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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.

The following column ran in the Tallahassee Democrat on Sunday, October 8, 1989. It was written by a local columnist, Mary Ann Lindley, who is now the paper's Editorial Page Editor. Jack, who saves every piece of paper he thinks he might need some day, saved this column. The original, cut from the newspaper long ago, is yellowed with age, creased with accordion folds, and marked with notations in both pen and ink. And when Jack came across it one day last week, he decided its central message is just as relevant today as it was 18 years ago. He thinks this is the day he was saving it for, when it would be needed again. And you know what? He's right. Here it is with Mary Ann's kind permission:Painting by Beatrice Davis
Instead of combativness, seeking common ground
Somewhere a doll lies still; somewhere there's a dress unworn, designer jeans remain upon a shelf. Somewhere a stereo lies silent; somewhere out there's a little girl unborn.

Now that I've met the Lord of the Universe, the Father of all who choose to know Him, I trust that on that day your infant spirit went instantly to be with Him....

Oh, Mandy! How can I tell you how I've wondered about you? Do you have your father's smile or my green eyes? Are you shy and quiet or do you resemble a minature tornado like your brothers?...

How I've longed to hold you, Mandy, and whisper how sorry I am. Will you ever forgive me?

Oh Mandy, my Mandy, though I dare not call you mine -- I gave up that right many years ago. I swapped it for my right to choose. How inconceivable! How unjust!

I didn't know that "He was there with you being formed in utter seclusion; that He made all the inner parts of your body and knit them together in my womb. He saw you and scheduled each day of your life before you began to breathe." (Psalm 139LB)

It's not important how I knew you were a girl or why I gave you a name. It's only important that you know if I could choose again, I'd give up everything to have you back.. Since that cannot be, I'll wait until that day when we meet face to face and I can tell you what I've longed for you to know...That there is a special place in my heart for you, and the world is a little duller, a little emptier, a bit less joyful for never having known the wonder of you....
      For the Tallahassee mom who wrote "A Song for Mandy," the abortion choice she once made for convenience, and then gave no thought to for years, eventually resurfaced.
      "I didn't do it for therapy, but that's what it was," she said of her lyrical confession. Once written, it made clear the reasons for her nightmares, the depression and those days on end when, though by now she had a family, she could hardly bear to be around other people.
      Not every woman who has an abortion is haunted by her decision. Not every woman, by any means, names the child that never was, nor asks its forgiveness.
      But for Elizabeth, writing to Mandy brought tears of relief and the certain knowledge that "we had connected, that she was out there and that she understood."
      "I really became a whole person after that. It's a good feeling," says Elizabeth, which is not her real name.
      A charming, articulate businesswoman who says she used to be "your basic cosmopolitan woman," Elizabeth now aligns herself with those opposing abortion, though she was once unequivocally pro-choice. Now strongly committed to her church, she also understands what it is to straddle metaphysical fences, and she may be one of those rare creatures with compassion for both sides on the abortion debate.
      Just now she's concerned, as a lot of us are, that something be done about the hurtful, unhelpful chasm between the two sides. And she hopes her "Song" might be used as a philosophical vehicle: Its destination would be some common ground where we could all agree that, legal or not, abortion is overused and too often an ill-considered first resort.

Laws aren't the point
      The Legislature is gearing up for its special session on abortion, which is looking more and more like a medieval tent show with too many jugglers, no ringmaster and a lot of mud.
      The Florida Supreme Court, which is rarely flamboyant, has dramatically upstaged the governor by invoking the state's little-used privacy amendment to strike down a requirement that minors get permission for abortion.
      Yet, both institutions are almost irrelevant in terms of changing the way Americans think about abortion. Neither has half the power of ordinary people to make a new attitude become part of the social fabric.
      We're all so touchy about our political position on the subject that we can hardly acknowledge it when "the other side" makes a point. Yet thoughtful anti-abortionists deserve credit for forcing pro-choicers to be less casual.
      They remind us that a decade or so ago, when thousands of women were getting abortions matter-of-factly, when the sexual revolution was at its peak and abortion was almost chic, we were foolish to be so capricious.
      A return to illegal abortion is unfathomable for countless reasons. The psychic pain such as Elizabeth experienced can coexist with any unwanted pregnancy, no matter how it's resolved.
      Yet not enough's being done to make abortion the last resort -- and especially not for very young women, who often can't imagine how long indeed a decision can last.
      Not enough's being done to free ourselves from the thought that just because something's legal, it's necessarily good for us. Not enough's being done to stop conferring a social sanction on abortion.
      That's the kind of work that laws and courts can't do half so well as people like Elizabeth expressing their truest feelings about the consequences of complicated personal decisions.
      If the governor only knew this, the Legislature could stay home.

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From The Washington Post
Bush Vetoes Bill to Expand Stem Cell Research
By Michael A. Fletcher
Wednesday, June 20, 2007; 3:20 PM
President Bush vetoed legislation this afternoon to expand federally funded embryonic stem cell research, as the White House sought to emphasize scientific advances that would allow researchers to pursue the potentially life-saving work without destroying human embryos.

Bush followed his veto--his third since becoming president--with an executive order aimed at encouraging federal agencies to support research that offers the promise of creating medically useful stem cells without destroying human embryos. The order requires the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that all so-called pluripotent stem cells are eligible for federal research grants.

In his veto message to Congress, Bush said the legislation crossed an ethical line.
Read the rest of this frustrating news here.

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Photo 'Far from Everywhere' by robert82 of the stock photo exchange
Readers of this site tend to have their minds more or less made up before coming here -- which, indeed, is what makes it imperative that the two sides focus on the things they have in common, rather than beating one another up about their differences.

A good place to start -- the most basic of "things they have in common" -- are the simple facts of stem cell research. Figure out and agree on what we're talking about, and then maybe (maybe) we can begin to draw up guidelines about what to do with the facts. All of this is one reason why I especially appreciated a recent post by Catherine Morgan, of the BlogHer site: "What You Might Not Know About Stem Cell Research."

Now, Ms. Morgan certainly has an opinion on many of the questions at hand. Yet she's posted a 12-minute YouTube video dispassionately explaining stem cells in general, adult vs. embryonic stem cells, and so on. (You can watch the video here if you don't want to read her commentary.)

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The following was posted on Iowa Voice by Brian, Tuesday, June 12, 2007

USA Today
has an article up on embryonic stem cells and includes this quote:

Last fall, a political ad featuring actor Michael J. Fox shaking and swaying from the effects of his Parkinson’s disease focused white-hot attention on the battle over research on embryonic stem cells.
This week, President Bush is likely to veto, for the second time, a stem cell bill passed by Congress. And another Hollywood figure, filmmaker Jerry Zucker, is trying to influence the debate with his own video, this one a slickly produced spot posted on [NOTE: You can view the film below.]

The 3½-minute film, which is not scheduled to run on TV, portrays Bush in a video conference with two workers at a fertility clinic who plead for guidance about what to do with the embryos that are no longer wanted by couples.

“Well, they’re human lives. And that’s sacred,” says an actor whose lips are juxtaposed on footage of the president in the Oval Office. “Throw them in the trash.”

Zucker, a longtime stem cell activist whose directing credits include Airplane! and Ghost, says he wanted to focus on what he sees as the heart of the issue. “For the fertilized eggs that are being discarded on a daily basis in this country, why is it better to throw them away than to use them to cure diseases?” he asks. “Nobody ever answers that question.”
(My emphasis)

Mr. Zucker, you obviously haven’t been paying attention, because MANY people have answered, and far more eloquently than I’m about to.

Read what Brian has to say here..

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The Washington Post, Sunday, June 10, 2007 --
Thursday, June 7. After months of intense lobbying by scientists and patient advocacy groups, the House is ready to vote on legislation that would loosen President Bush's restrictions on the use of human embryos in stem cell research. But that very morning, the lead story in every major newspaper is about research just published in a British journal that shows stem cells can be made from ordinary skin cells.

The work was in mice, but the take-home message that suffuses Capitol Hill is that there is no need to experiment on embryos after all.

If that doesn't sound suspicious, consider this:

Monday, Jan. 8. After months of intense lobbying by scientists and patient advocacy groups, Congress is ready to vote on legislation that would loosen Bush's restrictions on stem cell research. But that very morning, newspapers are touting new research just published in a British journal suggesting that stem cells can be made from easily obtained placenta cells. No need for embryos after all!

Is there a plot afoot?

Lots of lobbyists, members of Congress and even a few scientists are starting to think so.

"It is ironic that every time we vote on this legislation, all of a sudden there is a major scientific discovery that basically says, 'You don't have to do stem cell research,' " Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) sputtered on the House floor on Thursday. "I find it very interesting that every time we bring this bill up there is a new scientific breakthrough," echoed Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), lead sponsor of the embryo access bill. Her emphasis on the word "interesting" clearly implies something more than mere interest.
Although the bill passed easily, the margin was not large enough to override Bush's promised veto.

Continuing reading the article.

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As with just about every other flash-point issue confronting the world today, clever presentations of one perspective or another tend to be reductio ad absurdum-style exaggerations of the opposing point of view. Here's a recent example, from YouTube.

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'Scarf' - photo by Irum Shahid
Those of you who've visited this blog over the years know that those of us posting here tend (more often than not) to a left-of-center perspective. But, as our mission statement says, "We hope to both start and then further dialogue regarding the beginning of human life" -- and in order to have a dialogue, we recognize that we have to acknowledge the validity of what might be called "responsible opposing points of view."

One of these points of view, I've always thought, has been the principled stand taken by religious (especially Catholic) proponents of the pro-life/anti-abortion position. Such folks are not fiery, single-issue hard-liners. Rather, they assert not just that abortion is wrong, but so is war, capital punishment, and a host of other "liberal" bugaboos.

Consider the organization known as Consistent Life. Originally, they identified themselves as the Seamless Life Network, taking as their central metaphor an episode from the Gospel of John's account (chapter 19:23-27) of Jesus's crucifixion (emphasis added):
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garments and made four parts, one for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was without seam, woven from top to bottom; so they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be."
For an excellent introduction to the "seamless garment"/consistent-life vision, see the 1984 lecture by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. Also useful are many of the essays published at by Father Richard McBrien. (Note: McBrien is often lacerated by more conservative Catholics for his reasonableness -- reasonableness being seen, evidently, as a vice rather than a virtue.)

Here's the Consistent Life mission statement:
We are committed to the protection of life, which is threatened in today's world by war, abortion, poverty, racism, capital punishment and euthanasia. We believe that these issues are linked under a 'consistent ethic of life'. We challenge those working on all or some of these issues to maintain a cooperative spirit of peace, reconciliation, and respect in protecting the unprotected.
While one might take issue with any one of those "threats," it's impossible not to admire the spirit standing in opposition to them.

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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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