Tuesday, March 10, 2009
I saw this story the other day and I decided to write a short persuasive essay on it. I figured I might as well put it on Lefty's too.
The persuasive essay is in red.
President Barack Obama plans on officially declaring his intentions to overturn President George Bush's policy on limiting federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. President Bush's policy in the past has been to limit all funding for stem cell research to only be used for existing embryos, and would not fund the creation of any future embryos for more research. This position was seen as a compromise between those who argued that any embryonic stem cell research was tantamount to the destruction of human life and therefore should not be funded, and those who saw great potential in the life saving ability of this new technology and did not want this growing science to be politicized. President Obama's decision would shift government policy in favor of eliminating restrictions on science, and this is a good thing for America.
It is troubling that Obama's representatives have attempted to label this move as making a distinction between the realms of science and realms of politics and morals. Apparently, according to the New York Times' unnamed inside sources, Obama is trying "to draw a demarcation line between politics and science" in a decision "involving a long-controversial intersection of science and personal moral beliefs." I think this is a mistake.
If the issue at hand was whether to ban or allow this research, this would be a strong case to make. However, this is a debate about federal funding which means that the government will not be merely allowing science to continue unencumbered, it is actively promoting it. There is no distinction between morals and science in Obama's position, and the administration should embrace that message. The support of funding for stem cell research is just as moral a position as the opposition to it. With this funding, some day there will be cures for life threatening illnesses like Parkinson's disease, and there may even be cures for paralyzing injuries like spinal chord damage. Just because the government will no longer be making a judgment on whether an embryo is a human being does not mean that it is not making a moral decision. The victims of disease and paralysis are most certainly human beings, and if it is possible to improve or save their lives and the lives of countless others in the future, it would be immoral not to do so.
So on the one hand, there you can oppose science in favor of morals. On the other hand you can support science and morals, morals that are more rationally defensible.
OK, so what do I mean by this?
The choice right now is whether to support science that may some day save people's lives at the expense of the destruction of embryos, or to give up on embryonic stem cell research to protect those embryos. I would argue that the second argument, against embryonic stem cell research, is logically inconsistent.
Arguments against the promotion of stem cell research fall into one of two criticisms.
1) Embryos are living human beings. Extracting stem cells from these embryos would destroy human life, so that even if the research from these stem cells could save human life, it was unethical to destroy the embryos in the first place.
I find this argument interesting, especially considering that we live in a country in which it is already legal to have an abortion. The same definition of human life that would include experimental embryos would also include aborted fetuses, which puts our nation in a paradoxical position in which it is legal for a mother to destroy "human life" for any number of reasons, but the federal government is not allowed to destroy that same "human life" for a greater good.
Of course, the majority of the opposition to stem cell research emanates from the pro-life movement, which also does not support the right for women to have an abortion. Of course, it's not morally inconsistent to hold this position as an individual, but as far as governmental policy, it is. There is no legal precedent to consider an embryo to be a human being, so it is completely illogical for the government to not support this possible life-saving technology.
Furthermore, the use of embryos in stem cell research is not at all unlike the normal use of embryos in fertility clinics, and the opposition to this phenomenon is significantly quieter. As the story of Nadya Suleman, or "Octo-mom", or as I like to call her "Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon" makes especially clear, more embryos are implanted into mothers than are intended to come to term.
"Suleman, who said she holds each premature infant 45 minutes each day, said she was hoping to have one more child after having six previous children, all of whom are under the age of 7. She said she had six embryos implanted, two of which resulted in twins."
Whether you believe her story or not, this is actually common practice in fertility clinics.
"Their goal is to impregnate women who otherwise would not be able to have a child. The procedure involves:
- Giving special medication to the woman that results in the development, growth, and maturation of eggs in a woman's ovaries.
- Extracting perhaps 24 mature mature ova (aka oocytes) from the woman's ovaries.
- Fertilizing the ova with sperm, typically from her husband or an anonymous donor.
- Placing the embryos in a special incubator which encourages their growth.
- Selecting two to four healthy-looking embryos and implanting them in the woman's uterus.
- Disposing of the remaining 20 or so surplus embryos in some manner.
As Michael Kinsley explains, the stems cells are often extracted embryos from fertility clinics, which results in the destruction of those embryos. Those embryos would likely face a similar fate if they remained in the fertility clinics.
"In any particular case, fertility clinics try to produce more embryos than they intend to implant. If the fertility clinic rejects you, you get flushed away—or maybe frozen until the day you can be discarded without controversy.
And fate isn't much kinder to the embryos that make this first cut. Usually several of them are implanted in the hope that one will survive. Or, to put it another way, in the hope that all but one will not survive. And fertility doctors do their ruthless best to make these hopes come true."
It would appear then, that pro-life opponents of stem cell research must be equally opposed to the rather common practice of embryo implantation in fertility clinics.
Yikes, that was long. Sorry. Part two will be shorter.
2) Even if an embryo is not the equivalent of a human being, the destruction of embryos for stem cell extraction is a step onto a "slippery slope".
I for one am not convinced by "slippery slope" arguments, and this one just shows how patently ridiculous these arguments are.
I rarely hear exactly what this slippery slope leads to that is going to be so bad. I don't even know what comes next on the slippery slope? Whatever it is, it's probably something that I should be afraid of and it usually involves Hitler and the Nazis.
In this case, I guess this means that there will no longer be any protection of human life, for anyone?
Anyway, if there really is a slippery slope that includes stem cell research at one end, and some sort of Holocaust at the end, is it really stem-cell research that is putting us on the slippery slope? Remember, we live in a society where both abortions and in vitro fertilization are already legal. Shouldn't these be the first steps onto the slippery slope? In that case, if there really is a slippery slope, that must mean stem-cell research, a new Holocaust, Armageddon, etc. are already unavoidable, right? So I guess there's no point in fighting it.
Of course, that doesn't make any sense. The simple fact that stem-cell research has been so effectively hindered by the pro-life movement for years should be a good sign that the slippery slope really isn't all that slippery. And if we ever do take that fateful step onto that slippery slope, I can always take comfort in the fact that the pro-life movement will always be there to keep us from slipping.