Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 26, 2010

LOOKING FOR INTELLECTUAL CONSISTENCY IN THE STEM-CELL DEBATE.... A federal court order this week threw a massive curveball at stem-cell research, and it's going to take some time and effort to sort things out. As you may have heard, the ruling will be appealed and Congress will likely hold some hearings, and Nina Mendelson, a professor of administrative law at the University of Michigan Law School, has some helpful insights into what, exactly, the judge did.

In the meantime, the underlying issue is back in the news, and Michael Kinsley notes some of the key inconsistencies in the position taken by those who insist that embryos are people in need of protection.

Half of all pregnancies end in miscarriages, usually in the first couple of weeks, before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. A miscarriage destroys an embryo. If you believe that every embryo is the moral equivalent of a fully-formed human being, miscarriages are like a perpetual natural disaster like a flood or an earthquake, and you should be urging a massive effort to reduce miscarriages as the best way to save millions of human lives a year. As far as I know, there is no such effort going on in the United States or elsewhere.

But perhaps your concern is not the number of slaughtered embryos, but rather the morality of intentionally killing them or -- worse, in your view -- intentionally creating and then killing them. In that case, your attention should be directed to fertility clinics, which routinely create multiple embryos for each human baby they wish to produce. They pick and choose among the embryos that seem healthiest, and typically implant several in the hope that one --and not more than one -- will survive. Every year tens of thousands of human embryos are created and destroyed (or pointlessly frozen) in the everyday work of fertility clinics. There is no political effort to stop this work. President George W. Bush even praised the work of fertility clinics in his speech announcing the policy that virtually halted stem cell research for eight years. Advanced fertility techniques have brought happiness to thousands of couples who otherwise would probably be childless. They are a godsend that no politician would dare oppose.

Of the tens of thousands of embryos discarded by fertility clinics every year, a few are used for stem cell research. Extracting the stem cells involves destroying the embryos, which would be destroyed anyway.

I've long looked for consistency -- intellectual, moral, ethical -- among opponents of stem-cell research, and I've never found any. If someone believes a fertilized egg that has grown to a few dozen cells is a full-fledged human being, deserving of the full protection of the law, then IVF would constitute nightmarish science. Conservatives would be compelled to protest at fertility clinics, and condemn families that try to have babies through the procedure. After all, the IVF process is designed to include discarded embryos.

But no one is making that argument. There's a high degree of comfort level with discarding embryos at fertility clinics, but intense conservative opposition to medical research involving embryos that offer the promise of life-saving science. I've never understood this.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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"Half of all pregnancies end in miscarriages, usually in the first couple of weeks"

I am the leading abortionist, BY FAR!


Posted by: I am who am on August 26, 2010 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

It's all a part of the mindset which allows one to proclaim oneself to be 'pro-life' while, at the same time, being an advocate for the death penalty. As the late George Carlin pointed out, pro-life means pro-their right to decide who lives and dies.


Posted by: Zorro on August 26, 2010 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

Right-wingers have never needed or looked for intellectual consistency. Rejection of reason is at the core of their worldview.

Easy illustration. They claim to oppose abortion because they are defending the life of an innocent child. Yet they oppose every effort to reduce abortions, like sex-ed and freely available contraception, and they do support doing anything to ensure the health and life of newborns.

No one of significance in the political world or the corporate press/media ever points this out or calls on them to explain this.

Posted by: James E. Powell on August 26, 2010 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone who tries to unravel the skein of inviolable right-wing principles is eventually driven mad. In short, there are none. There are just screaming points that get fluffed by their media until they're no longer useful. It's okay to kill, maim and torture human beings if they are deemed "enemy combatants". Who gets to decide that? A Republican president. There are blastocysts that are deemed human beings. By whom? Republican presidents. All the huffing and puffing about "values" and this is what we get: a Republican president who is also a pope.

Posted by: walt on August 26, 2010 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

To 'military intelligence' and 'jumbo shrimp,' you can add 'conservative consistency.'
The late George Carlin would thank you.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on August 26, 2010 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

It's okay though if the miscarriages are black/brown people or muslims!

- GO(d)P

Posted by: Trollop on August 26, 2010 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

FYI, the word is still out in this election cycle on miscarried homosexual blastocysts and fetuses (but it's probably okay).

-The Party of Jesus

Posted by: Trollop on August 26, 2010 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

One would think by now the believers in viable, terrestrial embryonic life are ready to go one step further and demand the preservation of all aborted embryos as they represent a divine measure, and as such may possess great metaphysical and spiritual power - you know, kinda how the ancient Incas believed the dried fetuses of Llamas (a divine creature in their tutelary beliefs) possessed great healing powers!

But, alas, today's modern idiots can't hold a quipu to the intellect of the ancient Incas! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on August 26, 2010 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

"Half of all pregnancies end in miscarriages, usually in the first couple of weeks, before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. A miscarriage destroys an embryo."

And since the embryo is a fully fledged human being, shouldn't every miscarriage be investigated by the coroner and police? How do we know that the woman did not do something deliberately to cause the miscarriage? That would be murder. And if she unintentionally did something, then that might be manslaughter.

Posted by: arkie on August 26, 2010 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

Be careful what you wish for. I'm not sure that you actually want consistency here, if it means that every miscarriage will be investigated as a possible homicide.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on August 26, 2010 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

Have also wondered why no one points out that with "life begins at conception" law then by law if not logic you'd have to investigate any miscarriage as a possible homicide, potentially murder or manslaughter.

I'd also like to know what anti-choicers do to honor or otherwise memorialize these "victims"...or do they assign them some sort of second-class citizenship from the get go?

Posted by: Michael on August 26, 2010 at 6:24 PM | PERMALINK

I think it goes back to how we see pregnant women. A woman who is pregnant and wants an abortion is seen as unnatural and evil. She is seen as a loose woman of questionable morals, no matter what the circumstances of the impregnation or the reason for the abortion. A woman who is trying to get pregnant with in-vitro fertilization or one of its variants is seen as a good person. The discarding of the extra embryos that weren't implanted is done out of sight, not in an abortion clinic. The most peculiar aspect is that in many cases of in-vitro, mothers must agree to "reduce" the number of fetuses, if too many start to develop. I haven't heard of many demonstrations outside fertility clinics calling for an end to those abortions. My guess is that the anti-abortion folks (I won't call them pro-life) know darn well that women who are actively seeking to become pregnant are sympathetic figures to the general public and harder to demonize than women who are seeking abortions.

Posted by: ceilidth on August 26, 2010 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

The Catholic Church is at least consistent on IVF. They condemn it for exactly the reason you point out: it results in the destruction of unimplanted embryos.

Posted by: treetop on August 26, 2010 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

Kinsley has made this sort of error again and again . Making a rational argument will just get another Jonah Goldberg morass of caveats into retractions best seller . Something like Conservative Logic , or Conservative Squeamishness . Heaven knows the big schlub needs to keep his ardent supporters socialised , doing research for the next big idea . Wouldn't want them to become like the legendary hippies over at Malkin's garden of angry WASPs .

Posted by: FRP on August 26, 2010 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

Michael on August 26, 2010 at 6:24 PM |

... then by law if not logic you'd have to investigate any miscarriage as a possible homicide, potentially murder or manslaughter ...

Check with Onan for more detail .

Posted by: FRP on August 26, 2010 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

treetop has it: it's not just the catholic church; there are a lot of nutbars who fulminate against IVF because of the embys. And a few years back there was (and probably still is) the "snowflake baby" movement for rescuing frozen embryos by implanting them in the uteri of Good Christian Women. Even though at the time the success rate for unrelated frozen embryo transfers was about 10%.

Posted by: paul on August 26, 2010 at 8:12 PM | PERMALINK

I think that mutilating the dead is a disgrace, And I hereby call for the government to stop funding the so-called "organ transplants."

Posted by: BuzzMon on August 26, 2010 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, some wing-nuts have passed legislation that calls miscarriages potential homicides and calls for police investigation to see if Mom did anything to intentionally kill Baby John. I think the other house failed to pass the bill.

Maybe MO? some conservative midwestern desert.

There is no limit to what the irrational will do when given power... and I second the call to arm ourselves for self-protection. The wing-nuts will be astonished to find that the 2nd amendment applies to DFHs as well as to Real Men!

Posted by: JR in VA on August 26, 2010 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

If there's a slut to be shamed, the right will almost always find a way to manufacture the outrage. If not, they seldom care. Their consistency is near 100 percent.

Posted by: FGS on August 26, 2010 at 11:36 PM | PERMALINK

The claim that the researchers are "killing" the embryo is completely fallacious. The researchers are actually saving the cells in the embryo to keep them alive. The so-called "pro-life" movement is using this merely as a legal/political means to get a fertilized egg recognized as a "human being" so that abortion can be prosecuted as murder. For a people who claim to be taking the moral high road they are exceedingly dishonest.

Furthermore, they want to legally force their religious beliefs on everyone else in the country, which according to my understanding is unconstitutional. Jewish scholars, Muslims and mainstream protestants regard gestations times from 40 days or later as when an embryo becomes an human entity. From a scientific sense, it would be from when the brain is developing that would be rational.

Posted by: Jubal on August 27, 2010 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK



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