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Stem Cell Research
May 31, 2004 10:17 AM   Subscribe

The False Controversy of Stem Cell Research. Kinsley: In fact, thinking it through is a moral obligation, especially if you are on the side of the argument that wants to stop or slow this research. It's not complicated. An embryo used in stem-cell research (and fertility treatments) is three to five days past conception. It consists of a few dozen cells that together are too small to be seen without a microscope. It has no consciousness, no self-awareness, no ability to feel love or pain. The smallest insect is far more human in every respect except potential.
posted by skallas (64 comments total)

 
Save the potential babies! Remember, every time you choose not to rape someone, you're killing a potential baby.

It sounds absurd, but this is an equivalent argument to that of the pro-lifers. Preventing research into stem cells is a crime just as damaging to society as rape is.

every sperm is sacred...
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:37 AM on May 31, 2004


From my quick reading he's right that the controversy ought to be minimal, but only based on the assumption that fertility clinics are unquestionably acceptable. The same idea just as easily suggests that perhaps opposition to fertility clinics ought to be just as widespread and passionate as opposition to stem cell research.

With that said, I do think he's right, but I can still understand the opposition.
posted by Wingy at 10:41 AM on May 31, 2004


Stem cells are not a difficult issue: either you think a microscopic embryo has the same human rights as you and I, or you don't.

This issue is analytically similar to the abortion debate.

If a fetus is a human life, then abortion is never permissible, except where necessary to protect the mother. If a fetus is not a human life, then abortion is always permissible - no justification is ever required.

Stem cells are the same - if they are human life, then stem cell research is never justified.* If stem cells are not human life, then, as the article points out, research on them is always justified.

* The fact that fertility clinics routinely destroy embryos does not change this conclusion; instead, the conclusion is simply that fertility clinics should not be allowed to destroy embryos.

The point is, there are no gradations of "human". Children, the mentally handicapped, the physically handicapped, the elderly and the average joe (not to mention jews and homosexuals) all share the same rights as human beings. The trouble is that a fetus displays all of the relevant indications that they are a human being (such as brainwaves, stimulus response and the avoidance of pain, a heartbeat, and DNA) long before birth. The mere physical location of a fetus/baby is pretty clearly irrelevant to its status as a human being, when you think about it. Those six inches of air between the birth canal and the outside world don't materially change the humanity of a baby. But then we run into the classic line-drawing problem; a fetus which has just been fertilized is pretty unlike a human being. It is like a human being only in that it shares our DNA.

So while I don't think the answer is at all clear, I also think that you'd have to be a fanatic yourself to uniformly paint as "fanatics" the people (a majority of Americans, by the way) who feel that shared DNA is enough to establish shared humanity and full human rights.
posted by gd779 at 10:44 AM on May 31, 2004


The author is under the mistaken assumption that anti-stem cell folks 1) are 100% logically consistent in their beliefs or 2) want to stop at simply ending this line of research.

In the former case, how many of us hold a 100% internally consistent belief system? That's a pretty high standard, and I have doubts that it is realistically possible.

And I'm willing to bet the latter case is the more correct answer.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 10:49 AM on May 31, 2004


instead, the conclusion is simply that fertility clinics should not be allowed to destroy embryos.

A point which seems lost on Bush, as Kinsley has pointed out before (discussed here and here.)
posted by homunculus at 10:51 AM on May 31, 2004


Britain opens stem-cell bank
posted by homunculus at 10:53 AM on May 31, 2004




It is like a human being only in that it shares our DNA.

So while I don't think the answer is at all clear, I also think that you'd have to be a fanatic yourself to uniformly paint as "fanatics" the people (a majority of Americans, by the way) who feel that shared DNA is enough to establish shared humanity and full human rights.


It's not as simple as "shared DNA". I can scrape my fingernail across my lower lip and pull off hundreds of thousands of cells, each with a full complement of human DNA. Each of these cells is "like a human being only in that it shares our DNA" (my DNA, in fact!). Furthermore, within a period of years, we will have in hand technologies capable of cloning each of these cells so as to produce a full, mature human being. In other words, every human cell will soon have the same potential for generating a new life as embryonic stem cells currently have. I would hope, however, that no one would argue that the cells regularly sloughed off each of our bodies should be accorded "shared humanity and full human rights".

So there's clearly a "gradation of 'human'" in there somewhere. I would accord embryonic stem cells the same rights accorded to other microscopic clumps of human cells. This seems the only way to avoid spending all of my time at cellular funerals.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:00 AM on May 31, 2004


... President Bush banned the use of federal funds for creating new embryonic stem cells. For its part, the European Union has imposed a moratorium on funding the creation of new stem cells and prohibited the use of existing stem cells in most research.
(...)
Across the Pacific, though, public opposition to stem-cell research is weak or nonexistent. In Singapore, stem cells are a key part of a long-standing government initiative to develop new technology industries; Japan is building a stem-cell center in the southern city of Kobe that will have a $45 million annual research budget. South Korea's government endorsed experimentation with frozen embryos this summer, though it banned the cloning of human beings after the Raƫlian sect, which attributes Jesus' resurrection to "an advanced cloning technique," claimed it had implanted a cloned embryo into a Korean woman.
No country is pursuing the field more aggressively than China. Stem-cell research fits the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology's ambitious plans to vault the country to the top research ranks - and win a Nobel, which has never been awarded to scientists on the mainland. China has turned on the funding spigots, pumping money through multiple sources: cities, provincial governments, two special national research initiatives. There are also venture capital-like funds from large universities, which set up companies owned by their researchers; national subsidies, including those established to create special research parks; and direct private investment, most of it from Hong Kong tycoons. US venture capitalists have also begun sniffing around.
Flush with cash, researchers can explore the new field with almost complete freedom.

posted by matteo at 11:01 AM on May 31, 2004


I would accord embryonic stem cells the same rights accorded to other microscopic clumps of human cells.

You people, with your newfangled "logic" and "rationality"...sheesh.
posted by rushmc at 11:14 AM on May 31, 2004


mr_roboto: Furthermore, within a period of years, we will have in hand technologies capable of cloning each of these cells so as to produce a full, mature human being.

That is as of yet uncertain. I think Discover last month had a great article describing the research leading some to think that the fertilized egg is not simply a self-contained packet of DNA and energy, and that there might be some risks involved in the standard in vitro practice of removing the clusters of maternal cells that surround the egg. The process of meiosis and fusion in placental mammals is revealing its self to be so complex that reliable, safe, reproductive cloning may be as elusive as a cure for cancer.

But so much attention has been focused on reproductive cloning and stem cell research that much of the actual focus of cloning and stem cell research has been lost. For many researchers the next step in stem cell research is to track the molecular biology of cell lines from birth to death. Cloning stem cell lines from, for example, families with a genetic history of breast cancer might possibly lead to discovering what interactions trigger tumor development, and lead to more reliabile and less invasive early diagnostic tests.

Part of the problem is that the public does not understand what "cloning" means. I love giving anti-cloning activists the heebie-jeebies by pointing out that farmers have been doing cloning for centuries.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:33 AM on May 31, 2004


I would accord embryonic stem cells the same rights accorded to other microscopic clumps of human cells.
With the difference being that embryonic stem cells have the potential for life. A cell from my lip may indeed have the DNA required, but there is much, much more that goes into a cell than simply DNA such a proteins, how the organelles are organized, what synthesize take place within the cell, how packed proteins are used within the cell. The lip cell is more of an organ cell and cannot exist on it's own and from inception does not have the capability under normal circumstances to produce more life.

farmers have been doing cloning for centuries.
What exactly do you mean by this?
posted by jmd82 at 12:12 PM on May 31, 2004


"ive wiped entire civilizations of my chest, with a dirty grey sock" -- Bill Hicks
posted by Satapher at 12:19 PM on May 31, 2004


So there's clearly a "gradation of 'human'" in there somewhere. I would accord embryonic stem cells the same rights accorded to other microscopic clumps of human cells. This seems the only way to avoid spending all of my time at cellular funerals.

I agree, except that you haven't established gradations of "human", you've established a binary bright line: discarded cells which cannot survive on their own are not human beings, while clumps of cells (like you and me) which can survive on their own (given sustenance and the right environment) and which have human DNA are human.

This reasoning (properly, I think) establishes that stem cells are not human beings, but it also implicitly condemns many abortions. After all, a fetus has 1) a unique genetic code (establishing that it is not merely a part of the mother's body) and 2) the ability, to varying degrees, to survive on its own. In the case of late term abortions, the fetus can survive entirely without the mother. Which brings us back to the line drawing problem. So-called partial birth abortions* are very, very close to infanticide, but a mere fertilized egg (or a stem cell) is just a clump of cells.

You want there to be gradations of humanity in between those two points. But I argue that the lines between any such gradations will not only be wholly arbitrary and uncompelling, but they will also tend to delegitimize one of our primary values: the sanctity of life. And that's bad, because a dogmatic (read: irrational) belief in the sanctity of life is a big part of our liberal society. Societies which discard that absolute belief tend to become like Stalinist Russia ("you can't make an omelet...") or Hitler's Germany. And nobody wants to live in such a society.

So the right way to oppose those who oppose stem cell research is not to argue that there are gradations of humanity, but rather to point out that a stem cell can't grow or live on its own. As such, it is just a cell; a human cell, yes, but not a human being.

* Partial birth abortions don't happen quite as frequently as the pro-life camp would have you believe, but they happen much more frequently than the pro-choice camp argues. Not that it makes a difference to my argument.

I'm not saying that all of the above reasoning is right. And I strongly support stem cell research. I am simply saying that the line of reasoning I've outlined is reasonable. And those who paint it as pure "fanaticism" are either ignorant or fanatics themselves.

However, a significant portion of the population will never be able to recognize that, because they've grown up in a culture, no less insular or oppressive towards contrary opinions than the most fundamentalist Christian sect, where opposition to abortion (and, by extension, any argument that could be used to oppose abortion) is simply taboo.
posted by gd779 at 12:28 PM on May 31, 2004


The lip cell is more of an organ cell and cannot exist on it's own...

And you think an embryonic stem cell can "exist on its own"?!? Those suckers require carefully tuned cell culture conditions to live and proliferate. You need either technicians tending the stems cells, or cryogenic storage, neither of which represents an independent existence.

...and from inception does not have the capability under normal circumstances to produce more life.

Most tissue cells proliferate by cell division. If a cell is life (and I think we can all agree on that), it can divide to produce more life. If a cell is a human being (which it isn't), it can divide to produce more human beings. The nature of cell division makes the entire thing rather tautological. And embryonic stem cells do not have "the capability under normal circumstances to produce more life". The vast majority of embryonic stem cells--created as part of fertility treatments--are discarded. This is their "normal circumstance". If by "normal circumstance", you mean something like "ambient environmental conditions", this is certainly not the case. Embryonic stem cells must be specially handled and implanted in order to result in a new human life: as significant a technological requirement as, say, cloning. Not to mention that you need a woman willing to have the cells implanted in her in order for a human life to result. Which opens whole new arguments, I know.

I agree, except that you haven't established gradations of "human", you've established a binary bright line...

Well, a binary "gradation", but a gradation none the less. After all, the ceremony in which degrees are granted is called a "graduation", even though the distinction between someone with and someone without a degree is purely binary. This all is getting awfully semantic, though.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:58 PM on May 31, 2004


jmd82: The lip cell is more of an organ cell and cannot exist on it's own and from inception does not have the capability under normal circumstances to produce more life.

Which is the fundamental difference of opinion at hand here. Some people attribute special moral status to the non-implanted embryo based on such obscure metaphysics. In contrast, stem-cell research advocates point out that the 50-80% probability (depending on how one counts these things) that an embryo will not survive the next 72 hours to become a fetus makes this a poor line at which to determine human viability and life. Placing the emphasis on the fusion of sperm and ovum seems to be a cultural quirk of a specific religious group in a specific socio-cultural context. At the other end of the spectrum, there are historical cultures where personhood was not acknowledged until well into infancy. The basic meat of the issue here is that I don't consider undifferentiated blastocysts to have any more moral weight than any other tissue. Move development foward three weeks, and I'd agree that we are in the grey area where we might want to talk about fetal rights. Move forward 12 weeks to a point where more than 90% will survive absent intervention, and I become uncomfortable with aborition. But a frozen embryo discarded by the parents halted in development? Not an issue.

What exactly do you mean by this?

Exactly what I said, farmers have been doing cloning for centuries. (For that matter, so have brewers and bakers.) The only thing that has changed in the last 10 years is that the sophistication of our ability to clone mamalian cell lines has progressed to the point where it is possible (but not feasible) to do reproductive cloning on some (but not all) mamalian species attempted. For that matter, people have been cloning abnormal human cell lines for viral research for about 50 years now. But fundamentally, there is not much different between the "hens and chicks" in my yard, and dolly the sheep.

On preview, perhaps one of the reasons why I don't see a problem with stem cell harvesting has to do with defining what is meant by "sanctity of life." My argument is that we should focus on life as lived rather than life as metabolism or life as potential. I had no problems with my own living will, or with those of my grandparents based on the realization that life as lived is more important than life as metabolism or life as the potential for a miracle cure tomorrow.

So I don't see the big problem with not applying moral significance to something that does not even have the developmental differentiation of a sponge.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:59 PM on May 31, 2004


And to throw another ethical/ideological hand grenade into the field. Far too much of this debate is made possible by framing the debate in terms of an abstract concept called "life" (which biologists don't have a good overall definition of even). if we frame the debate in terms of suffering, then the question of whether a blastocyst needs moral protection is moot.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:12 PM on May 31, 2004


But I argue that the lines between any such gradations will not only be wholly arbitrary and uncompelling

Well, no you don't; you assert this without any supporting argument. We have legislated many arbitrary lines across American lives defining many ages at which new rights accrue or protections fall away: 6, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 28, 35, 40 - you can probably think of others - and we are generally quite comfortable as a society with these. Roe v. Wade simply adds three more lines.

one of our primary values: the sanctity of life

"Sanctity" is a religious concept; in a democracy, nothing is or should be inviolate except that which the people elect. The rights to life, liberty, and the P of H are "unalienable", not "sacred"; the whole body of the law tells us how each citizen's rights may be violated to protect another's, or society's.

I'm not saying that all of the above reasoning is right. ...the line of reasoning I've outlined is reasonable ... those who paint it as pure "fanaticism" are either ignorant or fanatics themselves

Huh? I guess you're claiming that your reasoning is not obviously wrong to a reasonable person who does not examine it carefully. But Kinsey isn't suggesting that those people are fanatics; he's saying that only fanatics will refuse to recognize the implications once the errors in this reasoning are pointed out to them.
posted by nicwolff at 1:12 PM on May 31, 2004


Um, Kinsley.
posted by nicwolff at 1:24 PM on May 31, 2004


The various techniques of artificial reproduction, which would seem to be at the service of life and which are frequently used with this intention, actually open the door to new threats against life. Apart from the fact that they are morally unacceptable, since they separate procreation from the fully human context of the conjugal act, these techniques have a high rate of failure: not just failure in relation to fertilization but with regard to the subsequent development of the embryo, which is exposed to the risk of death, generally within a very short space of time. Furthermore, the number of embryos produced is often greater than that needed for implantation in the woman's womb, and these so-called "spare embryos" are then destroyed or used for research which, under the pretext of scientific or medical progress, in fact reduces human life to the level of simple "biological material" to be freely disposed of.
-Evangelium vitae 1995

Just in case you were curious about the Vatican's position.
posted by john at 1:56 PM on May 31, 2004


Perhaps I should have been more specific. Early embryotic cells still have the ability to differentiate. After so many divisions (not very many), they actually differentiate. Before this process takes place, the embryotic cells have the ability to specialize in any type of cell- and there are certain cells in the human body that still do that. However, after so many divisions, the cells become specialized and cannot differentiate to any type of cell (I think that this stage actually happens after a set number of divisions). The lip cells, however, do not have this ability to differentiate to a different type of cell. They are lip cells forever and only reproduce lip cells through mitosis. They cannot reproduce a sustainable life due to this whereas early embryotic cells have potential for life because one early embryotic cell still has the ability to reproduce differentiable cells and create a sustainable life form.
While I am pro-life, I am also pro stem-cell research who can't write worth a damn.

Kirk- Maybe I've been totally out of the loop and am oblivious to the world, but when you say farmers have been cloning for years, how so?
Also not that to some Christians, people having to clone plants or whatever for years won't phase them much- it's more the cloning of humans that mess with people's minds. It's part of that whole soul think and Sanctity of Life idea I s'pose.
posted by jmd82 at 2:09 PM on May 31, 2004


I always thought that the reasoning pro-lifers and anti-stem people was that, though the fetus might be incredibly simplistic at that stage (biologically less-than-human), it had a soul. The duelist belief, held by most (all) religions is that we're more than out biology. You can't find the soul anywhere in the DNA.

I'm an atheist, and I have a very hard time understanding what a soul is supposed to be. But I get that it's there from conception (at least -- according to some religions it's there before conception, i.e. reincarnation), and it continues after we die.

An organism is a person, no matter how few cells it has, if it also has a soul. If you kill something with a soul, then you've committed murder, right?

I admit, I'm a little confused as to why murder is bad, because it apparently DOESN'T kill the soul, but I'm just as confused about this with adult human beings. Kill you mom, and her soul survives, goes to heaven, and gets to be with God. So who have you hurt?

In any case, it seems a little silly to argue whether three cells equals a human or a billion cells equals a human when the people who are are pro-life don't care how many cells "someone" has. They care about souls.

So the argument comes down to whether or not a soul exists. I say it doesn't. Many say it does. Stalemate.
posted by grumblebee at 2:11 PM on May 31, 2004


As long as the discussion is about viability -- whatever the context of that viability -- there can never be an answer.

What needs to be determined is what constitutes "human-ness", and when does it get imparted to a foetus. People who categorically oppose abortion generally believe that humanness is a property of embryos; people who don't, tend to believe that humannes is an emergent property.

Put another (only slightly simplistic) way: Some folks believe in souls. Some don't.

The question gets much harder for people who don't believe in souls. I know; I haven't believed in souls since I was 8.
posted by lodurr at 2:19 PM on May 31, 2004


Farmers cloning:

The original statement was a bit broad; but farmers (well, agribusiness, mostly) have been things that are like cloning, and have been doing them for years. But outside of plant reproduction (for example, of plant hybirds that are rare or infertile), i'm not aware of anything done by agribusiness that is actually cloning.

That said, they have done an awful lot of damn-near asexual reproduction. I once spent an hour looking through a stud catalog with my XSO's sister, trying to pick a worth "sire" to "mate" with her prize mare. Which "mating", of course, would be done with something bearing a suspicious resemblance to a turkey baster...
posted by lodurr at 2:24 PM on May 31, 2004


Kill you mom, and her soul survives, goes to heaven, and gets to be with God. So who have you hurt?

Yourself, supposedly.
posted by rushmc at 2:27 PM on May 31, 2004


jmd82: Maybe I've been totally out of the loop and am oblivious to the world, but when you say farmers have been cloning for years, how so?

At its base, cloning is simply asexual propagation. For centuries, farmers and horticulturalists have reproduced plants by cutting or grafting, or by using existing asexual means of reproduction such as seed potatoes or bulbs.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:28 PM on May 31, 2004


So is it unbelievably simplistic of me to say that I'm positive that there are human lives that could be saved by stem cell research, whereas I'm not at all sure that a clump of cells can be classified as life, much less human, so I've got to go with the pro-stem cell camp?
posted by LittleMissCranky at 2:42 PM on May 31, 2004


"O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us -- he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks." -- Psalm 137 (NIV)
posted by wfrgms at 3:05 PM on May 31, 2004


So is it unbelievably simplistic of me...

I don't think so; the entire point of the linked article is that the issue just isn't as complicated as we've been led to believe.

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us -- he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. -- Psalm 137 (NIV)

"If any clothing is contaminated with mildew-any woolen or linen clothing, any woven or knitted material of linen or wool, any leather or anything made of leather-and if the contamination in the clothing, or leather, or woven or knitted material, or any leather article, is greenish or reddish, it is a spreading mildew and must be shown to the priest." -- Leviticus 13:47-49 (NIV)
posted by mr_roboto at 3:16 PM on May 31, 2004


mr_roboto: in any legal system (including the legal system outlined in the old testament) there are always two types of crimes. Some crimes are mala in se - "bad in and of themselves". This includes all "moral" crimes, such as murder. Other crimes are mala prohibita - "bad because they are prohibited". These crimes (like driving on the right side of the road, or not wearing clothing of mixed fabric) are not inherently moral issues, but they become moral issues because to violate them is to violate a duly constituted legal or political authority. My point is that the mala prohibita prohibitions contained in the old testament of the bible in no way invalidate the mala in se prohibitions. You can't use one to refute the other.

But on the other hand, I have no idea what wfrgms' point was in quoting Leviticus.

"Sanctity" is a religious concept; in a democracy, nothing is or should be inviolate except that which the people elect.

nicwolff: Oh, really? So if the majority of Americans feel that homosexuals should be denied the right to marry, and further that they should be shipped into concentration camps and exterminated, then that would be a-okay because we can't import the religious concept of "sanctity of life"? Well, you might say, that would be illegal. Okay, what if we amend the constitution first? Then is it okay?

Was Nazi Germany bad because they tried to kill the Jews, or because they didn't follow the proper democratic procedure before they made the attempt?

The rights to life, liberty, and the P of H are "unalienable", not "sacred"; the whole body of the law tells us how each citizen's rights may be violated to protect another's, or society's.

What, exactly, is the difference between inalienable and sacred? If by that distinction you wish to indicate that inalienable rights can be taken away by the government, then this is exactly the "dangerous idea" I was describing. Because once you let go of the idea that human beings have inherent human rights which can never be taken away, then you're well on your way to the sort of rational utilitarian societies, which sound good in theory but always wind up paying the price for their philosophy in human lives. Stalinist Russia and Hitler's Germany are just the two most common examples, there are lots more and that sort of thinking has never managed to produce the utopia it promised.

If, on the other hand, by drawing a distinction between inalienable and sacred you wish to draw a distinction between secular philosophy and religious philosophy; well, then, I have to say that I can't see any material difference between moral speculation involving a God and moral speculation not involving a God.*

*Unless, of course, God actually exists, and while that cuts against your argument even more strongly it takes us much too far off topic.

Kinsey isn't suggesting that those people are fanatics; he's saying that only fanatics will refuse to recognize the implications once the errors in this reasoning are pointed out to them.

There are no errors in the reasoning I've outlined. (That I'm aware of, anyway). This is not an issue of fact as such. The question of when a fetus is human is not a question that science or reason alone can answer; "humanity", like "life", is a word we made up to describe things we care about. Science can inform that discussion, but not tell us what we should care about in the first place. That is a question for philosophy, for personal opinion, for religion, and for ultimate value judgements. It's not a question of fact that can be disproven.

Far too much of this debate is made possible by framing the debate in terms of an abstract concept called "life" (which biologists don't have a good overall definition of even). if we frame the debate in terms of suffering, then the question of whether a blastocyst needs moral protection is moot.

A good point. One which, again, cuts against abortion, because the fetus can be aborted long after it can feel pain. (Not that I have an axe to grind on that issue, it's just that the overwhelming majority of MetaFilter seems to support abortion, and I like to provoke cognitive dissonance).

So the argument comes down to whether or not a soul exists. I say it doesn't. Many say it does. Stalemate.

No, grumblebee, that doesn't help, because few religions tell you when a soul begins to inhabit the body. Christianity, certainly the religion behind most of the religious opposition to abortion, certainly doesn't. So the question is analytically exactly the same, regardless of whether you are searching for a "soul" or for "humanity".
posted by gd779 at 3:52 PM on May 31, 2004


The Buddhist take on conception (and abortion) would seem at first glance to concur with the Catholic one. However, as with many apparent similarities between the two beliefs, the difference is in the detail - it is generally accepted within Buddhist teachings that not all living creatures are equal (the gradations are many and complex).

So, in all cases of 'killing' the question is one of comparing the value of the life being taken with the value being potentially gained. In the case of stem cell research I would favour the possible benefits of the research over the life being taken, but YMMV.
posted by daveg at 4:06 PM on May 31, 2004


Well, no you don't; you assert this without any supporting argument. We have legislated many arbitrary lines across American lives defining many ages at which new rights accrue or protections fall away

Almost forgot this argument, nicwolff. First of all, you can't prove a negative through argument. The fact that I have never seen a purple unicorn is sufficient basis for me to believe that they don't exist, but show me one and I will believe. I have thought extensively about the issue, and I don't believe that there are any compelling lines that can be drawn between "fertilized egg" and "almost newborn baby" which aren't arbitrary or nearly arbitrary. But show me one and I will believe.

As to the second half of your argument, it is true that the line drawing problem is a common one. But that doesn't make it any less of a problem, particularly where the other lines don't involve fundamental human rights like "the sanctity of life". (No, the right to drink isn't a fundamental human right). And so where the harm we're trying to protect against isn't "unsafe driving" but "the death of a child", we may be more cautious. In each instance, my point is, to the extent that we care about the harm we are trying to protect in each of those circumstances, we will be more or less restrictive about the line we draw. So I'm not sure what you're trying to prove here, because unless you can actually come up with a compelling line to draw, then the fact that other lines have been drawn relating to other rights doesn't really help us.
posted by gd779 at 4:09 PM on May 31, 2004


if we frame the debate in terms of suffering, then the question of whether a blastocyst needs moral protection is moot.
And of those born who can't feel pain? Or since, we known at a certain point babies in the womb can feel pain, where do we draw the line?

few religions tell you when a soul begins to inhabit the body.
I had always thought most Christian sects teach that God knows someone before they're born. To me, this would imply that the soul has been in existance since day one and the soul transfers to the fetus.
posted by jmd82 at 4:13 PM on May 31, 2004


To me, this would imply that the soul has been in existence since day one

Yes... (well, sort of, because foreknowledge is not the same as actually existence, but okay).

and the soul transfers to the fetus.

But when? Why the moment on conception, rather than the moment of the first brainwave? Or the first heartbeat? Or maybe the soul starts out in the egg which God knows will eventually be fertilized? Or the sperm? Christianity is silent on the issue, to my knowledge.
posted by gd779 at 4:18 PM on May 31, 2004


The trouble is that a fetus displays all of the relevant indications that they are a human being (such as brainwaves, stimulus response and the avoidance of pain, a heartbeat, and DNA) long before birth.

if those are the criteria for making something a human being, then most of the animal kingdom is human.

Most pro-life folks consider consciousness the essentially human thing, and babies only start developing consciousness once they're on the outside - once there is incoming data to parse.

If by that distinction you wish to indicate that inalienable rights can be taken away by the government, then this is exactly the "dangerous idea" I was describing.

"inalienable" specifically means that the gov't cannot take and you cannot give those rights away - you cannot alienate those rights from yourself. You're stuck with them whether you want them or not.
posted by mdn at 4:25 PM on May 31, 2004


Christianity is silent on the issue

Monty Python, on the other hand, ...
posted by matteo at 4:28 PM on May 31, 2004


For religions which believe in an individual soul, I am interested to know if anyone has a take on when the two souls of twins enter the separated foetuses. The existence of twins with separate souls would seem to suggest that souls become 'involved' at a stage later than conception - I haven't managed to find the RC take on this.
posted by daveg at 4:32 PM on May 31, 2004


mr_roboto: in any legal system (including the legal system outlined in the old testament) there are always two types of crimes. Some crimes are mala in se - "bad in and of themselves". This includes all "moral" crimes, such as murder. Other crimes are mala prohibita - "bad because they are prohibited". These crimes (like driving on the right side of the road, or not wearing clothing of mixed fabric) are not inherently moral issues, but they become moral issues because to violate them is to violate a duly constituted legal or political authority. My point is that the mala prohibita prohibitions contained in the old testament of the bible in no way invalidate the mala in se prohibitions. You can't use one to refute the other.

No, but you can use the mala prohibita to argue the moral irrelevance of an ancient legal system. In other words, if you are going to take the bible (or anything else) as the word of God, there is really no such thing as mala prohibita. Anything that God says is prohibited is, pretty much by definition, a moral issue, unless you're going to argue that God is not the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong. Therefore, people are just as bound to follow prohibitions against blended cloth (which, by the way, do have a very "moral" underpinning and were NOT intended to be mala prohibita) as they are to follow prohibitions against murder.

On the other hand, if you're going to argue that a text is a legal system, releasing later readers from the prohibita commandments, you can't use that text as proof of anythings "wrongness," since it's just a collection of laws that no longer apply. If you are arguing that something is mala in se, you are really appealling to some sort of universal moral code that you perceive to exist, rather than the text you are quoting, in wich case the text is pretty irrelevant.

Also, since the bible doesn't come with easy reference "no, I'm SERIOUS about this one" tags, it pretty much all comes down to either an all or nothing argument or to your personal interpretation of what, exactly, is mala in se, and what are things that don't apply to you. In other words, we're back to the text having precious little moral authority over people who aren't you.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 4:32 PM on May 31, 2004


And of those born who can't feel pain? Or since, we known at a certain point babies in the womb can feel pain, where do we draw the line?

Hows about somewhere between consciousness of pain and a couple of cells in a clump? Maybe we could argue about where the exact line should be drawn after we cure a couple of debilitating diseases with this research?

Also, the ability to suffer is not synonymous with, or even dependent on, the ability to feel physical pain.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 4:37 PM on May 31, 2004


Most pro-life folks consider consciousness the essentially human thing, and babies only start developing consciousness once they're on the outside - once there is incoming data to parse.

That's a very good point, mdn. However, not only do we not know what consciousness is or how to define it, but what little we do know tells us that most newborns aren't "conscious" for a good while after birth. Which is a big part of why people like Peter Singer believe that infanticide is moral.

In fact, one of my very good friends believes that killing children up until around their second birthday is morally acceptable; I find that view reprehensible, but I also find it hard to argue with. It may be a very controversial opinion, to say the least, but it has the virtue of being internally consistent.

Of course, the pro-life people are also internally consistent.

In other words, if you are going to take the bible (or anything else) as the word of God, there is really no such thing as mala prohibita. Anything that God says is prohibited is, pretty much by definition, a moral issue, unless you're going to argue that God is not the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong.

Littlemisscranky: My academic training and essentially pedantic nature compel me to dispute a few of your points, but I do agree with the main thrust of your argument.

Still, the section I've quoted isn't correct. The Old Testament never claims to lay out just universal moral principles; in fact, many of it's principles are directed specifically at the Hebrew people and at no one else. Nevertheless, when viewed in light of the New Testament one can extract the moral principles behind the specific rules.

Not everything in the Bible is viewed, even by the most fundamentalist Christian, as a universal moral commandment, because the Bible specifically says not to do that.

if you're going to argue that a text is a legal system, releasing later readers from the prohibita commandments, you can't use that text as proof of anythings "wrongness," since it's just a collection of laws that no longer apply.

Whether or not the laws are still "legally binding" is irrelevant. Existing laws are just the same, because where do you get the commandment that "I should obey the law"? From existing law? So you can't use law as "proof" of anything's "wrongness" at all. But the fact that you can't reason from "is" to "ought" doesn't destroy the normative value of law, except in the sense that nothing has normative value.

we're back to the text having precious little moral authority over people who aren't you.

Well, text has precious little moral authority over people who don't accept the moral authority of the text, at any rate, but that's a problem in any moral system, isn't it?

Still, like I said, I agree with your main point, which is that the Bible is irrelevant to people who don't believe in the divinity of the Bible.
posted by gd779 at 4:46 PM on May 31, 2004


gd779: Given that it is accepted that babies have memories from their time in the womb, I think that most people would say that consciousness starts prenatally.
posted by daveg at 4:57 PM on May 31, 2004


The Old Testament never claims to lay out just universal moral principles; in fact, many of it's principles are directed specifically at the Hebrew people and at no one else. Nevertheless, when viewed in light of the New Testament one can extract the moral principles behind the specific rules.

Lovely. Maybe you could tell me exactly which of those principals are only for the Hebrews and which are for public consumption -- I find it's often hard to tell. It seems that rules about homosexuality are fair game, but cotton/poly blends are back into God's good graces, as it were. Saying that you view it "in light of the New Testament" just muddles the authority problem further, since you are essentially appealing to yet another moral authority, more or less rendering the Old Testament irrelevant until it suits your purposes.

My main point is not really that the bible is irrelevant to people who don't believe in the divinity of the bible, although that's also true. My point is that, unless you are going to adhere to all 613 commandments in the books of Moses, plus various others from the rest of the Old Testament, plus all those in the New Testament (which are often just as arbitrary, such as prohibitions against braided hair), it comes down to a judgment call as to which of the commandments you think are valid.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 4:59 PM on May 31, 2004


As a pro-lifer, my viewpoint is that abortion at any stage is wrong because at the time the sperm and egg greet each other, the direct possibility of life is there given proper nourishment or care, which humans need even after their birth. I never even really thought about the soul theory before this thread.

Also, when comparing us to other animals, I find an interesting moral point with marsupials such as Kangaroos. The development of the fetus actually takes place outside of the mother's body in their "pouch" due to what my bio professor refers to "a rock and a hard place due to evolution," As their methods of birth are an evolutionary mix between amphibians with their eggs and mammals with our placentas.

My point is that, unless you are going to adhere to all 613 commandments in the books of Moses, plus various others from the rest of the Old Testament, plus all those in the New Testament (which are often just as arbitrary, such as prohibitions against braided hair), it comes down to a judgment call as to which of the commandments you think are valid.
As a Catholic, this has always been one of my biggest moral dilemmas with Christianity as a whole. I choose to overlook that in the grand scheme of things due a strong belief in God. However, when I ask fellow Christians, the standard response is Jesus was the New Covenant, hence the Old Covenant need not be abided by as strongly. Hell, Jesus even broke one of those 613 laws with "working" on the Sabbath. Then again, there's the whole "I came not to abolish the law" deal that says to me believers in God still should follow the Law. Then, you get to the non-Gospel part of the NT where Gentiles needn't follow all of the Jewish Laws. And I just don't know what to make of the whole mess so I try to follow His main message of Love.
posted by jmd82 at 5:11 PM on May 31, 2004


The existence of twilight does not render useless the distinction between night and day, littlemisscranky. Similarly, the fact that some commandments may be "judgement calls" does not mean that the all are.

But again, while I think that the distinction between mala prohibita commandments and mala in se commandments is easy to discern given the text of the New Testament,* a Protestant would tell you that the issue is ultimately between yourself and God, while a Catholic would tell you that the issue is resolved by the Church. Either way, your argument becomes irrelevant.

* I am not exactly a Christian, so take my views with a grain of salt, I suppose.

Given that it is accepted that babies have memories from their time in the womb, I think that most people would say that consciousness starts prenatally.

Good point. But what do you make of the fact that the memories don't stick around very long? And is consciousness just the ability to remember? Because my dog remembers me, and even knows what certain words mean. Is he conscious, in the same way that humans are conscious? Does he have "human" rights? Because killing a dog (or a cow, or a chicken) is not the same as killing a person. (But then again, Peter Singer would argue that it is).

Once you get past certain internally inconsistent viewpoints (like, "I believe abortion/stem cell research is morally wrong, but I don't believe it should be illegal"), then it's about moral choices. And moral choices, while very important, are not generally subject to rational or scientific proof.
posted by gd779 at 5:24 PM on May 31, 2004


gd779: Given that it is accepted that babies have memories from their time in the womb, I think that most people would say that consciousness starts prenatally.

it's not "accepted" that babies have memories. It's apparently shown in that study that babies feel a sense of familiarity to songs played while they were in the womb. That is not the same as consciousness. If we count instinctive familiarity as consciousness, then once again we have the entire animal kingdom in the same category. The fact that there are gradations is important. A sense of deja vu, familiarity, an instinctive reaction, are different from a continual awareness, which is on a different level from a reflective or linguistic consciousness...

Many animals we eat for dinner have a greater degree of consciousness than human fetuses, and women forced to bear children are bearing a much burden than people barred from eating meat, so it seems to me that only through an argument about potentiality, or one about human sacredness / soul, can you argue that abortion is wrong but eating meat is right.

In fact, one of my very good friends believes that killing children up until around their second birthday is morally acceptable; I find that view reprehensible, but I also find it hard to argue with. It may be a very controversial opinion, to say the least, but it has the virtue of being internally consistent.

I think he's a little mistaken about the activity of human babies in their first couple of years... but theoretically I'm not totally repulsed by this, at least in the first few months or so; it certainly seems more acceptable than killing older children, and not catastrophically different from killing animals as we routinely do. But the main thing against it is what possible use would it serve to make this legal? I cannot think of a single legitimate reason for killing a child; if the parents are certain they don't want it, I am sure it would be adopted. Unlike animal shelters, there are more people who want babies, the babies aren't out there reproducing themselves on the street, and the number of people who would sacrifice some of their own time to save a child is enormously larger than the same number who would alter things to save a dog. Which is as it should be. The point is, abortion is legal because pregnancy literally forces a woman to make various sacrifices for the child. Once the child is born, you can give it to someone else and not be burdened by it.
posted by mdn at 5:32 PM on May 31, 2004


So I'm not sure what you're trying to prove here, because unless you can actually come up with a compelling line to draw, then the fact that other lines have been drawn relating to other rights doesn't really help us.

Your unsupported assertion that "the lines between any such gradations will [...] be wholly arbitrary and uncompelling" is central to your argument. The fact that Roe v. Wade is among many American laws that draw compelling arbitrary lines refutes that assertion strongly.

the other lines don't involve fundamental human rights like "the sanctity of life". (No, the right to drink isn't a fundamental human right).

In America, the rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness are as fundamental as any. Clearly, it serves your purpose to make the right to life absolute; that doesn't make it so.

So if the majority of Americans feel that homosexuals should be [...] exterminated, then that would be a-okay because we can't import the religious concept of "sanctity of life"? [...] Okay, what if we amend the constitution first?

Is there some other process you'd prefer? How does what you're describing differ from theocracy? You say that all good people agree that life is sacred; and that if Americans voted to amend the Constitution to allow evil then they'd be bad people, and some authority higher than the American people should be empowered to step in.

But what authority is that?

What, exactly, is the difference between inalienable and sacred?

I'm pretty clear in the rest of that sentence what I mean: in practice, the rights described in the Declaration as "unalienable" are regularly circumscribed for one citizen to prevent an infringement of the rights of another.

Me: Kins[l]ey isn't suggesting that those people are fanatics; he's saying that only fanatics will refuse to recognize the implications once the errors in this reasoning are pointed out to them.

gd779: There are no errors in the reasoning I've outlined. (That I'm aware of, anyway).

And we have a winner!
posted by nicwolff at 5:37 PM on May 31, 2004


jmd82: Once you've had a chance to think, I would be interested to know what your take is on the life vs. Soul question. From a non-Christian perspective, I would have thought that it was quite important, but from what I can see, the Vatican takes the line that you (implicitly) state, which is that human life is sacrosanct, whether a soul is involved or not - although I'm not clear what a human life without a soul could possibly be for a Christian.

gd779: I was thinking of consciousness very much from the 'being conscious of' side of things rather than 'being conscious of self'. However, I would argue for the consciousness of animals on both counts (as a good Buddhist ;<)). There is a difference in the killing of an animal vs. a human, but I would regard it as a matter of degree rather than an absolute difference, e.g. killing a severely brain damaged human may be less morally repugnant than killing a testably intelligent ape.

mdn: Not sure how you define memory, but familiarity with past events sounds like it to me (the memory quote was mine, not gd779's)
posted by daveg at 5:37 PM on May 31, 2004


Unfortunately, gd779, the existence of such "judgment calls" erodes the authority of the text. Heck, it's even a judgment call to determine which commandments are judgment calls. Thus, any commandment is open to debate. You seem to be saying that some commandments are, ipso facto, morally authoritative, but you can't make any kind of objective distinction between those that are and those that aren't without relying on some universal morality that would make the text irrelevant or a second text with many of the same problems as the first.

You are arguing that the distinction is clear with the help of the New Testament; I would argue that 2000 years of doctrinal discord give the lie to that statement. You think that it's clear because an answer seems apparent given your moral sensibilities, but there is no clear difference between your mala prohibita and mala in se commandments other than your instinctive sense.

At any rate, my argument does not become irrelevant because I'm not arguing that people can't find any moral worth in the bible. The very fact that either a tete-a-tete with God or interpretation from a church is necessary for any commandment means that the bible cannot stand alone as the last word on anything.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 5:39 PM on May 31, 2004


(I would have loved to get into this, but I missed most of the fun, and someone has snuck in and replaced my brain with cheese while I was sleeping, so I'll just have to say 'interesting discussion, thanks' and sit the rest of it out, unless the coffee helps...)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:42 PM on May 31, 2004


Unfortunately, gd779, the existence of such "judgment calls" erodes the authority of the text.

No, it doesn't, because the authority of the Bible doesn't derive from whether or not it formulates clear moral rules. I can formulate clear moral rules for you, if you want, but even so I'm not sure that you would recognize my moral authority to tell you what to do.The moral authority of the Bible derives from whether or not it is the inspired Word of God; if it is, then it is authoritative for a Christian even when it is not clear. If it is not, then it is not morally authoritative for a Christian even where it is completely unambiguous. (Non-Christians may, of course, find whatever moral authority in the bible that they wish to find).

I think he's a little mistaken about the activity of human babies in their first couple of years... but theoretically I'm not totally repulsed by this... But the main thing against it is what possible use would it serve to make this legal? I cannot think of a single legitimate reason for killing a child; if the parents are certain they don't want it, I am sure it would be adopted.

Well, first of all my friend is a she, not a he, for whatever difference that makes. (I've never thought it should make a difference, but others disagree with me). Second, people like Peter Singer argue that infanticide is almost always moral, but especially in cases where a child is born mentally handicapped, or with some other defect which will, in Singer's view, make the child's life not worth living. So that's why adoption is not always an option.

nicwolff: did you see the second post I directed at you? Because it seems to answer most of the issues you raised.
posted by gd779 at 6:36 PM on May 31, 2004


If you mean this one, I saw it, and I quote from it as I point out its deficiencies above. Was there another?
posted by nicwolff at 7:01 PM on May 31, 2004


daveg (and feel free to e-mail if more questions):
Interesting view, though I think it is slightly erroneous. While the Church teaches that life is indeed sacrosanct, it is precisely the soul which makes us sacrosanct. If you want to get technical, the "real" Church teaching is that only humans have souls and thus no other animals will reside with us in Heaven. While I can't speak for all Christians, to a Catholic, the lack of a soul would take away our human nature.
Taken from Truth Tracts (a response to Chick Tracts:
"Which brings us to your question: Catholic teaching holds that the human soul is created directly by God and is not derived from DNA or from parents. This being so, cloning can have no effect on the dignity of a cloned person. Such a one would have an immortal soul and would be loved by God and a proper recipient of eternal life in Christ. Essentially, a clone is an artificially induced identical twin." (a href = "http://www.catholicexchange.com/css/answers.asp?quest=233">Direct link to q&a0

In direct response to you question, after some though, I think the child in the womb does indeed have a soul- that has no bearing on my pro-life stance. The reason I see a soul is due to the potentiality of life (of which I base most of my pro-life/stem-cell research beliefs on). Simply put, my view is both a fetus and a human need sustenance to live. Yes, a fetus cannot live outside a mother's body. However, I cannot live without food and there are people who cannot live without being attached to constant life support just as a fetus can not live outside of the mother's womb. The rest of us are as much in need of life-sustaining help as a fetus.

Lastly, for a quite thorough Evolution Of The Soul since the early Greeks Check this out (note: the link is from a Catholic POV).
posted by jmd82 at 8:10 PM on May 31, 2004


"You're not a human being until in you're in my phone book." --Bill Hicks
posted by Dark Messiah at 10:16 PM on May 31, 2004


my viewpoint is that abortion at any stage is wrong because at the time the sperm and egg greet each other, the direct possibility of life is there given proper nourishment or care

"Possibility" is what diminishes your argument. What you are really speaking of is not possibility, which always exists to some degree, but rather probability. The difference between the "possibility" of life resulting from the union of your hypothetical sperm-and-egg, post-coitus, and the possibility that existed at dinner during the couple's first date may be statistically significant, but it seems quite unreasonable to see it as morally significant.
posted by rushmc at 10:33 PM on May 31, 2004


Quin's wife here, coming out of lurking and jonesing for my own MeFi account....

gd779 . . . people like Peter Singer argue that infanticide is almost always moral,

gd779 . . . Peter Singer believe that infanticide is moral.

As an aside to this argument, Peter Singer does not argue that infanticide is almost always moral, but rather attempts to point out flaws in popular belief about why killing animals is morally acceptable, but the belief that killing infants with a similar or possibly lesser intellect is not.* Additionally, he advocates that infanticide in some cases is moral, which while not a popular belief is an interesting one. However, to say someone believes that in some cases something is acceptable does not equal always or almost always. By way of example, I may think its okay to kill another human being in some cases (self defense) but not all or almost all cases (he looked at me funny).

A minor point, but seeing the same bit of misinformation repeated twice is making me a tad bit twitchy, especially after reading the exaggerations and half truths (by both sides) exposed at factcheck.org



*I would argue that we have a biological investment in protecting our species and many of our morals are based on a desire to protect this biological investment, therefore killing animals and killing humans is morally different, but that's another argument for another time . . .
posted by quin at 11:05 PM on May 31, 2004



i just want to say how great it is that fundies are crippling science yet again for no good reason. The added bonus is that we're losing our edge in saving lives and generating revenue from regenerative therapies! Yay god! Rapture now please. k thanks.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 11:13 PM on May 31, 2004


You want there to be gradations of humanity in between those two points. But I argue that the lines between any such gradations will not only be wholly arbitrary and uncompelling, but they will also tend to delegitimize one of our primary values: the sanctity of life. And that's bad, because a dogmatic (read: irrational) belief in the sanctity of life is a big part of our liberal society. Societies which discard that absolute belief tend to become like Stalinist Russia ("you can't make an omelet...") or Hitler's Germany. And nobody wants to live in such a society.

Problem: The statement about life our liberal society has embraced has historically been something more like, "the lives that we happen to like or value at any given moment in time are sacred, while other lives are not". Our stated embrace of the sanctity of life has always been observed selectively, as it has suited our tastes and whims. We have a death penalty (one that applies in some states to minors and mentally retarded people), we drop cluster bombs and incendiary devices on civilians in other countries ("you can't make an omelette" indeed -- plenty of broken eggs in Iraq at the moment), we fund regimes in other countries that commit torture, murder and genocide, etc. So you needn't fear what will happen when we discard the notion that life is sacred -- we have no such notion to discard, if we're going to be honest here.

The moral authority of the Bible derives from whether or not it is the inspired Word of God; if it is, then it is authoritative for a Christian even when it is not clear.

Which would render it rather meaningless, don't you think? We have Christians who argue that the Bible demands the death penalty while other Christians use Biblical arguments to argue for its abolition. You might as well flip a coin. (Or more accurately, simply place the coin in your hand with the side that pleases you most facing up.)

P.S. LittleMissCranky: You rock.
posted by boredomjockey at 11:24 PM on May 31, 2004


As an aside to this argument, Peter Singer does not argue that infanticide is almost always moral, but rather attempts to point out flaws in popular belief about why killing animals is morally acceptable, but the belief that killing infants with a similar or possibly lesser intellect is not.

You're sort of right, I mixed up some verbiage in my head from Singer's book with verbiage another book I'm currently reading. But as I understand it, Singer's view is much closer to my previous statement than you seem to think. For example, I remember an article in the Times (here's an excerpt) where Singer is quotes as saying: "Simply killing an infant is never equivalent to killing a person... Very often, it is not wrong at all to kill a child once it has left the womb." So while it may not be "almost always" moral, in Singer's view, as I had claimed, it is "very often" moral and it is always more moral than murder.
posted by gd779 at 4:31 AM on June 1, 2004


...which seems rather reasonable, as eliminating potential is surely a lesser wrong than eliminating actuality.
posted by rushmc at 6:42 AM on June 1, 2004


All this mincing and dicing about the "morality" of stem cells is worthless in the long run. There is no doubt that stem cells will profoundly change medicine and our ability to treat disease. If we don't do it, China or another country will push the research forward and we will be looking at importing our medicines from abroad.

We are slowly but surely becoming an ideologically hidebound nation.
posted by rks404 at 9:23 AM on June 1, 2004


I'm gonna put this out, not having read too much of the thread.

By Utilitarianism/Situation Ethics (which I follow) it's possible to argue that killing a very mentally retarded person, let's say almost comatose, is as questionable or worse than, say, killing a dog. And I agree that, in terms of net destruction inflicted upon "intelligent" life it might be comparable.

There are two possible arguments - one is that inclusion should in moral principle know no bounds and include any living thing identifiably consisting of human components.

The other, the one that I follow, is that there is a theoretical point in permitting the killing of the mentally ill, but besides being so abhorrent to me and everyone else that it would be impossible to integrate it into a society, it's a "slippery slope" situation as well: if the laws implicitly allowed killing any adult human, over decades the standard could easily slip over the border to people who don't deserve such treatment (where is the border, after all?)

In the case of abortion, it's even more cut-and-dried for those who agree that an embryo isn't sophisticated enough to be classed among sentient humans. Granted that, there's two arguments left, the universal inclusion one and the slippery slope. The first one, well, I dunno - chose for yourself, but I think it's easy to draw lines on what's human other than DNA. As for the slippery slope, I'd draw a line, one not meant ever to be changed, at the end of the first trimester. Nothing changes at this point, but it's well before the line where most people would debate that there's a mind there - and arbitrary line, well behind the safe point.
posted by abcde at 10:22 AM on June 1, 2004


whatever... all this philisophical circle jerking is rediculous while there are people who can't walk and we shield a clump of cells.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 11:18 AM on June 1, 2004


Kill you mom, and her soul survives, goes to heaven, and gets to be with God. So who have you hurt?

More than one Christian sect and probably a few Eastern sects would say that the issue is the state of your soul / spiritual development when you die, with spiritual development being easier here in mortal life. Kill someone who's guilty of theft or adultery or something else before they've had a chance to repent and make it right, and you've stopped their development at a very poor place ("damned" would be one word). And even assuming no gross guilt, what other kinds of possible enlightenment/experience through living life have you robbed them of? Some religious viewpoints tend to multiply the regret you hear at funerals for those who died young that they never got to experience a first kiss / college/ marriage / their own children / the Grand Canyon / New York City.

Not to mention the grief that really does surround death here when you seperate someone from their loved ones in the most permanent way possible.

Death has a good deal of sting even for those who believe there's something beyond it.
posted by weston at 7:42 PM on June 1, 2004


jmd82:Kirk- Maybe I've been totally out of the loop and am oblivious to the world, but when you say farmers have been cloning for years, how so?

Lots of plants, like bananas and bamboo, are propagated by taking cuttings. The cuttings are then rooted and become seperate plants which are genetically identical (minus mutation) to the source plant. This has been going on for a thousand years at least.

FYI: Because commercial bananas are all sterile mutations it's possible that you may not be able to by banana's in a couple of decades. All the current stocks are being attacked by a fungal disease. And it may wipe them out. 400 tonnes of bananas were combed and produced just 15 seeds.
posted by Mitheral at 9:46 PM on June 3, 2004


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