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August 24, 2006

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ndh

Given the experience my wife and I had with IVF, and the things we learned about the procedure, I have to wonder if there's a bit of parsing and perhaps even deception going on.

My IVF clinic is at one of the higher-end teaching hospitals in the nation. In that clinic, diagnostic tests that involve removing a cell from the embryo are NOT performed at the eight-cell stage; rather, they are performed at the blastocyst stage, when there are significantly more cells.

Embryos can be implanted at either stage. On one hand, implanting blastocysts yields a higher pregnancy rate---but that is assuming you get to that stage at all. Many embryos don't make it to that stage; obviously, that is usually because they would never have been viable. But the artificial in vitro environment is harsher than the womb, and it is believed that some die as a result of it. So when the procedure has yielded a small number of embryos, the doctors don't weight for the blastocyst stage

So the point is this: if they could do the diagnostic tests at the eight-cell mark, why don't they? The only thing I can conclude is that the test has a significantly higher risk of harming the embryo at the eight-cell stage than at the blastocyst stage. That really seems intuitive---taking 12.5% of the cells away ought to be risker than taking, say, just 1% or less.

Maybe other clinics do this testing, if needed, at the eight cell stage. But I know one couple who NEEDED the genetic pre-screening due to an inheritable genetic disease, and even then, the clinic would only do so with blastocysts---and this proved frustrating, because they were having trouble getting to the blastocyst stage.

IVF is a huge statistical game. These doctors are as much probabilists as they are embryologists. So I suppose the numbers could be subject to interpretation. But the position my clinic takes seems to suggest that the one-cell removal procedure DOES pose at least some risk to the embryo.

I am not advocating a position here, just stating my opinion that the press releases from the pro- side may be doing a bit of spinning.

ndh

Ugh, what horrible editing: "weight" -> "wait".

Charlie (Colorado)

So the point is this: if they could do the diagnostic tests at the eight-cell mark, why don't they? The only thing I can conclude is that the test has a significantly higher risk of harming the embryo at the eight-cell stage than at the blastocyst stage. That really seems intuitive---taking 12.5% of the cells away ought to be risker than taking, say, just 1% or less.

Um, no, not really. That's a little like saying "taking one of eight photocopies is more hazardous to the others than taking one of 100". At the time we're talking about, the cells in the blastocyst haven't differentiated; they're more or less identical. This is also what makes them so significant --- they're "pluripotent", which is to say they can differentiate into any tissue in the body.

Without researching the issue --- medical school was a good long while ago --- I suspect they wait until later because it's a little like trying to pick up one penny with four foot long chopsticks: it's a lot easier if you hve more targets.

HOWEVER, I don't think this is going to solve one issue: once you've got a pluripotent, undifferentiated cell, you've got something that could be encouraged to grow into another human being. If you did it with a human cell from an adult, you'd call it "cloning". Thus any pluripotent cell could be argued to be a "separate life" in some sense.

Tom Maguire

Um, no, not really. That's a little like saying "taking one of eight photocopies is more hazardous to the others than taking one of 100". At the time we're talking about, the cells in the blastocyst haven't differentiated; they're more or less identical.

I think I am going to go with ndh on this point. I think we all agree that, eight cells or one hundred, they are all pluripotent. I took ndh's point to be that, whatever the subtleties of growing embryos in vitro might be, it gets harder if 1/8 of the cell structure is removed, rather than 1/100.

It certainly raises a question - per the Times, we have a good ten year history of implanted embryos with one cell extracted growing into seemingly normal kids (and that result is not surprising). *HOWEVER* - the Times did not report on what fraction of 8 cell embryos were accidentally killed in this procedure.

Maybe it doesn't happen. Or maybe the clinics test, e.g., five embryos with the hope that three will both survive the test and be disease-free, and hence available for implantation.

Well, I put in an update.

Slartibartfast

Just FYI, hilzoy is a bioethicist snd has commented on this. She's debated Leon Kass on...can't recall which network. You might not always agree with her opinions, but they are always well-considered.

Christopher Fotos

All the embryos were destroyed in this research.

Don

And how many embryos were destroyed in the course of perfecting this technique? More than one I'd say.

So isn't this "advance" the very type of research Bush just vetoed?

boris

very type of research Bush just vetoed

Only if funded by taxpayers.

Don

Exactly Boris. So why does Maguire or anyone else think this should get Bush to change his mind?

Don

IOW, killing embryos to figure out a way to not kill embryos is no different than killing embryos to combat Parkinsons et al., which rationale was just vetoed.

ndh

Tom understood me right. (Maybe Charlie did too but he's using bigger words ;)) My statement was that removing 1/8th of the embryo poses greater risk to the remaining 7/8ths. Or does it?

jerry

I've no great vested interest in embryonic stem cells, either financially or careerwise or due to disease, so adult stem cells seem ok by me. Scientists can always also do this emryonic work with private funding, it's all about university work with government grants as I see it.

Welcome back TM!

Tom Maguire

So why does Maguire or anyone else think this should get Bush to change his mind?

I hadn't really considered the point that, whether the technique is ethically acceptable or not, the road to the technique was arguably flawed. And now that I am considering it, I don't know whether I would change my mind, based on that anyway.

Scientists can always also do this emryonic work with private funding, it's all about university work with government grants as I see it.

Welcome back TM!

Great to be back. As to alternative funding, I have not lain awake nights worrying that a lack of federal funding will kill this great, unmistakeable opportunity.

Presumably, federal funding and uniform rules would be more efficient, but who said efficiency is the first priority of government anyway?

Slartibartfast

If anything that leads to death of an embryo must be ruled out, there goes human reproduction. Ok, that's a natural death, but as others have pointed out, there goes IVF as well.

Bob

I think the IVF issue is acceptable since it's an effort to have children, whereby Embryonic Stem Cell harvesting can be seen by many as destructive.

Personally I'm simply against the Government funding everything that becomes scientifically popular. Look at gene therapy bandwagon from just a decade ago... it had the same "going to cure everything in 10 years" promise, that we see with ESC research.

I also believe this is being driven by those who feed off the governments teats, such as the already rich universities like Yale.

Let the markets decide were the risks are... and so far it seems they (VC groups) aren't buying into these rosy predictions, since the GT cost them dearly a decade ago.

All Science is getting a blow-back from the scamming that seems to be going on world wide by Scientist out for only glory and money... and damn their scientific integrity.

So I guess Uncle Sam is the only dupe left for them! They've funded Global Warming Research to the tune of http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/reg15n2g.html>$4 Billion dollars and only if your willing to accept the Al Gore viewpoint.

Bob

oops... that should have been $1.7 Trillion dollars and not $4 Billion... hey but who's counting?

Foo Bar

There are a couple of facts that I would like all opponents of the destruction of embryos for the sake of stem cell research to contemplate. It's not necessarily inconsistent to be aware of these facts and still oppose the research, but these facts should at least be mulled over:

1) It's estimated that 60">http://www.bioethics.gov/transcripts/jan03/session1.html">60 to 80 percent of fertilized eggs fail to implant or are otherwise lost very early on. Around half of those fertilized eggs do not have any abnormalities and could have developed into babies. So that's millions of (potential?) human lives each year which get washed out in menstruation without anyone being the wiser.
Should we be investing in public health resources to develop ways to save some of these millions of embryos? I guess it's not quite inconsistent to answer "No" to that question and still oppose the destruction of (a very small number, comparatively, of) human embryos for research. One could indeed argue that we're not obligated to try to help the millions that don't make it, but we are obligated not to intentionally "kill" any of them. That seems a little strange to me, but it's not quite inconsistent.

2) If an egg is fertilized late in the menstrual cycle, sometimes there isn't enough time to signal the body to stop menstruation. See e.g. this discussion about the reason for many pregnancy test false positives. So I would think those who feel that any fertizlied egg is a life to be protected should be trying to stop couples from "irresponsibly" engaging in intercourse at times during the woman's menstrual cycle when the odds of a zygote implanting are suboptimal (as they might do e.g. when practicing the rhythm method). Now again, behaving in a way that might create a fertilized egg that has a poorer-than-normal chance of making it is not equivalent to intentionally destroying a fertilized egg for research, but it strikes me as strange to worry about the latter and not at all about the former- particularly given the vastly larger scale on which the former is practiced.

Foo Bar

I don't know the answer, but I am confident it is a godd question

Typo, or theological observation?

Foo Bar

Ack- got the first link wrong- here it is.

SunnyDay

opponents of the destruction of embryos for the sake of stem cell research

Ok, I get confused easily. Are we discussing the different kinds of research, or the use of government money?

Heather

I’m hard-core pro-life and my perspective is this does change things. First my moral view on embryonic stem cell research in general. Foo Bar brought up the fact the most fertilized eggs don’t become babies. True, however all people die but our society still does not condone murder. In fact it is still illegal to kill even a terminally ill patent. And since I believe life begins at conception destroying embryos is no different morally to me than Josef Mengele’s work. I’m not comparing the scientist with Nazis I’m sure they are not evil people. I do find they’re research quite morally questionable.

In my view this new technology does change things if there is no damage to the embryo. Let’s say for example that in the future scientist can clone me from a skin cell. If I scratch my skin am I committing murder? I do not think so.

The analogy is slightly different if that removed cell would become a new individual on is own. I don’t know if the cell can.

I have do question the scientific use of embryonic stem cells over adult stem cells by only time will tell.

jtreid_1999

If the main objection that Mr. Bush and his supporters have is that they don't want this practice of "destroying human life" to be paid for with their tax dollars then that just doesn't wash for me. Do these opponents of embryonic stem cell research think they are the only ones entitled to block the use of their tax dollars for practices they find morally reprehensible?

The Bush Administration is currently waging a war that is killing actual live human beings, an act that I find morally reprehensible, and I would very much like my tax dollars to stop funding these murders. But many right-to-lifers don't seem to place much value on human life once its exited the womb since many opponents of embryonic stem cell research and abortion are supporters of dropping bombs on Baghdad and executing mentally retarded prisoners (another act that I find morally reprehensible).

I wonder why more Pro-Lifers aren't for ALL forms of life, not just the prenatal forms?

SunnyDay

jtreid - you forgot the death penalty argument. ;)

Foo Bar

Ok, I get confused easily. Are we discussing the different kinds of research, or the use of government money?

SunnyDay, I am fully aware that the policy debate is over federal funding for research that destroys embryos (rather than the general legality of embryo destruction). I don't think it's unreasonable to refer to those who support Bush's stance as opponents of destroying embryos generally, though. Just because you don't want to outlaw something doesn't mean you're not an opponent of it, and presumably most supporters of Bush would not, for instance, encourage a friend to engage in non-federally-funded embryo destroying-research. Maybe there are a few people who think it's just dandy to destroy embryos without the use of federal money and merely object to federal support for it, but surely these people are rare among those who support Bush on the issue.

Foo Bar

since I believe life begins at conception destroying embryos is no different morally to me than Josef Mengele’s work

Heather, do you think that a failure to fund research to develop techniques to increase the percentage of fertilized eggs that survive is morally equivalent to a failure to fund research for a cure for a disease that kills millions of people every year? If not, why not?

How about a married couple that engages in sex late in the menstrual cycle? At that point, an egg is less likely to be fertilized, but it's also true that if an egg is fertilized, its chances of making it are not as good as if the egg had been fertilized in the middle of the menstrual cycle. So is sex without contraception late in the menstrual cycle unethical? I think most people would agree it's generally unethical for couples to behave in a way that might significantly decrease the life expectancy of any children they might have.

SunnyDay

I'm realistic about it - I accept that others do not subscribe to my beliefs, and embryos will be destroyed one way or another. Acknowledging reality doesn't mean I agree with it. I don't have any simplistic answers for complex issues like those who want a child and cannot conceive without invitro methods.

But the debate is really about the money, not about using embryos for research. There's a big difference - but - the argument always becomes about whether or not we should allow research rather than whether or not federal money should be used.

I can't figure out why. Perhaps because the research issue is complex and the money issue is simple.

I think it confuses the issue.


SunnyDay

Oooooh carrying the argument out to absurdity is good!!

How about we differentiate between natural occurrences and contrived occurrences?

Heather

Foo Bar my view is this life is precious, all human life. Life however ends. The difference is does life end by human intervention or by natural selection. Nature, in this case biology, is neither moral nor immoral. If a couple loses a fertilized egg because it did not implant that is nature, assuming no interceding act.

Taking this question to the absurd level of the sex late is the menstrual cycle I don’t know. Here is another question. Why bring a child into this world that would die, in one year, five years, Fifty years or one day?

I think I brought this question to the most silly and excessive conclusion.

ndh

Do these opponents of embryonic stem cell research think they are the only ones entitled to block the use of their tax dollars for practices they find morally reprehensible?

How do you suppose we should decide which allegedly reprehensible things we should fund, and which we should not? I'm just going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the democratic process is a good place to start, at least when it comes to issues detached from Constitutional rights. And this most certainly is.

So I am going to guess---since (unlike you) I presume they are by and large thinking human beings---that they would say something like this. "No, of course not. If a group of people can persuade our democratically elected representatives to act in a certain way on some other moral issue, and it's not a civil rights issue, more power to them."

Foo Bar

The difference is does life end by human intervention or by natural selection. Nature, in this case biology, is neither moral nor immoral. If a couple loses a fertilized egg because it did not implant that is nature

Sure, nature is neither moral or immoral, but most people agree we have a moral obligation to protect children from threats from nature, e.g., viruses, bacteria, hurricanes, wild animals, etc.

It used to be the case (and it still is the case in some parts of the world) that a substantial percentage of children died before age 5- generally from diseases that are certainly a part of nature. As a society, I guess we could have just shrugged and attributed those childhood deaths to natural selection or God's plan or whatever, but we didn't. We developed medical advances and improvements in public health and now the child mortality rate is much lower than it once was. Presumably you don't consider those efforts a waste of time. I'm having trouble seeing why you wouldn't also be interested in increasing the rate at which fertilized eggs implant successfully.

Here is another question. Why bring a child into this world that would die, in one year, five years, Fifty years or one day?

Well, many elderly people report having lived happy, fulfilling lives and are quite glad that they were born. Parents are generally understood to have an obligation to give their children a good shot at leading one of those long, fulfilling lives. If a fertilized egg counts as a child, why would you want to risk creating it in an environment (late in the menstrual cycle) where it didn't have the best shot of making it?

Anyway, thank you for at least pondering my points (however silly or annoying you might find them). That's all I ask. Like I said in my initial comment, I don't consider it contradictory to be against embryo destruction but uninterested in active measures to save more of them. It's like the attitude an extreme America-first isolationist might take towards people in foreign countries: wrong to kill them but no need to help them. Not contradictory. I just find it a little strange.

Cecil Turner

One could indeed argue that we're not obligated to try to help the millions that don't make it, but we are obligated not to intentionally "kill" any of them. That seems a little strange to me, but it's not quite inconsistent.

Not sure why it seems strange. It's obviously impractical to try to save the millions of embryos that fail to implant (and many fail to implant for good reason). Moreover, there are other people involved--who generally wouldn't take kindly to governmental interference--and no obvious reason why government should impose its will over their objections. Actively killing a bunch of embryos is an entirely different issue. It appears to be settled law that individuals may terminate one under most circumstances, though there is an ongoing debate over whether and under what circumstances it should be illegal to do so. Having the government sanction wholesale destruction seems a little "out there" to me, even if there were a good reason to do so.

JM Hanes

SunnyDay:

"But the debate is really about the money, not about using embryos for research. There's a big difference - but - the argument always becomes about whether or not we should allow research rather than whether or not federal money should be used."

The debate is not really about the money. One can argue about whether government should be funding scientific research in the first place, but that's simply not the issue here. The President explicitly, and emphatically, framed his veto as a moral line in the sand, not as a practical matter of allocating federal resources.

Foo Bar

It's obviously impractical to try to save the millions of embryos that fail to implant

If by this you mean it's impractical because we don't have the technology to do so- that may be true at the moment, but I'm not aware of any serious research efforts that have ever been made to develop techniques to save these embryos. If a major research investment were made, do you really know for sure that it would fail entirely to improve the implantation rate? Nobody's really tried, to the best of my knowledge, because it's generally not considered a problem- an attitude which I think is somewhat revealing.

no obvious reason why government should impose its will

There wouldn't have to be any government intervention or coercion involved. Suppose there were some pill a woman could take that would increase the probability of implantation of a fertilized egg (suppose even that the pill had been developed through privately raised research funds, if you like). No one makes anybody take the pill, but you can take it if you like. Why wouldn't life-begins-at-conception hardliners be interested in the development of such a pill?

SunnyDay

The President explicitly, and emphatically, framed his veto as a moral line in the sand, not as a practical matter of allocating federal resources.

Yes, but I guess I still see a difference. He vetoed funding the research, not the research itself. shrug. I guess I just interpret it differently. If it had been a bill to ban the research, I would say the research was the issue.

Cecil Turner

If a major research investment were made, do you really know for sure that it would fail entirely to improve the implantation rate? Nobody's really tried, to the best of my knowledge, because it's generally not considered a problem- an attitude which I think is somewhat revealing.

What're you gonna do, chase along behind ovulating women, offering your services? The proposal is ludicrous, as is your argument. Further, it's obvious you don't support your own absurdity, but are merely proffering it as what you consider a foolishly consistent argument for another position you disagree with. A sort of strawman reductio . . . and just as compelling.

Suppose there were some pill a woman could take that would increase the probability of implantation of a fertilized egg . . .

You could sell it and make a bundle (and reproductive endocrinologists would prescribe it as a matter of course).

Why wouldn't life-begins-at-conception hardliners be interested in the development of such a pill?

Are they trying to get pregnant? Or do you really mean "why wouldn't life-begins-at-conception hardliners insist every woman take the pill?" (I'd suggest, if properly stated, the question answers itself.)

Foo Bar

The proposal is ludicrous, but you could sell the pill and make a bundle??

reproductive endocrinologists would prescribe it as a matter of course

To the extent that such a pill helped couples that were truly having trouble conceiving, I'm sure it would sell. But would perfectly fertile couples be interested? Let's say it took a couple 3 or 4 months of trying to conceive (without any help from the hypothetical pill) before succeeding with their first child. Chances are decent they would have lost an embryo during that process. Would a reproductive endocrinologist prescribe such a pill to such a couple ? No way. Would a hardline pro-life couple in those circumstances be interested in paying for such a pill? I would guess most of them would not be, as they found it didn't take them that long to conceive without any medical help the first time, and they had a good time in the process.

Are they trying to get pregnant?

The majority of the younger ones will be trying at some point in the future, obviously.

Or do you really mean "why wouldn't life-begins-at-conception hardliners insist every woman take the pill?" (I'd suggest, if properly stated, the question answers itself.)

No, I really don't mean that, and I don't see what's improper about the question as I stated it (aside from the fact that you may not have a good answer to it).

Cecil Turner

Would a reproductive endocrinologist prescribe such a pill to such a couple ? No way.

Why not? If you had a perfectly safe means of improving a couple's chances of conceiving, what possible reason could they have for not prescribing it? (Presuming they were willing to pay for it.)

No, I really don't mean that, and I don't see what's improper about the question as I stated it (aside from the fact that you may not have a good answer to it).

I'm having a hard time seeing your point. I think it's fairly obvious the life-begins-at-conception hardliners would support your theoretical pill, especially if enthusiastic couples were cheerfully agreeing with them. Why not? It's all the people not taking your magic pregnancy pill that's allowing embryos to die. So what did you prove with that little mental exercise?

Foo Bar

I think it's fairly obvious the life-begins-at-conception hardliners would support your theoretical pill

Well, OK, then. My point is I have not observed any hardliners ever clamoring for such a pill or any other techniques that might save more fertilized eggs. Maybe some are indeed clamoring for it, and I haven't noticed, but it's surely not common among the community that supports Bush's stem cell stance. Note, for instance, that Heather and SunnyDay earlier in the thread show no interest in saving them, as far as I could tell. Now, you could attribute this lack of interest to a number of different possibilities:

  • Not being aware that so many fertilized eggs don't make it
  • A failure of imagination regarding what could be achieved through medical research
  • A very precisely calibrated (and arguably odd) view of the ethical status of fertilized eggs, i.e., no need to save the vast number of them that don't make it, but can't ever use even a small number of them to try to help, potentially, a large number of people with diseases
  • Just maybe, a failure to really think hard about the ethical status of fertilized eggs
The explanation probably varies depending on the person, but I would suggest that the fourth explanation applies at least to some degree in some cases.

what possible reason could they have for not prescribing it

Well, OK, if the couple asked for it and were willing to pay, then I suppose a doctor might prescribe it. But I really doubt a responsible doctor would proactively suggest it for a couple that is just embarking on an attempt to conceive and succeeded within a few months last time they tried, particular if it were the least bit expensive.

Cecil Turner

Well, OK, then. My point is I have not observed any hardliners ever clamoring for such a pill or any other techniques that might save more fertilized eggs.

Hang around an IVF clinic, and you'd see plenty. And you insist such a position is the only logical one for anyone who thinks life begins at conception?

The explanation probably varies depending on the person, but I would suggest that the fourth explanation applies at least to some degree in some cases.

Seems to me you left out the obvious: any natural process is, by 'most any definition, "God's will." (And again, there are good reasons why many of those embryos don't implant . . . some only poorly understood.) The ethical dilemmas don't really enter until one tries to manipulate the process.

But I really doubt a responsible doctor would proactively suggest it . . .

Seems to me you're making a circular argument about embryos not being important. Doctors suggest relatively odd behavior because studies have shown a minor chance of improved outcome. Not sure why you think it'd be unethical to suggest using medication.

SunnyDay

The ethical dilemmas don't really enter until one tries to manipulate the process.

Ding ding ding!! we have a winner!!!


Foo Bar

Seems to me you left out the obvious: any natural process is, by 'most any definition, "God's will."


The ethical dilemmas don't really enter until one tries to manipulate the process

Well, I thought I'd addressed that earlier in the thread. We have made all kinds of advances over the past century in treating childhood diseases and decreasing the mortality rate for children under the age of 5. Presumably pro-life hardliners do not consider that to be wasted effort, and support further such advances (as opposed to shrugging their shoulders and chalking up the death of a 3 year old as God's will). If life begins at conception, why would there not be analogous interest in saving the fertilized eggs that don't implant? Why intercede (manipulate the process?) on behalf of the 3 year old but stand back and let nature/God's will take its course for the fertilized egg?

And again, there are good reasons why many of those embryos don't implant

Yes, but a member of the president's bioethics council estimates that close to half of those that fail to implant don't have any abnormalities and could have developed into babies. Admittedly, he goes on to muse about whether even that portion has abnormalities we don't know about. Nonetheless, it certainly seems likely that quite a few (in absolute, if not percentage terms) of the fertilized eggs could make it.

Hang around an IVF clinic, and you'd see plenty

Sure, but I'd suggest to those that protest IVF clinics, support the snowflake baby movement, etc. that they are certainly being consistent, but that they would save far, far, more fertilized eggs by finding a way to increase the implantation rate to any significant degree than they ever will by fighting IVF or finding adoptive parents for those frozen embryos.

Slartibartfast
I think the IVF issue is acceptable since it's an effort to have children, whereby Embryonic Stem Cell harvesting can be seen by many as destructive.

So it's ok to allow many fertilized ova to die if it's in the selfish cause of having a baby (as opposed to adoption) but not ok to kill them in the pursuit of knowledge that just might save lives?

Just trying to understand, here.

SunnyDay

Just do it with private money until we know more.

Cecil Turner

Well, I thought I'd addressed that earlier in the thread.

Not really. You suggested interference is warranted if the outcome is good. You extrapolate that to a duty to interfere with a natural process, even if the outcome is unknown (saving embryos that failed to implant). Neither of which really addresses the point of whether interfering with a natural process and killing embryos en masse is bad. (Or whether someone can legitimately fail to save the baby gay whales and still picket whaling boats.)

If life begins at conception, why would there not be analogous interest in saving the fertilized eggs that don't implant?

Demonstrated by the assumed lack of interest in a non-existent pill?

they would save far, far, more fertilized eggs by finding a way to increase the implantation rate

Oh, then let's dust off the old test tubes! I'm sure if all the protesters reported to the lab instead, sooner or later they'd brew up your magic pill (sorta like the 50 typing monkeys recreating Shakespeare). Somehow I'm just not seeing it.

So it's ok to allow many fertilized ova to die if it's in the selfish cause of having a baby (as opposed to adoption) but not ok to kill them in the pursuit of knowledge that just might save lives?

Slart, that's just weird. Putting a fertilized ovum in a woman (knowing most won't make it) is selfish, while dismantling it for science is "the pursuit of knowledge"? I'd suggest re-thinking is in order.

Foo Bar

interfere with a natural process

I still don't understand the suggestion that we should be hesitant to "interfere with a natural process". Presumably you are aware of fetal surgery, in which the fetus is removed from the uterus, operated on, and then returned to the uterus so that the pregnancy can continue. I'm reasonably sure pro-life hardliners would not be averse to interfering with the natural process at that stage. In any event, you've already conceded that you would think such hardliners would support my hypothetical pill.

even if the outcome is unknown

The question is why there isn't interest in at least trying to develop a technique that would be effective in saving the embryos. "It might not work" is not an answer to the question "why wouldn't you be interested in trying to find a technique that works?"

Neither of which really addresses the point of whether interfering with a natural process and killing embryos en masse is bad. (Or whether someone can legitimately fail to save the baby gay whales and still picket whaling boats.)

As I said at the outset, it is not inconsistent to oppose killing embryos for research and simultaneously hold no interest in saving the ones that don't implant. It does seem to me, though, that this position requires one to assign to fertilized eggs a sort of intermediate status that is lesser than the status of human beings that have already been born, who pretty much everyone agrees we should take active measures to save (note that this intermediate status is roughly what most whale activists would assign to whales, which is why it's not inconsistent of them to fail to advocate advances in whale medicine). Yet the "intermediate status" position is not the stance of at least a portion of the hardline pro-life movement. They admit no gradation in status along the spectrum from conception to birth (and beyond). Given that position, I don't understand why they wouldn't be interested in saving the embryos that don't implant.

Demonstrated by the assumed lack of interest in a non-existent pill?

Please. You're better than this, Cecil. The issue is lack of interest in supporting efforts to develop such a pill (or other technique with similar benefits). And if I am incorrect in assuming there is a lack of interest in that, please cite evidence to the contrary. Maybe there are isolated cases, but interest is surely not widespread, and Heather and SunnyDay don't seem to be interested.

I'm sure if all the protesters reported to the lab instead

Well, that's just silliness. Obviously, I'm suggesting that they would want to put serious effort into raising funding so that trained medical researchers can find ways to increase the implantation rate.

Cecil Turner

I still don't understand the suggestion that we should be hesitant to "interfere with a natural process".

Seems fair . . . I still don't understand your contention that we must. (Especially since your plan depends on a future scientific breakthrough.)

The question is why there isn't interest in at least trying . . .

Again, you assume something based on a hypothetical solution. I see very little interest in Pixie Dust, either. Not sure it warrants an investigation.

It does seem to me, though, that this position requires one to assign to fertilized eggs a sort of intermediate status that is lesser than the status of human beings . . .

I don't recall the last time I heard the argument that a fertilized egg is equal to a human being. Can't it still be bad to kill one?

Well, that's just silliness. Obviously, I'm suggesting that they would want to put serious effort into raising funding so that trained medical researchers can find ways to increase the implantation rate

Well, at least you spotted the silliness. I was beginning to wonder. And it seems to me you've totally missed the repeated reference to IVF, where reproductive endocrinologists spend an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to increase implantation rates (which probably explains the name of the specialty). The idea that there would be no interest in a treatment that radically improved success rates is so obviously wrong that I hesitate to belabor it . . .

Further, this whole attempt to "prove" it's inconsistent to believe an embryo is a form of human life is sophomoric nonsense. I could easily construct an alternate theory in which everyone who believes human life begins at birth shoud lobby for late-term abortions and growing replacement donor organs to maturity in nutrient baths. (Think of all the lives that could be saved!) I suspect many on the receiving end of that argument would find it offensive . . . but not entirely surprised at the lack of objection to the converse argument.

Foo Bar

I don't recall the last time I heard the argument that a fertilized egg is equal to a human being

Well, let me refresh your memory. Here's a statement of doctrine from the Catholic Church (emphasis mine):

The human foetus is a human being from conception, when ovum and sperm unite to form a unique individual. From this moment the foetus is already the human being that it will always be and will only grow in size and complexity. Human life and dignity must be protected and respected from this very beginning

and another from that same page:

In Catholic teaching life is a sacred gift from God, to be protected and nurtured at every stage from conception to natural death.

And here's a quote from a pro-life PAC website:


Either ALL human life is to be protected from conception to natural death, or not

I don't notice any caveats along the lines of "to be protected from stem-cell researchers, but otherwise to be left alone without ever improving upon its dicey chances in the first week or so".

Anyway, I may have been wrong to suggest there is uniformity of ethical status along all stages of development. The Catholic doctrine page also refers to "the fundamental duty of society to respect and protect life at all stages of the lifespan especially at its most vulnerable stages."


IVF, where reproductive endocrinologists spend an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to increase implantation rates (which probably explains the name of the specialty). The idea that there would be no interest in a treatment that radically improved success rates is so obviously wrong that I hesitate to belabor it

Couples generally turn to IVF when they are worried that they won't ever have a successful pregnancy leading to childbirth, now matter how long they try. Who knows- maybe some of them turn to it when they're merely worried it might take years. In any event, if you could guarantee a couple that within a year of starting to try they would achieve, without the help of IVF, a successful pregnancy that leads to a child, virtually none of them would be interested in IVF. No young, healthy couple that got successfully pregnant within months of trying the first time turns to IVF when embarking on an attempt to have a second child. Yet all indications are that within that year (or even within a few months) chances are decent that one or even more eggs will be fertilized but then flush out of the woman's system. The success rate that couples care about is the probability that they'll achieve a pregnancy leading to a child within a reasonable amount of time, not the probability that they won't lose a single fertilized egg. The former probability is quite high for a young, healthy couple, while the second probability is considerably lower.

Now, maybe you think I'm wrong about that, i.e., maybe you're confident that even if a couple could be very sure they'd have a successful pregnancy in a matter of months they would nonetheless be happy to use medication to try to prevent losing even a single fertilized egg along the way. I don't see much evidence of that, though. For instance, Heather and SunnyDay above gave no indication that they thought, hypothetically, that this would be valuable.

(Especially since your plan depends on a future scientific breakthrough.)
...
Again, you assume something based on a hypothetical solution. I see very little interest in Pixie Dust, either. Not sure it warrants an investigation.

Yeah, well, funding for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and dozens of other diseases is premised on a "future scientific breakthrough" and a "hypothetical solution", but that doesn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm for those research programs very much.

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Wilson/Plame