans to be saved from Katrina: when the Illinois and Louisiana police officers entered the hospital where Noah was trapped, he was an embryo, a human being in the very earliest stages of development, frozen with fourteen hundred embryos in canisters of liquid nitrogen.
Noah’s story had a happy ending: Noah’s parents were overjoyed those sixteen months later when Noah emerged, via cesarean section, into the light of the wide world. His parents named him in acknowledgment of a resourceful survivor of an earlier flood. His grandmother immediately started phoning relatives with the news: ‘It’s a boy!’ But if those officers had never made it to Noah’s hospital, or if they had abandoned those canisters of liquid nitrogen, there can be little doubt that the toll of Katrina would have been fourteen hundred human beings higher than it already was, and Noah, sadly, would have perished before having the opportunity to meet his loving family.
Let us repeat it: Noah would have perished. For it was Noah who was frozen in one of those canisters; Noah who was brought from New Orleans by boat; Noah who was subsequently implanted into his mother’s womb; and Noah who was born on January 16, 2007.
Noah started this remarkable journey as an embryo, or blastocyst—a name for a very early stage of development in a human being’s life. Noah continued that journey after implantation into his mother’s womb, growing into a fetus and finally an infant. And he will continue, we are confident, to grow into an adolescent and a teenager as he continues along the path to adulthood.
Noah’s progress in these respects is little different from that of any other member of the human race, save for the exertions necessary to save him at the very earliest stage of his life. But in later years, if Noah were to look back to that troubled time in New Orleans and ask himself whether he was rescued that day, whether it was his life that was saved, we believe that there is only one answer he could reasonably give himself: ‘Of course!’
This answer to Noah’s question is a mere two words long, yet it contains the key to one of the most morally and politically troubled issues of our day. Is it morally permissible to produce and experiment upon human embryos? Is it morally permissible to destroy human embryos to obtain stem cells for therapeutic purposes? Is it morally permissible to treat human embryos as disposable research material that may be used and destroyed to benefit others?
All such questions have the seeds of their answer in these two words. For what Noah would be saying in these two words—and his answer is confirmed by all the best science—is that human embryos are, from the very beginning, human beings, sharing an identity with, though younger than, the older human beings they will grow up to become.
Human embryos are not, that is to say, some other type of animal organism, like a dog or cat. Neither are they a part of an organism, like a heart, a kidney, or a skin cell. Nor again are they a disorganized aggregate, a mere clump of cells awaiting some magical transformation. Rather, a human embryo is a whole living member of the species Homo sapiens in the earliest stage of his or her natural development.
Unless severely damaged, or denied or deprived of a suitable environment, a human being in the embryonic stage will, by directing its own integral organic functioning, develop himself or herself to the next more mature developmental stage, i.e., the fetal stage. The embryonic, fetal, child, and adolescent stages are stages in the development of a determinate and enduring entity—a human being—who comes into existence as a single–celled organism (the zygote) and develops, if all goes well, into adulthood many years later.
But does this mean that the human embryo is a human person worthy of full moral respect? Must the early embryo never be used as a mere means for the benefit of others simply because it is a human being? The answer that this book proposes and defends with philosophical arguments through the course of the next several chapters is ‘Yes.'”
–Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, Embryo: A Defense of Human Life (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 1-3.