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May 26, 2005

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mcg

I know this is precisely the opposite of what you are asking for, but I think that any good rebuttal needs to be able to answer this well-done piece from Ramesh Ponnuru.

Brad DeLong

One approach would be to observe that a large proportion--60%?--of zygotes never implant in the uterus at all. To an Augustinian who believes that a zygote is a human being with a soul, this is a terrifying theological problem: created under original sin, unbaptized, that soul presumably must go straight to hell. A God who could damn 60% of the souls he creates to hell before they have grown to more than 100 cells is an... interesting being indeed.

To a non-Augustinian who believes that a zygote is a life to be weighed equally with that of, say, Michael Kinsley suffering from Parkinson's disease, the fact that 60% of zygotes never implant is still an enormous human tragedy--akin to but manyfold greater than infant deaths from dysentery.

Non-Augustinians and Augustinians alike who believe that all human life should be treated equally should be lobbying for a crash program to rescue the lost 60%: recover them when they exit the vagina, implant them into artificial wombs, and find them adoptive parents.

In reality, I know of nobody who loses a wink of sleep over the lost 60%. This makes me believe that opposition to stem-cell research has other wellsprings than a concern for treating all human life equally. But I can't figure out what those wellsprings might be. And until opponents express their reasons coherently, I can't see why their reasons should be granted exceptional weight. (And even if they do, I don't see why they should be able to block government action: we don't let Quakers prohibit spending of federal dollars on defense, do we?)

Does this qualify?

TM

That's what I need - so far, you and Cecil Turner have provided the most useful spine-stiffeners on this (one of his themes was the uncertain time of ensoulment, so he was riding a horse from the same stable as yours).

TM

Although I hasten to add - the earnest Christians I know are quite sincere, and quite lacking in any detectable hidden agenda, so I am not thrilled with an argument that questions their sincerity.

And my response to Quakers is that national defense is a national obligation - free-riders, and all. Funding of this research could be done by states, or privately.

Hmm - the folks who don't pay for the R&D will still benefit (I am actually thinking of Europe, here, but still...).

peterargus

My impression was that fertilization clinics have stored many more embryos than will be ever implanted. The embryos that would be used in research under the proposed bill were destined to be discarded. Therefore it would seem that to argue against the use of these embryos you really have to argue against the process by which these embryos came into being. In other words you would have to argue that fertilization clinics are immoral in their present state. And if you do that you are now back to confronting Brad's observation above that many embryos never make it to term under natural conditions. Kind of the slippery slope argument in reverse.

Harry Arthur

Brad, you suggested: "To an Augustinian who believes that a zygote is a human being with a soul, this is a terrifying theological problem: created under original sin, unbaptized, that soul presumably must go straight to hell. A God who could damn 60% of the souls he creates to hell before they have grown to more than 100 cells is an... interesting being indeed."

Your basic mistake in logic, and arguably in theology, is your underlying incorrect presumtion that God is not wise enough or just enough to deal with a "problem" that he created in the first place, and that he didn't have adequate foreknowledge to anticipate the full nature of the problem so was caught off guard somehow. I believe that Augustine would agree that God's justice is fully satisfied by Christ's redemptive death on the cross alone. Innocent souls are in no danger so you need not worry about the soul of the zygote.

If the Augustinian is correct in his assertion of the "personhood" of the zygote, however, then the problem lies with those who would destroy this "person" for research purposes. As for whether the zygote implants or not, the Augustinian would suggest that is the prerogative of an infinite God alone. Since we are not possessed with such great wisdom, perhaps we should proceed very slowly in this area, especially given that there is room for considerable doubt as to when the zygote becomes a human with attendant rights.

rodandertx

Great post, by including c) as your rebuttal point. You know and I know that "although they are life it does not matter" is the 500 lb. gorilla in the room. My guess is that the vast majority of the embryonic stem cell proponents really adhere to (c) but are afraid to say so. That's why we get all of this "theocrat" and "zygotes condemned to hell" nonsense.

Neo

no reasonable person could entertain the notion that these embryos are life

I think that there are dozens of NASA scientists who would say otherwise, especially if these enbryos were found on Mars.

TM

I need to track down his more detailed argument, but based on this post, I seem to be fully in sync with Eugene Volokh - supporting this research but troubled by the arguments:

I take it that few of us would accept this argument. Infanticide is wrong, we'd say, and we can oppose infanticide even if we don't ourselves adopt unwanted infants. What's more, the risk of a slippery slope (a concern that I take quite seriously) shouldn't stop us from protecting babies; infanticide should be outlawed even though it's quite plausible that such a prohibition would lead others -- and does lead others -- to argue for banning abortion.

Now of course one can distinguish infanticide from embryocide. I do. There are lots of arguments for drawing such distinctions. (Ms. Jong's third and fourth paragraphs may be read as offering some, but if so they strike me as quite unpersuasive: That embryos often naturally die is no justification for killing them, just as the historically very high natural infant mortality rates were no justification for deliberate infanticide.)

But it is those arguments that must do the work. Complaints that critics of feticide (or infanticide) aren't willing to adopt the unwanted babies, or that there's a slippery slope risk, or that some women "eventually reach a point where they have more children than they can care for psychologically and financially" are, it seems to me, red herrings, as the infanticide analogy shows.

TM

OK, good job by Harry - who are we to question God's wisdom and God's plan?

Good job by Neo with the Mars anaolgy.

Gloomy speculation by Rodand, who may be right, but I am starting with the idea that (most of) both sides are debating this in good faith.

Harry Arthur

TM, this topic requires extensive national debate. I do agree with you that sincere people on several sides of the issue might reasonably disagree. Unfortunately, this is also a topic about which it's unlikely we'll ever be "certain" as Cecil Turner very correctly observes, so the best we can do is make an informed national judgement.

BTW, I'm not suggesting by my comments that we never "question God's wisdom and God's plan," only that we not assume we fully understand his wisdom and plan. My disagreement with Brad's argument was that we not jump to illogical or theologically unsustainable arguments as I suggested Brad did, based on a mistatement or misunderstanding of logic and theology, to make our point. In simpler terms I took at least the Augustinian portion of his argument as an argument against an absurdity.

The problem with never questioning God's wisdom and plan is that we can use this as an excuse to avoid personal and moral responsibility for our actions. This particular discussion about fetal stem cell research is an area in which the Bible (which informs my worldview and understanding of "life" and "humanity") is basically silent. Therefore, as is often the case, we are left with our wisdom, limited though it may be, our reasoning, some generally accepted moral principles, and the experience of all of human history, all of which I firmly believe God expects us to use to address this dilema.

I've not heard anyone express an objection to adult or umbilical cord stem cell research. The most promising results to date have occured with adult and umbilical cord stem cell research. Many are very concerned with the moral implications of fetal stem cell research. Therefore, I'm of the strong opinion that at the very minimum we should be extremely cautious about traveling down this road. Whether that's a compelling argument for caution, well ... maybe.

creepy dude

Ok Compromise-how about we spend the research money on saving embryos that have already left the womb but are dying right this very minute. Just one example:

"MARIAL, Sudan, May 27 (Reuters) - The sunken eyes and emaciated limbs of children starving in southern Sudan show that Western governments risk breaking promises of massive aid to cement an end to decades of civil war...

Faced with competing calls to finance help for a separate conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region, donors are failing to send the food needed to avert south Sudan's worst crisis since a 1998 famine in which at least 60,000 people died...

Teetering between survival and starvation, women in the Sudan's southern Bahr el Ghazal region are boiling leaves and grass to feed their children after raiders from hostile tribes stole their cows to feed their own desperate families...

The few aid workers in the region, one of the poorest places on earth, say that unless food starts arriving soon, large numbers of people will die -- starting with the children..."

On second thought, naah, let's give 50 million to the PLO.

TexasToast

What is the greater ethical dilemma?

a draftee sent to war and forced to fly 100 missions (in which the odds of death are ridiculously high) for a national purpose

vs.

the preservation of an embryonic stem cell that will be discarded in a fertilization clinic for a medical research purpose?

Aren’t the draftee and the embryo equally innocent and equally coerced?

Human life has a high value, but there are many other values that we also hold dear. It seems to me that, in both of the above cases, a value of the larger society (national security or cure of disease) has been valued over the life of an individual - even if one grants that "life" begins at conception.

Jor

I basically agree with Brad's point. I also don't understand why conception, and not another point along the process, whether heart beating, neural activity, or post-birth viability isn't used as an indicator of humanity. (I'm not familiar with why its conception).

Harry, your argument is put out nicely, however I think it would easily fail and reductio ad absurdum attack.

Brad DeLong

Re: "Innocent souls are in no danger so you need not worry about the soul of the zygote."

To Augustine, there are no innocent souls. All are guilty of original sin. You need baptism to get your share of Christ's redemptive merits...

creepy dude

St. Augustine did not pretend to know when life began though. In the The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love, he writes:

86. On this score, a corollary question may be most carefully discussed by the most learned men, and still I do not know that any man can answer it, namely: When does a human being begin to live in the womb? Is there some form of hidden life, not yet apparent in the motions of a living thing? To deny, for example, that those fetuses ever lived at all which are cut away limb by limb and cast out of the wombs of pregnant women, lest the mothers die also if the fetuses were left there dead, would seem much too rash. But, in any case, once a man begins to live, it is thereafter possible for him to die. And, once dead, wheresoever death overtook him, I cannot find the basis on which he would not have a share in the resurrection of the dead."

Charlie (Colorado)

Guys, this whole argument is being based on equivocations of the word "life". There's no question that a blastocyst is "life" in the sense that we would say a plant or a sponge or a jellyfish is "life". But the "pro-life" people aren't talking about preserving "life" in that sense: if there were, they would have to give up eating.

What's they're talking about is "human life", which is another question: what is human? Is a blastocyst more "human" than a chimpanzee? If it's got human genetics, then I'd assume so; but a blastocyst is nothing other than a collection of pluripotent stem cells. People in the "pro-life" camp often say they're in favor of "adult stem cell" research, but "adult" stem cells are just pluripotent stem cells that have differentiated, and a good bit of "adult" stem cell research is involved with looking for ways to de-differentiate stem cells from cord blood or bone marrow into pluripotent stem cells, which are indistinguishable from the stem cells in a blastocyst. At what point in that de-differentiation process do the blastocystic cells suddenly become "life"? Or if they don't, how do you propose to distinguish between blastocystic pluripotent stem cells cells from somatic cell nucleation and identical cells from back-differentiation?

The point here is that you cannot have this argument based on what "life" is, or on what "human life" is, without running into logical issues that can't be settled scientifically; we must resort to religiously based arguments about the "sanctity of human life" and the presence of a "soul". (And recall that there are not only atheists who don't believe in God or soul, but religious traditions that don't have a notion of "soul" either, cf the buddhist doctgrine of anatman. If you're going to make a religious argument, it's going to have to account for that too.)

Ursus

It is correct to say that the CURRENT policy is already a compromise. Existing harvesting fields were allowed to be financed, but no additional harvesting fields could be established with federal monies. And before anybody starts squealing about the status of the current lines, they should read the FAQ at NIH [http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/faqs.asp].

Most importantly, there is no prohibition against member states or private organizations establishing their own harvesting operations. And given that CA has already demonstrated the feasibility of state funding efforts (and we already know that private enterprise can make their own commitments in pursuit of intellectual property returns), I see no necessary reason for the fed to change its position.

In fact, the mere existence of the divisive interpretations is enough justification for the fed to stay out of it. There is no national consensus, and in the absence of such it is best for the president to reflect the priorities of the constituency that elected him AS THEIR REPRESENTATIVE HEAD OF GOVERNMENT. If that electorate has religious and philosophical interpretations of life, then so be it. They won the election, and that's what matters in a federal republic.

As for me personally, I have a very hard time with the specter of federal government growing clones to harvest their parts. I also have a very strong concern with my local state government doing this work, and would probably vote against it at the local level as well. Note that I can have that concern without any consideration of religion whatsoever (surely I'm not the only one who has read COMA). I can also see other states coming up with different positions, and will respect the wishes of their majority electorates.

In the meantime, the feds should stay out of this business, mostly because there is no need for it, no consensus for it, and it is against the philosophical interests of the majority.

Yes, I apply this same reasoning to abortion, and I'd like to see Roe-v-Wade overturned for the same reasons, which have nothing to do with religion whatsoever.

mcg

Now I don't intend to drive this discussion to theology. However, I don't think I will if I simply point out what I consider to be the single most relevant Bible verse to the debate. Some might choose the verse that talks about God "knitting me together in my mother's womb", but I choose a different one:

Ecclesiastes 11:5: "As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things."

That's not all that compelling at first glance, but translating from Hebrew is certainly an inexact science. This translation, the NIV, accompanies the bold-faced passage with a footnote providing the following alternative reading:

Or: how life (or the spirit) enters the body being formed

Cool, huh? Another translation known as the Amplified version provides us with this version:

Amplified: As you know not what is the way of the wind, or how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a pregnant woman, even so you know not the work of God, Who does all

Interesting, isn't it? I point this out only to suggest that the Bible isn't really silent on the issue---rather it points out our ignorance of the metaphysics. In the 2500-3000 years since this was written we know a lot more about the physical development but we still don't have an answer to this question.

Fire!Fire!Fire

Here's how I see it: nine months after the sperm fertilizes the egg,does it become a frog?

creepy dude

Let's hope not or PETA will become involved.

Brad DeLong

Re: "St. Augustine did not pretend to know when life began though. In the The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love, he writes..."

Correct: Augustine was not committed to the doctrine that a zygote has an immortal soul tainted with original sin, and so did not have to face the idea of a God who condemns 60% of everyone to hell without ever giving them a chance to grow to more than a ball of 50 cells. But moderns who are committed to the personhood of the zygote are.

IMHO, you have three choices:

--throw out original sin, and St. Augustine, completely
--accept a God crueler than even John Calvin could ever have imagined
--tie personhood to a much later stage of development--the seventh month connection of brain synapses, or something

Brad DeLong

Re: "And my response to Quakers is that national defense is a national obligation - free-riders, and all. Funding of this research could be done by states, or privately. Hmm - the folks who don't pay for the R&D will still benefit (I am actually thinking of Europe, here, but still...)."

Out here in Californica, we believe that Jaysus said: "If somebody from a red state asks for your coat, give him the medical technology derived from research conducted by the state-funded Institute for Regenerative Medicine" as well...

Mark

Who owns the Zygotes ?

Do the man and woman who pay through the nose to the fertility Clinic own them ?

or

Does the Clinics own them ?


Or would it be like donation to science thing ?


Once Federal money is spent to create the stem cell lines

Would the scientist/institution own them or would the Federal government ?

Would other scientist have access to those same stem cells, or do they have they have spend more Federal Grant money to create there own ? you know to avoid paying the first group of scientist. Because you used their stem cell line to develop a new treatment that will allow Warren Buffet to live to 500.


If anybody knows please respond.


Mark

Who owns the Zygotes ?

Do the man and woman who pay through the nose to the fertility Clinic own them ?

or

Does the Clinics own them ?


Or would it be like donation to science thing ?


Once Federal money is spent to create the stem cell lines

Would the scientist/institution own them or would the Federal government ?

Would other scientist have access to those same stem cells, or do they have they have spend more Federal Grant money to create there own ? you know to avoid paying the first group of scientist. Because you used their stem cell line to develop a new treatment that will allow Warren Buffet to live to 500.


If anybody knows please respond.


Harry Arthur

CD, couldn't agree more with your point on the Sudan. That we rich western democracies have not adequately intervened in Sudan both on a humanitarian level against starvation and militarily to stop the killing of southern animists and christians is a shame we all bear.

All I can say about giving money to the Palestinians is that there better be very strong strings attached or it will end up either in a Swiss bank account or purchasing explosives with which to kill Israelis, neither of which will help the Palestinian people.

Steven J.

Bush's veto is pandering to Dobson and the other mullahs, all of claim exclusive knowledge of Absolute Moral Truth.

The stem cells mentioned in this bill will be thrown out, not used:

`(1) The stem cells were derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment.
`(2) Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded.

Harry Arthur

mcq, I think we agree in principle. My point about the Bible's silence was not that the Bible is silent regarding human life in the womb but that it is silent regarding the precise subject of stem cell research and, as your example illustrates very well, when the zygote/fetus becomes a "human being" with a soul. We simply aren't provided with a definitive answer there, so in my estimation we err on the side of life and we make the best choices we can otherwise.

Brad, I could very well be wrong in my understanding of Augustinian thought, so I'll do some re-reading. Certainly historic Christian teaching from at least Luther onward is that baptism is not required to appropriate the substitutionary death of Christ as propitiation for sin (Christ's dialogue with the thief on the cross is illustrative here). Historic Christian teaching is that salvation is by God's grace alone and is appropriated through faith in Christ. Baptism is an important sacrament, but at least in the protestant tradition, it is simply a public testimony to one's identification with Christ. CS Lewis provides an excellent discussion of this point in his book, Mere Christianity. Those too young to have the ability to make this decision, including those in the womb, are covered by God's grace and are truly "innocent" in every sense of the word since they have not reached an "age of accountability." In their case God deals with the original sin issue both as "just and justifier." This is as true for fully viable babies as it is for "50 cells" that don't make it.

We could further cloud the issue some by bringing in the concept of predestination, i.e., the concept that God choses those upon whom he bestows his grace, but my point about your argument remains. You are suggesting that somehow God isn't up to the intellectual task to anticipate this difficulty that you apparently are, and that he is somehow cruel and unjust where any compasionate human would be otherwise. In all honesty that sounds a bit arrogant to me, if not personally then at the very least on behalf of mankind. If I've taken you out of context or perhaps not understood your point, my humbly apologies.

You also make the point that "moderns who are committed to the personhood of the zygote are" thereby condemning these unborn, undeveloped zygotes to hell. I simply disagree with your characterization of Christian thought along those lines and I strongly disagree that we "moderns" think any such thing. My point remains that whenever "humanity" accrues to zygote/fetus/baby then it is arguably morally wrong to perform medical experiments on them for the purpose of harvesting cells. Since we all pretty much agree that it is impossible to determine when they become "human" but that at some point they do, isn't it reasonable to give them the benefit of the doubt?

Otherwise, in general, I think you're mischaracterizing our beliefs, assigning motives to our viewpoints that you couldn't possibly have any way of knowing, and treading very closely to an ad hominem argument in many respects. It may be difficult to believe but this discussion isn't about political power; it's not about money; it's not about liberal vs conservative; it's about whether and when the least among us are worthy of our protection against their abuse.

Harry Arthur

Steven, you said "Bush's veto is pandering to Dobson and the other mullahs, all of whom claim exclusive knowledge of Absolute Moral Truth." Aside from the fact that they claim no such thing, aren't you claiming the same "exclusive knowledge of Absolute Moral Truth" by your insistence that these are not in any way "human beings"? Is it in any way possible that they are right and you are wrong? If so, to what "absolute moral truth" are you appealing for that determination?

Several of us have expressed similar beliefs on this thread and others while freely admitting that we have no lock on any absolute truth. As for Bush, he actually reduced the limitations on fetal stem cell research that was neither allowed nor funded under previous administrations. As ursus suggested very clearly, his original action was a compromise that recognized and understood both sides of the argument. Is it the slightest bit possible that he is acting in the instant case on principle? Or do you have such a lock on "absolute moral truth" that you understand his internal motivations?

If you want to make a pursuasive logical argument the ad hominem comparison of Dobson and others (with most of whom I agree) are in some way equivalent to Taliban "mullahs" is inappropriate. Quite frankly it is insulting and demeaning and has no place in a civilized discussion. You have a right to disagree. They have the same right to advocate. This is a representative republic. Would you prefer that Dobson, et al, not have a voice?

Finally, if they just happen to be correct that these are somehow "human beings", wouldn't it be the cruelest form of abuse for them to simply ignore these defenseless "people"?

Jamie

Whenever a family confesses to conceiving a child in hopes that the new child's body will in some way benefit an already-existing but desperately ill child, it sparks all kinds of discussion about how those parents view the second child: as "spare parts" or as a child in its own right?

The embryos created for IVF are, at present, ALL created with a particular purpose: to turn into babies. There's a pragmatic recognition that that purpose won't be fulfilled by all the embryos but that medical technology at present requires extras in order to maximize the chances that the process will be successful, and the (philosophically unfortunate) result is at present simply that the extras are destroyed once one or more has fulfilled its purpose. But to create a second purpose for these embryos, that purpose being explicitly to be destroyed for research or (assuming the research would actually get somewhere someday) as "spare parts," creates, to me, a dangerous precedent.

No one except that freak who thinks parents should be allowed to kill their "unsatisfactory" infants believes that a child borne in hopes that his second kidney will be a match for his sibling, should be destroyed once the kidney transplant takes place. But what if the kidney-transplant baby's kidney is harvested pre-birth instead, then the fetus aborted? Isn't everyone better off? The beneficiary child is well, and the parents don't have the added expense and stress of another child to raise. Similarly, if a kidney, why not a heart?

I'm entirely aware that this is a slippery-slope argument. But (as I argued during the Schiavo mess) the fallacy of the slippery slope is NOT that the bottom of the slope is either impossible or unreasonable, but that it's inevitable. It is obviously not inevitable that the result of permitting (and encouraging through federal funding) the use in research of embryos created with the intent that they'll one day be born, would be the eventual relaxing of medical ethics such that people WOULD start conceiving babies for "spare parts" alone and discarding the remainder. But it's a shorter slope from using embryos already destined for destruction to encouraging the creation of them for profitable destruction.

Cecil Turner

"Who owns the Zygotes ?"

The usual term is "embryo" (it's after cleavage, usually 4-6 cells)--I know some definitions require implantation, but that's the common usage.

The couple owns them, at least at first. Those left over are either discarded, donated to another couple (rare), or donated to the clinic to be used as they see fit. So the answer to your question could be "any of the above." (The problem of what to do with them was one of the moral dilemmas for which I couldn't find an acceptable solution.)

As to the larger issue, I still don't see any defensible basis for making a purely rational decision. And in the absence of a better answer, I'd be reluctant to play God. So unless there's a pressing need or a demonstrable significant societal benefit, withholding federal funds seems reasonable.

Brad DeLong

Re: "Otherwise, in general, I think you're mischaracterizing our beliefs, assigning motives to our viewpoints that you couldn't possibly have any way of knowing, and treading very closely to an ad hominem argument in many respects..."

No. I'm saying that you're throwing the doctrine of original sin as interpreted by Augustine out the window. (I think that's a very good thing to do, by the way.)

TM

I have had a chance to do a bit of field research at various social functions over the weekend.

My preliminary findings are:

(a) here in Blue CT, my position - "I support federal fudnign of the research but lack any coherent defense of that position" - is a landslide winner.

(b) it is *INSANITY* to defend Bush's ban on Federal funding to a mom whose daughter has diabetes.

Folks who disregard (b) are advised to bring along an extra face, for use after your current one is scratched off.

Among the more crushing comebacks overheard was this, which I paraphrase - "Fine, you support the federal funding and don't care that some on the religious right are offended. Now, tell me how you feel about the alleged desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo?

Finally, the Hyde Amendment seems to provide a weak parallel.

OK, we have guests, and I have to resume the field research. (Don't tell anyone I left this comment..)

Brad DeLong

Isn't the coherent defense that (a) the market won't provide as much research as we should undertake (because companies (i) can't keep what they learn private and (ii) can't capture all the social benefits of research as profits); (b) this is now the low-hanging fruit of biomedical research; and (c) we know what murder is, and this ain't murder--this ain't even first-trimester abortion?

Jamie

Brad:

I'd like to hear more about your coherent defense. The first point in particular struck me: it seems to me to be easier for a private company to keep research quiet than for the gov't (or a federally-funded lab) to do so - why is this not so?

Then, concerning the low-hanging fruit, is embryonic stem cell research actually it, and who says so, and how do they back up their assertion? I sound blunt b/c I'm temporarily 1-handed & typing is tiring - I really do want to know. But even if it defensibly is, does its convenience make it automatically appropriate? We don't go straight to human trials for ETHICAL reasons, after all, not b/c they wouldn't yield better, more accurate results faster.

Third point is the crux of the issue for many opponents, ethically; your saying that destroying embryos for research isn't murder does not make it so, for them. I *slightly* lean your way - that destruction before implantation isn't the same as abortion - but I have other ethical issues that keep me from supporting this type of research w/o reservation.

TM

On the coherent defense - I'll grant that we are more likely to get the optimal amount of what ought to be a free good (in this case, new basic research) if the Federal government opens its big wallet. However, CA and NJ are lining up funding, and I expect NY and Mass will do something similar, so funding for basic research may be adequate (but is "adequate" optimal?)

Also, Federal funding generally implies Federal guidelines, and (sometimes) uniformity of regulations can be helpful.

But my bigger sticking point is that the pro-funding side is skipping past the question of how we deal with minority viewpoints. If 1% of the country thought this was murder, would we have some ethical obligation to respect their view and not provide Federal funding? How about 10%, or 49%?

Put another way, might it be argued that the government is taking sides in a religious debate, which violates church/state separation?

OTOH, if 49% think it is a Really Bad Idea and present their ethical, non-religious objections, well - majority rule. Not to say that murder is not a big deal, but so is going to war, or developing atomic weapons, or declining to vote for national health insurance, or a lot of other things we do.

And under stray thoughts - Quakers and conscientous objectors were offered alternatives to military service when we had the draft. That, plus the Hyde Amendment, show that we have a history of allowing the opt-out where practical.

Brad DeLong

Re: "your saying that destroying embryos for research isn't murder does not make it so..."

But I do want those who want to apply the Christian religious tradition to this issue that they must do at least one of:

--throw St. Augustine and Original Sin out the window
--accept that God is crueler and more malevolent than John Calvin every imagined
--tie personhood to a much later stage of development than that of the non-implanted ball of cells

And I want all who are opposed to stem cell research to explain why they aren't in favor of large federal programs to rescue the doomed 60% of humanity.

TexasToast

Brad seems to mount a rational attack on an argument/position opposed to stem-cell research with a faith-based premise – that “human life” begins at conception instead of some other point. Faith allows one to dispose of Brad’s “cruel God” postulate because we “know” that God is not cruel and we cannot know God’s plan with respect to the “doomed 60% of humanity”. Dare we say that it is beyond God’s power – or is it merely beyond our human power of understanding? We simply do not have Archimedes’ place to stand to move a faith-based argument by a mere lever of rationality. Faith allows many to accept Brad’s paradox – and many other equally non-rational paradoxes - that are part of Christian dogma.

Moreover, the concept of original sin results in many paradoxes beyond the ensoulment of a zygote. Unbaptised infants? Persons born in the pre-Christian era? Persons without access to the “good news”? Does a just God allow random chance to determine salvation?

That said, I don’t see that government support of stem cell research even approaches an establishment of religion despite the fact that certain religious groups would object to it. Those persons have every right to object to it on whatever basis they choose to – but a governmental policy choice to fund such research does not in any way threaten the free exercise of the religion of the opponents nor does it establish the religion of proponents. The line drawing seems fairly easy on this one.

Cecil Turner

"--throw St. Augustine and Original Sin out the window
--accept that God is crueler and more malevolent than John Calvin every imagined"

Unless you're contending that killing newborns (up to the point they're baptized) is acceptable, these seem to me to be irrelevant to the current debate.

Harry Arthur

TT, you suggested that there is a "faith-based premise – that “human life” begins at conception instead of some other point."

Though I have offered differing Christian viewpoints above where I disagreed with the characterization of the Christian argument vis-a-vis fetal stem cell research, I don't believe that any "faith-based" argument is necessary to this discussion whatsover, any more than I believe a biblical argument against abortion is necessary or even desirable.

I would also suggest that the insistence that the fetus is not a human (or some other variation of that assertion) is no less "faith-based" than the assertion that you characterize as "faith-based." Neither of us know for SURE so both of us are exercising a level of faith. To characterize religious faith as somehow less reasonable or less informed than secular "faith" is to suggest that, in Steven's words, you possess the "exclusive knowledge of Absolute Moral Truth" which he ascribed to Dobson and the religious Taliban. There is certainly no factual "scientific" basis for the assertion that the fetus is not fully human.

My argument against this research and against abortion for that matter is simple. Neither you nor I nor anyone else can rationally state that they are certain when the fetus "becomes human." I think we also agree in general that "human-Americans", absent crimes for which they are punishable by capital punishment, have a right to life. Therefore, if we don't, and arguably can't, determine beyond a reasonable doubt when humanity is assumed by the fetus, should we not err on behalf of the defenseless "maybe-human"?

The argument about both this subject and abortion IMHO comes down to when the fetus becomes human with attendant rights, not what diseases their parts might cure or whether there is a "right to choose" or any other such tangential consideration. Otherwise, let's get to work on creating a society where we turn old people into Soylent Green while we're at it.

TexasToast

Harry
If your premise that life begins at conception is not faith-based, then it is merely arbitrary and is thus exposed to rational attack. If your human, rational definition of when life begins differs from mine, there is no rational way to determine which definition should have more weight. In the face of a clear violation of a woman’s liberty interest in her own body, how can we expect an unknown and unknowable life interest to override that liberty interest? Are we supposed to err against liberty? In this country?

It is not pejorative to suggest that religious faith is not reasonable. In fact, the absence of reasoned proof is what makes it faith. When one attempts to argue that a faith-based premise is rational, one creates the platform for a rational attack on that premise such as the one advanced by Professor DeLong above. I suggest that you not go there.

TexasToast

Mia culpa

If your human, rational definition of when life begins differs from mine, there is no rational way to determine which definition should have more weight.

should read

If your human, rational definition of when life begins differs from mine, there is no supernatural (or non-rational) way to determine which definition should have more weight. Moreover, "life" as a value should be wieghed in the context of other values we hold dear.

Jamie

TT, Brad:

There's a difference between "reasoned" and "reasonable," and the difference matters. I think by conflating the two you mischaracterize the nature of religious faith - some religious faith, anyway. For instance, C.S. Lewis reasoned that Christ was either who he said he was, or a madman (I suppose we could add "or a con man," but considering that his earthly end was only too predictable and any benefits to be derived from it invisible, he'd have to have been the worst con man ever); Christianity thereafter becomes either a reasoned faith based on a single human experience, or a folie a billions. (I'll lump in the "Jesus never existed but was thought up by first-century con men" with the "Jesus was a con man" hypothesis, as not sliceable by Occam's razor - where's the benefit?)

That doesn't mean anyone exposed to Christianity who doesn't embrace it is a dimwit. But it does mean that Christians are not necessarily dimwits, which is the distinction between "reasoned" and "reasonable" that I'm going for here. Christianity being the religious foundation with which I have the most experience by far, I can't comment on other religions' reliance on reason - but the Episcopal/Anglican church quite specifically holds up the use of our God-given powers of reason as a pillar of our faith, and the Jesuits are famous for their use of logic in discourse.

Thus to the debate, minus religion: two sets of postulates which cannot be reconciled. On one side, when "human life" begins doesn't matter; it's when "humanity" begins that counts, and on this side "humanity" definitively does not begin at conception, or implantation, or differentiation, and is less important (speaking to your point about balancing life against other important values) than a woman's right to end an undeniable life all the way through viability until Birth-Minus-One-Minute. On the other side, it's the presence of "human life" that matters, with "humanity" an intrinsic part of "human life," and "human life" begins when a zygote is formed from two gametes. Not every very-early-stage human life will achieve its potential to become a living baby, but zygotes ought not to be prevented from doing so arbitrarily by human action. (That a human zygote is human really can't be reasonably denied, though semantics may obscure its nature. Two mice don't mate to produce a human baby.) These two poles are so fundamentally opposed that as a society we'll have to go with majority rule, but Tom's point about how to deal with or treat the committed minority is a huge sticking point.

With "minority rights" so much in the forefront today, I'm surprised that your position appears to be that the minority in this debate has no right even to be treated as a viable (you'll excuse the term, I hope) point of view.

The 60% miscarriage/nonimplantation statistic is a red herring. It is entirely reasonable to believe that human life is uniquely important but not to insist on "heroic measures" to preserve it when the course of nature is otherwise.

TexasToast

Jamie

We agree on most things here – except perhaps the conclusion. I absolutely agree that reason and faith are not incompatible – and that people of faith, in my experience at least, are generally rational, reasonable people. What I was attempting to say to Harry was that a faith-based premise (such as the existence of God, the divinity of Christ, or that life begins at conception) is not subject to proof by rational means. That does not mean that one cannot build a powerful rational argument from such a faith-based “first premise”, but these powerful, rational arguments remain fundamentally based on a non-rational proposition, and will fail if one does not accept the validity of that proposition.

I do not in any way reject the viability of a faith-based point of view. However, one cannot argue that faith is based on a rational, observable, testable first premise.

You are quite right that, here again as in the Terri S matter, reasonable good people are on both sides of the debate, and that their sets of accepted dogmatic first premises, and thus their ultimate goals, are incompatible. It is unfortunate that political progress toward these goals seems to require the energy of the fanatic, and that reasonable people find themselves recoiling at the excesses that tend to prevent compromise.

Jamie

TT:

Thanks for an undeservedly civil answer - in rereading my own post I find myself shocked, shocked I say, by my virtual tone of voice. Apologies.

In Brad's last post:

But I do want those who want to apply the Christian religious tradition to this issue that they must do at least one of:

--throw St. Augustine and Original Sin out the window
--accept that God is crueler and more malevolent than John Calvin every imagined
--tie personhood to a much later stage of development than that of the non-implanted ball of cells

Why? Why to any of the three? In what way is this set of pseudo-requirements not a sneer? Actually, all right, I can see one other interpretation: the non-Christian's misunderstanding of God's "rules." What all three of Brad's requests come down to is a sort of Pharisaic emphasis on the "letter of the law," whereas the essence of Christianity is unmerited grace. I'll try to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But still, Brad's arguments being Tom's favorites so far on the pro-embryonic-stem-cell-research side, these points ought to be dealt with. First: Some of the most adamantly Christian Americans don't subscribe to infant baptism at all - are they just rolling the dice with their children's souls, or do they consider God's grace an integral part of "Christian tradition"?

Second: Well, my first point kind of disposes of Brad's second, I think. Although characterizing Calvin's view of God as "cruel" and "malevolent" is a bit over the top, and makes it hard for me to continue with my benefit-of-doubt giving.

Third: Why is "personhood" the necessary standard? The Old Testament holds that for a man to waste his "seed" is an abomination; the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple, in New and Old Testaments, though not people, were to be held in reverence (but not worshipped) because of what they represented: God's dwelling among humanity. How is it inconsistent with even a punitively strict understanding of Christianity to hold the zygote, the embryo, the fetus sacred even prior to ensoulment (whatever and whenever that is), as the intended vessel of a human soul?

Now to continue with the Christian overtones excised. Ethical points against this type of research that I still haven't heard adequately addressed include the following:

1. If the goal of the research is to develop commercially viable therapies for genetic diseases, and if they're successful, how do we avoid creating a market for fertilized eggs, either privately - dealing directly with the woman - or through cash-strapped clinics of whatever type? Or is that not an ethical problem to some?

2. If the intent is, into perpetuity, to use "extra" embryos from IVF clinics, what happens the first time a clinic makes a mistake and sells or donates the embryos of a woman who later wants to try again for a (or another) child? The fact that she was undergoing IVF suggests that she would not tend to abort her own fetus; how does the clinic recompense her for the "abortion" of her embryo(s)?

3. The humanity of these embryos is precisely what makes them potentially useful; we have established long years of precedent that a human fetus has no intrinsic right to life until it's breathing air. If the fetus of a woman whose labor is imminent is still fair game for abortion, and if we are able to justify destruction of human zygotes for research that doesn't even have an application yet, well, how's about that three-month fetus? Six-month? ISTM that if the first two - pre-implantation embryonic destruction for research and abortion on demand - are OK, there is no reason not to allow a woman to sell her fetus for research. Is that something we want to have?

Brad DeLong

RE: "[Brad's] characterizing Calvin's view of God as 'cruel' and 'malevolent' is a bit over the top, and makes it hard for me to continue with my benefit-of-doubt giving."

Ummm.... I would have thought that "cruel" and "malevolent" were value-free factual descriptions of an entity who creates beings so that he can freely and without constraint choose to bless some and torture others forever. Such an entity is simply not "merciful" or "good"--unless, of course, the secret to theology is that in theology it is always Opposite Day.

Have you read anything the _Institutes of the Christian Religion_ recently?

"Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, by which He has determined in Himself what would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is fore-ordained for some, and eternal damnation for others....

"He is bound by no laws, but is perfectly free, so that none can require of Him an equal distribution of grace, the inequality of which demonstrates it to be truly gratuitous....

"'Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau.'... God, in his secret counsel, freely chooses whom He will, and rejects others, His gratuitous election... is founded on His gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit... to those whom He devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment..."

By the time my daughter was four she knew that you invite everybody in your nursery school to the party, and if some don't want to come--either because they are shy or because they don't know how much fun a party is--you patiently explain things to them until they really understand.

Harry Arthur

The problem with discussing predestination is that we can never really get our arms around the concept, certainly not at least in the confines of this thread or probably even in this lifetime. It is a concept that our finite minds can simply not grasp and while we can make some observations about the concept, I'd suggest it's very difficult to be very dogmatic. Paul's metaphor is that God is sovereign and chooses whom he chooses just as the potter decides how to use the clay. His further point is that, really, the clay has nothing to say to the potter, nor does the clay have the wisdom to question the potter. Of course the metaphor has limitations.

As with so many biblical constructs, however, to end the discussion here is to miss at least half, if not far more, of the story, for we are also clearly endowed by the creator with free will to choose as we will. We've discussed "original sin" at length but in reality it is nothing more than the spiritual equivalent of a "genetic trait" to choose wrongly, in effect to choose to go our own way. The very Greek word translated "sin" is an archery term for "missing the mark." In effect this "sin nature" causes us not only to do bad things but not to do good things.

Brad, as I've said before you've only got it partially right. The rest of the story is that God is perfectly merciful and infinitely wise in addition to being perfectly just. The question is not why God chooses some and not others (if this limited human understanding of predestination is even accurate at all) but why he chooses ANY, given our admitted predisposition to go our own way. To use your example, we, by nature, simply refuse to go to God's party. Would it not be equally cruel to force us to go against our will?

The fact that God "patiently explains things to [us] until [we] really understand" is like two sides of the same coin - he chooses yet we choose also - predestination and free will. God's preference is clearly that all come to his party because of his great love for each of us equally, but he will not force us.

I'm fully pursuaded that God is entirely capable of making wise choices in concert with his just and merciful nature. Really, to suggest less of him is to suggest that the creator is less than the created.

Brad DeLong

Re: "The problem with discussing predestination is that we can never really get our arms around the concept, certainly not at least in the confines of this thread or probably even in this lifetime. It is a concept that our finite minds can simply not grasp and while we can make some observations about the concept, I'd suggest it's very difficult to be very dogmatic...."

Really? Calvin finds it very easy to be dogmatic. Very easy indeed.

Re: "Paul's metaphor is that God is sovereign and chooses whom he chooses just as the potter decides how to use the clay. His further point is that, really, the clay has nothing to say to the potter, nor does the clay have the wisdom to question the potter..."

But at least the potter does not demand that the pieces of clay--even those pieces of clay the potter damns to eternal torment--praise the potter as kind, just, and merciful. Calvin's God does.

Harry Arthur

So perhaps we should reject at least this aspect of Calvin's viewpoint and discuss the bible's viewpoint at least to the extent that it demonstrably differs? My preference is to discuss these questions in terms of the biblical text in context. The viewpoint of an educated, informed commentator such as Calvin may have relevance or it may simply be partially or totally missing the real point.

Whether Calvin finds it easy to be dogmatic or not is really beside the point. I have simply suggested that there are many aspects of God's nature that are very very difficult if not impossible to ever explore in this life (though that doesn't mean we shouldn't try). Some are very clearly illustrated in the biblical text and some leave us "looking in a glass darkly". After all, if I am correct in my assessment of the nature of an infinite God, then he is unknowable except to the extent that he has chosen to reveal himself to us, just as we would be if bacteria were trying to comphrend us. I believe that was done in the person of Jesus Christ and through the bible. Theology is, after all, simply an attempt to understand what it is that God is trying to tell us.

John Calvin, though certainly far more educated in theology than I, is prone, however, to the same fallen human nature including imperfect understanding as are the rest of us. I would suggest that where Calvin has jumped to a conclusion based on an over-emphasis on God's justice, or any other single aspect of his nature, without a concurrent appreciation of the other aspects of his nature, to include his wisdom, love and mercy, that he has missed more than half the point just as I have suggested that you have.

Nor would Calvin have gotten it right to have ignored God's justice and focused entirely on his love and mercy as "universalists" generally do. My point remains that an infinite God has many aspects and layers to his being. We err when we dogmatically focus on one above all others and we err doublemuch when we assume that we not only understand him but that we can judge his actions by some standard of our own.

Brad, I don't have anything personal against your comments nor do I take any of your comments about the nature of God or particularly his followers personally. We'll just have to agree to disagree. I do think that as a society this tension will naturally exist and that it is appropriate to discuss it openly, frankly and respectfully - from both sides - and that ultimately it will be resolved through the democratic political process.

My suggestion to you would be to ignore Calvin, Augustine, et al, and read the bible with an open mind for yourself, starting with the NT book of John and preceding through the four evangelist's gospels ("good news"). The gospels wouldn't be much in the good news department if they revealed a caprecious God of the type you've described in several posts, would they? If I am correct that God truly and finally reveals himself in Christ then no matter what Calvin, Augustine or anyone else has to say about God, we will meet him ourselves there.

TexasToast

Jamie

“Why? Why to any of the three? In what way is this set of pseudo-requirements not a sneer?”

Why do you care? These arguments only have force if one creates a platform for them by insisting that the premise that life begins at conception is a rational premise and not a faith-based premise.

“1. If the goal of the research is to develop commercially viable therapies for genetic diseases, and if they're successful, how do we avoid creating a market for fertilized eggs, either privately - dealing directly with the woman - or through cash-strapped clinics of whatever type? Or is that not an ethical problem to some?”

Awfully slippery –that slope you create here. Did you happen to see the movie – “Dirty Pretty Things”? Perhaps the research will end the “market” for transplantable organs. Crime is crime. Only the contraband changes.

“2. If the intent is, into perpetuity, to use "extra" embryos from IVF clinics, what happens the first time a clinic makes a mistake and sells or donates the embryos of a woman who later wants to try again for a (or another) child? The fact that she was undergoing IVF suggests that she would not tend to abort her own fetus; how does the clinic recompense her for the "abortion" of her embryo(s)?”

She has a property interest in “her” embryo(s)? Do you mean to suggest that a “human being” can be owned? Yikes!

“3. The humanity of these embryos is precisely what makes them potentially useful…”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I though it was the nondifferentiation.

“We have established long years of precedent that a human fetus has no intrinsic right to life until it's breathing air.”

Yes we have. It appears that this long line of precedent is what opponents are attempting to overturn.

Harry Arthur

TT, I sort of agree with your last point. I would argue that just because we've "established long years of precedent" on any subject should not mean that we shouldn't engage in serious introspection periodically. Seems it took a while to discover that black men and women were people also with attendant rights under the constituion. Prior to that we had no problem with "long years of precedent" indicating that they weren't entitiled to those rights. Precedent is valuable, as is tradition, but there's nothing sacrosanct about it.

In this particular case, perhaps science is catching up with religion and philosophy. Have you seen any of the latest technology 3-D sonograms? The fetus at least looks human. Not sure lung function does it for a definition of human for me (nor does appearance alone I admit), but I would wager that as the science gets more sophisticated we will slowly arrive at the realization that the fetus is a human, perhaps not at conception, but certainly at some point months prior to birth. We'll then have to get serious about the "rare" part of "safe, legal and rare."

I will say the whole subject belongs in the public arena to be decided by the aggregate public will not by judges, at least not by judges alone.

Harry Arthur

TT, you said to Jamie "Do you mean to suggest that a “human being” can be owned? Yikes!" Of course your comment was tongue-in-cheek given that someone has to be the guardian for minor human beings even after they are born. I no more "own" my children than my spouse but both my spouse and I are responsible for their guardianship and thus are empowered to make life and death decisions on their behalf.

Cecil Turner

"Yes we have. It appears that this long line of precedent is what opponents are attempting to overturn."

I don't think that's quite on. Nobody in this debate is touting an embryo's intrinsic right to life (in fact, privately funded research is specifically authorized). The question is whether widespread destruction of embryos should be federally funded. And the precedent on that much narrower question is mostly negative.

Harry Arthur

Cecil, better observation than mine. We have sort of gone astray in this thread, partly my fault, by bringing the abortion issue into the discussion. It's certainly a lot less muddy than is the embryo research question, at least in my mind. I would suggest that is because the "younger" the embryo/fetus/baby in its development the less "human" it looks and thus the harder to make the pursuasive case for its "humanity", i.e., the more it looks like a "baby" the easier it is to think of it as a baby human.

Your observation that privately funded research was allowed by Bush's decision on the subject is certainly correct. The public funding issue does touch both issues and the precedent for that if I'm not mistaken is the Hyde amendment of many years ago. This of course is the sort of evidence that tends to support your contention that the precedent for publicly funded research is "mostly negative."

Brad DeLong

Re: "So perhaps we should reject at least this aspect of Calvin's viewpoint..."

Yep. And then we have to reject ensoulment-at-conception as well. Either it makes God into a monster who damns the 60% of humanity who never proceed past five cell divisions, or it makes God into a monster who could save us all, but for incomprehensible reasons decides... not to.

And once we're beyond stem-cell-research as murder, the remaining reason not to do it is the "yuck!" factor. But Parkinson's and early-onset Alzheimer's are very yucky too...

Harry Arthur

Brad, as we have already extensively discussed, these are not the only choices unless your understanding of Calvin and Augustine is the last word on the subject.

Whether there is ensoulment at conception or not, it's not just the "yuck" factor that bothers many of us but I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one also and continue the argument in the political arena.

Jamie

Brad:

(And thanks, Harry, for doing all the heavy lifting on my own arguments while I was otherwise engaged this weekend.) "Cruel" and "malevolent" are never value-neutral. If you were to have said "arbitrary," well, it has a negative connotation but isn't as flatly negative as the adjectives you did use. My point was that Calvin, for all his dourness, nonetheless was arguing not from the side of "I hate God! He's so meeeean!" but "God appears to treat humanity arbitrarily and, in my limited perspective, unfairly. Why is that? I believe it's because He has already chosen a course for each of us, a course we can't change." He was, as all people are, influenced by his time and circumstances; it's a lot easier to believe that God is merciful in the modern USA than, say, in the Sudan right now, I'd wager.

But Harry's and Cecil's points are the ones to come away with: Calvin was not the be-all-and-end-all of theological thought, just one branch of it. Same with Augustine. Paul was not precisely pro-marriage - only put up with it as a better option than attempted (but probably "doomed to failure") celibacy among the early Christians waiting for Christ's return - but his error there doesn't erase his tremendous contribution to the Church.

TT (and Brad):

Concerning my slippery slope, yes, as I've said on this thread and elsewhere, I recognize it for what it is. And I say again, the fallacy of a slippery-slope argument is NOT that the bottom of the slope is impossible or even unlikely, but rather that it's inevitable. I don't claim that my horrible picture of a black, gray, or other market in embryos is inevitable - just that it's possible without stretching the imagination, and sufficiently horrible to give me pause, at any rate. Sort of like the early A-bomb researchers who thought that, just possibly, the first detonation might set the oxygen in the air afire and eliminate all oxygen-respiring life on Earth: I am not a nuclear physicist, but if I had been one and had believed that scenario to have, say, a .1 probability, I think I would've agitated without rest to delay the test until we could be more sure.

You say, "She has a property interest in “her” embryo(s)? Do you mean to suggest that a “human being” can be owned? Yikes!" Exactly my point: this is not the way to talk about a human embryo. A human being ought not to be property, yet current law certainly behaves as if she has a property interest in "her" embryo. Whether current law plays with semantics to pretend otherwise, I don't know; you, I think, are a lawyer and probably know right off the bat how abortion law treats the embryo - as property, or as a legal but inferior person - but the effect of the law is to give the woman 100% dispositive power over that embryo, isn't it?

A woman who goes to an IVF clinic is generally highly motivated to have a baby, or more than one. She's not going there to deposit some eggs she doesn't need or want. She may think of the embryos she has contributed to as potential babies, so that it may be especially traumatic for her to think that "her babies" have been destroyed for research.

All that said, it's certainly true that a clinic could, right now, mistakenly destroy/discard the wrong woman's embryos because that's their stated storage policy, and that woman would have the same right to relief in my opinion. Purely subjectively I would say that I myself might be better able to accept the fate of my own "excess" embryos if I knew that they were suffering the same fate as the 60% of embryos everywhere than if I knew that they were going to become research subjects. (Another could argue that at least the embryos destroyed for research are doing some good, and I have no rational response; my response is an emotional one, based on a sense that some things are too precious to be repurposed.) IVF is a miracle. But it's a messy one.

Third point: My understanding of the utility of human embryonic stem cells is that it's undifferentiation that makes embryonic stem cells potentially valuable, but the only ones potentially useful for human beings are the human ones. Otherwise we wouldn't be having this debate: we'd use mouse embryonic stem cells and no one would get upset.

OK - I am rejoicing in a subdued and hopeful way, because Instapundit reports that scientists working on converting normal cells to stem cells are having some success. THAT would be the holy grail, as far as I'm concerned.

TexasToast

Jamie

My point about the slippery slope was that the embryonic research does not cause the crime/”market” – it only changes the contraband from organs to undifferentiated stem cells.

As to the cells themselves, their “humanity” is a matter of faith – neither of us will convince the other (as you pointed out earlier), so I think we should leave it at that. Yes, I understand that the humanity of the undifferentiated cells is what matters to you. I was attempting to point out that differentiated cells are equally “human”. How does the conversion of differentiated cells to undifferentiated ones matter? Are these new undifferentiated cells not equally “human beings” as those undifferentiated cells created by nature? Why does the human interference that changes them into “human beings” constitute the Holy Grail?

Andrew Reynolds

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