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Presenting the pro-life case to libertarians, and the libertarian case to pro-lifers

On Human Embryo Research

Testimony presented orally by Doris Gordon to the third meeting of the National Institutes of Health Human Embryo Research Panel, April 11, 1994

My name is Doris Gordon. I have been a libertarian since 1959. Originally, I supported abortion choice. Now, I am the national coordinator of Libertarians for Life, which I founded. Libertarians for Life’s reasoning is based on science and philosophy rather than religion. Personally, I am an atheist and a Jew.
Abortion raises two critical questions: the moral status of prenatal human beings, and the pregnant woman’s right to control her own body. Conceiving children outside their mother’s body and storing them frozen has one virtue: these cases give visible evidence that the moral status and the rights of a prenatal child are independent of the mother’s status and rights. The body to be subjected to involuntary experimentation is not the mother’s body.

There are good scientific and philosophical reasons to say that I began my life when I was conceived. There is not even one good reason that shows otherwise. Being libertarian, I insist upon the right to control my own body. When I was a zygote, it was my body and nobody else’s. The ethical objection to human embryo research is that such research presumes the embryo is not an actual human being but something else. But it was no vegetable, no mere animal, no pre-human, no piece of property from whom I received my life; my mother and my father gave me life directly. Unfortunately, using an embryonic human being as a guinea pig tramples on the right of that human being to her own body.

Let’s turn to your list of “Major Policy Questions” and focus on Questions 1 and 2; the other three are subsidiary questions. Question 1 asks, “What are the competing ethical frameworks with respect to the moral status of the embryo?”

One framework is that all human beings are persons, from conception to death. This framework accords with the libertarian claim that life and rights are inseparable. The opposing framework is that there are two tiers of human offspring: a superior class of persons with rights, and a sub-human class of non-persons without legal protection. A two-tiered view of humanity sees life as separable from rights. The premise underlying human embryo research is two tiers of humanity. This premise offers no obstacle to slavery, treating women as chattel, the Holocaust, and innumerable other cases of aggression.

Question 2 asks, “If the embryo in some sense deserves respect, what is owed and at what stages in development? This question,” you added, “should touch on the 14-day limit issue and be informed by available scientific information.”

First, regarding what is owed, all persons owe all other persons to not aggress against them. Parents owe their children support and protection from harm because they owe their children non-aggression. Parents who kill their children by abortion or who donate them to science are violating their obligation not to aggress.

Regarding the 14-day limit, there is no barrier in Roe v. Wade against lifting this limit and raising it higher and still higher. Unfortunately, Roe dodged the essential nature of the child and made the child’s location pivotal. But there’s nothing magical about being outside a place as opposed to being inside. What if one day prenatal children might be put into artificial wombs where they could live and grow indefinitely? This panel has to ask about a 14-day limit because even many abortion choicers worry about the fact that any line-drawing other than at conception is merely subjective and arbitrary.

When my children were toddlers, we read a sex-education book that told the truth. It said, “At the beginning of you, you were no bigger than a dot — a tiny dot, much smaller even than the dot on this page.”1 “The little egg in your mother’s body, by itself, was not you. And the little sperm in your father’s body, by itself wasn’t you. You began to be only when the two joined together. That was the moment you started to be yourself. That was the moment when you became able to grow into a baby, and after that into a boy or girl, and after that into a man or woman.”2 A future book ought to warn toddlers, if you become a human embryologist, what you see under the microscope might be your own frozen brother, sister, cousin, aunt, or uncle.

Let’s imagine you could watch a “Back to the Future” scenario in which you, yourself, are the frozen embryo. If someone was going to experiment on you, would you have good reason to object?

I would.3


Sidonie Matsner Gruenberg, The Wonderful Story of How You Were Born, p. 4, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1959.
Ibid, p. 24
For a libertarian defense of the rights of prenatal human beings, please read “Why Abortion Violates Rights,” by Doris Gordon, which I have submitted for inclusion in the record. Its arguments are relevant to human embryo research as well as abortion.

Doris Gordon (1929-2014)
Doris Gordon, founder and longtime coordinator of Libertarians for Life, died on July 7 at Holy Cross Hospital, Silver Spring, Md., after a struggle with meningitis and other health problems. She was 85. Surviving her are daughter Julie Gordon, son Monte Gordon, and five grandchildren. She lost her husband, Nathan Gordon, in 1987. A Bronx native, Mrs. Gordon graduated from Hunter College and taught elementary-school students in New York City before moving to Maryland. She became active in the libertarian movement, and eventually quite active against abortion. She stressed the concept of parental obligation. “By causing children to be,” she wrote, “parents also cause them to need support; it’s a package deal.”