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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.

Recently I've been reading the writings of the Stem Cell Extremist, a frequent double-publisher both on a personal blog and Pro-Life Blogs. He (I think he?) left a very nice reply to the comment on I left here.

It's interesting the comment comes at this time with Toni in the midst of writing about embryonic anomalies. The reply was much more articulate than the usual railings I get and considerably less offensive so that's a good start. Too bad it's it's the same dismissive content that comes in.

Once the sperm and egg are fused the process (to a certain point) is the same whether you're an ant, a while or human. The mitosis starts immediately and the DNA is in place. Once it starts it will continue on the all-sexual-path it will not divert into a human-only path until a little bit later. Our mouths form first where an ant's anus forms first. The argument against DNA being the only defining characteristic should only be acceptable upon our DNA's exclusive production path. Once we're on that path though to end a life would be, without a doubt, ending a human life. And ending human life is bad--so at least we agree on that. Contrary to popular believe we are firmly against the abortion of human beings or the harvesting of human beings for research.

My girlfriend was watching a show on Ferral Children this evening. While I did not see the whole show I did catch enough to know that some of these poor children did not exhibit any signs that were exclusively human. Was the DNA human? Sure. *Could* they have had humanistic characteristics if given enough time? Absolutely. But they don't. And oh boy, do I know the can of worms can be opened from this topic but I think it's worth discussing.

In reply to the excluding of members--why not? Because there are no two embroys that develop the same way in the same amount of time? Ok, that's true and a very valid point. I have to contend against that there may not be a specific time but there is a specific feature. We could debate all year on what that feature is but to say it's not there denies the science that the good Lord has given to us.

If God didn't want us to figure things out, s/he certainly could have designed a human body that we couldn't unravel or a brain too small to understand it.

Finally, I think The Extremist gives us a very strong example of how Pro-Lifers feel in a way we've done a pretty mediocre job of capturing. A permanent link to his site has been added to our sidebar so go give him a good read--it's totally worth it.


Thanks for the kind words and the link. I may call myself "The Extremist" but I really think I'm quite reasonable.I appreciate the fact that you are not stereotyping me as a foaming-at-the-mouth religous fanatic. I think we (pro-lifers) have some very valid points to make and should be fairly represnted in the public debate...and I love to debate, so by all means let's keep the dialogue moving!

You raise some interesting points and some that I believe are just not quite valid.

Process does not equal form. Think about an auto assembly. All cars and trucks are put together the same way, but the materials used to make a Hummer differ from those used to build a Mini-Cooper and you know from the beginning which one you will be putting together.

All vertebrates grow through similar embryonic stages but the material used (DNA) determines what the form of the animal is and that is determined from the start. Just because they appear similar at certain phases of growth doesn't make them the same.

If that were the case, then embryos should be interchangeable and they should be able to be altered into different species. We know that that is scientifically impossible (at this point anyway...who knows maybe they will figure out how to do an organism- wide DNA transplant at some point).

You seem to be saying that it isn't human until it looks human. And yet you contradict that line of reasoning by suggesting that so-called "feral" children may not be human -- even though they retain humanistic characteristics...

I think you are still trying to use "human" when you really mean "personhood". Although I think the concept of personhood is ultimately meaningless because it is not based on a correct anthropology of man, nonetheless, in any discussion it is always better to start with a clear definition of terms.

And of course God gave us brains to figure things rational beings we rock! But if God didn't want our bodies to count for something as well, He wouldn't have descended and taken on one in the Incarnation.

Without a doubt the reason I've been reading (and will continue) reading your posts is because you aren't a foaming-at-the-mouth religious fanatic. Although without a doubt we will have to agree to disagree on some issues I have the utmost respect for the fact your posts can't be watered down to "God said so" and "that's why they call it faith". We all really appreciate the fact you can speak your mind without totally alienating "the other side"--something we're trying very hard to do as well.

You make some really strong points against my genetic path argument but I have to take issue with a couple smaller ones:

I'm not saying things appear similar , I'm saying they are identical in every way until a divergent path is taken. To use your car example, all four tires, the radio knob and an ignition switch are all on the intial docket for construction. But once that big chasis comes up you're definitly building a Hummer.

You really spanked me with the Feral Child argument--I was over-ambitious to use my new-found knowledge and what should have been a clearer point was left a little garbled. Obviously, Feral Human Children are in fact Human--the point I was trying to make was that depending on what finite qualities you take to define "human" it's easy to grab a second set which excludes the initial set completely.

In short, though, that's what we're trying to do--find a point where we may accomplish two goals while keeping everyone happy: reduce the amount of human lives being destroyed (via abortion, stem cell harvesting, etc) and promote stem cell research and development by providing an ethically and morally sound way for them to get the lines that they need.
I don't think I would go so far as to say "identical". Identical would imply "the same" in every aspect. Yet it takes a mouse 19 days from fertilization to birth. A dog takes 50-70. A human takes about 240. Obviously what is developing at different rates cannot be identical. Similar maybe but does that really matter?

Being human is genetically determined by the fact that it was a human sperm and human egg that joined together. A new human organism was at that point conceived or brought into existence.

promote stem cell research and development by providing an ethically and morally sound way for them to get the lines that they need.

Of course we can agree on that. Dediffereniation and transdiffereniation are two options that seem to be the most promising both scientifically and morally. ANT/OAR still has some problems with it (morally and scientifically). So, yes, I'm certainly not anti-cure...I just don't want to cure one set of people at the expense of another set of people.
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