Embryos can be donated on the slippery sloped side of town.
August 20, 2002 8:27 PM   Subscribe

Embryos can be donated on the slippery sloped side of town. Though proposed by pro-choice, pro-stem-cell-research Arlen Specter, the Bush administration is pushing for a pubilc awareness program that promotes donating unused embryos to infertile couples. Of course, Bush's insistence on using the term "embryo adoption-" a term never used by any clinic in the program, but strangely used by a Christian anti-abortion/pro-adoption agency, coupled with the knowledge that Bush has jumped at virtually anything that remotely could lead to redefining the status of a fetus, leads to the inevitable question: does Bush really care about getting more infertile couples to have children, or is this a(nother) subversive attempt to Federally promote the idea that a cell cluster is the same as a newborn infant?
posted by XQUZYPHYR (63 comments total)
 
I wish the stem cell debate were larger in the American media. It's one of the best examples out there of the incredible harm the Christian right is capable of causing. On the one side, we have research that will probably lead to treatments and cures for countless diseases... and on the other hand, we have superstition. "Oh, no, that's not a clump of cells that is not yet really anything, that's a person! With a SOUL!" Please.
posted by callmejay at 9:09 PM on August 20, 2002


callmejay - I'm curious... just when *does* the "clump of cells" count as a human in your mind?
posted by dgt at 10:06 PM on August 20, 2002


Almost as subversive as the push to make collections of asphalt appear to be living as well.
posted by Wingy at 10:07 PM on August 20, 2002


Show me where the line between human and embryo is (where zygote ends and person begins), then, callmejay. At a certain point it becomes much more complex than a simple clump of cells (technically you are merely a clump of cells, so this line of reasoning seems specious). Does anyone have the medical definition of an embryo handy? And honestly, what is to keep experiments from taking place on the fetus (or whatever the term is for whats in between the embryo and fetus, I'm not a doctor) if such a thing is legal?

Aside: Professor Walter Block actually has an interesting idea on the issue of abortion, and I think it could relate to fertilized embryos. Basically, it is wrong to kill a fetus, but acceptable to evacuate it from the womb. Perhaps technology will come up with a solution where a 4 week pregnancy could be safely evacuated and then put on life support until it could survive on its own. The benefits of this would be twofold: it would reduce the harm that certain invasive abortion procedures do to the mother, and it would provide a pool of newborns to adopt from for infertile couples. It would also eliminate the moral problem of destroying the fetus.

Even still, the question remains, where do we draw the line? Aquinas said the soul entered the womb at 8 weeks of pregnancy, I believe. Whatever the case may be, a distinction needs to be made, especially in light of the fact that there is a large underground market for fetal parts in medical research (arms and legs of 7-9 month fetuses being sold for testing). What is the definition of a human?
posted by insomnyuk at 10:14 PM on August 20, 2002


arms and legs of 7-9 month fetuses being sold for testing


Source?
posted by Grod at 10:18 PM on August 20, 2002


Folks, I don't think there is a particular line. The world is full of gray areas, it ain't all black and white. However, I don't see why a lack of a specific line should make you say that it's never acceptable to use embryos. The early embryo has no characteristics of a human besides that it will probably later become one. It's certainly not self-aware, it isn't viable, it has zero intelligence, it feels no pain, it has no organs or limbs, etc. etc. etc.

Insomnyuk, doesn't Aquinas's statement sound ridiculous? How the hell could he know that the soul enters the womb at exactly 8 weeks? What does Miss Cleo think?
posted by callmejay at 10:23 PM on August 20, 2002


Source? That's one. Google for it if you want more. Planned Parenthood doesn't deny that fetal tissue is used for research, but they avoid specifics. more: 1, 2

The issue is murky and the mainstream press didn't give it much play when it was a story, so unless someone is directly involved, it is probably difficult to obtain information about it, unless you rely solely on the word of anti-abortion organizations, which would be unwise. Both sides exaggerate, and admit I embellished with that assumption, but it is not completely unfounded.

Actually, callmejay, he may have not been that far off, brain waves are detected at 8 weeks, and I think the heartbeat can be detected at 10 weeks.

More links: fetal development info, divinity school arguments, and Aquinas on abortion-

his 40 days theory, and argument that it is not homicide until the fetus is 'ensouled'. Australian Athiests clarify the issue, explaining Aquinas believed boys received their souls at 40 days, and girls at 90 days. This was based on Aquinas' belief that the sperm carried all the genetic information. He was perhaps making this decision based on available scientific information at the time.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:47 PM on August 20, 2002


Callmejay - This is largely a debate I don't want to get too deeply into, but I'd like to mention that there is a standard by which an embryo does have the characteristics of a human - genetic. An embryo is genetically both distinctly human and distinctly different from any other human.
posted by Wingy at 10:51 PM on August 20, 2002


I wish the stem cell debate were larger in the American media.

Me too. A couple of weeks ago I linked to some articles on stem cells. It seems that while research has moved very slowly in the US, important advances are being made in other places, like Singapore. I didn't see the story from Singapore mentioned anywhere else. So I guess the research will move forward, it will just happen primarily outside of the US and most Americans may not even hear about it.
posted by homunculus at 11:05 PM on August 20, 2002


However, I don't see why a lack of a specific line should make you say that it's never acceptable to use embryos.
The reason that it is immoral to kill the embryo for any purpose is precisely that it may be a human being. It already has its own unique genetic code, so we know it's not part of the mother and it is not merely cells from the father. Does it have a soul (i.e., is it human?) at eight weeks or eight days? Science can only say maybe.

The best method to determine if there is another human being present is to determine if the organism has DNA that doesn't match either parent. If it doesn't, it's a new human being and no one has the right to kill him or her, even for the best intentions, such as saving the world from various diseases. This is not based on religious "superstition" or "my morality vs. your morality", but rather is a simple, scientifically valid test (which we use in our legal system, by the way, to determine (or rule out) the identity of murderers or rapists).

All the arguments against the above usually reduce to arguments of convenience - not that the science isn't valid.

Interesting that callmejay talks about using embryos. Human beings are not here to be used for other persons' purposes, even if they are noble; thus, we reject slavery and see the obvious dehumanization of people in prostitution. Similarly, we cannot "use" the embryo without dehumanizing it, no matter what a rational scientific view of genetics might tell us.

Classic moral principle: The end doesn't justify the means. In this case, the end (saving world from Parkinson's or Alzheimer's) doesn't justify the means (using preborn human babies, because they're not wanted or "leftovers" or don't have limbs or intelligence, etc.) Trying to do good by evil means makes US evil, which only causes worse problems in the long run.
posted by declaim at 11:21 PM on August 20, 2002


I don't see why your classic moral principle is a gimme, though. Potentially ridding the world of a slew of horrible diseases is a massive, massive end -- one which would affect, in the long run, billions of babies actually brought to term. At which point does it become clear that fetal tissue research is evil?
posted by cortex at 11:30 PM on August 20, 2002


I place stem cell research and fertility treatments in the same grey area. The majority of embryos created never become a baby, many of them never even implanted in the womb.

So, it's okay to grow a bunch of embryos and let them die in the name of making some woman pregnant, but it's not okay to grow a bunch of embryos and let them die in the name of curing some terrible disease? Someone who believes this really needs to explain their logic to me.
posted by ligeia at 12:07 AM on August 21, 2002


cortex: There are many objectively good ends that come with horrifyingly high costs in terms of human life. We could foreseeably put an end to organ shortages by cloning embryos and growing copies of the "original" human for the sole purpose of spare parts, guaranteed not to be rejected, at any time they are needed. Is that something we are ethically willing to do? That would serve a massive, massive end. But the means are, for most of us, unacceptable. We could "throw some chlorine into the gene pool", so to speak, by culling -- those of us with physical or mental defects could be sterilized. That would eliminate the spread of debilitating genetic diseases, but again, the cost is unacceptable. So at what point does fetal tissue research become evil? At the very point that it starts making the lives of certain humans mere means to the ends of other humans, as declaim pointed out. No individual human being should be forced to live or not live their life for the sake of someone else's life, or even for the sake of many other people's lives. If we violate that principle, we are judging certain lives as more important than others, and we need only glance at history to see what a slippery slope that is.

Besides, there are means to the end we desire that do not require even dealing with the issue of embryos. Research on adult stem cells taken from bone marrow looks promising. (Brief intro here). We report here that cells co-purifying with mesenchymal stem cells—termed here multipotent adult progenitor cells or MAPCs—differentiate, at the single cell level, not only into mesenchymal cells, but also cells with visceral mesoderm, neuroectoderm and endoderm characteristics in vitro.... As MAPCs proliferate extensively without obvious senescence or loss of differentiation potential, they may be an ideal cell source for therapy of inherited or degenerative diseases. (I am not a biologist, and can not possibly hope to understand the entire report, but that paragraph at least seems pretty straightforward.)
posted by fhangler at 12:08 AM on August 21, 2002


It is clear that fetal tissue research is evil in that it invariably involves the destruction of a new human life (the DNA doesn't lie). I, for one, don't want to be destroyed in order to save mankind from any disease - and you don't either. But the fetal research mob has no problem making that decision about others, merely because they are not yet at a fully grown or viable state. NEWS FLASH: everyone has been at that same state at one point: those of us debating here today survived!

Besides, the real cover-up in our beloved mass media is the failure to clearly document the real successes already occurring with adult stem-cell research, which happily involves no destruction of human beings. To believe the Big Lie, there is only one thing we can do: produce lots of test tube embryos and then destroy them to get the valuable good stuff. If we don't, we are sentencing the entire human race to an eternity of death and chronic debilitating disease. "There is no alternative!", they say. Actually, it's time to check out the alternatives!

Note: cortex, morality isn't a numbers game; the size of the benefit doesn't affect the moral quality of what is being done. If an innocent is killed for use for one person or a billion, it is still wrong because the innocent dies...
posted by declaim at 12:27 AM on August 21, 2002


ligeia poses an interesting question for those who have no problem with test-tube or in vitro fertilization: what to do with the "leftovers"? The real problem however is the notion of leftovers: looking at these organisms genetically, they are new distinct human beings (I hate to keep harping on this point, but it is crucial to understanding why this process is inherently evil); hence, they are not to be discarded or killed, for any purpose.

Unfortunately, our brave new scientific approach to fertility requires excessive production of embryos which are later whittled down to the one best, most promising example which is then implanted for full development. The others? They were not deemed worthy of life, because they were "defective" or the wrong sex or too slow in developing. These are the Leftovers, conveniently available for use to combat disease.

The whole in vitro process is wrong because it inevitably leads to the destruction of new human lives, ironically, in order to create a new life. If that's the cost, better to just be infertile or even adopt. Should others die so I can continue my genetic line? Is the only baby I could possibly love and care for the one that came from me? I'd really have to be into myself to go that route...
posted by declaim at 12:55 AM on August 21, 2002


Insomnyuk in particular is going to hate me for this but:
1. A fetus, up to a certain point, is no more human than a rat. My own personal feeling on this is that it becomes human when it reaches the point where it is able to survive outside the womb, once it has the potential for mental development it is human, until then it is just biomass.
2. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with doing research on fetal tissue. If women were being gang-raped and then forced to abort in order to obtain the tissue, that would be wrong. But fetal tissue is the by-product of a valid and often necessary (for example where the mother might otherwise die in childbirth) procedure. It has no value in and of itself. If it can be used to further human knowledge and/or save lives of existent people then this is a good and possibly even noble application.
3. The argument against abortion/stem cell research/use of fetal tissue is largely an emotional one. Many people have elevated the idea of humanity to a position it does not deserve and have wrongly concluded that any potential human life is sacred. Taking that reasoning to its logical extreme, every time a man masturbates he is committing a crime against humanity, wasting millions of sperm each with the potential to become human beings. It is like saying a woman should be impregnated each time she ovulates, lest we waste the potential inherent in her eggs while at the same time millions of living children starve to death, millions of adults die from lack resources, resources such as growing new tissue or even new organs from stem cells. A skill we will never have unless we continue stem cell research, and a necessary part of that research involves fetal tissue.
posted by Grod at 1:38 AM on August 21, 2002


Grod:

1. "A fetus... is no more human than a rat." Except, of course, for the glaring fact that a rat is not a human. It does not have human DNA, and it will never be able to think or emote on anywhere near a human level. "Once it has the potential for mental development it is human" Well, to use that argument, from the moment the egg is fertilized, through its developmental stages, it has exactly such a potential.

2. Why would it be bad if women were being gang-raped and then forced to abort? Because the women were raped? Because we were abusing a human's rights for our own purposes, perhaps? And guess what: the tissue that makes up you has no value in and of itself. Just biomass -- strings of atoms. Except for the fact that it keeps you alive, of course. Same thing for fetal tissue. It keeps the fetus, you know, alive and developing... on a course of development we have all passed through for the very reason that nobody took our fetal tissue and used it for scientific research. And as far as regards the advancement of human knowledge: how about we subject you to some noble tests involving giving you experimental medication with severe side-effects and then repeatedly exposing you to lethal strains of bacteria?

3. The argument as you present it from "potential" life is flawed. The argument should perhaps instead be from able life itself. There is a scientific approach to discerning exactly when human life starts, and that is when the sperm fertilizes the egg. To deny this is to deny biological fact. Hence to terminate a human life at any point in its development, whether it be zygote, embryo, child, or senior citizen, is to destroy that unique human. Forever. Do you want the power of choosing for that person exactly when they should die? That seems somewhat presumptuous.

Also, "every life is sacred" means exactly that: every life is sacred, not every could-be-a-life is sacred. My mother, at a certain time in her life, wanted a child. But that desire, by itself, didn't spontaneously become me. It was part of getting there, yes. Similarly, every time a man masturbates he is not committing a crime against humanity because sperm, by itself, cannot grow into a human, and so it is not a human life. Exactly the same with ovulation. But again, every time an embryo is destroyed, we are eliminating a unique human life that, had we not meddled, would have grown into a presumably healthy human.

After all this, my question to those who still support embryonic stem-cell research: Why can't we leave embryos alone and use adult stem-cells instead? Why do we have to use embryos, especially if adult stem-cells are just as promising?
posted by fhangler at 2:52 AM on August 21, 2002


Ah, the new tool of the anti-choice crowd: genetics.

Since an embryo has genetic material different from the mother, it is deemed as a human.

You can't kill it, they say.

Fine, I reply. I won't kill it. I'll just remove it. By definition, you can't kill something that is not sustainable. Sort of like retiring life-support machinery is not necessarily euthanasia.

I specially like fhangler's detail: male masturbation is ok because it involves only half the necessary ingredients; female ovulation is also ok for the same reason. That leaves unrelated 2 questions: is female masturbation moral? (not really relevant, but I am curious) and is using anticonceptives moral? (since you are actively and effectively preventing the formation of a new human "life").

The funniest part of all is how many anti-choice people are also on the pro-death penalty camp. If every life is sacred, then *every* life is sacred and only god can take them away. So the assholes who gang-raped your daughter and gave her aids and retarded octuplets (which cannot be aborted because they are sacred) gets to live. It's part of the same deal.
posted by magullo at 4:41 AM on August 21, 2002


Magullo made a point that has always puzzled me about masturbation. Every sperm has the potential to be a human being, just like every ova (is that right?), or every embryo has the potential to develop fully into a human being. Granted, the embryo is the furthest along, and the closest to it's one potential fate, being brought into this great world.

However, just like every other question on this topic, where do we want to draw our hard, black and white line? Is masturbation as bad as abortion? Is using contraceptives as bad as fetal tissue research? For anyone who thinks testing on embryo's is wrong because you are destroying a potential human life, think about the fact that you may be destroying the next Einstein or Ghandi, every time you masturbate.

I don't pretend to know the answer, or even to have a firm stance on pro-choice or pro-life, I just think that trying to make laws on issues as delicate and complex as this is futile.
posted by untuckedshirts at 5:20 AM on August 21, 2002


Is masturbation as bad as abortion? Is using contraceptives as bad as fetal tissue research?

I don't know about other denomination, but for Catholics who rigourously follow the Chruch's doctrine, that is essentially the case. Which is a fine and dandy way to get out of messy (for them) scientific debates.

I'll articulate the problem so it people don't get lost in the sidelines: when dealing with life sciences, there are no absolute truths. That is the whole basis of the scientific approach.

So religion has a field day when it comes marching in, announcing absolute rules that make no sense. Talk about perverting the work of god. Not that I am a believer, but if nature's laws are not god's work, then what is?

Creating a life is a probabilistic adventure. Let's face it and move on.
posted by magullo at 5:42 AM on August 21, 2002


It seems to me that the whole "embryo adoption" concept is unlikely to go very far simply because of self-selection.

After all, people who use fertility treatments do so because they have a strong desire to produce their own, genetically related offspring -- otherwise they would adopt already-born children. So why would they accept other people's embryos?
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 6:00 AM on August 21, 2002


I'll articulate the problem so it people don't get lost in the sidelines: when dealing with life sciences, there are no absolute truths. That is the whole basis of the scientific approach.

magullo, is the above an absolute truth? Or just how you feel about the issue? And if it's absolute, on what basis do you claim it to be so?

Apparently the only absolute truth for many people is that there are no absolute truths - and they preach this "gospel" with fervor! One advantage the Catholic or Christian has over these people is that at least he realizes that he is preaching...
posted by declaim at 6:11 AM on August 21, 2002


I wish I had more time to join in this discussion - and moreover, I am actually stunned at the quality of the discussion. I thought K5 was supposed to have the intelligentsia of the blogging crowd, but I am proved wrong!

All I will say is "God, thank you for people like declaim and fhangler, and deliver me from my project manager who keeps me working so hard I have no time to add my own thoughts to this thread!"
posted by timbley at 6:22 AM on August 21, 2002


A familiar dialogue:

A cell cluster is the same as a newborn infant? That's ridiculous to say.

No one on the anti-cloning side is really saying this. Here's the deal: a cell cluster and a newborn infant are both in stages in the development of a human being.

Embryos don't look or act anything like human beings. And they certainly don't have feelings.

Neither do people with lost limbs, accident scars, paralysis, mental disabilities. And if I killed a person in a deep coma, I am not guilty of anything because he or she felt no pain and was incapable of thought. Does this make sense?

Well, I still don't think it's wrong to use human clones for research as long as it helps others.

Yes, but unfortunately the cells you need to harvest for this research (that may or may not play out) are located in another human being. If some scientist posited that the cure to cancer might lie in the brain of you and your family, would you think it OK that you be killed to allow the scientist to harvest those cells?

No, but that's not the point. No one knows when an embryo becomes a human being, so if it's all a matter of opinion, then each person can make up his or her own mind.

Actually, an embryo doesn't "become" a human being, it already is one. Check its genetic code. Or think of it this way: A carp creates another carp through procreation; a finch another finch. Human beings do the same. They don't produce something that is not a human but that then somehow turns into a human being at some later point.

All I know is that pro-lifers and Christians are nuts and want to control everyone else.

Even if all pro-lifers and Christians were in fact nuts, that still doesn't decide whether a particular idea has validity or not. An idea stands or falls on its own merits and should be argued as such.

As for control, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates want to curb the ideas and actions of the other, don't they? Besides, all laws tend to restrict or curtail certain behaviors. By your reasoning -- no one should ever control another's actions -- all laws should be abolished.

I think deep down you're phobic about sex and want to lay your neurosis on everyone else. Sex is nothing to be ashamed about. It's a natural drive, like eating and sleeping.

I don't have a problem with sex. I agree it's a beautiful thing. But so, for instance, is eating a really good meal. With eating there is the basic drive reason for the act (nourishment and fuel) and the sensual pleasure derived from the act (the great taste of good food). Sex is like that. It is an act that creates at times another human being; it also feels good and is nice to share with someone you love.

But surely you don't think that gluttony is a healthy thing? If someone only concentrates on the pleasurable side of eating, they run into health problems pretty quickly. Sex is the same way. It's intellectually dishonest to somehow pretend sex is only about pleasure and communication and not at all about creating another human.

By the way, you mention that sex is a natural drive, like eating and sleeping. True, but if you don't eat or sleep, you'll die or go mad. You can't say the same about sex. In fact, people modify their sexual impulses all the time. It's one of the hallmarks of civilized society; it's why everyone isn't going around molesting each other all the time.

But I just don't understand why pro-lifers are afraid to let others choose what they think is right. I don't care what you do, why do you care so much about limiting what I can do?

Because no one should have the option to choose to kill another human being except in cases of imminent physical harm. (This should apply to capital punishment, too.)

Is an embryo or fetus a human being or not? It always goes back to that. If they are not human, then they are like tumors or warts and can be removed and discarded at will. But if they are human, then they cannot be killed to benefit another.

Ah, but are they human? A cell cluster isn't the same as a newborn infant!

[Here we go again, over and over...]
posted by bilco at 6:23 AM on August 21, 2002


Why do the uses of discarded embryos matter? Whether they are used or not or what they are used for is irrelevant--A woman in America who chooses to have an abortion is is well within her rights to do so--for almost 30 years now. She is still going to have that abortion no matter what, and it's her decision to do so. She didn't conceive so that those cells could be harvested, and right now (at least financially), those cells are not at all an incentive for getting pregnant.

That said, this is just another attempt by anti-choice people to stop women from exercising their rights...we'll all be here for the next one unfortunately...
posted by amberglow at 6:24 AM on August 21, 2002


Apparently the only absolute truth for many people is that there are no absolute truths - and they preach this "gospel" with fervor! One advantage the Catholic or Christian has over these people is that at least he realizes that he is preaching...
posted by declaim at 6:11 AM PST on August 21


Yes but it still doesn't stop him, does it? So that self awreness is wasted. How do we get ALL mindless preachers of nonsense on all sides from shooting their fool mouths off? Any ideas?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:26 AM on August 21, 2002


How do we get ALL mindless preachers of nonsense on all sides from shooting their fool mouths off? Any ideas?

If you head to the library and read up on various fascistic governments throughout history, you'll find plenty of ideas on shutting up people you don't agree with.

Why you'd want to do this, however, is anyone's guess....
posted by bilco at 6:30 AM on August 21, 2002


If you head to the library and read up on various fascistic governments throughout history, you'll find plenty of ideas on shutting up people you don't agree with.

Why you'd want to do this, however, is anyone's guess....


Bilco, I think abortion is wrong in most instances. But I think the spokespeople for that viewpoint tend to be morons. Yet people listen to and encourage them. I'm not talking about suppressing unpopular viewpoints, I'm talking about not listening to idiots, regardless of their "good intentions".
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:34 AM on August 21, 2002


I am jumping on the Untuckedshirts bandwagon, i.e. I don't pretend to know the answer. I do know that everyone who has formulated an opinion already is not going to change his/her mind through debate.

Right now in this country it is legal to abort. Since it is legal and all the resulting tissue mass (or pre-newborn baby use your own term here) is being disposed of why can't we make use of it? Why must it be thrown away? That is the part that makes no sense to me.

On preview: what amberglow said.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:35 AM on August 21, 2002


More on pro-lifer motivations:

Bilco says: I don't have a problem with sex. I agree it's a beautiful thing.

I do think that calling all pro-lifers repressed and afraid of sex is a bit shallow.

However, as people have pointed out, there is, in fact, a disparity in the sense that many people who argue fervently for the protection of embryos don't seem to give a damn about adult human lives, be it death penatly, human rights abroad, etc. So there is definitely something to the "fear of consequence-less sex" rather than "respect for human life" argument.

Perhaps the fear is not of sex itself, but of loss of control over sex. Sex has been a potent tool for controlling people for ages. Most religions, for instance, only allow sex within the bounds of "proper behavior," be it marriage or something else, thus, sex is a reward for following the rules. If a woman only agreed to sex after a man married her, it guaranteed the financial security of marriage to all women who followed the rules in a pre-feminist society. Many women still look down on promiscuous women, because if sex is readily available from others, it takes away their own power to withhold it for gain.

The point here is, that sex without consequences (i.e. reproduction) is scary to some, because if everyone just goes around having sex whenever they feel like, sex can't be restricted and used as a tool of control. And losing a level of control over people is a scary, scary thing to some.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 6:38 AM on August 21, 2002


As people have pointed out, there is, in fact, a disparity in the sense that many people who argue fervently for the protection of embryos don't seem to give a damn about adult human lives, be it death penatly, human rights abroad, etc. So there is definitely something to the "fear of consequence-less sex" rather than "respect for human life" argument.

I agree. But surely the fact that some pro-lifers haven't thought through their arguments doesn't negate all pro-lifers.

The point here is, that sex without consequences (i.e. reproduction) is scary to some, because if everyone just goes around having sex whenever they feel like, sex can't be restricted and used as a tool of control. And losing a level of control over people is a scary, scary thing to some.

If sex had no consequences, i.e., didn't produce the life of another, I'd have no interest in your ideas about sex at all. However, it does have consequences for another human, and that's why I am interested.

This "control" argument comes up pretty often, but makes no sense. Laws are laid down all the time to "control" the actions of people within a society. Are you saying that all such forms of control -- when they produce healthier consequences or healthier situations -- are bad?
posted by bilco at 6:46 AM on August 21, 2002


declaim Let's compare medicine (life science) to maths (also science, but life not science). 2 + 2 is always 4, but the same pill can kill one human and heal the next. Do you have a problem with that statement? Is there any falsehood in it? Is there anything I am leaving out? How am I preaching by pointing something that is completely obvious and absolutely proven? Unlike god's existence, the properties of souls and the sacredness of unique DNAs, BTW.
posted by magullo at 6:47 AM on August 21, 2002


(Geez, I go to bed and when I get up there's been all this...discussion!)

Others have made a very good practical point already: there is, regardless of how one feels about abortion, a ready supply of fetal tissue from aborted pregnancies that exists -- and will continue to exist -- without any motivation from the stem-cell research crowd. To insist that they ought NOT to use those cells because abortion is wrong is to wildy miss the point: their use of THOSE cells, at the very least, is orthogonal to the abortion debate.

But I'm gonna go out on a big limb here and propose something crazy: yes, it's okay to use those exceedingly-pre-newborn tissue cells. Because, and here's the thing: they're really easy to make, and they are NOT unique carriers of their DNA except in a probabilistic sense.

Guess what? There is no fundamental difficulty to the idea of creating, in the long run, a viable embryo with any specific DNA that you want. It's a matter of advancing (though often Morally Stymied) technology -- it'll be doable someday, and that day is mere decades away, at most. To claim that we have some absolute moral responsibility to protect a specific, just-established growth based around a thus-far unique DNA strand is ridiculous. Merely using scientific terms in your statement of moral/religious belief does not make your statement scientific.

And...that's probably more than enough of that.
posted by cortex at 7:06 AM on August 21, 2002


"Fertility clinics that offer clients the option of giving embryos to other couples use the term "embryo donation." "

Hmm, then why does the fpp say no clinics use this term? Plenty of fertility clinics use the phrase embryo adoption, why the flipping semantics debate?
posted by SuzySmith at 7:12 AM on August 21, 2002


What I don't get is that pro-lifers and anti-stem-ers seem to value the life of a small clump of cells that are not viable on their own, and which only contain a potential human life, over that of an adult (or over that of a child). Seems like a little bit of perspective is needed.

No one is talking about growing a fetus to 8 months, 3 weeks, and then using it for medical experiments. What we're talking about is taking a "fetus" that is more accurately described as a small ball of cells.

Also, it might be a good idea for everyone to keep this handy, for when you're tempted to make illogical arguments.
posted by bshort at 8:01 AM on August 21, 2002


For those who are saying that an embryo's DNA gives it human status, I'd like to point out that a human hair also has DNA, and yet we let people get haircuts. DNA alone cannot be your reason for calling something a human. (It is of course a human hair, or in the embryo's case, a human embryo, but that doesn't make it an actual human with regard to moral decisions.)
posted by callmejay at 8:06 AM on August 21, 2002


"Didja ever think about hair? How it's a part of us? How it keeps on coming, and we just cut it off and throw it away? I'm gonna throw this hair away now and mingle it with common house dirt."

Also: aren't cancer cells human, yet genetically distinct from their host? (I freely admit I'm likely dead wrong here.)
posted by hilker at 9:02 AM on August 21, 2002


My sole contribution to this thread is this:

The Pill operates in part by preventing implantation of the fertilized egg. The fertilized egg contains unique DNA.

One thus hopes that all our rabid pro-lifer friends in this thread are not using the Pill as a birth-control method.

If they are using the Pill, they are guilty of being hypocrites.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:25 AM on August 21, 2002


Here's something else to think about: these embryos are frozen. Frozen.

With current and pretty basic technology, we can freeze an embryo, and later thaw it out and let it continue its development in the womb. Can we do that with a fetus one month from delivery? No. With a two year old child? No. With a 13 year old child? No.

I think this is an important distinction. Ball of cells = freezable, human being = not freezeable. Perhaps in the future we'll create some technology to freeze or suspend human beings, but won't there will still always be this distinction?
posted by pitchblende at 9:35 AM on August 21, 2002


of course there are absolute truths in life sciences, magullo. Example: no living beings on our planet can survive extended periods of time in at, say, 600 degrees F. Doesn't promote health. You preach when you say that a) there are no absolute truths in life sciences and therefore b) we cannot know whether the embryo is a human being or not. That is a belief, not a fact or law of nature.

The problem really is: what is a human being? If we are to remain on a scientific basis, what would you say, if not a living being with unique human genetic code? Is it not human because it doesn't have legs or arms? (I've seen humans without them.) Or is it because it's only a "clump of cells" that we say the embryo isn't human? Every person is basically just a clump of cells, only difference is the size of the clump. (BTW, why "clump"? That clump is actually an extremely organized and differentiated collection of cells, even at the embryonic stage, not just a cellular dirtclod.)

Show me a scientific definition of human life that doesn't use DNA, if that's not what you believe. And don't roll out the "it doesn't look human" or "it isn't self-aware" lines, because they don't convince: looks aren't what makes a person, and neither is self-awareness a requirement for human-ness.
posted by declaim at 9:37 AM on August 21, 2002


declaim: What about language? I would claim that the ability to initiate the communication of ideas in an abstract form is the definition of a "human". After all, when we eventually build an AI that can pass the Turing test, would it be ethical to turn it off or change it at will? What about if it can pass the Turing test and it can be proved to be conscious?
posted by bshort at 9:42 AM on August 21, 2002


five fresh fish: yes, the Pill is abortifacient precisely because it prevents a new human being from implanting and prolifers who think that the Pill is OK either haven't thought it through or are hypocrites.

The "rabid" prolife position is the only one that is consistent; unfortunately, in our contraceptive society, the Almighty Orgasm rules and if that means some new persons have to be snuffed out because they are interfering with our precious lifestyle choices, too bad for them - it's just collateral damage.

Time for a real regime change...
posted by declaim at 9:56 AM on August 21, 2002


5FF ... there are many people in the pro-life movement who are making exactly that point, that the Pill and several other birth control methods operate, in whole or in part, as very-early-stage abortifacients.

There is a growing anti-artificial-birth-control movement among Evangelicals (cf. Open Embrace and the copious body of review and commentary it has inspired, based both in the anti-abortifacient argument, as well as broader Biblical / familial arguments against artificial birth control at all.

The Protestant and Evangelical establishment has long used its support for birth control as a point of distinction from Roman Catholics, as well as the small families that birth control enables as a key tool in the small-g gospel of prosperity and upwardly-mobile social conformity which has been so critical to the growth of the suburban megachurches, etc., so one can expect this issue to be fought quite hard if it gets much bigger.
posted by MattD at 10:10 AM on August 21, 2002


bshort: nope, communication ability is still insufficient: If you are in a horrible accident and go into a coma, are you no longer human? And if you recover, did you cease being human for a while and then return to become human again? Doesn't make sense to me.

Another example: a baby cannot communicate, other than by crying or giggling, etc., which we also see in the animal world, so either the baby isn't human (and therefore eligible for use as Soylent Green) or Fido and/or Tabby are human as well.
posted by declaim at 10:36 AM on August 21, 2002


Declaim: Like all definitions, "human" does not describe a precise group of things. Is a sperm human? Ok, it only has half the DNA, so you could say no. How about when a sperm touches the egg? What about the creature that gave birth to the first human? Was that creature not human? She must have been pretty damn similar.

Definitions are almost always fuzzy at the borders. When does an embryo/fetus "become" a human? To me, t's silly to say it's a human when it's just a small ball of cells. Sure, it has human DNA, but so does hair, or a few cheek cells that you swallow inadvertantly when you chew something rough. The biggest thing separating it from these other examples is that it will probably become a human if left alone. But that is "become." You may argue that it is immoral to prevent it from doing so, but that's a pretty arbirtrary decision--at this point in time, it IS less human than a rat, in every sense except genetically. I do love when the religious try to use science to justify their positions, though. It's always funny, or at least bitterly ironic.
posted by callmejay at 10:57 AM on August 21, 2002


...if that means some new persons have to be snuffed out because they are interfering with our precious lifestyle choices, too bad for them - it's just collateral damage

Damn right, declaim...a living, functioning human being outside of a womb will ALWAYS take precedence over a potentially living, functioning human being! Show me one case ever in the history of humanity where that isn't so.

And using contraception is not about a precious lifestyle choice--contraception SAVES LIVES by preventing many sexually transmitted diseases as well as unwanted pregnancies.
posted by amberglow at 11:02 AM on August 21, 2002


declaim the scientific way to express what you said above about temperature is: "the highest temperature at which we know life exists presently is 235 F". No scientist will tell you that there is a 100% certitude that life does not exist beyond that. In fact, 30 years ago, the actual figure was thought "impossible" as well. And so it goes, mate. There is no natural certainty, which is to say there is no certainty in god's way. Why should a human attempt to draw absolute rules in what's clearly beyond him?

Remember one very important, available and trustworthy piece of historical data: when the Apollo mission came from the moon, they were quarantined. Just in case life existed where everyone thought it was impossible. Uncertainty is the word.

So while I have a somewhat clear personal distinction in what is morally wrong and right in an abortion, I'm not got to try to impose that particular view on you. Rather, I'll ask you to please stick to the standard method of including *all* available information when formulating scientific hypotheses.
posted by magullo at 11:29 AM on August 21, 2002


Secret Life of Grav: I do know that everyone who has formulated an opinion already is not going to change his/her mind through debate.

Although I too used to believe that, and am saddened as it often does seem to be true, it isn't. I used to be pro-choice, "just a clump of cells!" type, but had my mind changed through reasonable debate. Besides, even if you aren't going to change your mind about something, reasoned debate helps you to clarify your own thoughts and strengthen your premises (or abandon them if they truly are groundless).

amberglow: That said, this is just another attempt by anti-choice people to stop women from exercising their rights...we'll all be here for the next one unfortunately...

Thank you for your contribution, but you're mistaken. In fact, this is just another attempt by the culture of death people to devalue human life. You see how easy it is to discredit the opposition when you off-handedly dismiss it?

So fine, call us "anti-choice" if that makes you feel better about what you support. Shall we start calling you "pro-death"? Or are you "anti-choice" on murder? Rape? Corporate fraud? To those of us with this crazy idea that human life begins at human conception, the murder of a human is a the murder of a human is the murder of a human. It doesn't make us anti-woman to believe that, unless you are so worried about the tenuousness of your own position that you must resort to ad-hominems and diversionary tactics. Which, I notice, is a common tactic: "But what about masturbation?" (incidentally, Catholics do not believe that masturbation is murder; if you want to get theologically technical, masturbation is a venial sin while murder is generally mortal), "There are no absolutes, especially in science, you religious whack-jobs!" (not all of us pro-life people are religious, thank you), "I hear some of you support the death penalty, ha ha ha, hypocrites!", "Religion and science can never co-exist! It's so ironic when they do!"

bshort: What I don't get is that pro-lifers and anti-stem-ers seem to value the life of a small clump of cells that are not viable on their own, and which only contain a potential human life, over that of an adult (or over that of a child). Seems like a little bit of perspective is needed.

We do not value their lives over those of adults. We value them as individual human lives of equal worth to any other, which should be allowed to develop into (hopefully) healthy, happy, living, cognizant humans who, like all of us, get a chance to experience life on their terms. Just because they are not at that point cognizant, does not mean they are not human. Just like how even though a baby still has a long way to go to get to the point of self-realization, infanticide is illegal. Or how killing someone with Alzheimer's is illegal. We do have a perspective, it just happens to be different from yours.

I still am curious as to why the potential for adult stem-cells is being essentially ignored.
posted by fhangler at 11:33 AM on August 21, 2002


Er, Secret Life of Gravy. Sorry there.
posted by fhangler at 11:40 AM on August 21, 2002


fhangler: The article you linked is a bit over my head as well, but I gathered the following points -

1. The adult stem cells came from mice, not humans, which may serve to dampen excitement about the whole thing. Translating any procedure like this from animals to humans is a long scientific battle by itself.

2. The adult stem cells were introduced into a blastocyst, aka a "small clump of cells" that would eventually develop into a baby mouse. They checked the baby mouse for the presence of the stem cells and found traces, but not in bones, heart muscle, or the brain. The adult stem cells were not tested for their ability to function therapeutically.

3. They're not sure if the traces of stem cells do anything other than sit there. To quote, "Higher levels of mMAPC engraftment and differentiation in radiosensitive organs... after low-dose irradiation also suggests that mMAPCs may contribute functionally to host tissues. Future studies will be needed to show whether functional repopulation occurs for other tissues in the post-natal transplantation setting."

I don't know if the study you linked is representative of the kind work that's already been done on adult stem cells, but if it is, it shows that what we can do with adult stem cells, while "promising" pehaps, is still a far cry from what we can do with embryonic stem cells.
posted by ligeia at 12:12 PM on August 21, 2002


*sigh* perhaps...
posted by ligeia at 12:13 PM on August 21, 2002


Embryos (and fetuses up to a certain point) are not human beings but human maybes.

Granted, the maybe gets a lot closer to a being as the pregnancy approaches 20-something weeks or so, but even then it's a gamble.

If a line has to be drawn, I'd say the 50% chance of viability mark seems to be as good a place as any.

At any rate, I don't think anyone has mentioned the whole source of these unwanted embryos, and the fact that it might be spiffy to actually hold the creators accountable.

The sperm and egg donor and the clinicians have a responsibility to only create as many embryos as they intend to implant, imho. Otherwise they're setting themselves up for all kinds of messes (and lawsuits, which is the only thing the doctors will pay attention to, it seems).

Many embryos end up in frozen limbo because the parents move on and don't leave contact info with the cryogenic bank, or the parents just don't want to use them and don't want anyone else to use them, either. Seems a bit late to be thinking about such things, eh?

If a couple isn't going to use all their eggs, they should be donated (to couples who can combine them with the husband's or a donor's sperm) or destroyed without being fertilized. That would solve at least some of this very complicated and entangled problem.
posted by beth at 12:34 PM on August 21, 2002


fhangler: People who are against abortion have made no secret of the fact that they want it to be made illegal again. I have heard all sorts of reasons why, from moral and religious reasons to technical and scientific reasons. If I make a blanket statement like--this is just another attempt by anti-choice people to stop women from exercising their rights... it's not baseless or off-handed--it's fact. Anti-choice people have most recently seized on the stem-cell debates to further their cause, and I frankly don't blame you--everyone should use whatever's at their disposal to get what they want.

I see this as a woman's rights issue--It is absolutely abhorrent to me that so many people feel that if a woman should be pregnant she should have to give birth, EVEN IF SHE DOESN'T WANT TO. There are millions of unwanted children already roaming this earth--why make more? Throughout history women have found ways to abort their children--some safe and some not. Were all those women living in a contraceptive society? Why can't a woman decide what to do with her life and her body? Is her life to take second-place to the fetus?
posted by amberglow at 12:48 PM on August 21, 2002


ligeia: Thanks for the analysis. If it does turn out that adult stem-cells work just as well as embryonic ones, I hope we can agree to use them as our exclusive source and avoid altogether the moral issues involved in breeding embryos for stem-cells.

beth: A great suggestion, in my opinion.

amberglow: I was objecting more to the "exercising of rights" and "anti-choice" part. I do not deny that opposition to embryonic stem-cell research and opposition to abortion are strongly linked. But you are assuming, of course, that abortion is a woman's right. Not all of us think that, and hence calling us "anti-choice" does not serve any purpose except to prematurely impose your beliefs on those you are arguing with (again, just like if I called you "pro-death", which I am quite certain you are not). Similarly, if I were to debate with a left-leaning individual, it would be inappropriate for me to call him or her a thief just for advocating higher taxes.

Yes, the world has many people, a depressing number of them unwanted. That is a great tragedy which we must work to correct. Destroying human life to rectify that tragedy, however, is not appropriate.

The woman's life is not to take second-place to the fetus. Nor should the fetus take second-place to her life. To me, it's absolutely abhorrent that anyone should make me pay taxes on the money that I earn through my own labour, EVEN IF I DON'T WANT TO. (Well, not really, but you see the point). The woman can decide what to do with her life and her body. Pro-life people just demand (yes, demand, just like the law demands that you not mug little old ladies) that she take responsibility for her actions. She can always choose not to have sex if she is unwilling to cope with the possibility of pregnancy, and to use a variety of non-abortifacient contraceptives to lower the risk. But fundamentally, if she chooses to have sex, she is choosing to engage in an activity whose primary biological purpose is reproduction. She should not be surprised, therefore, if she happens to reproduce. And her offspring should not suffer just because his or her parents decided to ignore the risk of pregnancy, which is always extant despite the very high success rates of many contraceptives.

Of course, even making abortion illegal will not stop abortions, just like all other laws are broken at some point. But it will make them a lot harder to procure. Before the legalization of abortion, it was not nearly as common as Planned Parenthood, for example, says it was.
posted by fhangler at 1:17 PM on August 21, 2002


amberglow: I understand that I may be more the exception than the rule. I am against abortion, but wouldn't vote for it to become illegal.

If a friend or close relative asked for my opinion on what to do with an unwanted pregnancy, I would advise them to take the pregnancy to full term and if they still didn't want the child, to give it up for adoption.

However, there's a more to the abortion issue other than moral/ethical concerns, or even what a woman has the right to do with her body. The fact is, abortions have been going on since someone decided sex with certain people or in certain situations was Evil, and making abortion illegal is not going to stop it. I would rather provide women with a safe, sterile place to have an abortion than lose the mother's life due to botched "back alley" abortions.

fhandler: Before the legalization of abortion, it was not nearly as common as Planned Parenthood, for example, says it was.

Source? I'm more inclined to believe it was grossly underreported.
posted by ligeia at 1:50 PM on August 21, 2002


ligeia: Here. Another comment about them is the statement from Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a co-founder of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL).... He stated: "How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In NARAL, we generally emphasized the frame of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always ‘5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.’ I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the ‘morality’ of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?..."

I admit the source could be better, but I'm sure you realize the difficulty of finding objective sources about this sort of thing. They seem to do a pretty reasonable job, however. (Upon reflection, for the sake of correctness I perhaps should have said NARAL rather than Planned Parenthood.)
posted by fhangler at 2:06 PM on August 21, 2002


Here's a footnoted page of facts on abortion but it's from Planned Parenthood, so take it or leave it. Here's a little tidbit: Estimates of the annual number of illegal abortions in the 1950s and 1960s range from 200,000 to 1.2 million (Tietze & Henshaw, 1986). and anecdotally, I know that during the depression, my grandmother had one, and she said it was very common at that time and everyone knew where to go for one, but didn't talk publicly about it, and that people couldn't even afford to feed the kids they already had and. But I digress...

Fhangler: you say Pro-life people just demand (yes, demand, just like the law demands that you not mug little old ladies) that she take responsibility for her actions. but don't see that abortion IS taking responsibility for her actions. She found herself with an unwanted pregnancy. Out of all her options, she chose abortion. How is that not taking responsibility? Just because you don't agree with her choice is no reason to say it's irresponsible.

And this: Of course, even making abortion illegal will not stop abortions, just like all other laws are broken at some point. But it will make them a lot harder to procure.
Do you really want to criminalize unwanted pregnancy? Why make them harder to procure if they are going to happen anyway? Isn't it better that there are safe, hygenic, professional places to have abortions? Or are you looking to punish women for getting pregnant?
posted by amberglow at 3:29 PM on August 21, 2002


amberglow: You are correct. I should have phrased that better. I was talking, of course, from a specifically pro-life position. If you believe in abortion, it can be seen as a responsible choice. If you think that abortion is the destruction of a human life, of course, it's highly irresponsible. From either perspective, however, the fact remains that the woman (and I should say "the parents" because I realise that all too often men are not given enough of the responsibility in these matters) is destroying a living human (whether or not that is a "human being" or not is what the debate is, of course) that was produced as a result of her actions, not the actions of the offspring itself. Yet it is the offspring, not the mother, that must accept the real consequences of the mother's decision. Because this is essentially shifting the consequences of the mother's action onto the offspring, it can be seen as irresponsible to the extent that the mother is not personally accepting the consequences of her own actions (by, for example, carrying through with the pregnancy).

The point in making abortion illegal is not to punish women for getting pregnant. Making abortion illegal, for those of us who are not ultra-social-conservatives, has nothing to do with the woman. It has everything to do with protecting what we see as a unique human life. As such, there would be no criminalization of unwanted pregnancy, but rather criminalization of the termination of it. Try asking, "Do you really want to criminalize (insert crime here, e.g. corporate fraud, theft, etc.)? Why make it harder if it's going to happen anyway?" We make laws against these things not because we know that the laws will immediately stop them from happening but rather because a law and corresponding punishment has a deleterious effect upon how often such things happen.

If a woman chooses to break the law and get an abortion, I do hope, for her sake, that she gets it done in a safe, hygienic, professional place. (Following the link in my previous comment, it is asserted that this was the case when abortion was illegal). But, again, from my perspective on abortion, that's akin to saying that if someone chooses to break the law and commit murder, that I hope, for the victim's sake, that the criminal makes the death as quick and painless as possible.
posted by fhangler at 4:07 PM on August 21, 2002


well, fhangler, we agree to disagree...good conversation though...

If abortions were made illegal, and became a rare occurrence, who would pay for the medical costs of pregnancy, and the lost productivity of the pregnant women, and what would you do with all the children?
posted by amberglow at 4:29 PM on August 21, 2002


Thanks for your civility, too. It's rare to get to such a point in embryo/fetus/abortion-related discussions, as they all too often devolve into shouting, illogical and emotional attacks on both sides.

As to your question, it is an excellent one that's admittedly difficult to answer. To partially respond, I think it is again a consideration a couple would ideally take into account before having sex. Making abortions illegal would not necessarily significantly increase the birth rate, because it would require people to be more careful regarding the use of contraceptives and to hopefully think more carefully before having sex. Certain "morally pure" contraceptives such as the "new and improved" rhythm method favoured by the Catholic Church, for example, certainly have near-100% success rates if used properly. And over the long term, the economy would likely return to an equilibrium, as it generally does. That said, the 1.5 million abortions every year in the United States alone is not an insignificant number, and there does need to be more thought applied to the question you raise.
posted by fhangler at 4:52 PM on August 21, 2002


well, I have a friend whose parents used to joke that he was the result of the rhythm method, so I certainly hope they improved it....

: >
posted by amberglow at 5:08 PM on August 21, 2002


...and what would you do with all the children?
yummm, baby, the other, other white meat.
posted by Grod at 8:35 PM on August 21, 2002


fhangler mentions the "new and improved" rhythm method recommended by the Catholic Church - it's usually referred to now as Natural Family Planning and it has many surprising advantages besides being very effective in postponing pregnancy: read about some advantages here.

the respect shown others in this discussion has impressed me, too - it makes for good reading and gives me (at least) many new things to think about.
posted by declaim at 10:18 PM on August 21, 2002


« Older You Opportunity To Jump For Joy At the Defeat of a...   |   Qwest Finds Buyer For QwestDex Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments