Friday, November 02, 2007

Begging the question

This interview with UW bioethicist Alta Charo averts the eyes from the elephant. I am sure that, as a bioethicist, Professor Charo understands that science does not control the moral issues surrounding technological advances. One wishes that she would have managed to say that. When asked why Republicans are "afraid" of science (there's an insightful question!), she explains that science, because it relentlessly follows the data (itself a type of faith claim), may place pressure on certain aspects of religious belief. (Of course, it may bolster others.) While that is true , it doesn't seem to get us very far with the issues that roil the area of "science and religion" today.

Social conservatives don't "fear" science. They do assert that simply because things can be done does not mean that they ought to be. They assert what former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson calls a transcendent basis for human equality is not undermined by scientific advances that allow new manipulatons of humans. Professor Charo need not share these beliefs, but she can't claim that science has much to say about them.

Professor Charo says that she thinks it's a shame that the issue of embryo-destructive stem cell research has focused on the fact of the destruction rather than the purpose for the destruction because most of these embryos are the product of embryos discarded by IVF clinics. This argument from fait accompli has always struck me as a bit of a bait and switch. Here's a thought experiment: Would Professor Charo support a law restricting embryo-destructive research to those embryos that are discarded by IVF clinics? If she won't - or advocates of expanded embryo-destructive research would not, then don't these moral claims about destruction remain in play?

42 comments:

Brian said...

If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times: there is nothing about liberalism that is scientifically based. To claim that it is is a farce. Liberalism is the alchemy of our age: the attempt to put together the literally impossible by merely rearranging the elements to change some facade.

Look at almost any issue touched upon by public policy and you will see that this is the case. It is not conservatives who fear science, it is liberals. It is liberals who loathe economics. It is liberals who loathe an incentive based system of entrepreneurship. It is liberals who hold to 19th century utopian ideals.

Algore can groan about the "assault on reason" until the cows come home but his own emotional extremism about global warming (or is it cooling? Depends on the day of the week!) discredits anything he says. Again, there is nothing about liberalism that is remotely scientifically based.

timroth1618 said...

Perhaps I missing something here, but I don't understand your thought question. What would this hypothetical law accomplish? Embryos leftover from IVF are the most promising source of embryonic stem cells. These cells are less developed then cells from aborted fetuses and adult stem cells.

I think the real shame with this issue is that is has been used as a political tool. After all, President Bush's first veto after five years in office was a bill to lift numerous restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research. Let's not forget the press conference he held to announce this veto: he surrounded himself with children that were adopted IVF embryos as he proclaimed "[i]f this bill were to become law. American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos."

Yes, that's true that these leftover embryos could be brought to term by a willing mother, but this has occurred 128 times as of July 2006. That's 128 of 400,000 estimated frozen embryos currently in existence (many are discarded as soon as they aren't needed). An overwhelming majority of parents want a genetic connection with their parents, so these leftover embryos are going eventually destroyed. I suppose you could make a law saying that leftover IVF embryos can't be destroyed (this would be consistent with opposition to destructive stem cell research), but 50% of embryos don't survive the freezing process.

Unless you want to outlaw IVF altogether, then the opposition to embryonic should be dropped immediately. Stem cell research has a lot of promise and our government should be engaged in aggressive promotion along with private funds.

Sources:
1. "Stem Cell Bill Gets Bush's First Veto", by Charles Babington, Washington Post

2. "Longest frozen embryo baby born", BBC News

karl marx said...

In typical lib fashion, Tim Roth ignores moral principles and demands that the government pay for processes that are morally abhorrent to many including the President.
Roth cannot abide a moral individual like G.W.Bush and demands that government pay for this research. Liberals have no morals. Everything goes, and everyone else pays for it.

Dad29 said...

mbnpvThe worship of 'science' is based on the philosophy derived from Darwinism--inevitable "advances" in the human condition.

But the source also lays down the predicate for the error; 'advance' is described in terms which are purely humanistic and more and more based on the thesis that 'advances in the human condition' are equivalent to comfort.

IOW, it's a play on Manicheanism, simply dumping eschatology into the ditch.

Anonymous said...

ALL of the frozen embryos used by UW scientists came from fertility clinic. UW uses a very sophisticated consent form. Without this use, the frozen embryos are headed for the trash bin. So, what's the problem now?

Some value to society or no value to society? Take your pick.

Doesn't matter who gets elected next November. Bush's stupid policy will be reversed on January 21, 2009.

Anonymous said...

Remember all those things we learned our country fought against the Nazi's for in World War II...Nazi goals have now all been accomplished or exceeded by both the rise of the EU and of science...lets pray that another holocaust doesn't also come of any people.

PS - lets not forget that Germany was the most educated country with the most PHD's at the time...

Jane Frantz said...

I had the privilege of attending a presentation on stem cell research by Prof. Alta Charo at UW-Fox Valley on 10/20/06. I'll never forget it. The bottom line, she said, was that "not every acorn becomes an oak." True, I thought to myself, but every oak was an acorn. It's not up to us to decide who becomes what, but only to ensure that we become. Stem cell research is one thing ... embryonic stem cell research is quite another. The first has produced medically significant outcomes; the latter hasn't, and won't. Life is God's job. Ours is to protect it.

Anonymous said...

Jane -- None of the fertilized eggs used for embryonic stem cell research will EVER become a live human because the parents have already made the decision to discard them. If you think that this is wrong, you are duty-bound to shut down the IVF clinics. You folks are concentrating on the wrong end of the process.

Alta also makes the point that this situation is analgous to organ transplantation. The donor is brain dead and therefore using the liver, kidney, etc., is completely unrelated to the death of the donor.

It's the height of inconsistency for all the allegedly pro-life groups to ignore IVF and then rail incessantly against embryonic stem cell research. But experience has taught that expecting a modicum of consistency or intellectual honesty from these blowhards is futile.

Jane Frantz said...

Dear Anonymous,

The parents may have decided to discard them, but God didn't. My point remains ~ show me research using embryonic stem cells that has produced medically significant outcomes and I'll reconsider my position.

Adult and umbilical cord stem cells are quite another story. They, like organ transplants, hold much hope for cures and medical advance and ought to be funded and explored with great anticipation.

You are correct! IVF is most definitely part of the continuum ... indeed, it's the very beginning.

Help me understand your last sentence.

Rick Esenberg said...

timroth

No advocate of embryo-destructive stem cell research would support the proposed law because no one believes that discarded embryos from IVF clinics could possibly be sufficient. First, most of them are not available for use. Second, if there are ever clinical uses for embryonic stem cells, it may be necessary to control their genetic composition.

That being the case, the argument that "they're going to be destroyed anyway" falls out of the debate because we are necessarily talking about the need to create embryos for destruction.

Incidentally, creating many excess embryos is not the only way to run an IVF clinic although it is the way that they are run, at least in the US.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"It's not up to us to decide who becomes what, but only to ensure that we become."

Yes it is.

"The parents may have decided to discard them, but God didn't."

And neither did Thor. But that's neither here not there.

"show me research using embryonic stem cells that has produced medically significant outcomes and I'll reconsider my position."

Embryonic stem cells have successfully treated heart damage in mice. But we're mostly at the research phase of figuring out what they can do. We do know that embryonic stem cells make up a significant portion of a developing embryo while adult stem cells don't. In every 10,000 cells of adult bone marrow, only 10 or so will be usable stem cells. So embryonic stem cells are likely to be easier to isolate and grow. Embryonic stem cells also divide faster than adult stem cells which makes it easier to generate large numbers of cells for therapeutic means. They also have far greater plasticity, which should allow them to treat a wider range of diseases and stuff. Also, DNA abnormalities in adult stem cells that are caused by toxins and sunlight may make them poorly suited for treatment.

Anonymous said...

"But that's neither here not there."

What do cliches like this actually mean? Is there any wish to make a logical argument or is it merely a verbal utterance in absence of the ability to make a logical argument?

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

It means that that statement is true but irrelevant. Since we can't say whether or not Thor and/or God exist, or whether either of them decided to discard a particular blastocyst, it's irrelvant to stem cell research.

Jane Frantz said...

Dear JesusIsAlrightWithMe,

If it's true, it's relevant. Life is evidence that God exists. I would rather let Him decide which blastocysts become life than pretend I know which ones should or shouldn't.

Is JesusReallyAlrightWithYou?

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"I would rather let Him decide which blastocysts become life than pretend I know which ones should or shouldn't."

But you are pretending you know which ones should and shouldn't by pretending that you know that either God or Thor exists. You're just using a middle-man.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"Life is evidence that God exists."

No more than it is evidence that the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists. Even if life is evidence of a creator (and it isn't), it certainly isn't evidence of a creator that has an opinion re: destruction of blastocysts.

Jane Frantz said...

JIJAWM, "Even if life is evidence of a creator (and it isn't), it certainly isn't evidence of a creator that has an opinion re: destruction of blastocysts."

How do you know this?

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

I didn't say that I know that there isn't a creator that is concerned with the destruction of blastocysts. I said that there is no evidence that there is such a being. It's tough to prove a negative, and really, of you're the one asserting that there is such a being and that being is concerned with the destruction of blastocysts, the burden is on you to provide evidence for it if we are to consider this being when determing stem cell policy.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

In other words, why don't you connect the dots for me if you think that the fact that life exists is evidence that there is an invisible man in the sky that is concerned about blastocysts? Please explain how life suggests the existance of a god and explains what his opinions are regarding stem cell research.

Jane Frantz said...

Every time I look in the mirror, I see living proof. Experiencing childbirth is all the evidence I'll ever need to know there is a God. Considering that some people try to conceive and can't; and some try not to but get pregnant anyway, suggests to me that we are not in control of who does or doesn't. Science can try as it may to manipulate the outcome, but ultimately, it's out of our hands. Every human being, including those waiting to be born, is a miracle.

Jane Frantz said...

"...why don't you connect the dots for me if you think that the fact that life exists is evidence that there is an invisible man in the sky that is concerned about blastocysts?"

It's much more meaningful if we each connect our own dots.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

Yes, of course, God took a break from making hurricanes and giving people cancer so that he could help you have a baby. Makes perfect sense. And we can assume from that that he is opposed to destroying blastocysts.

Pass the bong lady.

Anonymous said...

JIJAWM -

We know that we are to bow to your authority before that of the scripture that people have tried but failed to prove wrong for thousands of years...but I don't think that is what God gave us you for.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

(1) The scripture has been proved wrong countless times. Here's an obvious one: I Kings 7:23-26, describes a large cauldron, or "molten sea" in the Temple of Solomon. It reads:

"He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it."

But in real life, Pi does not equal 3.

(2) Even if the scriptures hadn't been proven false, they don't mention blastocysts.

karl marx said...

Jesus isn't alright by him.
The argument that the "parents" have abandoned these embryo's is laughable.
The term PARENTS infers a child. The term PARENTS infers plural.
If baby killing wasn't serious business I'd laugh at the notion that non-babies can be abandoned by parents. And that Mommy can abandon Daddies child without Daddies consent.
Think about it.

Jane Frantz said...

I'm glad you're reading Scripture. Stick with it. Eventually it will make sense. Try not to overcomplicate it. It's really very simple. Love God, and each other. Love doesn't let people knowingly inflict excruciating pain on themselves or others. That's all I know for sure.

John Foust said...

"... because it relentlessly follows the data (itself a type of faith claim)..."

How does "following the data" become equivalent to "faith"? Do you have some definition of "faith" different from the dictionary?

Anonymous said...

"No advocate of embryo-destructive stem cell research would support the proposed law because no one believes that discarded embryos from IVF clinics could possibly be sufficient. First, most of them are not available for use. Second, if there are ever clinical uses for embryonic stem cells, it may be necessary to control their genetic composition."

Rick, you must be making these arguments up. It's obvious you haven't spoken to any embryonic stem cell scientists. The process doesn't involve the wholesale destruction of thousands of fertilized eggs. All of the stem cell lines developed at the University of Wisconsin were produced using roughly two dozen fertilized eggs. And the supply going forward will be well in excess of the number needed because UW uses a very sophisticated consent form at its IVF clinics. There are plenty of couples who, when given full information about the process, will continue to give consent to the scientific use of their unwanted eggs. Supply will never be an issue. Ask a scientist.

It's almost comical to read the evil motives which the right to life crowd attributes to the scientists who they have never met. They went through a process of reviewing the research with their own religious and spiritual advisors.

I consider the right to life crowd to be a bunch of flaming hypocrites because tens of thousands of fertilized eggs are discarded each year and only a few hundred fertilized eggs are used for stem cell research. You tell me which is the greater evil. If something which occurs a hundred time is evil, what about something which occurs tens of thousands of times per year against which no voice is raised?

The horse got out of the barn when the right to life crowd let IVF prosper.


Believe it or not the same issues arose in the 1930's when artificial insemination was developed on the UW campus and again when the prospect of harvesting organs from brain-dead donors was first broached.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"The argument that the "parents" have abandoned these embryo's is laughable.
The term PARENTS infers a child."

Of course it doesn't. Parent means "pertaining to an organism, cell, or complex molecular structure that generates or produces another." In other words, cells have parents too. So do blastocysts. So do squirels.

"I'm glad you're reading Scripture. Stick with it. Eventually it will make sense."

Oh, it makes sense. A cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father tells a bunch of people that he can make them live forever if they symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him they accept him as their personal master so he can remove an evil force from their souls that is present in humanity because a woman created from a rib was convinced by a talking snake to eat a piece of fruit from a magical tree. I didn't overcomplicate it, did I? But seriously, where do blastocysts fit into this nonsense?

Jane Frantz said...

Dear Jesus,

"A cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father tells a bunch of people that he can make them live forever if they symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him they accept him as their personal master so he can remove an evil force from their souls that is present in humanity because a woman created from a rib was convinced by a talking snake to eat a piece of fruit from a magical tree. I didn't overcomplicate it, did I? But seriously, where do blastocysts fit into this nonsense?"

That's one way of interpretting it. You hit the high points anyway. I think it's interesting that the rib came from the man, but it's probably a minor detail for some people. I believe the blastoccysts come next, when Adam and Eve consummate their relationship and have two sons. Keep reading. You're getting to first of many good parts!

Rick Esenberg said...

John Foust

I think the notion that anyone can relentlessly follow the data is a type of faith claim.

Beyond that, the idea that scientific materialism tells us all that we need to know is a also a type of faith claim. It says that, if I can't measure it, it's not there.

And for our Doobie Brother,

I don't think you overcomplicated it. I think you oversimplified it. You've taken spiritual claims and recast them in material terms.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

Rick,
Maybe you've taken material terms and recast them into spiritual claims? But since we don't know, maybe we shouldn't let either one affect our opinion of blastocysts.

Also, you're mangling the definition faith. But I think you know that. I think you're wrong in how you define what we "need to know." Of course there are a lot of answers that science can't provide. When that happens, we should be comfortable not knowing. And it's fun to speculate, but it's dangerous to act as if our particular guesses are truthes. We certainly shouldn't let these guesses affect unrelated policy decisions.

Jane,
I'm not gonna keep reading. I read the whole thing several times. It wasn't that good.

Rick Esenberg said...

My problem, JisJAR, is that almost any moral judgment is going to rest on some materially unverifiable proposition. Do you like utilitarianism? Are you moved by the Rawlsian veil of ignorance? All are ultimatelyrooted in some a priori value judgement.

You don't want religious presuppositions to tell us whether to destroy embryos. Then what does tell us whether we can or cannot. You might say that anything that might alleviate illness ought to be tried, but that will ultimately run you into some conundrum that can't be answered scientifically. Should we harvest fetuses for medical purposes if that proves scientifically efficacious? Should we develop nonsentient human beings to serve as organ donors? All science can tell you is whether these things should be done, not whether they ought to.

You don't want to use religion to answer these questions because you believe that it is not true. But you'll need to find some other source of ultimate value to help you address them and that source of value won't be capable of being scientifically proven.

Anonymous said...

JIJAWM - "But in real life, Pi does not equal 3."

Regarding your refernce to what you presented as an inaccuracy of scripture. A cubit is believed to have been measured a couple different ways in Old Testament days but the fore arm of a man was the most common.

Precision of the measurement is not the emphasis of the scripture but was to give a picture of the size of the pot.

You'll have to try much harder than that...so for now I'll believe the scriptures more then I believe you.

Anonymous said...

JIJAWM -

One last thing is that I still believe there is hope for you when you consider that the famous "Clearance Darrow" did finally confess that he was wrong to critize God, the Bible and the Church. He wanted to go to heaven.

You may not want to face that decision now, but someday you will.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

Rick,
I'm all for using our brains to come to well reasoned decisions on policy matters when data and science can't. But that doesn't mean we can just say, "cause the aliens told me..."

Anon,
Ah, Cubits are just a rough estimate of a distance. So you're saying the bible was written by human beings that make mistakes? I agree.

As for Clarence Darrow, I've never heard that he said anything like that. I hope you aren't referring to this quote:

"It is bigotry for public schools to teach only one theory of origins."

It's an internet favorite of the right-wing WorldNutDaily liars. You see, Darrow never said it. The quote is taken from a law review article by a creationist lawyer named Wendell Bird, who got it from a creationist named Robert O'Bannon, who didn't source it at all, but later said he got it from a book by a dude named Jolly Griggs called "Science and Scripture." Griggs said he got it from an unnamed Baptist minister from Denver who he thought read it in a newspaper at the time of the Scopes trial. Obviously, no such quote appears in any newspaper article about the trial. So it's a complete fabrication and has been proven so. But a-holes like WorldNutDaily and Pat Boone don't seem to care.

If that's not what you were referring to, sorry. If it is, quit perpetuating lies.

Jane Frantz said...

Jesus,

Where do you suppose brains came from?

P.S. The Barbarian Invasions is an excellent film.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

Prolly either from Aliens of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Where do you suppose they came from?

I have a feeling your response is going to end with "turtles all the way down."

Jane Frantz said...

Wow. All along I've been trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. Now it's back to the real world.

P.S. If Jesus is Really Alright With You, you might want to rethink a few things. If He's not, you might want to rethink your user name. Otherwise, you might just want to think. Or maybe not. Who knows? Obviously, no one does, well, besides you. And yes, you count. I wish you peace.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

Jane,
I think when a major part of your life is believing that a cosmic Jewish zombie that is his own father will remove evil forces from you that were put there when a woman created from a rib took an apple from a talking snake if you ceremonially eat his flesh and telepathincally tell him you want him to be your master, you shouldn't get to refer to your life as "the real world."

But if you want to talk down to me, I can do that too (see above). Why not just answer my question? Where do you think our big brains came from? Why don't you believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Jane Frantz said...

"Where do you think our big brains came from?"

From God.

"Why don't you believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster?"

Because I believe in a triune God who lifted my sorry soul from depths too deep to explain in the time I have right now and set me on a well lit path. I have all the evidence I need to prove (at least to myself) that He is real. It's not my goal to convince or convert the world ... only to share what I have with those who desire the same peace and joy. I try not to overthink it or create walls of separation. I also try not to talk down to people, but instead to talk with them. Unfortunately, I can't control how people interpret what I say, and whether or not they seek clarification usually depends on how willing they are to consider opinions other than their own. I commend you for your open mind. I typically don't let a person's opinions influence how I treat them, unless they are blatantly disrespectful or harmful in some way, in which case, I pray for them.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"I try not to overthink it."

In trying not to overthink it, you've underthought it. That's okay, but you should consider giving it a little more thought.

Then you'll see that it is the Flying Spaghetti Monster that has lifted your soul from depths too deep to explain. Of course, the Flying Spaghetti Monster works in mysterious ways and for some reason, he has appeared to you in the form of a triune god instead of his noodly self. Our minds cannot fathom why He does the things He does, but I'm sure He has a plan for you and a reason for His choice to make you believe in false gods like Jesus or Thor.

I pray that someday The Flying Spaghetti Monster touches you with his noodly appendage and you will discover salvation through Him. Ramen.

Seriously though, if God made us, who made God? Don't we have a turtle problem here?