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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.

 
...and forms a picture eerily symmetrical with America's leaky borders.

DeLay, former GOP Congressman and House Majority Leader from Texas, has noticed what he believes to be a non-coincidence -- one which I bet has not been pointed out by your local baby-killing professor of statistics, no sir: a rough correspondence in the number of abortions since Roe v. Wade, and the number of "illegal" immigrants to the US in that same period. In an address to the recent National Convention of the College Republicans organization, DeLay said:
If you believe abortion, if you believe that doesn't affect you... I contend it affects you in immigration. If we had those 40 million children that were killed over the last 40 years, we wouldn't need the illegal immigrants to fill the jobs that they are doing today. Think about it.
I have thought about it, Tom, although it took your asking the question to open my eyes. Also hauntingly corresponding to that 40 million figure:
  • Estimated number of classmates.com users as of February, 2006. Also the number of subscribers to the Xanga "social networking" service as of July 2005.
  • Estimated number of deaths required for the Communist Party of China to seize power, according to the late Wáng Zhèn (one of the "Eight Immortals" of the Communist Party there, and presumably a knowledgeable source if perhaps inclined to inflation of the Party's ego).
  • Estimated number of deaths in developing countries due to wars and other state-sponsored violence in the post-World War II decades (according to historian Robert McNamara's 1991 paper, "The Post-Cold War World: Implications for Military Expenditure in the Developing Countries," and also according to a 2003 study by Milton Leitenberg of the Center for International and Security Studies).
  • Number of stars "in our galactic neighborhood" to be studied by NASA's proposed, but never launched, Full-sky Astrometric Mapping Explorer (FAME) astrometric satellite.
  • Number of credit-card holders whose identities were potentially compromised by the hacking of CardSystems Solutions, discovered in June 2005.
  • Number of crossings per second made by "bunches" of protons in the beam produced by the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment at CERN's Large Hadron Collider.
  • Estimated minimum number of speakers of Low Franconian languages such as Dutch, Afrikaans, and Flemish.
  • Estimated number of people who viewed performances in 2006 by "neo-burlesque" stripper Michelle "Toots" L'Amour, thanks in significant, er, part to her appearances that year on NBC's "America's Got Talent" and the Showtime network's "Sexual Healing."
  • In perhaps the most sinister -- bordering on the precognitive -- coincidence, the 1995 debut album of rock group The Bogmen was titled Life Begins at 40 Million.
[Above items all courtesy of Wikipedia]

(Creepily, DeLay has not been the first -- let alone only -- speaker on the right to make the connection between abortion and illegal immigration. He was preceded a few months back by Zell Miller, former Georgia governor and one-time Democrat. Miller, however, also credited Roe v. Wade for its negative effects on US military strength and the Social Security System, and hence diluted his message somewhat. Miller used a figure of 45 million abortions rather than DeLay's 40 million, and maybe it was the additional 5 million who could have been in Iraq or Afghanistan and/or paying into Social Security -- if only their mothers had cared about them!)

It's possible, we would contend, to discuss reasonably the question of whether there might or might not have been too many abortions (legal or otherwise) in the last 40 years. But tying that discussion to random hot-button issues like "illegal" immigration is cheap, unconstructive, misleading, and flagrantly inflammatory. Not to read too much into the former Congressman's words, but the least stupidity with which we can credit him is to imply that 40 million aborted fetuses might have grown up to occupy the cheap-labor jobs held by so many "illegal" immigrants. They sure wouldn't have grown up to become College Republican keynoters forced out of their elected positions because of finance scandals, eh, Tom?

(By the way, DeLay's "40 years" isn't quite right; it's been only 34 years since Roe v. Wade. Perhaps DeLay's loosey-goosey way with numbers led to some of his off-camera troubles.)

For the record, here's a YouTube video of DeLay's address; advance the time slider to around 3:45 unless you want to see all the stuff that precedes it:

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'Doonesbury' fragment 2007-07-27: 'Will someone explain to me how using some cell lines is moral and others immoral?'
And the rest of the quotation, originally from Winston Churchill, regarding what used to be the Soviet Union: "...but perhaps there is a key."

Mike Doonesbury's daughter Alex joins the rest of us who are confused about the Russian-nesting-doll of puzzles for our time. See the complete strip here.

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James Holsinger
Wired Science -- Steven Edwards, July 14, 2007 -- Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) offered James Holsinger, the nominee for Surgeon General, a final opportunity to defend himself against the accusations that he is anti-gay. Holsinger's answer demonstrated that he has no problem writing a paper to support a "specific purpose," which isn't likely to raise his support among Democrats.

Holsinger ended by responding to questions about embryonic stem-cell research, saying that President Bush's plan is an effective one that is allowing progress. He also explained his opposition to a Kentucky bill that would have criminalized embryonic stem-cell research, but neglected to say whether he would support therapeutic cloning.

This final testimony -- particularly calling President Bush's stem-cell program effective -- probably sealed his fate. When asked whether he agrees with the scientific community that expanding Bush's pogram would allow greater progress, Holsinger again dodged by saying he has had no reason to keep up with the science since 2002.

Read part of the exchange between Sen. Kennedy and Dr. Holsinger here, in which Holsinger elaborates somewhat on his beliefs.

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Dr. Richard Carmona
From Medical News Today, 14 July 2007 -- Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona on Tuesday in a hearing with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said the Bush administration routinely blocked him from speaking out or issuing reports on human embryonic stem cell research, abstinence-only sex education, emergency contraception and other sensitive public health issues while he was serving in the position, the Washington Post reports.

He said the administration often edited his speeches for politically controversial content and encouraged him to attend internal "political pep rallies," the Wall Street Journal reports (Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 7/11). In addition, Carmona said he was required to mention Bush three times on every page of his speeches and was asked to make speeches to promote Republican political candidates, the New York Times reports.

Carmona said the Bush administration told him not to speak about the national debate over whether the federal government should fund embryonic stem cell research (Washington Post, 7/11). Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research currently is allowed only for research using embryonic stem cell lines created on or before Aug. 9, 2001, under a policy announced by Bush on that date. Bush last month vetoed a bill... that would have allowed federal funding for research using stem cells derived from human embryos originally created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 6/22).

"Much of the discussion was being driven by theology, ideology (and) preconceived beliefs that were scientifically incorrect," Carmona said, adding, "I thought, 'This is a perfect example of the surgeon general being able to step forward, educate the American public.' ... I was blocked at every turn. I was told the decision had already been made -- 'Stand down. Don't talk about it.' That information was removed from my speeches."

Go to Medical News Today to read the complete article. You will also find links to video segments of some of Carmona's television interviews from a few days ago.

 

I love "Seinfeld". My husband John and I now own DVD sets for the first 6 seasons, and we plan to eventually buy them all. The other night, while watching an early episode in season 6, we both suddenly sat up and looked at each other as the show took an unexpected step into the abortion issue. (This was especially interesting to me because I'd so recently posted to this blog a newspaper column from the late '80s in which the author referenced the great divide between pros and anti's. Now here's Seinfeld, in 1994, using making pizza as a metaphor for creating a human being.) And while the show asked, "when does a pizza become a pizza?", this blog continues to ask, "when does an embryo become human life?"

We just cannot seem to resolve this question , can we? Here's part of the Seinfeld episode, "The Couch," which first aired on October 27, 1994, and which features Poppie, Kramer's restauranteur friend, who once grossed Jerry out by not washing his hands after using the bathroom:
JERRY: Poppie, I was just curious...where do you stand on the abortion issue?

POPPIE: When my mother was abducted by the Communists, she was with child...

JERRY: Oh, boy.

POPPIE: ...but the Communists, they put an end to that! So, on this issue there is no debate! And no intelligent person can think differently.

ELAINE (offended): Well...Poppie. I think differently.

POPPIE: And what gives you the right to do that?

ELAINE (standing up): The Supreme Court gives me the right to do that! Let's go Jerry, c'mon.

WOMAN AT NEXT TABLE (to her date): I heard that. Let's go, Henry.

HENRY: But we just got here...

WOMAN AT ANOTHER TABLE: I'm with you, Poppie!

WOMAN AT YET ANOTHER TABLE (to her date): Let's go!

ELAINE (to Poppie): And I am not coming back!

POPPIE: You're not welcome!

JERRY: Well, I'm certainly glad I brought it up.

[Later in the episode, Kramer and Poppie are planning their "Make Your Own Pie" restaurant, and Kramer is making the first test pie when he adds an ingredient Poppie doesn't approve of.}

POPPIE: No, no. You can't put cucumbers on a pizza.

KRAMER: Well, why not? I like cucumbers.

POPPIE: That's not a pizza. It'll taste terrible.

KRAMER: But that's the idea, you make your own pie.

POPPIE: Yes, but we cannot give the people the right to choose any topping they want! Now on this issue there can be no debate!

KRAMER: What gives you the right to tell me how I would make my pie?

POPPIE: Because it's a pizza!

KRAMER: It's not a pizza until it comes out of the oven!

POPPIE: It's a pizza the moment you put your fists in the dough!

KRAMER: No, it isn't!

POPPIE: Yes, it is!
And the debate continues.

If you'd like to see more Seinfeld scripts, here's a link to a site that has all of them.

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A few days ago, Reuters summarized two papers published in the current issue of Nature on using mouse and rat embryonic stem cells in lieu of those from humans, which "should speed up research into regenerative medicine and help in the hunt for cures to a range of diseases." That the two papers -- one from a team at Oxford, the other from a Cambridge group -- were developed concurrently and independently "is a sign of momentum picking up in stem cell research," says the Reuters piece:
Laboratory mice have long been a favourite model for human disease but researchers have been frustrated by the fact that human and mouse stem cells behave very differently.

Now scientists think they may have cracked the problem.
Here on this blog we tend to focus (rightly or wrongly) on the stem-cell debate as a case of common sense at odds with deep-seated religious moral and/or religious beliefs. But it's interesting to think about how the use of non-human embryonic sources both (a) seems to sidestep the debate altogether, and (b) doesn't really sidestep anything after all -- just shoves the real issue out of sight, by removing it from the scrutiny of partisans (on both sides) otherwise focused on the word "human." The issue, not to put too fine a point on it, is that human life is a subset, a special case, of animal life. Hence the question: If we can comfortably come to a consensus about the use of non-human embryonic stem cells for the betterment of human life, can't we come to a consensus about the use of human embryonic stem cells for that purpose? Particularly when the cells in question are earmarked for no other purpose other than disposal?

Note that I'm not arguing here for what the consensus should be. (It would hardly be a consensus if I just told everybody what to believe, hmm?) Given a Sophie's Choice-type dilemma requiring that I save the life of a human or the life of a mouse, but not both, I'd choose the human just as I suppose most of you would. It would be fair to say that I hold human life to be sacred, just as most of you do.

That very notion of the sacredness of human life, perhaps, is where the potential for consensus is greatest. If a human embryonic stem cell is destined for the waste can anyway, why not use it instead to affirm the sacredness of human life as it is or will be lived by actual living, breathing erstwhile embryos who at some time come to term?

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