Here’s some scientifictional thinking: At some point in the future, it is quite likely that doctors will be able to take a stem cell from an adult and use it to grow a replacement organ such as a kidney or heart.
After that, medical science will progress to the point that a finger can be grown and transplanted to replace a missing finger. Shortly thereafter they will be replacing arms and legs that have been severed or damaged.
All that probably sounds pretty good to you. I sounds pretty good to me, too. And those opposing embryonic stem cell research generally don’t have a problem with using adult stem cells to grow body parts. (It’s not a new human life because there was no conception.)
But from there, it is a small step to being able to create all the organs and limbs from the neck down, allowing almost a full body replacement. Does that start making it sound creepy?
And the next step is to build all the body parts except the brain in order to provide a full body transplant into a healthy young body. But what objection can there really be to doing that — it’s the person’s own body, not a new human being. It would allow people to extend their lives quite a bit, but eventually the brain breaks down.
So the final step is when scientists can grow a new body with a new, blank brain, to which the memories and personality can be transferred through some process.
Wait! A complete human body with a brain, blank or not, is a human being. Isn’t it?
Not by the definition used by the pro-life groups fighting against embryonic stem cell research. That body and brain are not the result of conception. If human life begins at conception, and there is no conception, then there is no human life.
It’s also not a human being by Senator Hatch’s pro-embryonic-stem-cell-research standard: “Human life begins in the mother’s womb, not in a petri dish or a refrigerator.” That body and brain have never been in a mother’s womb.
Those who favor abortion rights may be chuckling to themselves at this point, happy to see pro-lifers caught up by their own definitions of when life begins. But the technology that would allow replacement bodies to be grown in laboratory vats would also allow a normal human embryo or fetus at any stage in development to grow until it’s ready to be born. That pushes the point of “viability outside the womb” back to conception. What moral reason is there to kill the fetus with an abortion if it can be safely removed and placed in a vat, where it can continue to develop?
To my knowledge, the Church has not taken a position on such future technology. But it is reasonable to infer that under LDS doctrine, a new human being exists when a body and a spirit are united. (Just when that happens is still open to debate, of course. )
So would that body with a blank brain have a spirit?
I’m glad I don’t have to decide.