One of the fundamental questions of bioethics is who is human? Being counted as human should bring legal, social and moral protections. But the most vulnerable among us are too often seen as not-yet or no-longer worthy of that protection. 

And among the vulnerable, the most easily dismissed human being is the embryo. How we describe, respect, or exploit the embryo is a telling marker of the health of our society.

The embryo (or “pre-embryo,” as some have re-defined him or her) is at risk in three particular circumstances that should be the focus of concern for the next administration: 1) as the subject of basic scientific research, 2) as the source of potential medical therapies, and 3) as the object of private parenthood projects. In each scenario, the embryo is not regarded for who he or she is, but for the potential benefit to others.

In the best of all possible worlds, 1) No human embryo would be used as a resource, or in any research that is not intended to be therapeutic for that embryo; 2) No human embryo would be used as a source of stem cells that would cause the injury or death of that embryo; 3) No human embryo that is created for reproductive purposes may be discriminated against for any reason, including its sex or genetic profile. This would include a moratorium on freezing embryos.

For the health of our nation, this is the least we could do.

This article originally appeared in the NAE Insight.

Paige Cunningham is executive director of The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. She is a fellow at the Institute for Biotechnology and the Human Future and a trustee of Taylor University. Cunningham is affiliate professor at Trinity Law School and Trinity Graduate School and adjunct professor of law and bioethics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She holds a master’s degree from Trinity International University and a law degree from Northwestern University Law School.