I don’t often make politically-tinged statements on my blog, or in normal conversation, for that matter. Although I’m pretty smart and better-educated than most, I know that I’m not well-informed enough about many of today’s big issues to participate seriously in a political debate.
And that’s okay. The amount of misinformed, narrow-minded political twaddle in the world (and especially here on the interweb) disgusts me, and I’d rather not add to it.
That said, this article about scientists’ responses to ethically-based attacks on stem cell research got me thinking. Now, I may not know jack about war or diplomacy or the economy, but I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on stem cells (for a layperson, at least).
I was originally going to post a question that the article planted in my head, namely, “Why are the people who protest animal testing and the people who protest stem cell research rarely the same people?” But I think I’ve already answered that one to my satisfaction, aided by a rereading of the article.
The moral basis of the pro-animal claim is that it’s unethical to cause suffering in a living creature (or through inaction allow a living creature to suffer). This makes sense to me. I’m okay with animals as test subjects, but only if they’re treated humanely. We have laws regulating this, and scientific progress is allowed to continue.
The moral basis of the pro-embryo claim (correct me if i’m wrong) is that it’s unethical to kill a human, here defined, I believe, as an entity which is genetically human and which is complete (i.e., not just a leg, a tooth, or an unfertilized egg). This makes slightly less sense to me. I don’t know the particulars of the laws regulating this field at the moment (or proposed laws), but I get the feeling that they’re fairly restrictive.
I initially didn’t see why these causes were all that different, and why there would be so little overlap in their supporters. I support both humane animal research and humane stem cell research* for the same reason: they make good science without being unethical, in my opinion.
But I see now how they differ. Animal-rights people are all about preventing the suffering of animals, but embryo-rights people are all about…something else. It’s not about the suffering of the embryos per se, but about their potential human-ness. (Right?) I want to pin it all on religion, but I’m sure there are other reasons behind the pro-embryo position. I can’t think of any good ones right now, though—anyone care to enlighten me?
But ANYWAY, the point that I was really trying to get to was one made by the second commenter.
[Scientists] can point to the development of IVF which has created the “problem” of leftover embryos and yet has mostly escaped villification from the anti-abortion crowd (no doubt because it’s bad PR to deny a mother the chance of conceiving a child).
This is an interesting point, and one that I’ve never considered before. Why *don’t* the people who loudly oppose stem cell research also loudly oppose in-vitro fertilization? Or do they? Have I not been paying attention?
It seems logically inconsistent to attack the stem cell scientists without attacking the IVF doctors. The scientists don’t create embryos for the sole purpose of killing them in the process of their research, they merely use extra embryos left over from IVF that were never going to be allowed to develop in the first place. Without stem cell research, IVF would still be chugging along, creating and discarding hundreds of thousands of potential humans every year**.
Yet, as far as I know, there is no strong political/religious/ethical movement to outlaw or restrict IVF. Why not? Why don’t the anti-stem cell people add an anti-IVF plank to their platform? Or, why are those groups okay with IVF but ethically opposed to stem cell research?
I’m (mostly) not trying to poke fun here. I do want to know where the debate actually stands, and what the real issues are. Thoughts? Corrections?
* By humane, I mean that nobody suffers unduly. The embryos themselves do not suffer, and the ones used in research were going to be killed anyway.
** This is a made-up number, but I think it’s order-of-magnitude correct. I’m sleepy right now and don’t want to bother looking it up. I’ll let you know if it turns out to be way off.
P.S. I personally think IVF is a Good Idea™. I figure this should be obvious, but I’m just clarifying here in case you were reading too fast and think I’m nuts.