Saturday, July 30, 2005

Bad Motives, Bad Arguments, and the Destruction of Life

A lot of people have a lot of reasons for wanting embryonic stem cell research expanded. I think one of the primary motives is a desire to devalue human life so as to make abortion seem more acceptable, which in turn makes it easier for people to engage in the sexual immorality that interests them. And some people, like the editorialists for the New York Times and the Boston Globe, probably also want to see the Bush administration and religious conservatives defeated and weakened as much as possible. Whatever their motivations, the reactions to Bill Frist's speech yesterday on embryonic stem cell research are typical and, thus, typically shallow.

The Boston Globe, for example, in an editorial today, gives no coherent defense of the concept that life begins sometime after conception, yet comments that "By any reasonable standard, these are not human beings...If surplus embryos are human beings, they deserve legal protection, but they are an aggregation of cells, not yet implanted in the womb." If you read the Boston Globe editorial and see nothing close to a logical defense of their view of when life begins, you're not alone. This isn't the first time the Boston Globe editorial page has sounded confident without having any reason to be confident.

Similarly, an editorial today in the New York Times comments that embryonic stem cell research "is anathema to the religious right because the stem cells are extracted from microscopic embryos that are destroyed in the process". I guess that the adjective "microscopic" is supposed to be a convincing argument against the human status of the embryos. You certainly won't find anything else in the editorial that supports the Times' view of when life begins, whatever that view might be. Maybe they don't know what it is themselves. They're just confident that life begins sometime after conception, probably sometime late enough to accommodate most desired abortions.

The Weekly Standard has a good response to Frist's speech, and here are some portions of it:

In fact, for all the complaints of scientists that the American government is standing in the way of their pioneering efforts, the striking fact about the present situation is that there are virtually no legal prohibitions on many radical areas of biotechnology. There are no limits on human cloning, no limits on fetal farming, no limits on the creation of man-animal hybrids, and no limits on the creation of human embryos solely for research and destruction. It is in this rather permissive moral and legal climate that Frist seeks to remove one of the few public boundaries that still exist....

When it comes to stem cell research, there are many sources of support, some of them from other levels of government. In 2004 (to our regret), California passed a law providing $3 billion in funding for embryo research and research cloning--far more money than even the most pro-stem cell administration would ever provide through the NIH. Meanwhile, embryo destruction proceeds apace in private laboratories around the country, and in some states beyond California with generous public funding. So why does it make sense to force citizens to become complicit in an activity they see as wrong, when funding for such research is readily available from nonfederal sources?...

Frist called on the federal government to promote, with taxpayer dollars, the ongoing destruction of human embryos. In a television interview that day, he said that research using and destroying the "spares" can be done ethically so long as there is a "moral framework around informed consent." But if embryos deserve respect as nascent human lives, as Frist says he believes, it should not matter whether researchers have permission from their parents to destroy them. If embryos are "human life at its earliest stage," as Frist says he believes, then none of us possesses the authority to consent to their destruction. To promote embryo destruction and still claim to be "pro-life," as Frist did throughout his speech, is absurd.