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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.

 
It appears embryonic stem-cell research could take center stage in the 2006 elections. Democrats are using the issue to divide the Republican vote. A pretty smart move, considering that approximately two-thirds of Americans support the research.

That's bad news for Republicans, whose conservative evangelical base remains staunchly opposed to harvesting stem cells from embryos. A lot of Republicans rode to victory on the pro-life wave, but now they're faced with some tough decisions. Do they continue to appease the evangelical right and risk alienating Republicans who support the research? Or do they take a chance on losing the evangelical vote by supporting embryonic stem-cell research?

Some will likely take their cue from Senator Jim Talent, who's elevating fence straddling to a fine art. He has yet to come out on either side of the issue, leaving voters grumbling on both sides. Hate to tell you, Senator Talent, but there's no running away from this one. Your evasion tactic could blow up in your face as your constituents lose patience with your cowardice.

Why can't politicians just stand for something instead of constantly being buffeted about by the winds of public opinion? Of course, the downside to that is a politician like "W" who stands by his ill-informed opinions in the face of irrefutable fact. No running from this one, either. We just can't win with politicians.

 
With Mike Farrell and Lawrence Bender optioning the film rights to Michael Schiavo's book, "Terri: The Truth," it's only a matter of time before the Schindlers' version is produced. The Farrell-Bender project aims to tell Michael and Terri's story from the beginning of their romance. Farrell sees the story as "almost Shakespearean," complete with feuding families and ultimate tragedy.

The drama is certainly there, but I have to wonder when this saga will finally end. Certainly not anytime soon. Michael Schiavo has formed a political action committee called TerriPac which aims to "restore personal freedoms and individual rights." The Schindlers, meanwhile, have formed The Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, Inc., "a non-profit group dedicated to ensuring the rights of disabled, elderly and vulnerable citizens against care rationing, euthanasia and medical killing." The foundation was actually incorporated in 2001 to fight to keep Terri Schiavo alive, but changed its focus after her death.

 
It's always interesting to me how the reality of Catholic beliefs and behavior often differ markedly from the Pope's position. No where is this more apparent than in the debate on embryonic stem cell research. In an August 2005 poll taken by the Pew Research Foundation, 61% of white Catholics support embryonic stem cell research. (Only about a third of white evangelicals support such research.)Additionally, 77% of seculars and 70% of mainline Protestants believe the gains from such research outweigh concern for the potential life of the developing embryo.

For a concise explanation of the Pope's views on the beginning of human life, check out this article from February of this year. I'm not a Catholic, so I don't understand a lot about how the church operates. How important is it when a clear majority of Catholics disagree with the Pope on important issues?

 
The American Life League represents the pro-life philosophy taken to extreme, even opposing birth control:
some forms of birth control can actually cause an early abortion. Also, birth control leads to a state of mind that treats sexual activity as if it has nothing to do with babies; babies are treated as "accidents," as a burden to be eliminated. In this way, contraception is clearly linked to abortion.
I agree with very little, if anything, that this group espouses, but for an excellent article on the beginning of human life from a pro-life position, I have to recommend "When does human life begin? The final answer" written by C. Ward Kischer, Ph. D. Dr. Kishcer "is an emeritus professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, specialty in Human Embryology, University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson, Arizona. He is Chairman of the American Bioethics Advisory Commission."

I recommend this article because I have always believed it is important to understand both sides of an issue before one begins debating it. In so many arguments about the beginning of human life, reason yields to emotion and/or blind acceptance of religious doctrine, and it is sometimes difficult to engage in meaningful dialogue. So if you want a well thought out argument from someone with impressive scientific credentials, you could do worse than Dr. Kischer's article.

Having said all that, I certainly do not believe Dr. Kischer's article to be "the final answer," and I still do not believe human life begins at conception for all of the many reasons we've discussed on this blog. Dr. Kischer brings up one of those reasons, twinning, and then summarily dismisses it by tossing it into the religious category so he will not have to deal with the scientific ramifications of this event.
But, there has been another problem created; that is: when the early embryo splits, does the soul also split? And, if until that time there has been no soul, how could there be a person?

First of all, this is a question not for science, but for theology or religion. The science is there and has been there for about 150 years. In fact, it ought to be clear by now that when human life begins has no relationship to religion at all!
Near the end of the piece, Kischer stoops to take a cheap shot at some of today's scientific research (read "embryonic stem cell research," for one) when he says, "Scientists are going to continue to manipulate life and its elements, virtually all under the guise of beneficial therapies." (emphasis mine) This tactic was beneath him, and unnecessary in an otherwise well written article.

 
When I Googled "Beginning of life" today, I came aross this article that I had to reference if for no other reason than it is a perfect illustration of why I love Google. Think about it. A search for "beginning of life" leads to a recipe for Hot Cross Buns?

Usually Google is quite dependable for getting me to multiple sites relevant to a search topic. But every now and then I encounter a quirky detour that leads to totally unexpected destinations, as is the case here. It's like driving down the interstate and suddenly taking the exit ramp onto the back roads. You're never quite as sure of where you're going or what you will see. I'm not complaining though. Added bonuses for this trip are the recipes for Maundy Thursday Pancakes and Hard-Boiled Egg Casserole.

 
This is the kind of argument that drives me crazy. The writer urges us to consult medical textbooks so that we, too, can arrive at the obvious (to her) conclusion that human life begins at conception.
At conception, the sperm and egg join together and a new human person is created with his or her own set of chromosomes and own DNA. This early stage of human development is called an embryo.

This human embryo is not a pre-person or a potential human being, but a distinct individual at an early stage of development.
It never ceases to amaze me that some people cannot seem to take this argument one necessary step further -- that the embryo at conception is NOT a unique human being. It may still split into two embryos, or two of these embryos might merge into one. An embryo is not a "distinct human being" until at least differentiation (if then), when the possibility of twinning or chimeras is past. Is it too much to ask that we at least know how many human beings we are talking about before we designate the embryo as distinct?

 
If you're anywhere near Santa Cruz on Monday (April 17th), you might want to head over to UC Santa Cruz to hear Laurie Zoloth discuss "the ethical considerations surrounding stem-cell research." I sure would if I weren't clear across the country.
To Christians who believe that life begins at the moment of conception, particularly Catholics and conservative Protestants, destroying embryos to harvest cells for whatever purpose is unacceptable, said Zoloth, the director of the Center for Bioethics, Science and Society at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.

"For many Christians, that's the most important issue. But for many people in the rest of the world — Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, liberal Protestants — the bigger question is how we deal with human suffering," she said.
Ellen Suckiel, a professor of philosophy at UCSC who plans to teach a course on the ethics of stem-cell research, addresses "the debate beyond the debate."
"Even if one grants that human life begins at conception, then what is still debatable is what's more important: an embryo or the lives that this technology could save or enhance," she said.
That, to me, is the crux of the matter. How do we look such desperate suffering in the face and say no?

 
"We need to start listening more to researchers than religious beliefs." So says 36-year-old Michael DiScipio, father of three, and paralyzed from the chest down for the past seven years. DiScipio has been an ardent supporter of stem-cell research, including embryonic stem cells, since he broke his neck diving into the family pool. He is frustrated by New York state's slow response to embrace funding for this research, even though polls show that a majority of New Yorkers support it.

Paul Richter supports DiScipio's advocacy,"I (also) guarantee you that the people who are fighting against this (stem cell research) will be the first ones to the front of the line for treatment," says Richter, a former State Police sergeant who suffered temporary paralysis after being shot while on duty.

 
The Alabama legislature is poised to pass a bill "charging a murderer with double murder if he or she kills a pregnant woman and her unborn child." One troubling aspect of the bill is its definition of the beginning of human life.
The definition about the beginning of life in the bill was developed from the federal government's version...The legislation states that a victim of a criminal homicide or assault "means a human being, including an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability."
What's bothersome is the government's assumption that it can determine the beginning of human life for the rest of us. Just because Uncle says it's so? There are many many people who do not believe human life begins at conception. In fact, one might argue that the government's stance is an infringment on the separation of church and state, since Church doctrine influences many opinions on this topic. I wonder how the courts will handle this in the future.

 
A Stanford University study reports that "the United States is falling behind other countries in human embryonic-stem-cell research." The report found that the U.S. share of published articles on human embryonic-stem-cell research dropped from one-third to one-fourth. Of course this will be good news to those who believe human life begins at conception, including the president. The news is not so good for those waiting for the cures that this research might develop.

 
Kudos to Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich, a Republican, who signed a stem cell research funding bill on Thursday, despite last-minute urging by Catholic officials to change his mind. The bill grants $15 million in state funding for next year's research. Ehrlich also surprised people by signing a clean-air bill that toughens emission standards for coal-fired power plants. Too bad more Republicans can't see the need for both measures.

 
Look here for an excellent article on the whole Terri Schiavo mess. And here's another. They do make one question what her legacy will be, and if that legacy will be the one she would want.

You might also visit TerriPAC, Michael Schiavo's political action committee that "will raise and spend funds to educate voters on where their elected officials stood when they had a choice between individual freedom and personal privacy and overreaching government action." The committee will also "be able to endorse or oppose candidates for federal office – including members of Congress." One can only hope that voters remember the shameful exploitation by certain (mostly Republican) politicians, including Florida's Senator Mel Martinez. It was his office that accidently disclosed a memo outlining the political advantages to be gained by Republicans who intervened in the Schiavo tragedy. The senator's subsequent denouncements and protestations were laughable. May his political career take a long walk off a short pier.

 
A column in yesterday's edition of the Springfield, MO, News-Leader began:

Two recent letters, "Tax deduction for fetus needed," March 27, and " Let's be clear on everyone's rights," March 28, use seemingly tongue-in-cheek suggestions as evidence that illegalized abortion is absurd.

In reality, these suggestions and more like them are valuable. That expectant mothers be allowed to claim their unborn children as tax deductions and that citizens of states who have illegalized abortion be allowed (or required) to add 9 months to their age warrant closer examination.
These examples reminded me of one of Jack's favorite suggestions -- put fetuses on welfare. His rationale is simple: if a fetus is a human being, and a mother is already claiming existing children for welfare, then W, put your money where your mouth is and support those fetuses. It's the "human-life-begins-at-conception" thing to do.

 
Well it looks like the stem-cell research bill may reach a final vote in Congress. That it's happening in an election year has some Republicans in a pickle. The latest polls show that while a clear majority(60%) of Americans favor embryonic stem-cell research, Republicans are split down the middle at 47% for and against.

To win a primary, it might help your Republican senator to oppose the research, but, to win the general election, support for the measure would be in order. Too bad that the vote will probably hit the floor by early summer, a real stroke of bad luck. That means those seeking re-election will have to gamble on alienating their base while courting the big numbers. Damned inconsiderate that they will actually have to take a stand.

 
I can't believe I'm writing about Terri Schiavo again. I apologize. But all of the hoopla about Michael Schiavo's book and the Schindlers' book coming out this week makes revisiting the case inevitable.

One thing I don't understand is how the right-to-life groups still hold Terri Schiavo up as a banner of sorts to promote their end-of-life agenda. No one expressed one iota of embarrassment when the autopsy proved Terri had long since departed this realm, leaving a scant half of her brain behind. They instead held firm that Terri's machine-supported body should have been allowed to lie in that hospital bed indefinitely. Where is the right-to-life logic in this? What life? No brain activity and a body kept barely alive by artificial means? This is what they continue to fight for? And what the Schindlers continue to castigate Michael Schiavo for? He alone had enough compassion and respect for Terri (not to mention good sense) to fight for her right to die with whatever dignity the media circus had left her.

And what of Jeb and the Florida legislature, and W and theUnited States Congress? What of Bill Frist who, based on a couple of minutes of videotape, declared, "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli,"? Answer: he's running for President. God bless America.

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Roe v. Wade
Stem Cells
Stem Cell Fight!
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Moral Monkey?
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Stem Stall
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