Friday, June 24, 2005

A Modest Proposal

Paul Greenberg writes about the wisdom of repugnance, and how we work around it in the embryonic stem cell debate by playing language games.
The trick is not to think of the subjects of these experiments [Nazi WWII experiments] as human, but as Jews, Slavs, Gypsies . . . the eugenically undesirable. And remember that they were doomed anyway, and you can see the (brutal) logic of it.

That's the trick in this case, too: Think of these embryos as something other than human, not as microcosms somehow programmed to turn into fully developed human beings with all of a human being's capacity for good - and evil.

Think of them as microscopic dots, as pre-human, or under-human, literally untermenschen, and anything we do with them is ethically permissible. Even commendable. Focus instead on the future patients to be helped, the suffering alleviated, the scientific breakthroughs that await, the progress (and maybe profits) to be made.

Call the subjects of these experiments blastocysts, surplus embryos, pre-embryos, whatever, but don't let on that they're what all humans are at that stage of our development.

The secret of promoting scientific research on human embryos is not to call them human embryos.


He concludes by referencing A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (who also wrote Gulliver's Travels), in which he offered a "solution" to the Irish Famine. Create a market for 1 year olds.

”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled ...”

And why should we eat them? Well, the family will get some benefit - fewer mouths to feed and money. While the infant will not have to endure a miserable life where he will eventually just die anyway.
"Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast number of poor people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed, and I have been desired to employ my thoughts what course may be taken to ease the nation of so grievous an encumbrance. But I am not in the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well known that they are every day dying and rotting by cold and famine, and filth and vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected. And as to the young laborers, they are now in as hopeful a condition; they cannot get work, and consequently pine away for want of nourishment, to a degree that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common labor, they have not strength to perform it; and thus the country and themselves are happily delivered from the evils to come."

Satire always tells a deeper truth. There is nothing new under the sun.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Standard news format for stem cell articles

Here is a nice little article supposedly about a recent advance in adult stem cell applications.
Kiminobu Sugaya of Chicago's NewNeural LLC has processed human stem cells [from patient bone marrow] into nerve cells and implanted them in the brains of aged, demented rats.

The implanted nerve cells improved the rats' memories, Sugaya found, and could one day do the same for humans.

"In the animals we see a tremendous increase in neurons," Sugaya told a meeting of BIO 2005, the biotech industry's largest trade show.


But, following the format of just about every article on adult stem cell success, the writer immediately turns to the mythical and tantalizing "promise" of embryonic stem cell research. Promising, that is, if only those anti-choice extremists were not interfering with Science.


"Abortion foes have targeted embryo research as morally wrong, and President Bush opposes allowing the federal government to fund such stem cell research.

California voters have approved spending up to $3 billion in state funds for stem cell research, including embryonic studies. The embryos typically are unused byproducts of fertility treatments.

Embryo stem cells are desirable to researchers because they have the ability to produce virtually any specialized type of cell. Adult stem cells are less versatile, and bone marrow stem cells cannot normally be coaxed into making nerve cells.


Nothing says "I respect life" like calling an embryo an unused byproduct.

Are you a stem cell extremist too?

A Stem Cell Manifesto

First and most importantly, we believe that life begins at conception. At that moment a unique and irreplaceable human being comes into existence. Though it is much smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, it contains within itself the capacity for all the qualities that we deem valuable in the human person. Nothing need be added to that life, it only needs to be given the time to grow.

Secondly, we believe that we have a moral obligation to alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters. We are obligated to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the imprisoned by virtue of our shared humanity; however, as noble and necessary as those ends are they do not justify the use of any means. The destruction of human life, even for the purpose of saving human life, is a grave injustice.

Thirdly, we believe that suffering is part of the human condition. In a very real and tangible way, suffering will always be with us. Suffering and love are intimately tied together – man is pulled out of himself through the experience of both. There is a redemptive and powerful quality to suffering which must not be forgotten or whitewashed over, no matter how difficult it is to understand or accept.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that science was made to serve man: man was not made to serve science. A science that is able to turn human life into a commodity, is a science that is at odds with basic human dignity. It has over stepped its boundary and become an idol demanding blood sacrifices.

If you believe any of these points then you too may be a stem cell extremist. Will you join me? Send an email with your blog address and I will add you to my sidebar. If you have a blog, won't you add my sticker to your sidebar?