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Science’s Rightful Place Redux

Back in January I posted this comment to ask what is science’s “rightful place.” Now it seems we’re getting a clearer picture of the answer as far as the President is concerned. Fox News is reporting that President Obama to issue an executive order on Monday that would lift the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research put in place under President Bush.

Regardless of one’s opinion or position on this issue, there are a couple points of concern with respect to this story. First is this comment from the new story that “Obama’s move is expected to lift that restriction. The official said the aim of the policy is restore “scientific integrity” to the process.” I don’t know who this official was, but exactly what is “scientific integrity” and who gets to decide it?

Apparently the answer to that question is found a little later in the article: “But leading researchers consider embryonic stem cells the most flexible, and thus most promising, form — and say that science, not politics, should ultimately judge.” In other words science ought to be the arbiter of its own morals and ethics and government can keep its moral and ethical opinions on scientific practice to itself!

I find this to be the height of arrogance and, frankly, its a bit scary. A science morally and ethically unrestrained by government will ultimately take the mentality that anything that is possible should be.

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113 Responses to Science’s Rightful Place Redux

  1. I know H.G. Wells isn’t too popular around here, but I always felt that The Island of Dr. Moreau was an excellent depiction of science with no boundaries.

  2. “I find this to be the height of arrogance and, frankly, its a bit scary. A science morally and ethically unrestrained by government will ultimately take the mentality that anything that is possible should be.”

    It looks as if Wells’s prediction may be comming true.

  3. It seems like such ideas could lead to further Holocausts. After all, it was Hitler’s idea that he should, as if by the will of Nature herself, exterminate, based on scientific “knowledge,” those that were deemed “lesser beings”. If the government, or somebody doesn’t keep supposed “science” in check, who will?

  4. By the way, part of what I said is based off of what Hitler wrote within his book, Mein Kampf:

    If nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such cases all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.

    Basically Hitler allowed scientific thinking to rule over the government, as opposed to the government ruling over science (that is, the government keeping what “science” morally allows us to do, in check).

  5. 5
    George L Farquhar

    Do you think the designer has a different set of morals to mortal men?

    If it is immoral for scientists to create and manipulate embryonic stem cells why is it OK for the designer to do it, as some ID proponents believe intervention by the designer happened at that stage?

  6. George L Farquhar

    If it is immoral for scientists to create and manipulate embryonic stem cells why is it OK for the designer to do it, as some ID proponents believe intervention by the designer happened at that stage?

    1. It is immoral to manipulate and destroy human embryonic stem cells, as these stem cells are human beings who matter just as much as you or I do. Some ID proponents may believe the designer mainpulated embryonic cells of other animals, but nobody is arguing here that the manipulation of these animal embryos is immoral in all circumstances.

    2. Even if we suppose (as some ID proponents do) that the designer engineered the first human embryo, this would not be the same as scientists creating a human embryo. On the proposed ID scenario, the first human embryo would still have arisen as a result of a natural process (copulation between two hominids who were genetically very close to humans) and would then have been “enhanced” by the designer, as it were. This is quite different from creating a human embryo by combining two gametes in a petri dish – which is really tantamount to treating human life as a nothing more than a mere object.

  7. Currently, embryonic stem cells are derived from human egg cells that have been fertilized in vitro (that is, outside of the body of the egg-donor mother) as part of the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF) whereby childless couples can conceive of a baby using their own genetic material.

    IVF clinics generally fertilize multiple donor eggs and then let them divide by mitosis until the blastula stage is reached. During this process the inner cell mass is formed inside the blastula, from which embryonic stem cells are derived. The point to this process is not to produce the embryonic stem cells in the inner cell mass, but rather to produce viable blastulas, which can then be implanted in the uterus of the egg donor (or, in rare cases, a surrogate).

    The way this process is carried out necessarily produces multiple unused blastula-stage embryos for every one that is implanted. These unused blastula-stage embryos are usually frozen in liquid nitrogen, in case the egg donor requires a repeat implantation.

    Currently, there are almost half a million such blastula-stage embryos frozen in liquid nitrogen in IVF clinics in the United States. Which leads to the first ethical question:

    What will become of the unused frozen embryos?

    Here is what generally happens:

    Any embryos that you do not use in your first IVF attempt can be frozen for later use. This will save you money if you undergo IVF a second or third time. If you do not want your leftover embryos, you may donate them to another infertile couple, or you and your partner can ask the clinic to destroy the embryos. Both you and your partner must agree before the clinic will destroy or donate your embryos. Source: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/470281

    So, should the “parents” (i.e. the egg and sperm donors) have the right to decide that their unused blastula-stage embryos be destroyed? Despite some political efforts to deny them this right, there is no legal jurisdiction in the U.S. in which this right has been abrogated (yet).

    One way to solve this particular ethic dilemma is to “adopt” the frozen embryos by having them implanted in an “adoptive” mother. There is a program that advocates this, and has arranged for some of these frozen embryos to be “adopted” by being implanted in “adoptive” mothers who are members of a medically infertile married couple:

    http://www.nightlight.org/snowflakeadoption.htm

    According to data at that website, the current number of successful “snowflake adoptions” is approximately 202 since the program was started in 1997. That works out to around 17 per year, or 0.0034% of the current half-million “snowflake backlog”. At that rate, all of the frozen embryos currently in cryogenic suspended animation will be “adopted” by the year 31421.

    However, this is a gross underestimate of how long this backlog will persist, as it assumes that no new “snowflakes” are generated by new IVF procedures. Currently, the rate of production of new frozen blastula-stage embryos at IVF clinics in the US is approximately 18,000 per year. the current rate of “snowflake adoption is approximately 20 per year, so unless IVF is permanently stopped, it is mathematically impossible for the current “snowflake backlog” to eventually be adopted.

    One way to avoid the use of embryonic stem cells taken from frozen blastula-stage human embryos is to use adult stem cells instead. There are many different tissues in adult humans that qualify as stem cells (that is, cells that can continue to divide by mitosis). Recent research has made it possible to “regress” adult stem cells almost to the embryonic stem cell stage, which raises the possibility of using adult stem cells instead of embryonic stem cells.

    Personally, I strongly hope that adult stem cells can be used for all of the scientific and technical uses that most scientists originally thought only embryonic stem cells could be used for. However, this will then lead to two new, unforseen ethical dilemmas:

    • What will be done with the “snowflakes” that are currently frozen at IVF clinics, if they are not used for stem cell research and medical treatment?

    • What will be done with the adult stem cells that have been regressed to the embryonic stem cell stage, since these would then qualify genetically and developmentally as “snowflakes” themselves?

    Clearly, one irony of the development of adult stem cell regression will be that the “snowflakes” now frozen in liquid nitrogen in all of those IVF labs will now almost certainly be disposed of (I suppose they defrost and incinerate them), rather than contributing to the advance of medical technology and human welfare.

    The other irony, of course, is that by regressing adult stem cells to the embryonic stem cell stage, there would be many, many more “snowflakes”, rather than less, thereby necessitating the destruction of many, many more “potential human beings” than is currently the case.

    There are two other solutions, both of which avoid the ethical dilemmas outlined above:

    • To consider that neither embryonic stem cells nor adult stem cells are “human beings” until they are implanted into a mother and are born as human babies. But this, of course, would require defining “human life” as beginning at birth, rather than “conception” (regardless of where that “conception” took place).

    • To consider that all stem cells are “human beings”, which would require that all stem cell research and treatment and all forms of in vitro fertilization be declared unethical, and presumably outlawed. But this would also require that we outlaw all developmental research, because somewhere along the line some researcher somewhere might find out how to regress any human cell to the embryonic stem cell stage, and then simply scratching your head or drinking a cup of too-hot coffee would be equivalent to murder…

  8. 8

    I don’t think the policy would allow embryos to be created for purposes of research. I think it would just allow IVF embryos that would otherwise be discarded to be used in federally funded research.

    If a person thinks life begins at fertilization, then the ethical problem is with the destruction of all those embryos in the first place. (Would such a person hold that everybody who conceives through IVF and doesn’t use all the embryos is a murderer?)

  9. Hi Allen,
    Your discussion of the ironies involved in developing adult stem cells is confusing to me.
    Why are you equating the stem cell itself with the embryo/ blastocyst as though implanting a stem cell in a mother’s body would somehow result in the birth of a human being?

    What is it about “regressing” adult stem cells to something of similar potency to that found in an embryo somehow the equivalent of destroying the embryo? Why are you equating the stem cell itself to a human being?

    Are you not greatly exaggerating the irony?
    If so, why?

  10. Most stem cells are obtained from embryos that have been produced in order to implant them in women for in vitro fertilization. Since extracting the stem cells destroys the embryos, the ethical dilemma arises from destroying viable embryos that could otherwise be used to make new humans via IVF to obtain stem cells for medical research and treatment. The irony arises from the fact that, if such frozen embryos are not used for IVF, they are usually destroyed anyway, so using them as a source of stem cells can mitigate such destruction.

    Embryonic stem cells would be genetically and developmentally identical to adult stem cells that have been artificially retrogressed. Ergo, any ethical dilemma attached to embryonic stem cells would also extend to any adult stem cells, regardless of source. This means that with sufficiently advanced technology, any stem cell could potentially be triggered to undergo development as an embryo, and therefore any process that destroyed adult stem cells (such as scratching your scalp or drinking a too-hot cup of coffee) would then be the ethical equivalent of murder (of the unborn).

  11. Thkanks for your respnse, Allen, but you are just confusing me again.
    Yes, you’ve already described in your previous post, and I think most are aware of how embryonic stem cells are obtained. The ethical problem here is that the embryo is considered to be a human being and it is being destroyed. The problem is not that some potent cells are being used.

    Embryonic stem cells would be genetically and developmentally identical to adult stem cells that have been artificially retrogressed.

    Say this is true. This has nothing to do with the destruction of the embryo.

    Ergo, any ethical dilemma attached to embryonic stem cells would also extend to any adult stem cells, regardless of source.

    This conclusion does not follow logically from the problem. Nobody is saying anything about the fate of the stem cells. The question is very much its source. Your non sequitur leaps right over the exact problem as you declare it irrelevant. This is like saying it is equally unethical to kill a person and transplant his heart as it would be to harvest a harvest a heart from a deceased donor.

    This means that with sufficiently advanced technology, any stem cell could potentially be triggered to undergo development as an embryo, and therefore any process that destroyed adult stem cells

    But the ethical problem does not lie in the equivalence of the cell but in the destruction of its involuntary donor. The adult stem cell is not an embryo, a blastocyst, or anything of the equivalent. In order to make it the equivalent you would have to take an already-existing embryo and replace its own stem cells with the adult cells. Or, you would have to create a nuclear replacement clone, i.e., create an embryo (human being) with those adult stem cells.
    The fact one could go to extraordinary lengths to create an embryo using, as one ingredient, the adult stem cells, does not make adult stem cells embryos anymore than a somatic cell is an embryo just because it can be used to provide the nucleic material for a clone; or anymore than the transplanted heart is, itself, a person just because it can be used to make a failing person viable.

    It still seems obvious to me that you are exaggerating the irony and equivocating between stem cells and embryos.

  12. At # 3

    Hi Donoman, I think you encapsulate the dangers of unregulated science extremely well here. A friend of mind compared stem cell research to pandora’s box. Once we start, we have a whole new eugenics movement on our hands.

  13. 13

    Allen must have had something strange done to his blastula when he was an embryo. Embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells are not the same thing, nor are iPS cells. You cannot implant adult stem cells into the uterus and get a baby in 9 months.

    Also, the ethical dilemma exists just as much for the in vitro fertilization process that produces embryos that are eventually killed as using those embryos for research. It hardly matters whether the embryos are destroyed, used for science, or left in liquid nitrogen. Eventually, even in liquid nitrogen, they will die. Allen’s argument used in a different context goes like this:

    “Well the Nazis are going to kill all these Jews anyway so we might as well use as many of them as we can for scientific study.”

  14. 14
    George L Farquhar

    tragic mishap

    “Well the Nazis are going to kill all these Jews anyway so we might as well use as many of them as we can for scientific study.”

    You are joking right?

    Tragic (and your name has never been more apt) do you also think every sperm is sacred?

    As stems cells can now be created from skin cells should we revere our dandruff too?

  15. “The adult stem cell is not an embryo, a blastocyst, or anything of the equivalent.”

    “You cannot implant adult stem cells into the uterus and get a baby in 9 months. “

    Not yet. However, this is exactly how “Dolly” the sheep was cloned, it is how thousands of domestic animals are cloned every day, and given the pace of cloning research, it is only a matter of time (i.e. not a matter of technology) before it becomes possible to do this with human adult stem cells. When (not “if”) this happens, the ethical conundrum that I posed becomes all too real.

    And so, the solution to this conundrum needs to be addressed now. As I see it, there are only two logically consistent alternatives:

    To consider that neither embryonic stem cells nor adult stem cells are “human beings” until they are implanted into a mother and are born as human babies.

    This, of course, would require defining “human life” as beginning at birth (or the onset of independent viability at the end of the second trimester, as decided in Roe v. Wade), rather than conception (regardless of where or when or under what conditions that “conception” took place).

    The only other logically consistent alternative is:

    To consider that all stem cells are “human beings”, which would require that all stem cell research and treatment and all forms of in vitro fertilization be declared unethical and presumably outlawed.

    But this would also require that we outlaw all developmental research, because somewhere along the line some researcher somewhere might find out how to regress any human cell to the embryonic stem cell stage, and then simply scratching your head or drinking a cup of too-hot coffee would be equivalent to murder.

    Indeed, as a commentator at my blog pointed out, embryonic blastocysts are “potential human beings”, and so should be accorded all of the ethical and legal rights given to actual (i.e. already born) human beings. But frozen egg cells and frozen sperm are also “potential human beings”, and so the same ethical and legal considerations should be extended to them as well.

    Ergo, following the logic of the second alternative, all forms of “artificial conception”, including egg donation, sperm banks (and perhaps even “matchmaking”, since it meddles with the production of “potential human beings”) should be outlawed.

    This is what reductio ad absurdam looks like from my vantage point:

    Every sperm a wanted sperm…

  16. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-L3JMk7C1A

    Warning: Monty Python is an equal opportunity satirist.

  17. If the embryos are either going to sit in a deep freeze forever, or just be destroyed, it seems to me that they could serve a higher purpose by being used in this research.

    At no point in the process does stem cell research create a sentient being. There is no “mind”, no consciousness, which becomes self-aware and is then killed.

    These are entities that will sit in eternal oblivion anyway, so they might as well be put to good use and benefit humanity.

  18. Hi Allen,

    Not yet. However, this is exactly how “Dolly” the sheep was cloned, it is how thousands of domestic animals are cloned every day, and given the pace of cloning research, it is only a matter of time (i.e. not a matter of technology) before it becomes possible to do this with human adult stem cells.

    I don’t think so. I think that you are talking about adding adult stem cells to either eggs or embryos. I don’t think you are talking about implanting adult stem cells and having them develop into babies. As you refer to the thousands of animals already cloned I think that I am right.

    When (not “if”) this happens, the ethical conundrum that I posed becomes all too real.

    I don’t think it does and I think you have invented this ethical conundrum – I’m just not sure why.

    Unless I am missing some serious piece of the puzzle this is where you go far off track:
    To consider that neither embryonic stem cells nor adult stem cells are “human beings” until they are implanted into a mother and are born as human babies.Who considers ither ASC or ESC to be human? Anyone? I believe that there are those who consider embryos to be human. They might object to having one stripped of its ESC to have them replaced with ASC. Is this what you are getting at?

    This, of course, would require defining “human life” as beginning at birth (or the onset of independent viability at the end of the second trimester, as decided in Roe v. Wade), rather than conception (regardless of where or when or under what conditions that “conception” took place).

    I think, rather, it would require that we not call stem cells human beings. Is anybody doing this? Does “embryonic stem cell” fit someone’s definition of “human being”

    The only other logically consistent alternative is:

    To consider that all stem cells are “human beings”, which would require that all stem cell research and treatment and all forms of in vitro fertilization be declared unethical and presumably outlawed.

    By placing “all” in italics you seem to be saying that ESC are considered human beings by some. Is this the case?

    Indeed, as a commentator at my blog pointed out, embryonic blastocysts are “potential human beings”, and so should be accorded all of the ethical and legal rights given to actual (i.e. already born) human beings. But frozen egg cells and frozen sperm are also “potential human beings”, and

    Blastocysts are not “potential” human beings, are they? Are they not already human beings?

    Ergo, following the logic of the second alternative, all forms of “artificial conception”, including egg donation, sperm banks (and perhaps even “matchmaking”, since it meddles with the production of “potential human beings”) should be outlawed.

    Perhaps a facility that creates human beings which must later be destroyed ought to be outlawed. MAybe you have actually scratched out an ethical conundrum. But it’s not because they freeze eggs or sperm.

    This is what reductio ad absurdam looks like from my vantage point:

    Every sperm a wanted sperm…

    Yes, I thought this was why you were exaggerating the irony and conflating ESC with “human being”.

  19. George L. Farquhar and Allen MacNeill

    Both of you have raised substantive ethical objections to the view that embryos are human beings who matter as much as you or I do. I’d like to respond to your arguments in thre parts.

    Part A – A Summary of My Own Position

    I maintain that any entity satisfying all of the following four requirements is a a human person with a right to life. [Note: Before readers rush in to accuse me of speciesism, I recognize that there may well be persons belonging to other species, but this does not touch on the issue which I am addressing, which is: which entities should be treated as human beings, with the same right to life as you or I?] Anyway, here are my four conditions:

    (1) The entity’s developmental end-point is a human adult. (Chimps fail this condition, by definition.) This characteristic is empirically verifiable, simply from inspecting the entity’s DNA. Why is this requirement necessary? Well, anything that’s not even on its way to becoming a rational human being (roughly, a human adult) can hardly be entitled to human rights as such. If it’s Martian, it may have rights as a Martian, and for all I know, some other animals (including chimps) might also possess a right to life, but that’s another matter entirely;

    (2) A complete set of genetic instructions – i.e. a program – for building a human being. Without a developmental program, the entity is not even a human-in-the-making, let alone a human being;

    (3) A biological embodiment for those instructions: in other words, the entity is an organism. This is important: I could put all the instructions for making a human being on a CD, but that certainly wouldn’t make it a person. In fact, it wouldn’t even be alive;

    (4) The developmental program in for building a human being has to be in run mode – i.e. the epigenetic switches are fully activated. Here, I agree with Professor Peter Singer that a mere potential for becoming a human person does not endow an entity with the rights of a person. If it did, then every skin cell which my body sheds would be a human person. This suffices to rebut George L. Farquhar’s objection relating to dandruff.

    I’ve briefly argued for why I believe the four requirements listed above are necessary for having basic human rights (especially a right to life), but that doesn’t prove they’re sufficient. Before I answer this question, however, I’d like to address the question of which entities actually meet these criteria. In short: zygotes, embryos and fetuses do, as well as children who have already been born. Ova and sperm cells don’t. Adult stem cells don’t, either.

    Let’s start with a zygote. A zygote possesses the following combination of characteristics:

    (1) A human telos or developmental end-point. It’s a developing entity, and the biological end-point of its development is a human adult. We can say the same of a fetus, a baby and a child. Could we say the same of an unfertilized ovum? Well, yes, if it’s about to be fertilized, we might. What about an adult stem cell? Yes.

    (2) A complete set of genetic instructions – i.e. a program – for building a human being. Note that all of the instructions are internal to the zygote. During pregnancy, the mother gives the embryo/fetus nutrition, warmth and love, but the one thing she does not give the embryo/fetus is information on how to develop. It already has all of that information. An ovum flunks out here; it only has half the instructions. Ditto for a sperm cell. On the other hand, adult stem cells have all this information, so they are still in the running…

    (3) A biological embodiment for those instructions: obviously, it’s an organism. An ovum and a sperm cell satisfy this condition too. So does an adult stem cell. A robot does not.

    (4) Fully activated epigenetic switches, which mean that the program for building a human body is in run mode. This disposes of the standard objection, “Every cell in my body has human DNA, so why isn’t it a person too?” The answer is that in skin cells, and other body cells, most of the epigenetic switches are turned off, which is why skin cells can only turn into skin cells.

    What about adult stem cells? They’re pluripotent, not totipotent. That’s precisely why advocates of embryonic stem cell research don’t like them. Although they are able to turn into a variety of different cell types, an adult stem cell, if implanted into a human uterus, will not develop into a human being. The only way to make it do so is to reset its epigenetic switches, essentially turning it back into an embryo again. If a scientist did that, then he/she would indeed have created a new human being, but until the switches are reset back to “embryonic mode”, an adult stem cell is not a human being.

    Note that all of the four characteristics listed above are actual characteristics, rather than potential ones. “What about the first one?” I hear you object. No problem there. The question is simply: what is the organism’s developmental end-point? We can know the answer to that question by looking at an organism’s DNA, long before it matures.

    So much for the old canard that the pro-life case is built on the potential qualities of the embryo. It is clearly not. Please note too that there’s nothing about an immaterial soul in these conditions, either.

    Now, I will acknowledge that Professor Singer has a valid point about personhood: rights are only exercised when we make choices, which is something that only a self-aware entity can do. My first point in response is that that a living organism which has a built-in and fully switched-on program whose terminus or end-point is a mature, self-aware adult, is the same entity as the adult it becomes: it has not only material continuity (same body), but also continuity of form(same program), continuity of process (it’s been running the whole time) and telos (same developmental goal).

    My second point is that during the course of its development, nothing is added to this entity that would enhance its value. As it develops, certain features (e.g. complex brain function) may emerge, but they are not added from outside. The instructions for building these features all came from within, and what’s more, these instructions were fully switched on from the beginning (conception). All that was needed was time for them to run, and a supportive environment, which however adds no new information. (Readers who are still inclined to think that the emergence of sentience in a fetus or self-consciousness in a baby somehow confers additional value upon it should see Part C below.)

    Now let V be the value of a mature adult. We have determined that the value added to the embryonic organism from which it develops is zero. Thus the value of this organism must be V minus 0, which equals V. Thus an embryo must matter as much as the human adult it becomes. But anything that matters as much as a human person, IS a person. Therefore, an embryo is a human person.

    Putting it less formally: a zygote is a living organism, with the complete genetic program that it needs to develop into a human adult, and the program is switched on and in run mode. Is there any good reason, then, to deny it the same right to life that an adult enjoys? I cannot think of any.

  20. Part B

    Common Objections to the view that embryos are people with a right to life.

    1. The twinning argument: zygotes sometimes split in two. Big deal. All that means is that humans have two modes of reproduction – sexual and asexual – and that the parents of identical twins are really their grand-parents (their parent – the zygote from which they both developed – having died). What’s the metaphysical problem here? There isn’t one. Nature has killed the parent, but sadly, nature kills children all the time – that’s just the old problem of evil. Bad things happen.

    The recombination argument is no more problematic than the twinning argument. Two individuals die; and a new individual, with its own developmental program, comes to be. That’s sad, but that’s life.

    2. The cloning argument. A scientist clones a baby. When does its life begin? Even a clone cannot develop unless the donor’s nuclear DNA is inserted into a (denucleated) human ovum, whose development then has to be artificially triggered (e.g. by an electric shock). My response: if the trigger turns all the epigenetic switches on, so that the human development program is in run-mode, then that’s when the baby’s life begins.

    3. Deformed human embryos. What about an embryo whose DNA is so damaged that it will never develop into a self-aware adult? Is it a human person? Yes. To illustrate this, consider a thought experiment. A scientist from the 22nd century travels back in time and repairs the genetic defect of a deformed embryo, enabling it to develop properly. Has the scientist added anything of value? I would say not, any more than someone repairing a crack in the “Mona Lisa” adds value to it as a work of art by restoring it to its original condition. (The deformed embryo may never have been in such a condition, but that is the condition that it should have been in, from a “programming” perspective.) There is a difference between adding or creating new information and restoring damaged information. The former adds value; the latter does not.

    Thus if a scientist from the 23rd century were to come back and tinker with the genes of a chimpanzee embryo, so that it developed a brain like ours, he/she would have thereby altered its value and created a new kind of entity, which would acquire a right to life only when it acquired the genes for developing a human brain.

    4. The hydatiform mole argument (a reductio ad absurdum) – these non-viable embryonic growths seem to meet conditions (1) to (4) in Part A, so are they human beings too?

    My answer: probably not. With complete moles, all the genes come from the father, so the full set of instructions for developing into a human being is never present (in other words, condition (2) is not met). Partial moles, on the other hand, do have maternal as well as paternal genes (according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydatidiform_mole ). The question would then be: are the epigenetic switches fully activated? (Condition (4).) I would guess not; if they were, I’d be prepared to entertain the possibility that some moles are severely deformed human beings.

    5. A few people are chimeras: their bodies have two or more different populations of genetically distinct cells that originated in different zygotes. Chimeras may be formed from four parent cells (two fertilized eggs or early embryos fuse together) or from three parent cells (a fertilized egg is fused with an unfertilized egg or a fertilized egg is fused with an extra sperm). If chimeras are people, then why aren’t moles?

    My response: obviously these individuals have all the instructions they need to develop (or they wouldn’t be alive); and luckily for them, the fusion event in their development did not turn their switches off, so they clearly meet all four conditions. Individuals resulting from the fusion of two zygotes are new entities, whose immediate parents (the zygotes from which they formed) are now dead: two developmental programs merged and formed a new third program, which happened to be viable.

    6. The mortality argument – embryos die in large numbers, prior to implantation. True, but so did children until 200 years ago. What does that prove?

    7. The vagueness of conception as a starting point: the process takes 24 hours to complete. My reply: when can we speak of the fertilized egg as having a single developmental program, and when are the epigenetic switches turned on? That’s when conception truly begins. In any case, I can live with a slightly blurry boundary. If we can’t pinpoint exactly when conception occurs, we can always play it safe and refuse to experiment with any egg that is in the process of being fertilized. We’re only talking 24 hours, after all…

    8. The breast-feeding argument. Breast-feeding inhibits implantation, so breast-feeding mothers who have intercourse are guilty of murder if zygotes are human beings. Reply: murder is ordinarily defined as intentional killing. In this case, we are talking about a tiny human being whom the mother isn’t even aware of. The objection is puerile.

    9. The “unwanted embryos” argument. What are we going to do with the thousands of embryos in laboratories? My reply: we don’t have to do anything, except refrain from intentionally killing them. We owe them that much.

    As I said, regardless of whether you believe in a soul, the pro-life position on human rights makes a lot more sense than the “sentientist” position that we acquire rights when we start feeling pain, or even later, when we become self-conscious. Those positions are fraught with ethical peril: they destroy human equality and harden our hearts to such a degree that we fail to recognize babies as people.

    Finally, anyone interested in reading articles by doctors and philosophers in defence of the pro-life position might like to peruse the following:

    “Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research: What’s Wrong With It?” by Professor David Oderberg in Human Life Review (Fall 2005):1-33 at http://www.rdg.ac.uk/AcaDepts/.....search.pdf .

    “Life: Defining the Beginning by the End” by Professor Maureen Condic at http://www.firstthings.com/art.....rticle=485 .

    “When Do Human Beings Begin? ‘Scientific’ Myths and Scientific Facts” – by Dr. Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D. at http://www.l4l.org/library/mythfact.html .

  21. 21

    vjtorley, let me suggest a test of your ethical position.

    You are the only adult in a burning building. In the building with you are two week-old human babies and two portable freezer cases with 100 zygotes in each. You can carry, at maximum,

    (1) both human babies,
    (2) one human baby and one freezer case, or
    (3) both freezer cases.

    So: save 2 lives, 101 lives, or 200 lives?

    If you object that the frozen embryos are not in “run” mode, substitute embryos being cultured for IVF. They may be near the blastocyst stage. You might be able to carry a couple of dozen cultures in each arm. Still, it’s a lot better than saving a mere two babies, isn’t it?

    I submit that you, like me, would save the two babies and leave the frozen or cultured zygotes to the fire.

  22. Part C

    Finally, I would like to criticize the common view that fetuses acquire a right to life when they acquire sentience. Sentience has nothing to do with having a right to life. It is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for having such a right. It can hardly be sufficient, or otherwise you would have to concede that mammals and birds (which are also sentient) had a right to life. Even most animal liberationists don’t go that far; most of them (including Peter Singer) assert only that animals have the right not to have suffering intentionally inflicted upon them, in order to further another agent’s ends. In any case, the statement “X can suffer” does not logically entail “X has a right to live.” You can’t distil a right to life from mere sentience.

    Nor can sentience be a necessary condition for having a right to life. If it were, then conditions such as hibernation (should it ever be achieved in humans – think Alien 3), coma and vegetative state (a condition from which people have been known to recover) would deprive a human being of his/her right to life. It would be OK to kill him/her, so long as he/she could not be awoken. (People in these states sometimes cannot be roused for months or even years.)

    “Ah,” I hear you object, “but these unconscious people still have brains.” That may be so, but if having a brain is the criterion for having a right to life, why not just say so, and dispense with the sentience requirement altogther?

    “Yeah, but they at least have a kind of capacity for sentience – they just need time, and maybe the right kind of neural jolt, before they can start feeling again.” Wait a minute. Sentience is the capacity to feel. Now you’re saying that having the capacity for a capacity to feel is what gives us a right to life? And what about a fetus? Doesn’t it have a capacity for a capacity to feel?

    “OK. Scrub that. Let’s focus on the brain. Brain death equals the death of a person; so brain waves mark the beginning of one.” But the problem with a purely neurological criterion for having a right to life is that it doesn’t do the trick. “X has a brain” does not entail “X has a right to life.” Neither does “X has a complex brain” or even “X has a complex, functioning brain.” Besides, which neurological marker should we pick? (A three-week-old embryo has a primitive brain; and a six-week-old embryo has primitive brain waves.)

    Perhaps the most alarming implication of the brain criterion for personhood, however, is that it destroys human equality. Einstein had a better brain than I do. If brain function is what gives us a right to life, then shouldn’t the better-endowed have more of a right to life than the rest of us? What else follows? Babies matter less than children, who matter less than adults. My moral intuitions are precisely the other way round: killing a baby is worse than killing an adult. Whom would you instinctively have saved first, if you had been the captain of the Titanic?

    Princeton philosopher Peter Singer contends that we could still all have an equal right to life, after all. All you need is the ability to have a concept of self, with a life in front of you. A four-year-old has that concept just as surely as Einstein. Yes, but not a newborn baby; and as Singer himself acknowledges, humans do not acquire a right to life until they are at least one year old. We are forced to conclude, in the words of Paul Ramsey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, that “Every good argument for abortion is an equally good argument for infanticide.” This is a point which Singer himself admits. He thinks parents should be able to kill their newborn babies if they elect to do so. Usually, he cites severe disability as a ground for killing a baby, but his own position that newborn babies are not persons with a right to life would imply that even if a newborn baby is healthy, it has no right to life. Need I say more?

    Well, Allen MacNeill and George L. Farquhar, I hope I’ve convinced you that the pro-life position is at least intellectually defensible, and that opposing views have severe problems of their own.

  23. vjtorley,

    Thank you for the excellent discussion on pro-life issues. Do you have a paper that repeats what you’ve written here, in a form I can possibly pass along to others?

    Thanks,
    Atom

  24. 24
    George L Farquhar

    vjtorley,
    A well argued case.

    I have only one or two questions. Given all that you have said, do you think that women should have the right to control their own fertiliy, including abortion?

    If not, what punishment should be given to women who have illegal abortions, should it become illegal (as you presumably would wish if you answer no to my first question).

  25. @David Kellogg 21:

    You can’t say x quantity of people in group A has more value than y quantity of people in group B. The value of live can not be measured scientifically and therefore you have a dilemma. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilemma

    I would go with 1 because the babies feel pain. This does not make their lives better, but makes their death worse IMO.

    Another example is the example of vjtorley. What would the captain of the titanic do? People choose children, because children are considered less less innocent than adults. This makes their death more dramatic, but it does not make their lives better.

    Anyway this is all about when do you consider someone alive, not what is the value of live.

  26. Vjtorley,

    Wow! That is probably the best pro-life case I have ever heard of. Excellent job man, excellent! Keep up the studies! :)

  27. Platonist,

    Thanks for the comments about my post @ #3. Glad you liked it. :) I’m not sure what stem cell research is heading us into, but if it’s anything like what your friend suggested, or something like Hitler’s eugenics, I don’t want anything to do with it! (Unless, that is, aiding in dismantling such eugenics!)

  28. vjtorley:

    I suspected that someone reading this blog would make your argument, and so I didn’t even need to present it myself. Indeed, you did a very thorough job of presenting the argument for alternative #2 at the end of comment #15.

    Using your criteria, the parents of IVF babies – who became such because they wanted a child so fervently they were willing to go through with what is often a fairly arduous and very expensive process* – are guilty of murder if they agree to have their unused, frozen blastocysts destroyed. The staffs of such clinics are, by the same logic, accessories to murder (or the actual perpetrators, if they dispose of the embryos). So are the suppliers of the equipment used in such clinics, etc.

    By the same logic, the scientists who use the inner mass cells from human blastocysts are also guilty of murder, as they unquestionably terminate the “human potential” of those embryos. Their laboratory assistants are accessories to murder, and so are the people who facilitated their research, and those who funded it.

    Which, as of tomorrow, will include every person who has paid taxes to the federal government, not to mention everyone who voted for President Obama. How far do you want to take this, vj? Shall we charge the majority of the voters and all of the taxpayers in the United States with accessory to murder?

    And, if adult stem cells can eventually be artificially regressed to the point that they can be inserted into the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, which can then be implanted and brought to term? There is no reason to think that this cannot be done, and lots of reasons to think that it can. What then?

    None of these ethical dilemmas happen if one defines a human being as a developing baby who can survive outside of its mother’s body. That’s where the SCOTUS drew the line in Roe v. Wade. Nothing – and I do mean nothing in your argument convinces me that they were wrong, and most of the implications that I draw from your argument convince me that they were right.

    * BTW, this would include my brother-in-law and his wife. Keep that in mind when you assert that, by participating in IVF (they now have four children), they should be considered to have committed the moral equivalent of murder.

    Which leads me to ask one more question, vj: if you were married and wanted a child, but could only have one via IVF, would you attempt to do so, and if so, would you consider that you were at least an accessory to murder?

  29. Hi Donoman. I am very pro-Life.

    Thank you for writing interesting articles. All contributors should be applauded for their time.

  30. 30

    critiacrof, so you would choose the babies over the embryos. Let me pose a different question while I await vjtorley’s response: What if the choice was you or the others? Would you give your own life to save two babies? Would you give your own life 100 frozen embryos?

  31. I would give my life to save one baby, including one to whom I was completely unrelated. I would not give my life to save any number of frozen embryos. And I believe that this position is entirely consistent with the ethical criteria that I have elucidated in this thread.

  32. And, speaking of eugenics, could someone please point out the ethical distinctions between eugenics and what is now rather euphemistically called “genetic counseling”? I believe that if one takes vjtorley’s position, there is no discernible difference at all.

  33. Domoman (and vj, too):

    Based on your comments here, I believe that it would be safe to say that you clearly would have nothing to do with stem cell research yourself. But, just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that as the result of such research a cure for Parkinson’s disease were found. Let us consider further that this cure involves the implantation of stem cells in the brain of a person with Parkinson’s disease. Would you consider that people who availed themselves of such treatment were accessories to murder? If not murder, then any crime at all?

    How about if you had Parkinson’s, would you avail yourself of this treatment, even if the alternative were death (which it usually is, and a long, lingering death at that)?

    Would your answer change if the treatment were developed using embryonic stem cells, but the actual treatment itself did not?

    Would your answer change if the disease were one afflicting your only child?

    I know how I would answer each and every one of these questions. Do you?

  34. Good question.
    Let me rephrase that:
    which choice is better:
    me dead or x embryos dead?
    I think me. But I would probably not do it because I’m weak.

    which choice is better:
    me dead or x babies dead?
    Definitely me. But I don’t know if I have the strength to do it.

    x!=y, y>0, x=me, x < y?
    It is like an equation with two unknowns with me being one of them. The only way I can solve this is by making myself equal to zero and sacrificing myself.

  35. Hi Allen,
    You seem to admit now that ASC are not embryos and neither will they be made to become embryos (as opposed to contributing to the creation of embryos).
    Ergo, destroying, or allowing the destruction of cells, even ASC, is not equivalent to creating and destroying embryos.

    And, if adult stem cells can eventually be artificially regressed to the point that they can be inserted into the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, which can then be implanted and brought to term? There is no reason to think that this cannot be done, and lots of reasons to think that it can. What then?

    Here you acknowledge that the creation of an embryo utilizing ASC would require a positive action – i.e. , the “potential” does not reside in the ASC alone, and, more to the point, the ASC is not a human being.

    You continue the acknowledgment here:

    Using your criteria, the parents of IVF babies – who became such because they wanted a child so fervently they were willing to go through with what is often a fairly arduous and very expensive process* – are guilty of murder if they agree to have their unused, frozen blastocysts destroyed

    ASC are not blastocysts so you can’t draw a conclusion about one from the other.
    Ergo, the equivalence is specious.

    Shall we charge the majority of the voters and all of the taxpayers in the United States with accessory to murder?

    The ridiculousness and procedural difficulties with charging the millions of ignorant with murder does not argue against the logic or truth or make your purported ironies valid. Do we charge every smoker with reckless endangerment? Or every polluter or funder of pollution or partaker of the fruits of pollution? Does that alter the rightness or wrongness of their actions? Isn’t it possible that there are wrongs which are not prosecuted by the American legal system?

    Nothing – and I do mean nothing in your argument convinces me that they were wrong, and most of the implications that I draw from your argument convince me that they were right.

    As suspected.

    BTW, this would include my brother-in-law and his wife. Keep that in mind when you assert that, by participating in IVF (they now have four children), they should be considered to have committed the moral equivalent of murder.

    Why should we keep this in mind? I doubt that your brother-in-law, very likely a fine fellow, is incapable of error and that his every action is, by necessity, a moral one.
    Does ignorance not mitigate in such judgments? Do you not allow the element of “intent” in your finding of murder?
    And how does this argue at all whether or not the destruction of embryos is the equivalent of destruction of cells?

    The answer to the moral conundrum raised by your question, “what then?”:
    Don’t insert the hypothetically regressed ASC into a blastocyst to form a human embryo. Don’t make human beings slated for destruction, experimentation or harvesting.

    Which leads me to ask one more question, vj: if you were married and wanted a child, but could only have one via IVF, would you attempt to do so, and if so, would you consider that you were at least an accessory to murder?

    As I said, this is where your actual moral conundrum lies. And neither the popularity of the procedure nor the good intentions of the participants does anything to alter the argument or erase your equivocation.

    Your #2 was answered long ago and vjtorley’s argument does not support your finding. In fact, vjtorley specifically contradicted this option when he said:

    I maintain that any entity satisfying all of the following four requirements is a a human person with a right to life.

    In short: zygotes, embryos and fetuses do, as well as children who have already been born. Ova and sperm cells don’t. Adult stem cells don’t, either.

    =====
    Hi vjtorley,
    Great posts.
    I have one question, however. Are you saying that an adult stem cell, the cell itself, can be “regressed” (as Allen says) into an embryo?
    Or can it be “regressed” into a cell, which, when implanted into an egg or a blastocyst, would be an embryo?

  36. 36

    I think anybody who says he should choose 100 embryos over his own life is probably lying or deluded. I further think think anybody who actually would choose 100 embryos over his own life is probably insane.

  37. I haven’t asserted that adult cells can be regressed into embryos today. Rather, I have suggested that it is very likely, given the pace of research in this field, that this will be accomplished in the very near future. Indeed, there is nothing in the biology of stem cells that makes such regression impossible, and recent discoveries make it much more likely that it will eventually be accomplished.

  38. To Allen MacNeill and David Kellog,
    Who would you save, your infant son or a serial killer?
    Your mother or an Asian grandmother with epilepsy?
    Two handicapped albinos or Richard Dawkins?

    If you make a decision in any of these cases which of the potential victims did you deem to be non-human and without rights to life?
    If you make a decision which of the above do you have the right to murder?

  39. In #35, Charlie asks:

    “Do you not allow the element of “intent” in your finding of murder?”

    Indeed I do, and so does the American legal system, which requires that the prosecution in a murder case prove intent (i.e. the mens rea of legal guilt).

    But, if one follows this line of reasoning and uses vj’s criteria, then prospective parents who avail themselves of IVF are guilty of murder if they choose to have their unused embryos destroyed (which most of them do, BTW).

    Ergo, if one adopts vj’s criteria, then IVF must be outlawed as involving the “murder of unborn humans”.

  40. 40

    Charlie, I’d probably make a relative judgment in each case. I’d include such things as how many I could save, who I love (my mother), who is likely to live longest afterwards, etc.

    The point is, those are tough decisions because we know that all the examples are humans with rights.

    On the other hand, “100 frozen embryos or a baby” is an easy decision, because we know — no matter what philosophy we claim to hold — than an embryo is categorically different from a human being.

    In all those other cases, you might make a different decision than I would. But in the embryo case, we’d make the same decision, because neither of us really believe a frozen embryo is a person.

  41. In #38 charlie asked:

    “If you make a decision in any of these cases which of the potential victims did you deem to be non-human and without rights to life?”

    This rhetorical tactic is what is known in logic as a “forced choice”, similar to the question “Have you stopped beating your grandmother yet?” My answer to charlie’s question would be, I would decide which to save on the basis of my emotional connection to the person(s) in jeopardy and the circumstances that put them there, and not on whether I considered them to be human or non-human, and therefore without rights to life.

    As David Hume pointed out, our ethical decisions are usually not made as the result of rational deliberation, but rather on the basis of emotion and sentiment. So, charlie, how about you: if you had to choose between the life of your infant son and the life of a serial killer, how would you choose, and what rational criteria would you use to do so?

  42. In #36 David Kellogg observed:

    “I further think think anybody who actually would choose 100 embryos over his own life is probably insane.”

    And dangerous, too. Would you want someone who would choose a freezerful of frozen embryos over a crying infant to babysit your kids? Indeed, would anyone put a person who would make this decision in a position of responsibility over anyone, under any conditions?

  43. Hi Allen,

    But, if one follows this line of reasoning and uses vj’s criteria, then prospective parents who avail themselves of IVF are guilty of murder if they choose to have their unused embryos destroyed (which most of them do, BTW).

    Since we both accept that intent is a necessary factor then the ignorant are not murderers.

    My answer to charlie’s question would be, I would decide which to save on the basis of my emotional connection to the person(s) in jeopardy and the circumstances that put them there, and not on whether I considered them to be human or non-human, and therefore without rights to life.

    Exactly. So in not saving the 100 embryos we have not determined that they are not human beings and we have not determined that it is ethical to kill them.

    So, charlie, how about you: if you had to choose between the life of your infant son and the life of a serial killer, how would you choose, and what rational criteria would you use to do so?

    I’d save my son. And in so doing I would have said nothing about the personhood of the serial killer or about the ethics involved in killing him. I would have rendered the entire “burning building” thought experiment moot, and mute, on this question.

  44. Also, in response to another of charlie’s questions, the general rule under U.S. law is that “ignorance of the law or a mistake of law is no defense to criminal prosecution.” See Cheek v. United States, 498 U.S. 192 (1991). Ergo, people who through their actions caused the death of frozen human embryos (i.e. parents of an IVF child) could indeed be charged with murder, using vj, Domoman, and charlie’s criteria.

    And the reason I brought up the case of my brother-in-law is that, unlike many of the people that I have encountered who have made assertions like vj, Domoman, and charlie, I actually know (and care about) someone who has had to make decisions like this. Indeed, I have myself made similar life-and-death decisions as a 20-year EMT and emergency medical and fire responder in my local volunteer fire department.

  45. Hi David,

    The point is, those are tough decisions because we know that all the examples are humans with rights.

    Let’s substitute “serial killer” and “infant son” into your previous answer:

    I think anybody who says he should choose 100 embryos over his own life is probably lying or deluded.

    I don’t think the decision is a tough one at all and I doubt anybody else does. I think the point is plainly made, against your last assertion, that to make a decision is not to determine that one potential victim is less a human being deserving of rights than the other.
    As Allen wisely said, the decision s more an emotional one than a rational choice.

  46. Hi again, Allen,

    Ergo, people who through their actions caused the death of frozen human embryos (i.e. parents of an IVF child) could indeed be charged with murder, using vj, Domoman, and charlie’s criteria.

    But first it must be recognized that they are killing a human being. They have to recognize this in order for there to be intent, and the law has to recognize it in order to charge murder.
    So the fact that we don’t, or won’t prosecute does not weigh at all against the logic or truth of the case.

    And the reason I brought up the case of my brother-in-law is that, unlike many of the people that I have encountered who have made assertions like vj, Domoman, and charlie, I actually know (and care about) someone who has had to make decisions like this.

    Your emotional stake and my supposed assertions make no difference to the truth of the argument. One can have searched his soul thoroughly, be ignorant of facts, or fully intending to do good and still be wrong and be doing wrong.
    Since eugenics was mentioned upthread, we can analogize to that. I am certain no doctors felt they were doing evil by performing involuntary sterilizations or enforcing miscegenation laws.
    But they were wrong, were they not?

  47. I agree that some of the eugenicists of the early 20th century were wrong*, and I base this on two crucial words in your next-to-last sentence: “involuntary” and “enforced”. This is what made eugenics the way it was often practiced prior to 1945 morally wrong: it was based on forcing people who were supposedly “undesirable” to not have children (or, in the case of Nazi Germany, simply killing them). Ergo, it was the use of force that made this kind of eugenics immoral.

    By contrast, genetic counseling today (i.e. “neo-eugenics”) is predicated on exactly the same kinds of genetic arguments that pre-1945 eugenics was. However, there is a huge and fundamental moral difference: eugenics today (which goes by the name of “genetic counseling), is both voluntary and generally “positive”. That is, people are not forced to do anything, but rather decide on their courses of action on their own. Furthermore, most genetic counseling consists of suggesting to people what they can do under certain circumstances, rather than what theyshould or shouldn’t do.

    * I do not include R.A. Fisher or J.B.S. Haldane in this group, however, as their version of eugenics consisted almost entirely of encouraging people with what they considered to be “positive” heritable characteristics to have as many children as possible. Fisher even put this into practice, having an unusually large family, especially for a devout Anglican and university professor.

  48. 48
    George L Farquhar

    Charlie,
    If abortion became illegal what punishment should be given to women who have illegal abortions?

    The same as for first degree murder, potentially the death penalty?

    What do you say?

  49. 49

    Charlie [45], you’re missing my point. You don’t have any previous attachment either to the frozen embryos or the 2 babies. If they have the same moral status, the only salient difference is that there are 200 of the first and only 2 of the second. If I have the choice to save 200 people or two, I’m going to save 200. But if I have a choice to save 200 embryos or two people — what the heck, let’s say two serial killers! — I’m going to choose the people, because deep down, no matter what we say philosophically, you and I know that frozen embryos are not people.

  50. The way to slip past all moral bounds is to argue the gray areas, which if you fall for it always results in moving the boundary to legalize more immorality.

    Truth is the law needs gray areas. Don’t bring up the doctor who finally administered “euthanasia” to the guy screaming in unbearable pain and agony. Don’t legislate the gray areas, ever legalizing more evil, rather leave it to the courts show some mercy.

    The point is whether Materialist Science should be restrained any at all?

    Should the high priests of our new religion be allowed to do anything they want?

    And why all the hysteria, all the deceptive blubbering about the President making something illegal when he had only declined to force me to pay for it?

  51. Hi Allen,
    I asked,

    Since eugenics was mentioned upthread, we can analogize to that. I am certain no doctors felt they were doing evil by performing involuntary sterilizations or enforcing miscegenation laws.
    But they were wrong, were they not?

    You answer, and then some,

    I agree that some of the eugenicists of the early 20th century were wrong*, and I base this on two crucial words in your next-to-last sentence: “involuntary” and “enforced”.

    So we agree that good intentions, soul-searching, and lack of malevolence do not make an act right.
    So we can discard the emotional appeal to knowing people who have made such decisions and deal with the logic and the conclusions.

    Hi George,
    I think that issue is quite irrelevant to the question at hand. Legislators and jurists can worry about that.
    I was discussing Allen’s concern that arguing against ESR would somehow obligate one to take a moral stand against drinking hot coffee or scratching his dermatitis.

    Hi David,
    You don’t need a pre-existing attachment to make a choice. And making a choice does not, contrary to your assertion, provide prima facie evidence that the chooser has determined that the unchosen is not human, or less valuable, or that it can be morally destroyed.
    As Allen pointed out, such decisions are likely to be emotional rather than rational, and one will certainly have more emotional consideration for a cute, soft, crying infant than for invisible humans in vials.

    Let’s try another.
    Will you save the man in the wheelchair pleading for help or the comatose man in the bed?
    If you have to save one person will you save the one that you would see and hear suffering through a glass partition or the one completely sealed off from you behind a steel door?
    What if you had reason to believe the not visible man will not suffer?

    Again, did your decision say anything about the personhood or humanity of the person left to die?
    Does making a decision mean you would not consider it murder to purposely kill that same person?

  52. 52

    Rude, you’re a striking one to be complaining about hysteria, what with your

    The point is whether Materialist Science should be restrained any at all?

    and your

    Should the high priests of our new religion be allowed to do anything they want?

    The original post refered to the new regs as “scary,” and Hitler was invoked by the third comment. There’s hysteria here, all right, but it’s pretty much on the side of the original post.

  53. 53

    Charlie, who knows? I might tell the guy in the wheelchair to shut up and start wheeling himself out. On the other hand, I might help him because it would be easier to get us both out and the second guy is more difficult. But again, it would be a hard choice, a relative judgment, and I’d feel guilty about letting the other guy die.

    The other choice is trivially easy, because there are no “tiny invisible humans” in the vials. You have to stretch your imagination to make them human, and they return to being frozen cells at the tiniest pressure. I dare say you wouldn’t even feel guilty about having sacrificed 200 lives to save 1 — because you’d know that, in reality, nobody died.

    I went to high school with a guy who was in Marines in Lebanon went that truck bomb went off. Many of his friends died. I heard recently the whole story: how he came back come and killed himself. Survivor’s guilt, I suppose. It’s understandable. But a person who has survivor’s guilt because he let 200 embryos die — that person was plenty messed up already.

  54. Yeah, according to Godwin’s Law, this thread had already gone over the cliff by comment #3. If this were any other blog I would claim that this is some kind of new record, but there have been threads on this site that have won a Godwin Award in the lead-off post, before even one commentator had chimed in.

  55. In #50 Rude wrote:

    “The way to slip past all moral bounds is to argue the gray areas, which if you fall for it always results in moving the boundary to legalize more immorality.”

    That may very well be, but that isn’t the case here. The SCOTUS in Roe v. Wade didn’t assert that there was a moral or legal “gray area”, they were very specific: legal protection under the Constitution of the United States accrues to infants as soon as they can live independently from their mother (or surrogate mother, nowdays), which happens around the end of the second trimester. Yes, the exact time varies from person to person (and gets pushed back steadily with new neonatal medical technology), but the legal principle is sound.

    Furthermore, applying the same standard to the issue under discussion here makes crystal clear what several commentators have asserted: that there is an emotional, moral (and legal) difference between a frozen blastocyst and a crying infant. Terminating the former is not murder, but terminating the latter is.

    Indeed, it is those who insist on granting identical moral rights and legal standing to frozen blastocysts that have muddied what to most thoughtful people is a very clear-cut issue, and which can lead to such atrocities as the bombing of an IVF clinic. It hasn’t happened yet, but can anyone reading this thread assure me that it won’t?

    Does anyone seriously think that there would be such rancor around this issue if we adopted the position that “human beings begin with independent viability”?

  56. re: Allen’s #55
    Godwin’s law says nothing about a thread going over a cliff and it is impossible to meet the criteria of Godwin’s law “in the lead-off”.

    Godwin’s law is about as over-used as the comparison it was meant to highlight.

    Indeed, it is those who insist on granting identical moral rights and legal standing to frozen blastocysts that have muddied what to most thoughtful people is a very clear-cut issue,

    Please, let’s see the statistic on what most thoughtful people believe on this issue. Also, please show what they think about conflating adult stem cells and embryos.
    In fact, most Americans think abortion is murder and most think it should not be legal, even before viability.

    and which can lead to such atrocities as the bombing of an IVF clinic. It hasn’t happened yet, but can anyone reading this thread assure me that it won’t?

    What’s the point here? That we shouldn’t discuss the issue or apply logic to the question because we can’t guarantee there are no insane people willing to carry out such acts?
    This argument is at least as hyperbolic and fallacious as any comparison to Hitler.

    Does anyone seriously think that there would be such rancor around this issue if we adopted the position that “human beings begin with independent viability”?

    Yeah, if the rest of us would just shut up and agree with you everything would be fine.
    But maybe you aren’t right and maybe all the thoughtful people don’t agree with you.
    Maybe your logic and arguments require proper discussion.

    Still unanswered from my first comment:

    Why are you equating the stem cell itself with the embryo/ blastocyst as though implanting a stem cell in a mother’s body would somehow result in the birth of a human being?

    What is it about “regressing” adult stem cells to something of similar potency to that found in an embryo somehow the equivalent of destroying the embryo?

    Why are you equating the stem cell itself to a human being?

    Are you not greatly exaggerating the irony?
    If so, why?

  57. 57

    Charlie, “most Americans think abortion is murder and most think it should not be legal, even before viability”? This is just not true. Most polls show a close split on the issue with the pro-choice side usually getting the higher numbers. See here.

  58. Allen,

    How many times have you invoked Godwin’s law on this site in the past couple years?

  59. 59

    Harold Varmus, who co-chairs Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, had this to say about insulating science from political influence:
    “We view what happened with stem cell research in the last administration as one manifestation of failure to think carefully about how federal support of science and the use of scientific advice occurs. This is consistent with the president’s determination to use sound scientific practice, responsible practice of science and evidence, instead of dogma in developing federal policy.”

    As if lifting the ban on stem-cell research is not itself a dogma of federal policy.

    “Again, the new oligarchy must more and more base its claim to plan us on its claim to knowledge. If we are to be mothered, mother must know best. This means they must increasingly rely on the advice of scientists, till in the end the politicians proper become merely the scientists’ puppets. Technocracy is the form to which a planned society must tend. Now I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man’s opinion no added value. Let the doctor tell me I shall die unless I do so-and-so; but whether life is worth having on those terms is no more a question for him than for any other man.
    On just the same ground I dread government in the name of science. That is how tyrannies come in. In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent. They ‘cash in’. It has been magic, it has been Christianity. Now it will certainly be science.”
    C.S. Lewis, Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State.
    http://www.onthewing.org/user/.....0Lewis.pdf

    Obama is showing that he is that puppet that Lewis predicted.

  60. Hi David,
    Not quite.
    If you scroll to the next chart you’ll see that 68% believe abortion ought to be illegal even in the second trimester.
    The next chart shows that those who think abortion ought to be legal in all cases number only 36%.
    That means almost twice as many want it limited. If they didn’t think that the fetus was a person worthy of legal protection (as per Allen’s most thoughtful people) prior to viability why would they offer such protections?
    Why would the number who think abortion ought to be legal only to save the woman’s life, only in the case of rape or incest, or not at all, outnumber those who feel it ought not be restricted?

    If you keep scrolling you find:

    A June 2000 Los Angeles Times survey found that, although 57% of polltakers considered abortion to be murder,

    In fact, continuing down the page, we find a very even split on the question at three months of pregnancy – obviously well before viability:

    In general, do you favor or oppose this part of the U.S. Supreme Court decision making abortions up to three months of pregnancy legal?”, to which 49% of respondents indicated favor while 47% indicated opposition.

    This is just not true.

    I think I’ve shown that it is true- with your own source.

    Here’s mine:

    Most Americans disagree with the part of Roe v. Wade that denies protection to fetuses all the way up until viability, believing instead that the fetus should be protected earlier in pregnancy. Viability, of course, is the point between five and seven months’ development when a fetus becomes strong enough to survive a premature birth. Applying the doctrine of prior restraint in the abortion context would protect fetuses before viability, without undue infringement of women’s privacy and liberty interests.

    Such criminal laws reflect a consensus that fetal life should be legally protected, even if the fetus is too weak to survive on its own. Indeed, a Gallup poll two years ago showed that sixty-nine percent (69%) of Americans believe abortion should be illegal months before viability, and a more recent Los Angeles Times poll showed that seventy-two percent (72%) of women share this same belief.

    http://writ.lp.findlaw.com/com.....hyman.html

  61. 61

    Allen:
    “None of these ethical dilemmas happen if one defines a human being as a developing baby who can survive outside of its mother’s body.”

    “I haven’t asserted that adult cells can be regressed into embryos today. Rather, I have suggested that it is very likely, given the pace of research in this field, that this will be accomplished in the very near future.”

    Well Allen, I haven’t asserted that fetuses can survive outside the mother’s body today. Rather, I have suggested that it is very likely, given the pace of research in this field, that this will be accomplished in the very near future.

    Oh wait, it happens all the time. So are you suggesting that if the baby lives, it has a right to life, and if it doesn’t live then it had no right to life to begin with? Isn’t this sort of a modern version of a trial by fire? What if the baby is born underwater and can’t breathe? Are you suggesting it has no right to life simply because it’s outside it’s mother’s body and can’t survive?

  62. 62

    If it lives then it must have been a real human. If it dies then it must not have been a real human.

    Can’t you see the barbarism of that argument?

  63. Stem Cell research is important science and embryos aren’t people. I am surprised at the attitude of people here, this is a science site.

  64. Clive Hayden post #59 Excellent post and directly to the point of my OP. The question of what exactly is science’s “rightful place” in our culture and how limits on scientific practice are placed and for what reasons is a vital question for any culture. The issue this time around happened to be the lifting of the restriction on stem cell research. What will the next issue be and who or what will inform where the moral boundary is to be drawn to Justify either limiting or expanding the scope of scientific practice? If we allow science to define its own moral boundaries, then how will that influence the structure and implementation of science education, particularly in the public schools? As a society, do we want our children to be taught that science creates its own moral codes and ethical boundaries? I have no doubt that if such a question were put in a poll the vast majority would say “NO”!

    From the public statements coming from the current Administration, it seems clear that they hold that science gets to deal its own hand, and even stack the deck!

  65. One question, perhaps off-topic:

    Do men have reproductive rights also?

    That is the Court case I would love to see.

    That is a woman conceives, wants an abortion but the father says “No way!” and gets a Court order to stop the abortion.

    My point is it seems a little one-sided if only the woman gets to “choose”. And it means that men do NOT have any reproductive rights.

  66. If I had to choose between frozen embryos and two serial killers the serial killers would lose.

    I say that because they- those two serial killers- already made their choice.

  67. Allen MacNeill 55:

    That may very well be, but that isn’t the case here. The SCOTUS in Roe v. Wade didn’t assert that there was a moral or legal “gray area”, they were very specific: legal protection under the Constitution of the United States accrues to infants as soon as they can live independently from their mother …

    You make my point precisely.

    Those jurists were into eliminating the gray areas. The rabble out there whimpers over the extremes, incest, rape, not what they’re really after, and so the court complies (whoever heard of responsible leadership?), and what do we get? What the rabble wanted all along.

    Those who want no restraints whine over extreme cases that might elicit sympathy from the masses, the court then—finger to the fickle wind—obliterates the gray areas, moves the boundary and legalizes crime.

    And then this outrage: “… legal protection under the Constitution of the United States …” Why even mention the Constitution? Why cannot the court be honest? Why not be truthful and just say, “Damn the Constitution … we’re gonna make the law.”

  68. In #58 jerry asked:

    “How many times have you invoked Godwin’s law on this site in the past couple years?”

    Almost as many times as some commentators at this website have “played the Hitler card” to shut down rational debate. And I will continue to cite Godwin’s Law every time they continue to do so. Contrary to what some regulars at this blog seem to believe, character assassination, guilt by association, and <ad hominem argumentation are not part of rational discussion nor scientific debate.

  69. @Joseph 65:
    What if YOU were a serial killer?

  70. In #66 rude wrote:

    “The rabble out there whimpers over the extremes, incest, rape, not what they’re really after, and so the court complies (whoever heard of responsible leadership?), and what do we get? What the rabble wanted all along.”

    And what, precisely, does the “rabble” (i.e. the majority of the United States electorate) “really” want?

    Come on, you can do it; make another ad hominem argument and make my point for me (yet again).

  71. And so it is now. Should a responsible leader attempt to put some tiny break on our slide into the moral abyss, the outraged change the subject and hysterically scream: It’s a war on science!

    Never, no never, address what you really want. No, keep the argument in the gray areas. And so we pretend that the issue is just some fertilized, frozen embryos that will have to be destroyed anyway, and not about what those who don white robes and pontificate in the name of “Science” might ultimately do with those frozen embryos … and aborted babies and other euthanized unwanteds. No, we can never admit that what we want is no restraint at all. Or, at best, the only restraint we accept is that of the shifting sand of our own moral confusion.

  72. critiacrof asks me:

    What if YOU were a serial killer?

    What do you mean “what if”?

    How do you know I am not?

    But anyway if I were a serial killer and had to choose between saving two other serial killers or the embryos I would still choose the embryos.

    Ya see I hate competition. ;)

  73. “And what, precisely, does the ‘rabble’ (i.e. the majority of the United States electorate) ‘really’ want?”

    The rabble I invoked were the radicals of The Sixties, and what they wanted they largely got.

  74. Allen MacNeill answered a question:

    Q: “How many times have you invoked Godwin’s law on this site in the past couple years?”

    AM: Almost as many times as some commentators at this website have “played the Hitler card” to shut down rational debate.

    You don’t know that that is the reason for comparison to Hitler.
    In fact, since you invoked Godwin 50 comments later you demonstrate two things: 1) debate was not shut down, and 2) you weren’t concerned that it would be.

    Contrary to what some regulars at this blog seem to believe, character assassination, guilt by association, and <ad hominem argumentation are not part of rational discussion nor scientific debate.

    As opposed to the ad hominem of suggesting those who disagree with you are not thoughtful, or the ad bloginem arguments such as your chastisement that the blog itself violates Godwin before any comments are logged, or guilt by association by suggesting that those making rational arguments will lead to terrorism, or trying to shut down debate asking that we guarantee that no terrorists will bomb fertility clinics, or goading (“come on, you can do it, make another ad hominem…”).
    Why is it that so often when I see you debating you are posing as some kind of paragon of rational and courteous debate while violating your own admonitions?

    Back to my unanswered questions:
    Do you have a statistic demonstrating that most thoughtful people agree with you that one becomes a human being when one is able to survive independently of the mother’s body?

  75. Hi everyone! Thanks for the comments. I’ve just come home from a long day at work, so I’d like to address the various comments that my post has attracted, one by one.

    Allen MacNeill (41)

    As David Hume pointed out, our ethical decisions are usually not made as the result of rational deliberation, but rather on the basis of emotion and sentiment.

    [U]nlike many of the people that I have encountered who have made assertions like vj, Domoman, and charlie, I actually know (and care about) someone who has had to make decisions like this. Indeed, I have myself made similar life-and-death decisions as a 20-year EMT and emergency medical and fire responder in my local volunteer fire department.

    If you were married and wanted a child, but could only have one via IVF, would you attempt to do so, and if so, would you consider that you were at least an accessory to murder?

    Well, Allen, I’ve had to make a life-and-death decision too. You’re not the only one. I have a long story to tell, so here goes.

    My wife and I got married on my wife’s 40th birthday. (That means if I forget our wedding anniversary, I’m in double trouble!) At the time, I had no idea whether my wife was still fertile or not, but we both thought it would be nice to try for a baby. So we did. And about three weeks after we got married, my wife conceived.

    When I found out that my wife was pregnant, I was over the moon. We both were. And if you ask me what emotion I instinctively felt towards my unborn child, it was simply love, Allen.

    You quoted Hume as saying that our ethical decisions are usually made on the basis of emotion and sentiment. That may well be true, and I have no problem with that, as I regard natural human impulses as God-given, and hence generally trustworthy. If you have children, then I’m sure you also loved them long before they were born, or even viable (which seems to be your criterion for having a right to life).

    So here’s my challenge to you: on your own reckoning, you would have to say that my feelings of parental love towards my unborn child were misplaced emotions – and that your own feelings were too, if you experienced the same emotions as I did. But if this is indeed what you would assert, then you are now saying that we should not always trust our feelings when making ethical decisions – which is contrary to the thrust of your quote from Hume. In that case, you are no longer making emotion the criterion for ethical judgements; you are placing something above it: namely, reason.

    Now, I have no problem with using reason to justify my ethical judgements, and I have already advanced arguments for the humanity of the unborn child. All I’m saying is: since you are evidently not a consistent emotivist, you will have to defend your own ethical position at the bar of reason, too.

    You write:

    None of these ethical dilemmas happen if one defines a human being as a developing baby who can survive outside of its mother’s body.

    Allen, I’ve got some news for you. Not ONE philosopher in the world today would agree with that yardstick. I’ve heard philosophers defend all sorts of cut-off points – conception, implantation, brain waves, sentience, birth, self-awareness – but no-one defends viability.

    Why? Well, for one thing, it’s utterly illogical. The proposition, “A is not able to survive outside B’s body” simply does not entail that A lacks human rights. At most, all it entails is that A has no claim to exercise its rights in a way that harms B.

    For another thing, what about zygotes and blastocysts that ARE able to survive outside the mother’s body? Are they human beings? And do they cease to be human beings when they implant, and become dependent on the mother?

    And what about medical advances? Are you saying that a 22-week-old premature baby that can be kept alive in an American hospital is a human being, but that a 22-week-old fetus whose mother happens to live in a Third World country without hi-tech medical facilities, is not a human being?

    Hypothetically, if a baby could survive outside its mother’s body, but still had to be attached to her body by an external tube, would you regard it as a human being? Well, what about a baby born in a Third World country who is allergic to any milk but its mother’s?

    If and when scientists ever create an artificial womb (and I hope they never do), would you then regard the embryo and fetus as human beings with rights? I’m curious.

    Anyway, back to my story. The early weeks of my wife’s pregnancy were blissfully happy. I would often squat down in front of my wife’s tummy and greet my unborn child when I came home from work, and say goodbye to it when I left for work in the morning – even though I knew perfectly well that it was not yet sentient. Talking to my child just felt like the appropriate thing to do.

    Then things started to go wrong with the pregnancy. My wife had to go into hospital for a few days. After that, the doctors let her out again, and for a while, all seemed well. We passed the end of the first trimester, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Everything should be OK now, I thought. We’re out of the woods.

    We weren’t. Around week 15, my wife started leaking fluid from her amniotic sac. There was a perforation in the worst possible place: at the opening of the womb. The doctors told us things did not look good. We were shocked and appalled. I was incredulous. This is the 21st century, I thought to myself. Why couldn’t the doctors fix a problem like this, I wondered. Why didn’t they have an amniotic fluid bank, just like the blood banks we have in our hospitals? Why couldn’t they stitch up my wife’s amniotic sac, and replenish it with fluid? I wanted to ask the doctors these questions, but living in a foreign country (Japan), I couldn’t. However, I did talk to one of my brothers (who is a nurse) and he advised us to prepare for the worst.

    It got worse. Doctors put the chance of our baby’s surviving at 5 per cent. And then it was zero. My wife and I were both in tears. I had seen our child’s ultrasound, but I had never had a chance to listen to its heartbeat before, as I had been far too busy juggling part-time jobs and making ends meet. So I asked a nurse in the hospital to let me listen to my child’s heartbeat, for the first and last time, before my child died.

    You wouldn’t think it could get any worse, could you? But it did. The doctor told us that he wanted to perform an abortion. I asked why, in my broken Japanese. With the aid of a diagram, he explained. If an abortion was not performed, he said, the child would not die right away. It would die a slow death, over a period of two weeks, as the last of the amniotic fluid drained away.

    Hearing that, I was still inclined to let nature take its course. Better a slow death than a violent one through abortion, which I wanted no part of. But there was something in the doctor’s explanation that I had missed, and I found out a day later: if the baby died naturally, it would rupture my wife’s internal organs when it eventually came out, leaving her unable to have another child, in all likelihood. The doctor said the only alternative was to abort the child, and bring it out as soon as possible.

    Before, I had been resigned to our child’s impending death. Now I was horrified that I was being asked to give my approval to such a hideous deed – for in Japan, they ask both the husband and wife to give their consent, before performing an abortion. My wife felt that we had done all we could to save our little child. And as her husband, I felt that I should put my wife’s interests first. I could not allow her to be ripped apart on the inside, and the doctors had told us there was absolutely no way to save our child. So with a heavy heart, I agreed.

    Some might say I committed murder, by bringing on the death of a child. I’ll let God be the judge of that. All I will say is that our child was already doomed to die, despite our best efforts to save it, and my intention in aborting it was not to kill it, but to expel it as speedily as possible from my wife’s body, before it could rupture her organs.

    Our unborn child died at the age of 17 weeks. It weighed 170 grams. We never knew if it was a boy or a girl, but we held a funeral ceremony for it afterwards – for that is the custom in Japan. That felt right too: we were farewelling a child, not a blob, or a potential life. Almost seven years have passed since our child died, but I still visit its grave every year, on the anniversary of its death.

    My wife and I felt drained after all that. But we still wanted to have a baby, so we didn’t give up trying. For a long time, nothing happened. Did either of us consider IVF? No. It struck us both as absurdly unnatural. After all, what does it entail? For a woman, it means having her ova extracted; for a man, the cold, clinical procedure of ejaculating into a test tube; and after all this, some lab technician brings a sperm and an ovum together. You want to make a child like THAT? Are you serious?

    But if you asked me on a rational level why I object to IVF, I’d say: because the actual procedure whereby the child is created is a mechanical one – and hence, a loveless one. Sure, the parents-to-be might plan the procedure lovingly, but that’s not the same thing. The actual process itself is an inhuman, loveless one.

    I’m not throwing stones at anyone here, Allen, and I mean no disrespect to anyone in your family. I wish them well. But you asked me what I thought of IVF, so I’m telling you.

    An additional reason for objecting to IVF is that it often involves the destruction of spare embryos – but as I said, even if it didn’t, I’d still be against it.

    You write:

    Using your criteria, the parents of IVF babies – who became such because they wanted a child so fervently they were willing to go through with what is often a fairly arduous and very expensive process* – are guilty of murder if they agree to have their unused, frozen blastocysts destroyed.

    Murder is commonly defined as intentional killing. Killing with intent presupposes that the killers have knowledge that they are indeed killing someone. Before a couple who destroyed their spare blastocysts could be charged with murder, one would have to establish that they were fully aware that they were killing someone. Otherwise, in a just society, homicide would be a more appropriate sentence. Ditto for the doctors involved.

    You write that that “ignorance of the law or a mistake of law is no defense to criminal prosecution” under American law. I’m from Australia, so I can’t comment, but I would have thought that ignorance of the pertinent facts (in this case, that the blastocyst being destroyed is indeed a human being) is clearly a different thing from ignorance of the law.

    You also write:

    If you [italics mine - VJT] were married and wanted a child, but could only have one via IVF, would you attempt to do so, and if so, would you consider that you were at least an accessory to murder?

    Short answer: yes, if that meant destroying surplus embryos, since I am fully aware that they are human beings.

    Well, what happened after that? Two-and-a-half years went by after the death of our first child, and my wife and I were more or less resigned to not having another child, but we never entirely gave up hoping. From time to time, we talked about adoption – but that’s not easy, in Japan. And then we were visited by another miracle. My wife became pregnant again. This time, our child lived.

    As our child grew inside my wife’s womb, I thought about how much we take for granted in life. We really have no right to expect a fertilized ovum, which is the size of a full stop, to develop into a bouncing baby who can smile back at you – but it does. That’s an everyday miracle. We take the laws of nature for granted all the time, without ever asking why they keep working the way they do. After all, these laws are utterly contingent. They don’t have to be that way. Use your imagination. When you think about it, so many things could go wrong between conception and birth, that it is a wonder that any babies are born at all. And yet they are.

    I had felt bitter at God after our first child died, but this time, we were truly blessed. My wife and I knew that our new baby was a gift from God. And when our son was born in 2005, the first thing I did when I held him in my arms was to say: “Thank you, God.”

    It’s a beautiful world we live in, but it’s also a world filled with suffering. Children, born and unborn, die all the time. Why? I don’t know. But the death of these children shouldn’t prevent us from thanking God for the ones that do make it – and the ones that don’t. I feel privileged to have loved two children of my own – one in this owrld, and one in the next. I hope I can be a good father to the son God has given me to take care of.

  76. Allen_MacNeill:

    If you were married and wanted a child, but could only have one via IVF, would you attempt to do so, and if so, would you consider that you were at least an accessory to murder?

    As a staunch pro-lifer, I have faced exactly that decision. My wife suggested that we at least research why conception wasn’t taking place. My response was simply, “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed by the name of the Lord.” Ie, if God wants us to have children we will. If not, I trust his best.

    When my wife finally came to the point of acceptance, a friend phoned us up and asked if we wanted a baby. ‘Seems her daughter was pregnant with a child she couldn’t keep. We had not advertised our desire for children, and had not advertised our struggle, so we accepted that God had spoken.

    We now have two children from the same birth-mother. They are wonderful. Jehovah Jireh.

    —–

    We live in a society that kills babies because they are not “wanted” by us. We live in a society that kills 9 to make 1 because we desparately want a baby. We live in a murderous and schizophrenic society.

  77. OK, now to the other comments.

    Atom (23)

    Do you have a paper that repeats what you’ve written here, in a form I can possibly pass along to others?

    Not yet, but I’ll set one up tonight at
    http://www.angelfire.com/linux.....olife.html so you can access it.

    David Kellogg (21)

    You are the only adult in a burning building. In the building with you are two week-old human babies and two portable freezer cases with 100 zygotes in each.

    Yeah, I guess I would save the babies. The thought of letting newborn babies suffer the agony of being burnt to death would be too terrible to contemplate. The zygotes would not suffer that agony. But that’s not really a fair question. Let’s try this one.

    The human race has been almost wiped out by radiation from a nearby supernova explosion. The radiation killed all the children living on the Earth, and sterilized all the surviving men and women. But in an underground nuclear bunker, there are two babies who have escaped death, as well as 100 embryos. There are also 100 fertile women who escaped the force of the blast (unfortunately, however, there are no fertile men). These women are willing and able to carry the embryos to term, and it so happens that there is a doctor on hand who can implant the embryos. You are the head of the community. I’m not asking you to make any life-and-death decisions here. Just tell me this: would you consider the embryos any less worth saving than the newborn babies? Wouldn’t all the children count equally, in this case? And wouldn’t the death of the 100 embryos be even more tragic for the community than that of the two babies?

    Charlie (35)

    Are you saying that an adult stem cell, the cell itself, can be “regressed” (as Allen says) into an embryo? Or can it be “regressed” into a cell, which, when implanted into an egg or a blastocyst, would be an embryo?

    I’m not a scientist, but I’m assuming, for argument’s sake, that an adult stem cell can actually be regressed into an embryo by resetting its epigenetic switches.

    George L. Farquhar (48)

    If abortion became illegal what punishment should be given to women who have illegal abortions?
    The same as for first degree murder, potentially the death penalty?

    That would be ridiculous. Pregnant women who have abortions are often acting under duress. According to one survey by the Guttmacher Institute, 34 per cent of women reported that they felt pressured into having an abortion – and that’s in relatively affluent America. The figure must be far higher in Third World countries.

    Additionally, it makes no sense to charge a woman who had an abortion with murder in an age when many people hold so many different opinions about when a human being comes into existence. You can’t commit murder unless you know you’re actually killing someone.

    At a future date, when the humanity of the unborn child has been unequivocally recognized by law, it would make far better sense to go after those doctors who defy the law and continue to perform abortions for any and every reason during the first few months of pregnancy. For these doctors are not helping women; rather, they are harming them emotionally, in a terrible way.

  78. I found the following a bit ironic:

    “”Medical miracles do not happen simply by accident,” Obama declared.”

  79. 79

    Concerning Allen Mac Neill (#47).

    Your attempt to downplay and/or whitewash the meaning of eugenics and the fact that Darwinian “scientist” R.A. Fisher was a practioner is explained by the fact that you are a Darwinist attempting to revise the racist history of your evolution theory.

    Anyone can search the Intenet and easily establish that the so called greatest scientist since Darwin was Professor of Eugenics (= white superiority).

    Ray

  80. 80

    CORRECTION POST

    Concerning Allen Mac Neill (#47).

    Your attempt to downplay and/or whitewash the meaning of eugenics and the fact that Darwinian “scientist” R.A. Fisher was a practitioner is explained by the fact that you are a Darwinist attempting to conceal the racist history of your evolution theory.

    Anyone can search the Internet and easily discover that the so called “greatest scientist since Darwin” (R. A. Fisher) was Professor of Eugenics (= white superiority). He had much in common with the KKK.

    It’s better to just admit and face these unpleasant facts, Allen: evolution gave white men the “evidence” to justify their pre-existing racism.

    Ray

  81. vjtorley:

    Thank you for comment #76. You have made me think long and deeply about the issues raised here, and I have indeed changed my mind about some of my positions as a result.

    I guess it’s not so surprising, given that David Hume was a fellow Scot, but you have convinced me that his position on the “grounding” of ethics is the most realistic: that ethical decisions ultimately flow from our emotions, not from our reason. As an evolutionary psychologist by profession (and not an ethical philosopher) I suppose I should have known this, and so I thank you for helping me come to clearness on this point.

    Your story was very touching, and all the moreso because it almost exactly matched what happened to my wife and me. We, too, lost a child: our third. She lived long enough (almost six months inside her mother) that we were pretty certain she was a girl: we named her Cynara.

    However, the first time we saw her on ultrasound, she was already dead and had started to decompose, so we didn’t have to agree to having her “killed” to save her mother’s life. She was “born” two days later via emergency D&C. Like you, we were never able to hold her, only to say goodbye. And like you, we were blessed with another, her little brother, Draco (we celebrated his second birthday this past weekend).

    And so you see, it’s not rationality at all that makes us human, nor sentience, nor chromosomes, nor any of those other “inhuman” things: it’s our emotions and who we care about, and why that makes us who we are.

    And now to your questions. You ask:

    What about zygotes and blastocysts that ARE able to survive outside the mother’s body – are they human beings?

    Not yet, as I believe (as the result of your post and the clarity it has helped me find) that the definition of a “human being” is not based on science or rationality, but on sentiment.

    If it becomes possible to maintain them in an artificial womb, then they can develop until they can become “human”…or, as I would prefer to refer to them, “persons”. However, this means (to me) that the decision to carry them to term in an artificial womb should be entirely voluntary and limited to the donors of the egg and sperm which were used in their conception. Governments should have no say in this either way, IMHO.

    And do they cease to be human beings when they implant, and become dependent on the mother?

    At that point, and until the development of a technological means to bring them independently to term, they become part of their mother, and she therefore has the ultimate choice as to their survival. If it were my wife, I would hope that she would choose to bring them to term, but that would be her decision, since its her body, not mine. She takes all the risks (up to and including death), so the choice is hers.

    And what about medical advances? Are you saying that a 22-week-old premature baby that can be kept alive in an American hospital is a human being, but that a 22-week-old fetus whose mother happens to live in a Third World country without hi-tech medical facilities, is not a human being?

    See my explanation of what I believe about the term “human being”, above. If you were to ask me, would I do whatever I could to help the premature baby in the Third World survive and have a rewarding life, yes I would. Who wouldn’t? but that would be based on my emotions – my sentiments, if you will – and not some absolute rational criterion, unaffected by sentiment.

    Hypothetically, if a baby could survive outside its mother’s body, but still had to be attached to her body by an external tube, would you regard it as a human being?

    Not an independent one, and so the same answer I gave earlier applies here: until the development of a technological means to bring them independently to term, they become part of their mother, and she therefore has the ultimate choice as to their survival. If it were possible for a surrogate to substitute for the mother (which your hypothetical technology would seem to allow), then if someone wanted to substitute for the mother, that would be my choice. If I could do it myself, I most certainly would. But I would never force someone else to do what I either would or would not do.

    Well, what about a baby born in a Third World country who is allergic to any milk but its mother’s?

    This isn’t even hypothetical; there are lots of babies like that right here. In this case, if my wife and I had a baby like this, I believe we would do what we could to keep it alive. If it were someone else’s child and we could help (for instance by donating mother’s milk, which my wife did during one of her pregnancies – she made a lot that time!), I believe we would (I would want to, and I believe my wife would as well). But once again, I believe that this should be up to us, not up to a law enforced by the government.

    If and when scientists ever create an artificial womb (and I hope they never do), would you then regard the embryo and fetus as human beings with rights

    Unlike you, I hope that artificial womb technology does become possible, as I know many couples now childless who would avail themselves of it, and I believe that they should be given the choice to use it (or not; it’s up to them, not to me, and certainly not up to the government).

    And the answer to your question is easy this time: Yes. Indeed, I believe that a fetus in an artificial womb should be recognized to have the same rights as a premature infant in an incubator. That is, to turn off the incubator or to otherwise intentionally cause the premature baby’s death should be treated as homicide; the same for a fetus in an artificial womb.

    Again, vj, thank you. I will henceforth do what I should do as a member of the Society of Friends: I will hold you and your wife all of your children in the Light.

    And so, to close:

    I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion…

  82. 82

    vjtorley [77], your thought experiment is very fine. I’m not sure what I’d do, but I might decide to save the embryos in that case. I’d sure be glad somebody decided to cultivate those embryos though. Whew! [wipes brow]

  83. Well, as most of you know, the annoucement and Executive Order did come today as promised. But in what I can only describe as complete philosophical confusion, the President said that he “would not open the door to human cloning.” So, on the one hand, science does get to set its own moral and ethical boundaries; but on the other hand it doesn’t. I would love to know what moral argument justifies retaining a restriction on human cloning while allowing lifting it on embryonic tem cell research. So, we can destroy life for the sake of research, but not create it. This is serious moral confusion!

    And for the record, I am opposed to both!

  84. 84
    George L Farquhar

    DonaldM,
    Do I take it that you would refuse any treatment developed by the use of embryonic stem cell research?

    Even if your life was at stake?

    Would you refuse to allow your family the same? Your children?

  85. 85

    Obama needs to take some logic lessons from Alan Keyes.

  86. 86

    George, would you spend money from a robbery that killed many people if you were broke?

  87. 87
    George L Farquhar

    Clive,

    I’ll answer that when you answer my original question to Donald.

    Would you refuse any treatment developed by the use of embryonic stem cell research? Would you allow your childs life to be saved by such a treatment or would you refuse it?

  88. Everyone—regardless of their perspective—seems to have missed the point of the original post. Given the claim by the administration official that “science, not politics, should ultimately judge,” how can this be applied to any policy question faced by any administration?

    Take the burning building example. How does science measure the relative worth of the infant, or the grandmother, or the blastula, or the embryo (frozen or not) and whether any of these should should be saved from the burning building? Remember, the claim is that “science should judge.” Your answer—regardless of which perspective you adopt—cannot include any references to morality or ethics. Best of luck with your answer.

  89. According to Allen:

    “Not yet, as I believe (as the result of your post and the clarity it has helped me find) that the definition of a “human being” is not based on science or rationality, but on sentiment.”

    Whose sentiment? If you say, “God’s” then I’m right there with you. Otherwise, I’m a bit concerned about people killing the (non) huming beings that they don’t particularly like.

  90. err…human beings even. :p

  91. 91
    George L Farquhar

    Clive

    George, would you spend money from a robbery that killed many people if you were broke?

    In order to not give you an excuse for not answering, here is my answer.

    It would be irrelevant to me if people were killed in the robbery because I would not spend the money anyway. So people dead or not, the issue is the same.

    Now, would you allow a child to die or suffer by withholding a treatment that could cure them, if derived from stem cell research?

  92. 92

    George, both questions are the same. If something good were to come from something bad, that doesn’t mean that the means should’nt have been avoided if they could’ve been avoided. The experiments on live subjects during the holocaust yielded increased knowledge of physiology, but then we remember that it took people to be operated on without their consent, and there is no need to recount the horrendous nature of those experiments. Does the increase in knowledge justify the experiments? Does the ability to possible save some people from illness justify murder of others? That is essentially your question, and the answer is no.

    Now you can answer my question.

  93. George

    Do I take it that you would refuse any treatment developed by the use of embryonic stem cell research?

    You may as well ask if it were the case that I needed a kidney and upon my assent to receive the kidney, the donor will be killed in order to donate it, would I still accept the kidney. Of course not! Evil in the name of science is still evil. It is immoral and unethical to prey upon one class of human beings in order to benefit another, including myself and/or my family.

  94. 94
    George L Farquhar

    Clive, DonaldM

    Thank you for your answers.

    I’m amazed at the lengths you had to go to to justify them however.

    Clive, you bring in the nazis and live experementation on unwilling subjects, Donald, you talk of murder.

    It’s interesting that you have to equate a bundle of cells with the knowing sacrifice of an actual living self aware grown human being to make your case.

    These cells in the majority of cases would have been discarded in any case, they never would have had even the possiblity of development.

    And yet you would rather they were thrown away then used to create life saving treatments!

    You do know nothing has really changed today? Mutiple stem cell lines have been available for use, just not by goverment funded scientists.

    I hope you are never in a position where you have to make the choice between saving a family members life or refusing treatment on the basis of your moral objections.

    However, I would lobby for your imprisonment if your choice caused the death of a person (such as a minor under your guardinanship).

    Allow yourself to die, by all means. Prevent somebody from being saved because of your moral judgement? That’s a different story and you would be in the same catagory, to me, as those parents that pray for their children instead of taking them to the doctor. When the children die, I consider that murder.

  95. DonaldM (83):

    You should have waited a few days to respond to the news, rather than run with a spun prognostication of what the news would be.

    So, on the one hand, science does get to set its own moral and ethical boundaries; but on the other hand it doesn’t.

    Would you care to supply a quotation of President Obama backing up your claim? Your Fox News article lifted out of context and misconstrued the phrase “scientific integrity” appearing in a memorandum:

    Obama said he respects the point of view held by stem cell research opponents and promised “strict oversight” of how the work is conducted. He has asked the National Institutes of Health to develop new guidelines within four months.

    The government will only fund research that is “responsibly conducted” and would ensure the money “never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction,” Obama said.

    “It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.”

    The stem cell decision came in tandem with the release of a separate presidential memorandum instructing the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to “develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity” to government decision-making.

    It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology,” Obama said. [source]

    Evidently the president had quite a bit to say about ethics and governmental oversight. And there are medical ethicists at the National Institutes of Health who work on such guidelines.

    The fact that the president’s sense of ethics is not what you think it should be does not mean that he has handed ethical integrity over to scientists.

  96. 96

    George, the concept is the same, I do not have to equate a, as you put it, “bundle of cells” to a human for the principle of the end not justifying the means. If you want to argue over the means, that is it’s own question. If it is shown that the means are wrong, then the end, having any merit, is not a valid argument, which is exactly what you were implying (that if the end is useful for saving a life, then the means would be justified). Strictly speaking, this was the form of your argument. It’s not valid. Now if you want to discuss whether the means is itself valid, void of any discussion of the end, we can do that, but let’s not confuse our discussion and jump around the point. Either fertilized embryos are real live humans, or they aren’t. You say they’re not. I say they are. A “bundle of cells” is all anyone is (on the physical level), yourself included, you’re just a bigger bundle. The reduction argument goes both ways.

  97. 97
    George L Farquhar

    Clive,

    A “bundle of cells” is all anyone is (on the physical level), yourself included, you’re just a bigger bundle. The reduction argument goes both ways.

    Exactly my point, with one difference. The difference is that a fertilized embryo is indeed a potential “real live human” but it’s not a miniature adult (or rather, fully developed) human being!

    On a related subject, given all that you have said, do you think that women should have the right to control their own fertility via options that include abortion?

    If not, what punishment should be given to women who have illegal abortions, should abortion become illegal?

  98. 98

    George,

    I’m against abortion with the normal caveats of incest and the health of the mother, maybe some other situations. You are still a fertilized embryo, you just happen to have grown more since then, but you were certainly, at least, once, only that. Questions of punishment are rabbit trails. The point of the post was in “science” being protected against moral accountability. Either way the politics comes down, for or against a proposition concerning the morality of a scientific position, they government is acting in what it considers “moral” or “right”, even if that means that there should be no intervention–that is still a “moral” position. That’s what makes the current administration’s position so inconsistent and contradictory. To say that it is “wrong” to moralize in science, is surely ridiculous, for “wrong” is a moral judgment.

  99. Allen:

    “it’s not rationality at all that makes us human, nor sentience, nor chromosomes, nor any of those other “inhuman” things: it’s our emotions and who we care about, and why that makes us who we are.”

    Logic is not your strong point.

  100. Salgal

    Would you care to supply a quotation of President Obama backing up your claim? Your Fox News article lifted out of context and misconstrued the phrase “scientific integrity” appearing in a memorandum:

    And:

    The stem cell decision came in tandem with the release of a separate presidential memorandum instructing the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to “develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity” to government decision-making.

    “It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology,” Obama said

    The original article took nothing out of context. It was someone from the science community who said that science and not politics should be the judge. It is the role of government to defend the innocent and protect the weak, and that includes placing limits on scientific practice. All this talk about globs of cells and the like is beside the point completely. Neither science nor philosophy can tell us where the line is between conception and death where on one side of it its perfectly okay to destroy life for scientific purposes and on the other it isn’t. The ONLY thing science can tell us is that from the second of conception that “blob of cells” is human and nothing but human, being as it is, composed entirely of human DNA.

    But even all that is beside the point. The point of my OP and my later post is that government has every right to place constraints on science and scientific practice for practicle, moral and ethical reasons. But, in this instance, it is inconsistently applied. In the case of stem cell research, the administrations cedes to science to right to judge; in the casing of cloning it doesn’t. And that is my point! So contrary to your post, I took nothing out of context. This is precisely what happened, and more importantly how it was discussed by the President, the scientists and other adminstration officials.

  101. DonaldM,

    When I read your article, I was sure the journalist had misunderstood the anonymous source, and resolved to post here when the “news” actually emerged as news.

    Now that we know what the source was leaking, it is clear that the reporter was confused about the “process” to which the administration was restoring “scientific integrity.”

    The memorandum referring to “scientific integrity” indicated, in essence, that the Obama administration would not doctor and suppress scientific reports as the Bush administration did. (BTW, I do not take any politician’s word on such a matter.)

    I recommend that you never parse too closely a two-word quotation of an anonymity in a story prognosticating what the news will be in several days.

  102. To Clive
    “I’m against abortion with the normal caveats of incest and the health of the mother, maybe some other situations.”

    So it is OK to ‘murder’ an embryo sometimes but not all the time? How do you make that distinctiona and why?

  103. What will happen if embryonic stem cells do not cure anything?

    And why don’t men have reproductive rights?

  104. Salgal

    I recommend that you never parse too closely a two-word quotation of an anonymity in a story prognosticating what the news will be in several days.

    My comments were not in response to a two word quotation, but to an entire stated worldview that science and not politics should judge [the morality and ethics]. But it is worth noting that in this case the two words “scientific integrity” come with a boatload of philosophical presuppositions about the nature of science, the role of science in culture, and the moral and ethical boundaries within which science may operate and how and under what circumstances restrictions may be placed on scientific practice. There is way more than the reversal of Pres. Bush’s policies at stake here.

    One of the purposes of UD is to expose the idea that:

    Materialistic ideology has subverted the study of biological and cosmological origins so that the actual content of these sciences has become corrupted. The problem, therefore, is not merely that science is being used illegitimately to promote a materialistic worldview, but that this worldview is actively undermining scientific inquiry, leading to incorrect and unsupported conclusions about biological and cosmological origins.

    In the comments made last week and this week, we are witnessing the materialistic worldview in full force. The entire argument that science not politics ought to judge is rooted in a materialist and utilitarian philosophy. The question that neither science nor the Administration is asking is “what does it mean to be human?”

  105. George F

    These cells in the majority of cases would have been discarded in any case, they never would have had even the possiblity of development.

    And yet you would rather they were thrown away then used to create life saving treatments!

    Right. They’re not really human, only quasi-human or sub-human, so we may as well use them to derive what benefit we can. They were going to be destroyed anyway.

    Remind me, are we disussing embryos or Jews…I forget?

  106. To DonaldM

    Why are you talking about Jews? I am truly lost here.

  107. H’mm:

    Interesting how a theoretical discussion over the past few days on implications of hyperskepticism, subjectivism, relativism and pragmatism, leads to the on the ground reality all too quickly:

    Diagnosis: Radical secularism and relativism-driven ethical collapse in accelerating metastasis.

    Prognosis: probably fatal, but perhaps a miracle will happen

    Time to pray and to act, before it is too late.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Scientists, too often, are DEMONSTRABLY precisely the worst-qualified, least responsible people to think or work through ethical issues that you can find; which is one lesson from the 1930s & 40s, and not just in and around Germany — just ask the ghosts of 1/2 millions from two cities in Japan. (Unfortunately, philosophers and too many theologians are now of the same ilk. Looks like Rom 1 in action to me.)

  108. To GSV: I was being cheeky to make a point.

  109. 109

    GSV,
    Because morality is like a song, a composition, and the moral precepts are the keys. Some combination of the keys will be appropriate in some instances and not in others. If we play one key in every song, it will be discordant, not in tune with morality. What you’re assuming is that one key, namely life, should be played in all and every circumstance, across the board, in every song, including capital punishment, war, and pacifism with whoever may be trying to kill us. This conceptual framework of morality can be read in Mere Christianity. We cannot uphold one moral precept at the expense of all others, not even love, for if we do we should be shirking justice and impartiality.

  110. To Clive:
    “Because morality is like a song, a composition, and the moral precepts are the keys. Some combination of the keys will be appropriate in some instances and not in others.”

    Who decides the combinations and how?

  111. And why don’t men have reproductive rights?

    Actually, you do. They come 12 to a box and are individually wrapped for situational transport.

  112. And why don’t men have reproductive rights?

    Actually, you do. They come 12 to a box and are individually wrapped for situational transport.

    That is birth control and has nothing to do with reproductive rights.

    Having reproductive rights would mean a woman would need her man’s agreement before having an abortion.

    And therefor a man could veto an abortion. Meaning if the woman went ahead with it she and the person performing it would get jail time.

  113. To Joseph
    “And therefor a man could veto an abortion. Meaning if the woman went ahead with it she and the person performing it would get jail time.”

    That would also mean a woman no longer has the right to do what she wants to do with her body. Abhorrent.

    Men do not have the same rights as women when is comes to reproduction thanks to biology. Is it fair? No. What can we do about it? Nothing, just accept it.

    Until men can carry babies to term the decision to have an abortion (or not) has to stay a right of the mother.

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