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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.

Well, well, well. It looks like Dr. Frist is now supporting stem cell research. Interesting!

It's a ballsy move. Since he'll most likely be running in 2008, he's risking the alienation of himself from the Christian Right. Just to be safe, in the ever-political way, he said this:

"I am pro-life," Mr. Frist says in the speech, arguing that he can reconcile his support for the science with his own Christian faith. "I believe human life begins at conception."

But at the same time, he says, "I also believe that embryonic stem cell research should be encouraged and supported."

On the bright side, we're finally seeing this issue being discussed with less of an emphasis placed on political leaning and more on getting things done. Good luck Dr. Frist!

I hate statistics. I hated them in high school and I hate them now. Here's why:

  • 90% of Americans think their taxes are too high

  • 100% of my girlfriends have loved me.

  • 50% of the dogs in my house would bite you if you walked in.

  • 0% of the people in my row of townhouses like George Bush.

You can do anything with numbers that you want. Now, let's change some of these around a little bit to make them a little more "media friendly".

  • 90% of Americans demand lower taxes

  • A recent poll showed 100% of people loving Mike

  • From a sampling in Florida, 50% of all dogs will attack unprovoked.

  • Flash: Recent poll suggests Bush popularity at 0%!!!!!

One of our fundamental problems in this current age is that everyone knows everything and everyone thinks their voice reigns supreme. Just look at all our blogs. No one cares what I had for dinner last night or that I do or don't support abortion. You, as a reader, are reading for one of three reasons:

  • Will I end up reading about YOUR inane life now that you've sat through reading about mine? I really want people to care about what I care about.

  • By reading what I'm writing, you're validating your own worldwide input. Leave a comment on the message board? Don't mind if I do.

  • You are in the know. It's true; there are a handful of blogs where people smarter than us write about things we don't know or challenge us to think. The problem is that everyone considers their blog to be in this category when the worldwide total is probably a two-digit number.

Back to the point, unless we're in a position to act what good is to know the statistics of anything? Because it might force us to act? Ok. But who do we trust? Who is answering these polls? People with land line phones (not me, nor anyone else I know), online polls (that screams integrity), door to door (the only person I know that would be home during the day around me is the upper-class coke dealer that lives across the street and I have a sneaking hunch that he and I would not vote the same way). Of course we're going to say our taxes are too high because we have no concept how to spend trillions of dollars. Just because we're ignorant to things as a mob of citizens doesn't make it okay for us make decisions.

In case you've been living in a bubble, you are now aware that Lance Armstrong won his 7th straight Tour De France. I bring him up only because his relationship with America is indicitive of us as a people. Sure, we buy the little yellow bands for a buck and they're supposed to remind us to live life to the fullest just like our hero, Lance. In reality, he'd probably say this to the average band-wearer: "Hey, get off your butt and do something. Thanks for that dollar though."

If you're going to act on something, be the cyclist. Don't be the bracelet-wearer.

A recent poll showed 80% of Americans hate my guts (yet my popularity is soaring in the Philippines).

Read this yesterday on Daily Kos.

It may or may not come as a surprise to you that a recent Gallup poll showed that 60% of adults in American think that embryonic stem cell research is "morally acceptable"; 53% think that there should be less government restrictions on stem cell research. a Harris poll also showed that a majority of Americans support embryonic stem cell research. Both polls include Republicans.

The next question: So, what about Senator Bill Frist?

For the answer, read the entire post. Titled "The Senate stem cell bill vote must happen this month," it highlights StemPac's efforts to flood the Senate with emails, plus it has lots of pertinent links on the stem cell saga.

As reported in the Salt Lake Tribune, Stem Cells "save lives". It says so. Right in tht title. So you know it must be true.

I know this has come in older entries but I still think we're supposed to die. Don't get me wrong, I'd like to keep my beautiful self going for the next 500 years but that's not going to happen. What kills me in this article is this line:

President Bush opposes the bill because, he says, it is wrong to destroy life to save life. That argument carries some weight, because it is true that embryos are killed when, a few days after fertilization, the stem cells in them are removed.

You're saying that's not very funny but if you keep reading there's no major "but" to combat that line. Ah, it's the same narcissists that want to live forever that want to read their precious thoughts in the op-ed column of a major newspaper.


If you like this cartoon, check out Daryl Cagle's Pro Cartoonists Index, where you can sign up for a daily cartoon newsletter.

Science Daily reports that the stem cell bill is stalled in the Senate. No surprise there. We knew that was going to happen when Dr. Leon Kass, the chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, proposed four new alternatives for getting embryonic stem cells. Taking Kass to task for fogging the debate, Paul Berg, George Q. Daley and Lawrence S.B. Goldstein published a rebuttal to Kass's Washington Post op-ed. And so it goes on, and on and on. Rep. Michael Castle, R-Delaware, who sponsored the House version of the bill, says, "It is death by 1,000 cuts."

When you think of the type of person who offers unity and other galvanizing subjects you can't help but think of Howard Dean. His sincere attitude and compassion towards others makes him the ideal figure-head for any political agenda. Oh wait, I was thinking of Ronald Reagan.

Let's hit a couple key points from Dean's ideas to help the DNC reel in Pro-Lifers:

"I think we need to talk about this issue differently,'' Dean said. "The Republicans have painted us as a pro-abortion party. I don't know anybody in America who is pro-abortion."

You ARE Pro-Abortion! The reason you have been painted as a pro-abortion party is, well uh, you ARE a pro-abortion party. You can label it as womens' rights but if you want to continue to allow abortions, that makes you pro-abortion. Sorry.

"I think that we must be absolutely firm in being the party of individual freedom and personal freedom, which means that in the end the government doesn't get to decide, we do."

You ARE the government! Well, at least you'd like to be. Great way to lasso in those fence sitters, Deanie-Boy. Vote whatever way your heart tells you but we're not stupid. You're not one of us; you ARE government.

"...we believe a woman has a right to make up their own mind and they believe [House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay should make it up and Rick Santorum should make it up for them."

If you really feel this way, why can't my girlfriend have an abortion the day before she's due? Isn't it her decision? Oh I see, you want limits but different limits than they do. You hypocrite.

"We do have to have a big tent. I do think we need to welcome pro-life Democrats into this party."

I think you need to do something. I think Democrats have felt more like non-Republicans for a really long time. I think you need to set finite distinctions that lay out explicitly what you support and don't rather than being the Catch-All party. But what I do know.

I don't know how I missed this great article by William Saletan in May 25th's issue of "Slate." Make sure you follow the article to the second page where you'll find a neat two-column table showing Bush statements against stem-cell research opposite Bush statements for the death penalty. Be warned. You could encounter hypocrisy overload. Here's a sample:

"The President is committed to medical research that does not violate the dignity of human life or exploit one human life for the benefit of another."


"I happen to believe that the death penalty, when properly applied, saves lives of others. And so I'm comfortable with my beliefs that there's no contradiction between the two."

For a look at both sides of the stem cell debate, check out Religious . This link takes you right to their page of ethical concerns, where they are careful to address each side's position. Also quoted on the site:

If there is to be any hope of resolving these issues, we must debate when human personhood begins. If we can reach a near consensus on this, then abortion, in-vitro fertilization, stem cell research and other debates will neatly resolve themselves. Comment letter to the "Jewish World Review"

...debate when human personhood begins. That's exactly what we want to do right here -- engage in a civil discourse with persons of varying opinions on this volatile topic. We too believe that "a near consensus" will resolve many divisive moral issues. With that in mind, we always welcome your comments.

Check out this article by Senator Dianne Feinstein in the San Jose Mercury News. An excerpt:

The Senate stands ready to pass the same legislation [as the House] by a large majority and send it to the president.
However, barriers to passage remain. Opponents of this legislation are trying to muddy the waters with alternatives and amendments designed to prevent embryonic stem-cell research from going forward. And President Bush has threatened to veto this legislation.

...So I'm calling on all Americans to create a drumbeat of support for embryonic stem-cell research. Call your senators. Write the president. Tell him the time has come for the federal government to equip our researchers with the tools they need to find cures.

"How smart does a chimp have to be before killing him constitutes murder?" -Carl Sagan (1934-)

Good question, my friend. The News Gods smiled on me today and provided an article just screaming for a comment. The scientists admit they don't even know what really separates humans from our closest relatives, morally speaking, or how to measure any cognitive changes they might induce in an ape, monkey or other non-human primate. Whoa! So let's say you smear your stem cells on the chimp's brain. A couple years later it starts to speak Tagalog (insert language here). It falls in love and has a concept of itself. Well now what? Usually we save our discussions for what is alive/dead but here it comes in another form--what is a human? As I said in a previous post, we (as a society) can't be trusted. Here we go tampering with nature again. I guess my real question is this: What will happen first, the mass production of hybrid cars or the mass production of hybrid "people"?

Wednesday's issue of Slate has an interesting article by William Saletan, author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War. Titled "You're Having My Baby -- The forced marriage of stem-cell opponents, " the piece offers a clever take on Tuesday's Senate testimony on alternate sources for embryonic stem cells. Worth a look.

Brain pills?

Boy, it would be great for me to be able to pop a pill to stop smoking and learn to speak Mandarin. I mean, why on Earth would I want to actually study quantam physics when I could dissolve a cherry-tasting lozenge and then build a particle accelerator in my backyard. Damn, we are a lazy society. What ever happened to work ethic? There is no way I want to live in a world where anyone can learn anything in seconds. A little knowledge is dangerous. A LOT of knowledge is...well, lot-a-dangerous. Imagine knowing how to build a bomb. Imagine your disgruntled little neighbor-boy (yes, the one burning ants right now) suddenly with the knowledge to dismantle your engine. Or to torment your beloved dog in ways you can't even fathom.

Dear the World,

Be responsible. Be ethical. Stop looking for superficial ways to improve your life and look for change within.

The World

If you've ever had the misfortune of living alone as an adult you've probably discovered that you talk to yourself. Throw a pet in and suddenly you're having full out conversations. While that didn't exactly happen this morning I did manage a good, "My God, Chompy. Look at this article."

Both sides of this quarrel have something vital to defend, for not only themselves but all of us. No decent society can afford to be callous to human suffering or indifferent to the need to seek cures. No decent society can afford to treat human life, at whatever stage of development, as a mere natural resource to be mined for the benefit of others.

I know, this is the part where liberals get all pissed off but just a wait a second. This article is FOR Stem Cell research. This might be a good time to give a liberal a hug. Do it. Kass goes on:

Neither side is going to go away, nor should it. Farsighted people can see that this is but the first of a long series of similarly contested bioethical issues. Yet it would be a pity if our only options were either a political victory for one side that would seriously alienate the losers, or a continuing political stalemate.

He's right you know. The article goes into detail about self-renewing cells which can "be obtainable from already dead (not just unwanted or doomed but actually dead) embryos". Well, as long as you're not killing off our maybe-babies then we're happy. Get harvesting!

This site has also successfully undergone a whole new look.

Ellen Goodman' s July 8 column in The Seattle Times takes a gloomy look at Roe v. Wade's future after Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is replaced. Calling O'Connor the "Justice of the Peace" and "Mother O'Connor," Goodman credits O'Connor with balancing Roe v. Wade by upholding it while, at the same time, allowing states to regulate abortion as long as they didn't put an "undue burden" on the right to choose. Goodman also points out how O'Connor's views reflected those of the "unmuddled middle," that majority of Americans who clearly want abortion to remain legal but restricted.

We have a long process of confirmation hearings facing us, after the President makes his appointment. Or should that be appointments? We all know that Rehnquist is expected to retire soon, giving Bush his dream assignment of recreating the court in his own image. (Of all the nightmares in all the world, why'd he have to slither into mine?)

Even if Bush is successful in stacking the court, will they dare issue such a controversial ruling, knowing that they're going against majority public opinion? Will they dare risk returning this country to a dangerous maze of back alleys and illegal procedures? Will they really want to make criminals of women who just don't want to be forced to have a baby?

My pessimistic side wants to say, "Well, of course they will." Bush will make sure that anyone he appoints is a card-carrying member in his "culture of life."

I do, however, hold onto a thin thread of optimism. An optimism which fervently hopes that NARAL Pro-Choice America's "culture of responsibility and freedom" will prevail, and women's right to choose won't be stolen by a bunch of misguided jurists. When considering whether the state has a right to deny abortions, those jurists would do well to remember O'Connor's answer to the question cited by Ellen Goodman: What if, in the future, we had a serious overpopulation problem? Does the state have a right to require abortions?

They're everywhere. The Washington Post, Slate, Chicago Tribune, Parade Magazine, even Doonesbury (July 10th). Stem cells are in the news and it looks like they will continue to be, at least until Congress decides whether or not to loosen the president's restrictions on federally funded stem-cell research.

Now, a new development might prolong that process. Two new promising techniques for collecting stem cells have entered the debate, and advocates for stem-cell research are concerned that these unproven methods might provide enough distraction to defeat Senate passage of the original bill.

According to the Washington Post (see above link), in one method, a single cell is removed from a days-old embryo created for fertility purposes and coaxed to become a self-replicating colony of stem cells, leaving the remainder of the embryo to develop normally. Then there's a different approach , ...altered nuclear transfer, or ANT. It involves the creation of an embryo -- or ...something akin to an embryo -- that lacks a gene necessary for the development of a placenta. Because a placenta is required for an embryo to implant in a woman's womb, the altered embryo would be genetically incapable of becoming a fetus or a baby.

That's all well and good, but every single day that goes by while we argue the pros and cons of this vital research, thousands (millions?) of Americans continue to suffer from debilitating diseases and conditions that could be helped or even cured by stem-cell research. It's unconscionable that some people still place higher priority on a microscopic cluster of undifferentiated cells (those that haven't changed to a particular cell type) over living, breathing human beings. Like one article I read recently points out, the embryos from which stem cells are obtained are smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.

I'm sorry to those of you who consider that microscopic dot a human being, but my sympathies lie with those already suffering with Parkinson's, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, cancer, brain damage, and a host of other painful and/or terminal conditions. Just when did the pro-life movement become the pro-pre-life movement?

Apparently I'm not alone. According to Parade Magazines recent poll (see above link), when asked whether they favor or oppose medical research using embryonic stem cells without any explanatory information, 58% of Americans said they “strongly favor” or “somewhat favor” stem cell research. 29% said they “strongly oppose” or “somewhat oppose” it, and 13% did not express an opinion.

Do you trust me? I'm serious. If you were out of town and I was in your house how worried would you be? You don't know me at all. Sure, my masterful writing, impeccable grammar and flawless spelling might ease your mind a little bit but still. I sure as heck wouldn't trust you. Not to say you're a bad person but I don't know you.

Let's face it, we're a pretty irresponsible herd of animals. Just for kicks, let's ignore some of the smaller subjects...human rights, the environment, animal cruelty, you get the idea. Let's focus on our greed. When people get giddy about stem cell research, they fail to mention the capitalist society we live in. They smugly reveal their toothy smiles when it comes to sacrificing maybe-babies to cure Parkinson's Disease or growing new limbs for those lacking them. Great. But man, wouldn't it be great to use stem cells to grow new hair for my balding head? Or bigger muscles on my already-ripped arms? Say, I don't really care for this big ol' southern European nose I've got. Howabout I just cut it off and then harvest some new cells to smear down to grow something a little more...I don't know, Dutchy-cute? If you don't think there are private companies simply salivating at the thought of the profits you might be interested in some swampland? mudpit? hornet infested? beautiful lakefront property behind my house.

What? I can magically lose excess weight while growing larger genitals all with a little gene therapy? Sign me up!

Ok, this might be an exaggeration but you get the idea. Sure, SCR might be more socially acceptable when the patient was disfigured in a fire and not Pamela Anderson (Lee?). As a race, while we have exhibited an enormous amount of compassion, love and respect. We have also established ourselves as pretty darn selfish.

And you're saying: But private research is already allowed--if the private sector was going to do it, they would have done it by now. Wrong! The public sector will simply facilitate the private sector's advances in the future. Surely there will be at least a handful of geneticists and researchers who will be pulled from projects for "the public" good and will haul their formidable knowledge with them. Six and seven figure salaries will do that. I just don't understand how we, as a society, can be for something so controversial that can be so easily manipulated.

We spend a lot of time discussing what might be and what might not be in this blog. We give ammo to each other on a daily basis and take our fair share of shots at the opposing side. This entry will discuss fact and fact alone. And not the disputable-type-fact that drips off the screen in every other comment and entry.

Fact: Within the month my uncle will be dead. I say this not to evoke pity or sympathy--only as a fact. He has inoperable brain cancer. It came out of nowhere and he went from a productive 60 year old computer engineer to a shell of a man incapable of basic functions; he no longer understands how to put his pants on.

Fact: Stem Cell Research will do nothing. Like many people facing death at this point in our technological evolution, there is nothing that modern science can do except make his last days peaceful. The people that work at Hospice are amazing. Rather than desperately trying to find radical cures they address the reality of things: that a loved one will die and that you better, by God, make however long the last days are good. Real good.

Fact: There is nothing wrong with dying. Just as lightining strikes turn a forest into hills of ash, as another sect of living organisms we too must perish to make room for new life. For those fortunate enough to be alive now, it is our duty to live life and not merely go through the motions of it. There is no reason to fear something that you have 0% control over. You can only control what you can control.

Fact: There is only now. Go hug your kids. Pet your dog and tell her she's a good dog. Although a slow, debilitating death is horrific you can still (in some cases) say good-bye. Death will come so rather than fighting it, let go of all the crap that drowns you on a daily basis. Be proud that when your time comes, you have lived a good life and not desperate for a second chance to repent your former ways.

Keep an open mind. You never know when it will be you.

Sunday's Washington Post's article, "Frist Again at the Center of Stem Cell Fight," details U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's about-face on stem-cell research:

On July 18, 2001, Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) stood on the Senate floor urging his colleagues to buck conservative orthodoxy and support federally funded research on embryonic stem cells. As the Senate's only physician, Frist made headlines -- and gave momentum to the controversial science -- with his endorsement.

The following month, however, President Bush announced a policy that was far more restrictive, limiting federal research to already existing embryonic stem cells, and Frist acquiesced.

A few weeks after Bush announced his policy, Frist said the differences between the two were minor because scientists at the National Institutes of Health had "informed the president that more than 60 cell lines exist and that this number is sufficient to provide ample opportunity to research the potential of embryonic stem cells."

That Frist, himself a medical researcher and transplant surgeon, should change his mind based on informtion from Bush is ludicrous, especially when we look back just a few years:

Frist's 10-point stem cell proposal in the summer of 2001 was the result of extensive research, soul-searching and "20 years in the field of medicine and in science," he said. Describing himself as the "Senate's only physician and only medical researcher," he said he knew the promise and pitfalls of cutting-edge science. His 11-page speech on the "promising and important line of inquiry" addressed in detail a host of scientific and ethical questions, displaying an impressive command of the complex science and a doctor's ease with life-and-death issues.

This is a man who had extensively researched the topic and addressed to his own satisfaction the ethical issues involved. What happened?

I thought he was for stem cell research, but ever since Bush got involved, [Frist has] gone all wishy-washy," said Shockley, a volunteer for the Tennessee Parkinson's Action Network. "It makes no sense. He's a physician; he knows what stem cell research can be. It seems to me it's become a political football, and it's frustrating.

Frustating? Yes. Surprising? No.

Frist isn't the first to "change his mind" during this administration's reign of terror. From both houses of Congress to White House staff, there have been numerous instances of flip-flopping, particularly after visits with the president. Whether Frist's about-face was due to presidential intimidation or political ambition, it's still a real blow for those who counted on him to champion the cause of this important research. And the fact that he currently won't even address the issue makes his bail-out even more disillusioning.

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

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