Friday, September 23, 2005

Bias in the news...

Ya think? Really? Here is a perfect example of using non-specific language to obscure the truth.

Embryonic stem cells are controversial because of origin. Most are leftovers from fertility clinics, allowed to grow in culture several days beyond fertilization.

You might think that fertility clinics are in the business of growing stem cells. I sorta thought people put up with the trouble of IVF and AI in order to come home with babies. Babies begin as embryos. Embryos contain embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are not leftover at fertility clinics; embryos are.

In turn, the group has turned to Harvard Medical School lawyer and ethicist Louis M. Guenin to draft the language of the ballot measure, seeking to avoid what happened to a California version of publicly financed stem cell research - still without funding three years after it was approved.

This one is just flat out wrong. Proposition 71 was passed during the presidential election last fall. It is almost 1 year since it was approved. Not three. At least you can get the political facts straight.

To begin with, Aaronson's proposal would put the Florida Department of Health in charge of issuing money to qualified scientists and would issue the grants only to nonprofit research institutions.

Oh good, because you know there might be a moral problem with making a profit off of the embryos. Nothing wrong with ending their lives, but making money off of it might be a little, um, gauche.

And to avoid what is a moral dilemma for many, including Governor Jeb Bush, Aaronson's proposal states that the only embryos used will be those donated by women who individually specify that those cells will not be implanted in any other woman's womb."

De-personalize, de-personalize - that's the name of the game. They don't want those "cells" implanted in bad they forget that those cells are already somebody.

Furthermore that line of reasoning, that the embryos aren't really people because they won't be implanted in a womb, is completely fallacious and won't remove any controversy from the issue. As the President's Bioethics Council noted:
The fact that embryos have been created outside their natural environment-which is to say, outside the woman’s body-and are therefore limited in their ability to realize their natural capacities, does not affect either the potential or the moral status of the beings themselves. A bird forced to live in a cage its entire life may never learn to fly. But this does not mean it is less of a bird, or that it lacks the immanent potentiality to fly on feathered wings. It means only that a caged bird-like an in vitro human embryo-has been deprived of its proper environment”

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Sanctity of Life a la Peter Singer

Peter Singer is back with his scary proposition in this short piece in Foreign Policy. Here are some of the more amazing parts:

During the next 35 years, the traditional view of the sanctity of human life will collapse under pressure from scientific, technological, and demographic developments. By 2040, it may be that only a rump of hard-core, know-nothing religious fundamentalists will defend the view that every human life, from conception to death, is sacrosanct.

Always nice to start by insulting your opponents.

In these cases, with the hope of recovery gone, families and loved ones will usually understand that even if the human organism is still alive, the person they loved has ceased to exist. Hence, a decision to remove the feeding tube will be less controversial, for it will be a decision to end the life of a human body, but not of a person.

Bodies are just so, so ...messy.

h/t: Jivin' Jehoshaphat

The "invisible hand" at work...

In the latest on-line edition of the journal Stem Cells is an editorial announcing the pressing need to outline ethics for future trials of human embryonic stem cell derived therapies.
Increased funding and continued scientific progress have opened a new era in the ethics of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research. These developments will reframe the ethical debate, which to date has focused on the moral status of the embryo and the acceptability of using embryos for research purposes. Although such philosophical questions have not been resolved, the issue is no longer if hESC research should proceed, but rather how it should proceed. The rapid pace of research makes it imperative to look ahead to the ethical issues generated by the expected use of hESC for transplantation.

And here we are witnessing the "invisible hand" of technology and scientific progress. Because it is possible, it becomes necessary. We haven't even determined if this is a race which should be run, and yet, because funding and research is racing ahead, we now have to decide how the race should be run.

I'd prefer to finish the first debate first. After all, what good are guidelines if the course of the race actually runs off a cliff?

Monday, September 19, 2005

In response to a comment

I should have announced awhile back that I am now a contributor at Pro-Life Blogs on the subject of stem cell research. (Big surprise that!)

Mike, in response to a post of mine, wrote that he didn't think I could come up with a characteristic of humans that was present in the 5 day old blastocyst. Now Mike writes for an interesting blog called "The Beginning of Life". He is looking to debate when a human becomes a person.

Here is my response:

Pick a defining characteristic? Hmm, how about human DNA? Does that work? I believe each of the 100 or so cells that make up the HUMAN blastocyst would contain nothing but HUMAN DNA.

I think you may be trying to make a point about "personhood" and whether or not that "ball of cells" is actually a person - since it is undeniably human.

Personhood is not really a concrete concept however; it’s more like a game of "who can be in my club". And once you start excluding people from the club, bad things tend to happen to those who are excluded.

You pick a characteristic that you think defines "personhood" and I will argue that it is a valuable characteristic or capability because it is intrinsically human. In other words, it is our humanness that makes that capability valuable. If that is the case, then something that has intrinsic value is valuable from the start, i.e. conception.

A blueprint may not be a house, after all a blueprint doesn't organically grow into a house. An embryo, on the other hand, is not a blueprint of a human, but rather a human at that stage of development. A human who is long as it is provided with the correct environment. Like a fish needs water, an embryo needs a womb. Does that make it unnatural? Or not a life? Does that fact disqualify it from the human family?