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Jack Sisson's Life Ethics Blog

We must find new ways through many ethical issues, especially regarding bioethics, medical ethics, and criminal justice. Jack Sisson's 'Life Ethics' blog focuses on numerous areas of concern, including the philosophical and ethical dilemmas surrounding stem-cell research, abortion, medical research, and health care.

 
"USA Today" reports that Senators Arlen Specter of Philadelphia and Rick Santorum of Pittsburgh, both Republicans, have taken leading rolls on opposite sides of the stem-cell debate.

Santorum believes such research entails destroying human life. Specter says the stem cells used would come from embryos that would otherwise be discarded.
That's it in a nutshell. One side believes it's destroying human life, the other recognizes that "the stem cells used would come from embryos that would otherwise be discarded." What is so difficult to understand about that?

In clinics and labs across the United States, almost 9,000 frozen embryos wait to be discarded. That's not counting the roughly 160,000 that will not survive the thawing process when their turns arrive for implantation. Again I ask, as I have before, where is the outrage over this?

The only embroyos sought by researchers are the ones that will be discarded anyway. How can I state this more clearly? Is it more moral to throw embryos away than to use them for research that might save the lives of 128 million living Americans now suffering from diseases targeted by that research? Sheesh.

I quoted from this article, a May 27th post titled hypocrisy of the far right, before. And I'm going to again because the author, who has a 6-year-old son adopted an embryo, makes so much sense:

Secondly, these frozen embryos are so incredibly valuable to the administration that they cannot be used for embryonic stem cell research… because they need to be… THROWN OUT! What they fail to understand is that the disposition of these embryos, like banked chord blood or donated blood or tissue donation, lies with the donor. When you participate in an IVF cycle you sing a form that determines what happens to any leftover fertilized eggs. The choices are cryogenic preservation for: adoption, stem cell research, later transfer to the originating parent, medical research or destruction. DeLay, Bush and his cohorts are saving nothing. It's not as though these embryos in cryogenic willed for research are know suddenly going to be adopted or implanted. They won't—our 'culture of life' perversely demands that they be thrown into the garbage—that's how precious they are, and that's how much we value them. We must destroy life, according to the administration, to AVOID preserving life! Go back and re-read that sentence.

I love my son, profoundly, deeply, more than I ever though possible, but my son became my son when he grew in that womb and survived the transfer. There were four embryos transferred that day—and nobody mourned those other three that simply flowed out naturally, no more my son than the other hoped for pregnancies that were unsuccessful as we hoped each month and waited and prayed that this month the test would be positive.


If people would only listen, rather than continue to say over and over again: "I don't believe in stem-cell research; human life begins at conception; stem-cell research kills babies; it's taking the life of human beings, etc., etc. My point is maybe it is taking very early human life, and maybe it isn't. But that "life" is going to be destroyed anyway. That "life" is going to be destroyed anyway. That "life" is going to be destroyed anyway. Are you listening?

Until opponents to stem-cell research move beyond their hypocrisy and address the total picture -- IVF is destroying more embryos than stem-cell research -- their opposition rings hollow, at least to my ears. If they won't act to outlaw IVF, how in the world can they continue to oppose using IVF's discards for life-saving research? I cannot find any sense of "morality" in that position.

 
After I read this article I was reminded of a joke my priest told me when I was growing up. It went something like this:

A scientist goes up to God and says, "Hey God, listen. We don't need you any more. We can create life from nothing, bring the dead back to life and do anything you can do. "Oh really?" says God. "Yes sir" replies the scientist as he furthers his argument, "and while I don't mean to sound arrogant our technology has progressed far enough we can most likely make a human being from nothing faster than you." God shrugs and says, "Ok. Let's a have a human making contest...GO!". God turns as the scientist scoops a bunch of dirt into a tray and says, "Hey wait a minute--get your own dirt."

What I still am failing to understand from the liberals is this: you want to end the lives of maybe-babies to save yourselves. That hardly seems fair. Are we as a society so infatuated with ourselves that we overlook that we too have to die? That future generations will surpass us in every way? How much more arrogant can we be? No one wants to die. Of course not. We have our friends...our families...our dogs...our beloved baseball teams. But that's the problem with living--eventually you have to stop doing it. I'm not saying it's fair but we're in a progression here and collectively we are infinitely small in the whole scheme of things. That's why we have babies in the first place--to pass "ourselves" along; not literally to live forever.

 
You liberals never give up do you? I've been tasked to write about Live 8 (Live8) since it's the hot new thing. Be sure to note how elegantly I am able to weave the Beginning of Life discussion into this.

Let me first say that as someone who hated the band Oasis from Day 1, I was utterly shocked to find myself agreeing with faux-rocking guitarist Noel Gallagher when he said:

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but are they hoping that one of these guys from the G8 is on a quick 15 minute break at Gleneagles (in Scotland) and sees ANNIE LENNOX singing SWEET DREAMS and thinks, 'F**k me, she might have a point there, you know?'

"KEANE doing SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW and some Japanese businessman going, 'Aw, look at him... we should really f**king drop that debt, you know.'

"It's not going to happen, is it?"


He's right you know. Is such a big event causing pens to be put to paper all over the world--sure. It's a great publicity stunt and I'm sure Bono is just tickled pink to be all over the press again. Oh, you liberals are so excited; you can barely contain yourselves. Blogs from all over are churning out how great this is and how people are going to see concerts they would go to see anyway.

My advice to all of you is: shut up. Talk is cheap. Awareness is fine but you, little emo kids/adults sitting around in your dingy one-room apartments thinking you personally are changing the world by "publishing" online need to just shut up and act. Donate money. Donate food. Go over there and help them. This concert is just another excuse for rich Westerners to feel good about themselves. It's a heck of a lot easier to complain about the problems (see 99% of all blogs) than to shut up and fix them. How sad is it that we even need to organize a concert to bring awareness to this? It's because people just talk and don't act. Stop thinking, "If only I can bring awareness to Subject X then others will act" and starting thinking "If only I can act on Subject X then it will inspire others to act".

Here goes my smooth transition. Help save the lives that are on this planet. Do we need to protect our maybe-babies? Sure. But we need to start saving the no-doubt-about-it-human-beings too. That means you. And me. Skip one meal at Chick-Fil-A and send it to relief efforts. Don't smoke one day. Don't buy the newest tighty-tight shirt at Express and buy some clothes at K-Mart to send. Stop talking and do something. Human lives are valuable and just because we do not see the daily misery of the lives on the other side of planet does not mean they do not exist nor deserve a life worth living.

To quote Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

 
From the National Right to Life site
Today’s News & Views June 23, 2005

Brownback (R-Ks.), whose speech to the NRLC national convention last week was frequently interrupted by applause, is convening the Senate Judiciary Committee's Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights subcommittee to examine the consequences of the 1970s-era Supreme Court decisions that unleashed abortion on demand. "A number of legal scholars both from the left and the right believe that Roe v. Wade is badly decided law, so we're going to start going at the core issue of Roe and this decision," Brownback told CitizenLink. "I believe you'll see Roe v. Wade overturned."

This is a bad omen. Overturning Roe v. Wade should not be an option. However, I do believe we can and should revisit our abortion laws from time to time. As civilized people, we need to ensure that, while those laws still protect women's right to choose, they also consider new medical and scientific discoveries about fetal pain and stages of development. For two differing opinions on fetal pain, read this article on the American Pain Society's Web site. AbortionFacts.com has more from the other side. I will revisit this topic soon.

 
Man, did I take a beating here.

Had the post been about someone other than me, I would most likely be cheering it. It's well-written and it's very refreshing to hear someone with faith address issues with responses other than "because God/Bible/Jesus said so." However, since it's about me, I feel obligated to clear up a few points.

All these "I was raised catholic lines..." give me hives. What's up with that? Does any one go around saying "I was raised Italian"

These are two different things. I was baptized Catholic by my two immigrant parents. I was an usher and altar boy as a child and was a Eucharistic Minister and very happy to be doing all those things; very close to the priest. My senior year of high school a had a friend commit suicide and another announce he was gay. Naturally, I went to the priest and he informed me both their souls would wind up in hell. After a couple days of contemplation I decided while I would continue my worship of God I could not stay in a religious community where their interpretation of God's love would be contigent upon whom you love. Of course, this is a separate issue altogether. My point is, I am not a member of the Catholic church any more. You can't say you were raised Italian because you were born Italain. You were not born Catholic.

Working backwards from the post:
I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard my friends say "I think faith is a personal thing. I don't believe we should force our beliefs on others...Personal things are not private; personal things are common." -Mark Shea

I wish I had a nickel for every time someone tried to pawn their faith on me. Admittedly, I do not get this frequently from Catholics (outside my immediate family anyway). It is this arrogance of the same people that attribute things to "God's mysterious ways" and "they know God wants me saved". God wants you be a virtuous person. He doesn't want you to talk at people about Him. He wants you to act.


Let's put aside the Fullness of Truth for the moment. Let's just talk about the truth. Shall we? Good. Let's begin with a simple proposition, then. Human beings are special. They are so special that they enjoy a special dignity just for being around. They're lots of reasons for this. Still, who wouldn't argue that this is a self-evident truth? Thomas Jefferson didn't. Neither did many Enlightenment era philosophers. It's kind of hard to argue about the importance of human rights without acknowledging the inherent dignity of the human being.


Well, you're right. And not only are you right, you've said it better than I could. We absolutely must acknowledge the inherent dignity of the human being. I admit in my last post I got caught up in other things but you're dead on. We are not treating these mini-lives with the respect that they require. And with The Holy Fool as my witness, I reaffirm my position on defending the human being.

The cornerstone of any reasoned thought is the law of non-contradiction. This means that something is this or that, or on some continuam in between. Something is not two divergent things at the same time. For example, women are not "sort-of" pregnant. They either are, or are not.

Again, point well-taken. There is no question that at the moment of conception that life begins. The point made by others is: is that life, at that point, a human life? As I've said before, it's got a pretty likelyhood. It certainly isn't going to come out a horse. If it's not some form of human what is it?

Oh, and as for his whole religion-is-personal myopia...

Trying to gain perspective from other points of view is not myopic. I have a hard time believing Hinduism is a sin. That's why I was a bad Catholic.

 
It is my unfortunate lot in , to reside in the only state in the union currently ruled by a member of the Bush royal family. Yes, I live in Florida, normally a very pleasant place if you don't mind hot as hell summers and big as a boxcar roaches, euphemistically called palmetto bugs. (I don't mind the former, but I'm sent into screaming fits by the latter.) Still, we have beaches, palm trees, orange groves, Jimmy Buffett, the Everglades, a state capitol that looks like a giant phallus, and air conditioning. Like I said, a pretty nice place.

Unfortunately, we also have Prince Jeb. You remember him. He's the one who, aided and abetted by that Countess of Cosmetics, Katherine Harris, helped crown brother George "King of Whatever I Want" in 2000.

After helping extend the king's reign for another four years, the prince (apparently having looked at the state capitol one too many times) suffered a bout of testosterone overload and ordered law enforcement officers to:
  1. kidnap poor Terri Schiavo and
  2. whisk her off to a meaningful life of contemplative vegetation.

It's not hard to imagine that, much to his chagrin, Jeb's failed plan would have provoked ribbing from his older brother:

Here I, like, totally lied to the American people and convinced Congress to invade another country with fabricated reasons, killed thousands, tortured hundreds more, and you can't even manage to kidnap one comatose woman!

Still, the brotherly bond is strong, so it was unsurprising when Jeb parroted George in opposing human embryonic research.

I think taking of human life to create life is a huge contradiction morally.

Oh. Okay. We're going to talk about morals.

Well, let's play a little numbers , shall we? Since Jeb's been Prince of Florida, how many human lives has he terminated by actively supporting their execution? Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock. Ah, let's see what we have here. Yes, Ms. Informed Citizen, seventeen is correct. Congratulations! Your prize is a front row seat to the next live performance of "Kill the Sucker, it's the Moral Thing to Do."

Of course the Prince is a lightweight compared to the King. During George's six-year reign in Texas, 150 men and two women were executed, a record unmatched by any other governor in modern American history. That George always was a competitor. Maybe that's why his Texas also ranked second highest among states in the percentage of people — especially children — who went hungry. The state ranked third in the percentage of malnourished residents.

So forgive me if I don't get misty-eyed when the Royal family pulls out all its moral stops. I've read between the lines, and believe me, it's scary in there.

Now, when I start feeling sorry for myself for living in Florida during these times, I need only think of those poor Texans who helped propel W to his kingdom. I may have to live with the prince, but I had nothing to do with the king's coronation.


 
Before my official "morning routine" each day I spend about 45 minutes reading things online. Before this blog's inception it was mostly about my beloved Chicago Cubs or the blogs of friends or the NYT online. Now though, I back-read the articles that brought people here and put the elbows of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood on hold until my lunch break.

I never understood why people are required to follow politics and religion wholesale. I have never voted a straight-ticket in my life and I don't think I ever will; I've voted for "the best person" when given the opportunity to do so. I feel no joy whatsoever in having Republican control of everything even if the majority of my votes in the last election went to their party. I think religion is a deeply personal thing and the take-it-or-leave-it attitude by some organizations is ridiculous.

This blog was started to find a middle ground where people could come together and discuss what human life is, when it starts, how do we protect it, what differentiates life from human life, etc. We realized the extremists on both sides weren't going to budge. It's the rest of the people we're trying to get talking. Here are some examples:

William Bloomfield's Thoughts From the Right: When does life begin? Taken from his comment section, you can see someone who is willing to "stick to their guns" while wanting to keep an open dialogue.

Your willingness to address the question of when life begins is a credit to you. Most on the left are so wedded to legalized abortion that they refuse to address this question. The same is true with embryonic stem cell research advocates. They do not address the issue of when life begins, but instead focus on the purported benefits of embryonic stem cell research and insult those who believe life begins at conception as being irrational religious fundamentalists.

The Holy Fool's thinking qualifies him as a "non-budger".

From what I've gathered, embryologists have reached consensus on when human life begins: approximately at the time of conception. If these scientists can be so wise, how much more does God understand? Through the Holy Spirit and the Tradition handed on to us From Christ through the Apostles and the Church, we today have access to his understanding. The magisterium secures the deposit of Faith that is the source of this understanding. Thus far, in light of the scientific knowledge known to us and the error-free interpretation of revelation, the Magisterium has confirmed that life begins at conception. Thus, Pope Benedict XVI exorts us to respect life, not because embryos might be life, but because they are.

It scares me that people (from either side) "know". No one knows. For the betterment of us all, pick and choose what you believe. There is nothing morally reprehensible about having qualities from different political parties. Just because you are not religious does not mean that you cannot be a good person. Go out and be compassionate towards others. Do what you can to better the lives of your fellow man. Determine for YOURSELF what you believe and simply encourage others to think.

The world desperately needs some open minds.

 
Jonah Goldberg's column in today's National Review Online is everything Mario Cuomo's New York Times piece wasn't -- everything bad, that is. Goldberg's mishmash of poorly developed arguments and snide comments didn't ruin a beautiful morning on my back porch, but it sure made me want to spit my coffee across the table.

He begins by taking the Right's nausea-inducing moral high ground:
Those who make utilitarian arguments for euthanasia, , or for that matter, genocide can be perfectly "rational" in the sense that they can employ logic with the best of them. They simply start from different moral assumptions...Nazis and communists killed millions and they could be very logical in their justifications -- but logical in that whole evil genius sense.

Wow. He not only pairs abortion and genocide in the same sentence, but also manages to toss in Nazis, communists and "evil genius." The only explanation I can offer for continuing to read this doo-doo is that I'm obviously cursed with morbid curiosity.

Poor Ron Reagan, Jr. When Goldberg described him as a very liberal former dog show announcer and ballet dancer, I couldn't decide which was intended to be the most denigrating. Then, when recounting Reagan’s speech at the Democratic Convention, he accused Reagan of “exploiting his father’s memory” and “pandering to the false hopes of desperate families.” Hmmm. Is it just me, or do you too get the feeling that these two aren’t best buds?

As it turned out, the entire column was just a wordy preface to its last three sentences. After praising federalism as the best way to deal with stem cell research, Goldberg concludes:
Sure, more federal funding might advance the science a bit faster. But the current system has one great advantage. It doesn’t force people who think human life is precious to pay for its destruction.

After blithely blowing off the millions of people who might benefit from stem cell research (who cares if the cures come “a bit faster” or not?), he also blows off everyone who doesn’t agree with him by inferring that we don’t “think human life is precious.” Well, here’s a news flash for your column, Jonah. Many of us who support stem cell research also value human life.

In fact, we value it so much that we resent like hell having to pay for a war that’s already killed over 1,700 Americans and more than 22,000 Iraqi civilians. We value it so highly that we object to our taxes paying for executions when we, unlike those flocking to our President’s “culture of life,” strongly object to the death penalty.

A lot of us who think human life is precious are already being forced to pay for its destruction. And I'm getting really tired of self-righteous, self-proclaimed pundits who continue to ignore that.

 
Well, we all knew it was just a matter of time before "God's Rottweiler" commented on our When Human Life Begins debate. Although I am tasked to enforcing the Conservative position, I have avoided direct God-talk until now. Raised in a very strict Catholic household, I was brought up to believe that the Pope's word was to be taken as the literal word of God and to be obeyed accordingly. In his first publication since his election (via the Washington Post article: Church can never accept abortion - Pope's book the Pope says, "There is no such thing as 'small murders'. Respect for every single life is an essential condition for anything worthy of being called social life." Taking the word "murder" literally, you can certainly make 95% of a case against both abortion and stem cell research. My personal understanding of the word is "the killing of a human being by a human being". Of course, that 5% remainder is the reason for this blog.

I am not saying a single egg is a human life nor is a single sperm. Or millions of each. What I'm saying is that (as far as I know) there is ONE way to create a human life: a human sperm and a human egg intersecting. Do I or the Pope or Toni or you know if this intersection makes a human life? Nope. Neither do the most devout evangelical or the most adamant atheist. For argument's sake, let's say human life doesn't start at conception. Doesn't that cheapen our existance; make it more pedestrian? That rather than being "a human" from the start we're just some random cells? We don't turn into pandas. We don't turn into acacia trees. We grow into people.

While I am no longer quite so big on the Pope, I think one of the points he's making is this: play it safe. In X years, if and when science can prove "human life" can start on the Nth day then harvest away. But until that point and you know FOR SURE that we're not prematurely ending the lives of thousands (millions?) then wouldn't you rather play it safe? Sometimes it feels good to be able to sleep at night.

 
Mario Cuomo's Op Ed piece in today's New York Times offers some compelling arguments for stem cell research.

No doubt the president's belief that human life begins with fertilization is shared by millions of Americans, including many Christians and evangelists. But it remains a minority view and one that the president applies inconsistently. Although Mr. Bush believes that destroying an embryo is murder, he refuses to demand legislation to stop commercial interests that are busily destroying embryos in order to obtain . If their conduct amounts to murder as the president contends, it is hardly satisfactory for him to say he will do nothing to stop the evil act other than to refuse to pay for it.

Well said, but Cuomo doesn't go quite far enough. Bush's hypocrisy lies not only in his refusal to stop commercial interests that are busily destroying embryos in order to obtain stem cells, but also in his refusal to address the number of frozen embryos lost through the thawing process, as well as the excess embryos created by IVF that are designated for destruction.

Cuomo later says:

The best way to test that proposition would be to employ a panel of respected scientists, humanists and religious leaders to consider testimony from bioscience experts describing when consciousness first appears, when viability outside the womb usually occurs, and how other religions treat the subject. They would then provide their conclusions to lawmakers.

Good idea, but does he have any idea how many different criteria scientists, philosophers and ethicists have already proposed for the definitive moment when human life appears? In the beginning of this blog, we used Hans Martin Sass as an example of a scientific argument for brain life. However, in addition to Sass's thesis, there are numerous other arguments for using brain life as the beginning of human life that range from approximately 20 days to 4 months and more. Even when using only this one criterion for establishing human life, there is little if no consensus.

I do not believe consensus is impossible, or I wouldn't waste my time writing these blog entries. I just don't believe it's imminent.

 
COME ON!!! First, I'd like to thank my undergraduate alma mater, The University of Wisconsin, for providing the lines.

The Article of Discussion: Human Embryonic Stem Cells Have the Potential to Develop into Eggs and Sperm in the Laboratory

Now, let's get down to business. First off, it's private dollars so I can't really criticize too much since it's not my tax dollars "at work". However, since the interest made by my tuition almost a decade ago is undoubtedly paying for at least a syringe, I feel I'm well in the clear to rant. Stem cell research is here to stay and while I will strictly defend the conservative position, I can at least live in the real world. Rather than using the time and money to cure illnesses and create genetic therapies, let's...oh, I don't know, use it for assisting with reproduction. Hello?! You're going to rip through thousands of "maybe-babies" in the process of developing these stem cell lines to aid with the creation of thousands of "maybe-babies" for infertile couples? Is it just me, or is there something seriously amiss here? Are people really that starved for a child that a) they can't use other means b) can't adopt c) get over it if a) and b) aren't going to happen?

From Toni's (6/12) Saving Lives vs. Saving Human Lives post via fljerseyboy:

I seem to recall that the birth rate in the US has actually crossed the line: married couples on average are having fewer than two children. Which yields (or will yield) a negative population growth.

Now seems an appropriate time to address this: Earth is not running out of people. We do not need to make more right now. Oh yes, that quote--with the influx of immigrants every year, that should keep our numbers at least even here in the states. Coming from an immigrant family, I'm all for letting them in. (I'm a bad Conservative, I know.) The point is that there are already too many people on the Earth and we're better off taking care of the ones that are already here than worrying about adding more.

I guess you could make a point that is very pro-stem cell research too from that last comment. And that's ok; like I said, we all know Stem Cell Research is here to stay. I'd just rather see it used to cure my uncle's brain cancer than making the day of some wannabe parent. I guess I'm selfish like that.

 
With welcome breaths of fresh reason, civility and moderation, John C. Danforth challenges the Christian Right's claim to ownership of Christian politics. He thoughtfully wrests that ownership from the Right and establishes a claim for Moderate Christians everywhere in a NY Times column I wish I'd written myself.

Here's the opening paragraph:

IT would be an oversimplification to say that America's culture wars are now between people of faith and nonbelievers. People of faith are not of one mind, whether on specific issues like stem cell research and government intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, or the more general issue of how religion relates to politics. In recent years, conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics. With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions.

John C. Danforth is an Episcopal minister and former Republican senator from Missouri.

   
Jeb Bush, our ever vigilant governor, has found a "new" crime with which to concern himself. After Terri Schiavo's autopsy results were released with no proof that her 1990 collapse was caused by an eating disorder, our caped crusader announced he wants to investigate Michael Schiavo. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Jeb plans to ask prosecutors to investigate whether her husband took too long to call for help on the night she collapsed in 1990.

Well, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that an investigator has now agreed to look into the matter. Of his request for the probe, Governor I-don't-have-anything-better-to-do had this to say, his request for the probe was not meant to suggest wrongdoing by Michael Schiavo. Hmmm. If you believe that, there's still a lot of Everglades swampland for sale.

Everyone already knows where Bush's sentiments lie. From an article on CNN's site, All innocent human life is precious and government has a duty to protect the weak, disabled and vulnerable," he wrote. "Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Schindler family during this most difficult time." (Guess Michael Schiavo doesn't deserve any "thoughts and prayers.")

Those are the Schindlers who, according to that same article, alleged to Florida's Department of Family and Children Services that Michael Schiavo tried to starve [Terri], beat her, inappropriately medicated her and wanted her dead to gain financially.

Can they drag Michael Schiavo's name through the mud any more than they already have? All together now: yes they can! And this time the Governor of Florida is driving the wagon doing the dragging.

 
Found a treasure trove of commentary about stem cells, embryos and IVF. It's from a site called The Evangelical Outpost, so forewarned.

 
Yesterday's USA Today story about a husband's efforts to keep his brain-dead wife alive long enough to deliver their baby is heartbreaking. It contains enough emotional drama to make the strongest among us weep. Jason Torres and his wife, Susan, are both just 26 years old, with a 2-year-old child now staying with grandparents while Jason maintains a hospital vigil with his unconscious wife. The young husband wrestled with his decision when the doctors offered to disconnect his wife's life-support machines.

"I hate seeing her on those darned machines,” Torres says, “and I hate using her as a husk, a carrying case, because she herself is worth so much more. But Susan really wanted this baby. And she's a very — how should I put this? — a willful lady. That's probably why she's made it this far.”

Jason also realized his decision to try to help the baby reach 30 weeks would be expensive. Hospital costs are rising at an estimated $7500 a day. If you want to help with those expenses, go here.


Predictably, the Right has co-opted this story and turned it into an advertisement for Pro-Life. See here also.

 
Since regular postings began in the beginning of June, we've had 200 hits. This pleases us greatly since the ultimate goal of this blog is not only to bring reasonable and honest agreement between the two sides but to encourage people to think and discuss related issues regardless of their political affilation.




Sassblog around the net:

(6/15): Toni's posts received a very positive response at "Where Left is Right".

Now, I have no idea who these people are -- what their credentials are to be diving into such an explosive subject. Maybe they're "Focus on the Family" types in disguise, trying to lure the unsuspecting into their fold, where they can be beaten into concurrence. They may be doctors or other professionals. They may be nobody in particular, just citizens who want something to happen.

To answer that question briefly: Just citizens who want something to happen. Mostly liberal with lots of useless graduate degrees in non-lucrative fields between our modest ranks. Ages 25-78.




(6/16): Mike's post on Terri Schiavo made Technorati's Breaking News page as a reponse to the Washington Post article.

 
Well, you were right. Terri Schiavo's brain was nothing more than a puddle of rice pudding and as it turned out there was no harm in letting her rest in peace. Before I go further, let me just say I hope to whatever diety is puppeteering this crazy world that I would have wanted the plug pulled--my family and friends know this. Oh, and it's written down too just in case my loved ones are as susceptible to media spotlights as I suspect.

Since the focus here is to debate when human life starts we might as well discuss when human life ends. I know--it ends when you die. But when are you really dead? Until very recently in the course of human existance there lots of things that would ensure you were dead-dead but now you can live through having nail guns go off into your brain...your internal organs wearing out...smallpox...you see where I'm going. My point is that before the ink dries on your hand-lettered "We Rule. You Suck." signs consider this: What part of the human being has to be lacking (or deficient) for it not to be a human life? In the article mentioned above, the autopsy revealed Terri was blind. I know someone out there is saying, "See, we told you she couldn't see the parents waving at her and those responses were coincidental". To you I say, "you're right". She couldn't and it was coincidental. But since when does being blind make you not a living human being? I don't think Stevie Wonder would be too happy upon hearing this news. What about other senses? My boss has anosmia (fortunate on the days I don't shower) but I can assure you that he'd be pretty upset to hear he wasn't a human life.

I still haven't answered my own question regarding what parts are necessary for a human being to be alive. We need two things (and the latter you can make a case against if you really want to): a soul and some sort of soul-storage system (like a body). Let's say we have this living human being out on a table. Being the sadists we are, we lop off all the apendages. Still a human? You betcha--with modern science this person could probably even live a respectable life. Now, we take away all six senses. Still a human being? I would have to assume so since people have a tendency to overcome adversity. So now we essentially are left with a head and torso with very limited communication skills. Just in case anything is left, this human being is now in the late stages of MS and voluntary muscle control is gone. This person now is incapable of any sort of communication. Do we let him/her/it die now? Assuming "normal" vital signs, h/h/i is very much alive and for all we know in a very peaceful place. When do WE decide that WE know when enough is enough? We are certainly an arrogant beast.

So liberals, enjoy your victory while we lick our wounds. We'll be back.

 
Ellen Goodman's column, "Accountability for Embryos," raises many of the same questions we've been asking here. In fact they're the same questions all thinking people should be asking:

Why are the people who believe embryos are children not upset by so much loss of life during the IVF process?

Why are they not upset about the freezing of so many embryos, especially considering that only half will survive the thawing process?

Where is their concern over the intentional destruction of embryos not designated for implantation, adoption or research?

How can they say adoption is the answer when a large majority of couples who visit fertility clinics do not opt for that alternative?

And finally, what are the responsibilities of the couples who create the frozen embryos and the clinics that store them?

 
By this point I think most everyone, interested in the subject of the beginnings of human life or not, has read this horrible story. A 17 year old girl wanted to get rid of her baby mid-term and when jogging and "hitting herself" didn't induce a miscarriage she enlisted the aid of her boyfriend who "stepped on her stomach several times". Regardless of your political affiliation this is horrible.


Why wasn't the 19 year old boyfriend jailed for statuatory rape? 17 and 19 year olds are, for the most part, not capable of making good decisions. That's why laws such as statuatory rape are in place. If it's true that the brain isn't developed until age 25 then we as a society need to take greater steps to do SOMETHING when this happens that the result is not assault-by-request. Whether the answer is abortion or counseling...whatever, I'm sure this case is not an isolated incident and that's scary. I'll save this for another post but at some point we need to be responsible for our actions and finding out your 16/17 year old daughter is having a baby means you (Dad and/or Mom) were not doing your job.


 
When we are healthy we have ten thousand wishes and desires, but when we are sick we only have one single wish.


That was taken from Toni's post (June 7th), taken from Omar's post on the inevitability of stem cell research. It's true--it is inevitable. How much more selfish can we as a race get? I'll mind my p's and q's in my wording as best I can on this but aren't we trading a life for a life...or lots of lives for lots of lives? Let's face it, humankind is not going to go extinct anytime soon. There are plenty of us plodding along to Starbucks and picking up kids from daycare--so many people not all of them are being fed and cared for appropriately. Yet, we're preparing to embark on this mission that's just going to extend the lives of those nature is already doing its best to remove. I'm certainly not suggesting we want people to be dying. Believe me, within the past six months four members of my immediately family have been essentially given death sentences within the next year. Could stem cell research save them? You bet.

How many possible-lives will it take to make a cure for Brain Cancer--something that at this moment is killing two people in my family? Lots. No one knows how many exactly but it's more than a handful of freezer-ridden specks. I don't see how a case can be made for millions (billions? trillions?) of potential-lives (that could grow up to be little Beethovens?) being traded to save those that (either through self-choice or nature) are being weeded out. I don't mean to sound heartless but no one has ever made it off this Earth alive. We all die. If it wasn't for death, there wouldn't be room for new life. That's how it goes.

I know the arguments will go something like this:
1) You're saving REAL people with stem cell research. You're throwing away the research parts anyway, so why not use them? Just like in baseball, you trade one major leaguer for 20 prospects/draft picks.
2) They might not grow up to be Beethovens. The could grow up to be Hitlers. Then what?
3) What about those with diseases that never really got a chance to live? Is that fair to them?

To answer those: I can't. They're valid points and like I said in the beginning, this research is inevitable. And when I'm on my deathbed getting new cells pumped into me I'll probably be as happy as can be. But that's also because I'm selfish and love me the most.

 
Don't know how I missed it when it first made the rounds, but this is an excellent post (article?) on embryos, the beginning of human life, and the hypocrisy of the Bush administration. I urge everyone to read it. Here's an excerpt:

Secondly, these frozen embryos are so incredibly valuable to the administration that they cannot be used for embryonic stem cell research… because they need to be… THROWN OUT! What they fail to understand is that the disposition of these embryos, like banked chord blood or donated blood or tissue donation, lies with the donor. When you participate in an IVF cycle you sing a form that determines what happens to any leftover fertilized eggs. The choices are cryogenic preservation for: adoption, stem cell research, later transfer to the originating parent, medical research or destruction. DeLay, Bush and his cohorts are saving nothing. It's not as though these embryos in cryogenic willed for research are know suddenly going to be adopted or implanted. They won't—our 'culture of life' perversely demands that they be thrown into the garbage—that's how precious they are, and that's how much we value them. We must destroy life, according to the administration, to AVOID preserving life! Go back and re-read that sentence.

I'll admit that perhaps I'm impressed with this post because I agree with the author. But as the father of a six-month-old son adopted as an embryo, he's earned some credibility in my book. He at least has first-hand knowledge of the process.

 
The more opinions I read about stem cell research and the beginning of human life, the more confused I am about the "moral" concerns of those opposed. Almost everyone knows by now that there are approximately 400,000 frozen embryos in the United States. Of these, at least 9,000 will probably be (or already are) marked for disposal. Someone will throw them away. But many of those morally righteous people who helped create the surplus of embryos in the first place, those who wanted children so badly they had them created in a Petri dish, are adamantly opposed to allowing the unwanted (surplus) embryos to be used for life-saving research.

Help me out here. It is better to destroy these extra embryos than use them for research that might create major breakthroughs in a number of terminal diseases and disabling conditions? Conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, cancer, HIV/Aids, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, autism, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis? 128 million Americans suffer from diseases or injuries that could be treated or cured with stem cell therapies. Almost half of all American families have a member suffering from one of these distressing conditions.

The opposition uses terms like murder and dismemberment when discussing stem cell research, but appears to ignore what happens to the left-overs, the embryos no one seems to want. And what about the living, breathing children who would benefit from such research? Have these people actually looked at some of their pictures? Have they compared them to the cluster of cells they're fighting so righteously to save? To save for what? To be kept frozen for eternity? To be tossed out like stale bread?

Where oh where has common sense gone? I personally find it offensive that infertile couples selfishly create so many extra embryos. I find it horrifying that we have hundreds of thousands of embryos lying around frozen in labs all over the country. But what I find most horrifying of all is prioritizing those small groups of cells over saving living, breathing, "look at us, we're here now!" human beings.

One of the big arguments is that all human beings are equal, and opponents to stem cell research honestly believe that early-stage embryos are human beings. Here's a question for them: if a lab was on fire and your children, let's say ages 3, 7 and 12 were inside, which would you try to save first -- your three "aware" children, or the frozen cells you've always called a child?

Morality is never black and white, although there are those who live their lives trying to prove it is. Shades of gray have a tendency to creep in at inopportune moments, forcing us to question long-held beliefs, to wonder if we were right or wrong all along. I wonder how many parents would no longer oppose stem cell research if their beloved child suddenly suffered a spinal cord injury. It’s easy to take the moral high road when you, yourself, have nothing to lose. It’s harder to stay there once the sky turns gray.

 
Came across this at The Speculist. The writer makes an interesting case for a moral consensus for stem cell research, one that could be palatable for less extreme abortion opponents.

Those who have argued that life begins at conception often point to the fact that conception is the first appearance of the DNA blueprint that will be used to make an individual human. In fact conception does produce DNA that is distinct from the parents, but it is not necessarily the DNA that will go on to make an individual human.

The key battleground is where society says that human life begins.

Clearly, both the sperm and egg are [living human cells] and they have the potential of being part of a new human, but few would offer legal protection to gametes. The crude and hilarious "
Every Sperm is Sacred" song is effective satire because almost nobody would adopt that thinking...

Before differentiation a fertilized egg might fail to develop (as occurs when the fertilized egg is unsuccessful in attaching to the uterine wall - this happens about half of the time). Or the fertilized egg might become a single human. It could become two humans in the case of identical twins (natural clones). A fertilized egg might even become part of a human in the rare case of a chimera – where two fertilized eggs develop together into a single embryo.

If a fertilized egg has the potential in nature of being no human, part of a human, one human, or two humans, the destiny of a fertilized egg is objectively undetermined – much like the undetermined nature of the gametes that formed it.

After differentiation, an embryo has crossed an objective medical threshold. The individual that the embryo will develop into is now determined. The same thing cannot be said of the moment of conception.

Differentiation occurs very early in a pregnancy - at about
ten days. This is a much more conservative definition of the beginning of human life than abortion-rights advocates would be willing to accept.

A person who accepts differentiation as the beginning of human life can be pro-life (anti-abortion) without the practical inconsistency of being against the research that could save countless other lives. This is not mere situational ethics. This is the sort of critical reexamination of ethics that new technology forces upon us. It should be of no consequence that Kass and company are unhappy with the arrival of this technology. The technology is here and we are going to have to deal with it.

 
At the risk of coming across as existantial, can you prove I exist? Conversely, can I prove you exist? At the heart of the beginning of life issue exists a single fundamental question: What is real? Are we capable of defining what a soul is and when the human body begins to posses it?

Soul: (the immaterial part of a person; the actuating cause of an individual life)
via: Princeton

It seems to me the same people that want the government keeping their hands out of the private individual's personal lives are the same people that are adamant about having the government protect their right to kill a living being. These same people do not take into consideration that they do not know when human life begins. Scientific studies have speculated an exact date but can you really say that at 13:42:05 on the Nth day that you now have a human life? Puberty doesn't start at midnight when you turn 13. (Believe me--I was 5'3" until I was 17). As a country, we deem you to be an adult when you turn 18. You can vote...smoke...legally get it on with significant other but are you an adult? Think back to your 18th birthday. Sure, some of your friends were adults--you might have been too. But we all developed differently and we were all at different points--mentally, physically and emotionally. Why is it that when we're only an inch long and backstroking in the womb we all are identical in every way? More importantly, who are we to be deciding this. Until we can quantify what a soul is and when it appears/develops, we have no business deciding what is a human life and what is not.


 
Came across this and thought it puts another spin on the stem-cell debate.

When we are healthy we have ten thousand wishes and desires, but when we are sick we only have one single wish... think about that. Nothing is going to stop stem-cell research, not the politicians, and not the religious leaders... because when people suffer and there is a potential cure it is impossible to stop the wheel from turning. When the first news arrives of being able to cure one of the diseases everyone fears, there will be a stampede towards Seoul. posted by Ottmar

It's kind of like the gray areas of abortion -- it's easy not to believe in it until you need one.

 
Miscarriages are pregnancy losses before twenty weeks. The numbers vary on just how many miscarriages occur. The March of Dimes says "about 15 percent of recognized pregnancies end this way." (Emphasis added.) The UK's Net Doctor estimates that one in eight pregnancies ends in miscarriage, but The Miscarriage Association, also in the UK, puts that number at "more than one in five."

Why are we talking about miscarriages? Moreover, why worry about the numbers? Well, if it's true that "women lose 10% - 15% of all pregnancies during the embryonic stage, that's a significant loss of "human life" if one subscribes to the position advocated by President Bush and the Pope. The March of Dimes has even estimated that "as many as 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, because many losses occur before a woman realizes she is pregnant." (Emphasis added.) If that 50% figure is anywhere near accurate, we're talking about an epidemic loss of human life, a loss of unparalleled proportions.

Where's the Church's concern over this? Those numbers represent an awful lot of unbaptized babies. Or could the fact that many of the "babies" in question are so microscopic that women do not know they are carrying them -- do not even notice when they lose them -- mitigate that concern?

Apparently so, unless someone raises the issues of choice and stem cell research. Then those microscopic collections of cells suddenly become more important than the women who carry them. The status accorded them borders on reverential, and research with the potential to save millions of real human lives borders on sin.

Note: I in no way want to minimize the very real pain and loss of miscarriage. This post concerns miscarriages of early-stage embryos, those losses not even the woman is aware of. Embryos used for stem cell research are fertilized in vitro, not in the woman's body. They are "typically four or five days old... a hollow microscopic ball of cells called the blastocyst." I refer only to that level of embryonic development.

 
Came across this article yesterday at BaltimoreSun.com. It reveals some of the moral dilemmas facing couples opting for IVF, and continues to expose the ethical inconsistencies of IVF supporters who oppose stem-cell research.

For a list of links to sites dealing with stem-cell ethics, visit the The National Institutes of Health Stem Cell Information site which has a page on Research Ethics and Stem Cells.

One of those links, the
International Society for Stem Cell Research, links to the National Bioethics Advisory Commission's June 2000 published report on "Ethical Issues in Human Stem Cell Research. " Volume 3 Religious Perspectives contains the written testimony of several religious leaders and/or theologians. Of particular interest are the opposing Catholic views presented by Edmund D. Pellegrino, M.D., of Georgetown University and Margaret Farley, Ph.D., of Yale University.

 
According to an excellent article over at the PBS site, “…embryonic stem cell research is controversial because harvesting the cells destroys an embryo that could have grown into a baby if implanted in a woman's uterus.”

Well, a sperm could grow into a baby if it fertilizes an egg and if that fertilized egg becomes a “viable” embryo and so on. Sperm and ova have the potential to become human beings -- both before and after they unite. But potential is not reality.

“An embryo is a person,” says House Majority LeaderTom DeLay, who calls stem-cell research “the dismemberment of living, distinct human beings.” President Bush now refers to embryos as “real human lives.”

If I truly believed that embryos were “real human lives,” I’d be mighty uncomfortable knowing that, in the U.S. alone, we have about 400,000 little “babies” lying around frozen solid. I’d be even more uncomfortable knowing that several thousand of them will be intentionally discarded or destroyed.

That’s not to mention the inadvertent casualties. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, “some loss of embryos is inherent in the actual freeze-thaw process.” And the longer they’re frozen? They “conservatively estimate that about 65% of these embryos will survive the freeze-thaw process….”

Fertility clinics typically create extra embryos to ensure successful implantations. Where’s the moral outrage over the creation of these disposable “human lives?” The hypocrisy is mind-boggling:

  • It’s perfectly okay for laboratories to create excess “human lives.”
  • It’s also okay for these extras to be destroyed.
  • But it’s a sin to use them for research that could possibly save countless numbers of indisputably “real human lives?”

Read Michelle Cottle's June 2nd article in "The New Republic" for a more in-depth analysis.


 
Daniel Radosh, himself “the father of two much-adored test tubers,” had a good post about the recent hype on embryo adoption vs stem-cell research on May 27th, an update on May 31st, and another one on June 2nd. Thoughtful, informed commentary.

 
In 1986, my boss, Jack Sisson, published an article in the "National Catholic Reporter" in which he argued that human life does not begin in utero until the onset of higher brain function. At the time, he was a pro-life Catholic layman who recognized that a significant number of Catholics had divergent opinions on abortion.

Then, in 1989, Dr. Hans-Martin Sass of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University published a paper titled "Brain Life and Brain Death: A Proposal for a Normative Agreement." Sass first looked at established definitions of brain death, and reasoned that society could reach a consensus for protecting embryonic life by applying similar criteria for brain life.

Sass identified two levels of brain development. Cortical Brain Life I occurs with post-mitotic stationary neurons forming the early cortical plate -- 54 days after conception. Cortical Brain Life II recognizes the beginning of cortical neuro-neuronal synapes -- 70 days after conception. Sass hoped for a moral consensus by recognizing Brain Life II (the 70th day) as the point after which embryonic research would be unacceptable. Before that time, research, and presumably abortions, would be acceptable.

Many other philosophers, scientists and bioethicists have considered brain development in determining when to designate life in the womb as "human." As early as 1985, J.M. Goldenring presented an argument similar to Sass's -- that human life begins with the onset of brain life at eight weeks gestation.

Today, we can pronounce a person clinically dead if there is a complete and irreversible cessation of brain activity, or brain death. Jack's question: if we can accept brain death as the end of human life, why can't we similarly accept brain life as the beginning of human life?

Brain Pills
Roe v. Wade
Stem Cells
Stem Cell Fight!
Bearing Right
Moral Monkey?
Op-ed
Dave's site
Stem Stall
Screamers
Bush the hypocrite

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