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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.

Award winning author Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a special consultant for the Center for Bioethics and Culture, testified before Congress last week that "there is a proper public policy role for the federal government against assisted suicide, such as prohibiting federally controlled substances from being used to intentionally end life." Click here to read how euthanasia leads to killing children, at least to this expert's way of thinking.

How does one become an expert on ethics (bio or not)anyway? Do you fill out an application? Do you have to win a Most Ethical contest? It must be neat to be an ethics expert because then you can say whatever cockamamie thing you want and everyone takes it seriously.

Anyhow, Smith's book Forced Exit: Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and the New Duty To Die has apparently been re-released with sections on the Terri Schiavo case and the pro-euthanasia movie Million Dollar Baby. I'm almost tempted to read it.

For an example of how right-to-life extremists manipulate the language to further their restrictive goals (this time cocerning embryonic stem-cell research), read this opinion piece from Michael Janocik, Assistant Director of the Right to Life Educational Foundation of Kentucky. Of particular interest is Mr. Janocik's use of the phrase "manipulation and killing of early human lives." He ignores the fact that whether embryos used for stem-cell research are "early human lives" is still being debated. He also ignores statistics that show a clear majority of Americans support such research. I hereby lob the "manipulation" ball back to Mr. Janocik for further contemplation.

Senate Republicans should take note -- AMERICANS WANT EMBRYONIC STEM-CELL RESEARCH.

Check out these news items from the past 24 hours:
American Diabetes Association Urges U.S. Senate to Finally Pass Stem Cell Research Legislation

Nancy Reagan Again Takes Lead on Stem Cells

Nearly Three-Quarters of Americans Support Embryonic Stem Cell Research and a Vote on H.R. 810 in U.S. Senate

It looks like the Senate may have finally gotten a clue. Let's hope they stand up for what most Americans want -- research to help end the suffering of millions of people. We'll be watching.
Senate may vote soon on embryonic stem cell research

From the May 15th edition of "The American Chronicle":
Washington, DC — Democrats believe stem cell research should be a part of any health care debate, but Bush Republicans in the Senate are preparing to wrap up their “health week” having accomplished nothing and having refused to even consider such promising research. Last week, Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy, Tom Harkin, Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, and Bob Menendez called on Senate Republicans to bring House-passed stem cell legislation (H.R. 810) to the Senate for debate and not squander this opportunity to help millions of people.

Read the rest of the article here.

For those interested in bioethics and the ongoing debates over stem-cell research, end-of-life issues, and similar modern day ethical dilemmas, the Alden March Bioethics Institute of Albany Medical College (in collaboration with the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities, the Nelson Rockefeller Institute of Government, the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics, the University of Pennsylvania Department of Medical Ethics, the University of Virginia Center for Bioethics, Albany Law School and The American Journal of Bioethics) is sponsoring Bioethics & Politics: The Future of Bioethics in a Divided Democracy, July 13-14, 2006, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Albany, New York. The conference will feature an extensive list of speakers, including Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, John Carroll Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Medical Ethics, Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, Georgetown University Medical Center. Dr. Pellegrino is also current chair of the President's Council on Bioethics.

With many of the country's leading thinkers in bioethics already confirmed to attend, the conference is shaping up to be one of this year's major events in the field of bioethics. Click here for more information.

I just found another interesting theory about the beginning of human life. The author, Doyle Doss, in an open letter to President Bush on the site, suggests the presence of blood in the embryo signals the onset of personhood. Recognizing that this occurs at about 18 - 21 days, and allowing for a four-day safety net, he arrives at Day 14 as the cut-off date for ethical stem-cell extraction.

Coincidentally, or maybe not, the 14th day is also when embryos develop the "primitive streak."
The streak eventually develops in to the embryo's brain and central nervous system. Some suggest "...that an embryo should not be regarded as a unique individual before this point," because it can spontaneously split into two embryos with identical DNA, and lead to the birth of identical twins. Fourteen days is also longest interval that an embryo can be maintained in culture. Regulations in many countries cite 14 days as the limit for scientific research.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that we have often used the "twins" argument when answering proponents of the "human life begins at conception" theory. Doss also uses the importance of blood in the Christian faith as one of his persuasive arguments:
My point being, Mr. President, that there is no blood in an embryo until many days after conception, and if there is no blood, and "the life is in the blood," then it would seem to follow that until there is blood there is no life.*

*Leviticus 17:11 -- Actual quote from King James version: For the life of the flesh is in the blood.

The Georgetown Law Library offers an excellent research guide for those interested in bioethics, especially end-of-life issues. Jack has long maintained that we could and should be guided by end-of-life precepts to help us determine when human life begins. Some Web sites of interest include:
Karen Ann Quinlan
Schiavo Case Resources
The Healthcare Ethics page of Ascension Health

I hope to take a closer look at these and other resources in future posts.

A few days ago, "Slate" posted an article by Michael Kinsley titled "Reason, Faith, and Stem Cells." Kinsley first recognizes the irrationality of the government's policy on embryonic stem-cell research, and goes on to say,
It's a compromise between two logically irreconcilable positions. And it stretches democracy as far as it can be stretched in deference to the strongly held views of the losing side of an argument. It says: "You cannot have your way. You cannot impose the burden of your views on others. But at least you can know that your own tax dollars won't be spent directly on something you find immoral." This is quite a concession. It's more than opponents of wars, for example, are allowed.
But then Kinsley gets to the meat of his argument, which is that those who remain adamently opposed to stem-cell research because they believe human life begins at conception are not arguing from a position of reason.
In the endless right-to-life debate, compromise is difficult for pro-lifers because the strength of their side of the argument comes from its absolutism. (Unless it comes from faith, about which there can be no argument.) Absolutism is their logical trump card. If you don't protect every human being from the moment of conception, where do you draw the line? Anywhere you draw it is another irrational distinction, conferring humanity—and, possibly, life itself—on one organism and denying both to another that is nearly identical.

But absolutism is also a great weakness, because it puts you at the mercy of your own logic. Opposition to stem-cell research is the reductio ad absurdum of the right-to-life argument. A goldfish resembles a human being more than an embryo does. An embryo feels nothing, thinks nothing, cannot suffer, is not aware of its own existence. Embryos are destroyed routinely by the millions in the natural process of human reproduction. Yet opponents of stem-cell research would allow real people, who can suffer, to do so in service of the abstract principle that embryos are people too. If faith takes you there, fine. Reason can't.
I encourage you to read the rest of this fine, well reasoned piece. Kinsley's observation on right-to-lifers with respect to evolution is, by itself, worth a post.
But even most right-to-lifers do believe in evolution and are comfortable with the idea that humanity is one end of a continuum, not a thing apart.

They are comfortable drawing a crisper line than nature does between humans and lesser beasts and denying human rights to animals that share many human attributes.Why is it so hard for them to accept something similar about the development of an individual human being? That we each start out as something less than human, that the transformation takes place gradually, but that it's morally acceptable to draw a line somewhere other than at the very beginning. Not just acceptable, but necessary.

"A disagreement between President Edward Fenech Adami and Minister of Justice and Home Affairs Tonio Borg on when human life begins could result in an institutional crisis with the President threatening to resign if a law violating his moral principles is passed." So begins a news report about what might be a political impasse in this Mediterranean island nation. The President insists that human life should be protected "from the very moment that the sperm penetrates the egg," while Borg, believes human life starts "some hours later after fertilisation is completed by the fusion of the two nuclei."

At stake is the legality of in vitro fertilization (IVF), which, if the President refuses to sign a pending bill, would no longer be an option for infertile couples seeking to have children. This should put to rest any doubt whatsoever that the question of when human life begins is of more moment now than it has ever been. When a question threatens a government's stability, it's probably fair to consider it a major issue.

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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