TCS Daily


For Stem Cell Research: A Lesser Malevolence

By Michael Rosen - July 24, 2006 12:00 AM

Note: this is the third article in a series on the politics and morality of embryonic stem-cell research from a traditional Jewish perspective. The first two installments can be found here and here.

On Wednesday, President Bush deployed his veto pen for the first time in his presidency. His decision to reject Congress's passage of a bill providing federal financing for embryonic stem-cell (ESC) research was thoughtful, painful, and reflective of the president's trademark conviction and consistency.

It was also unfortunate.

But before examining the merits of the ESC debate from an observant Jewish perspective, as I began to do many months ago in the second installment of this series, it's important to calm the heated rhetoric on both sides of the issue, as I tried to do in the inaugural chapter.

First, dedicated proponents of ESC research must respect, acknowledge, and engage the arguments posed by their opponents. Depicting critics of techniques that destroy embryos as anti-science boors does nothing to advance the debate.

Second, foes of the research should move away from their focus on "alternative" avenues such as adult and cord-blood stem-cell research. This isn't to say that such modes of research won't be fruitful -- on the contrary: they already are quite productive -- but rather that there's no reason to consider them an alternative to ESC research simply because they share the word "stem-cell." Just as the government funds cancer research as well as AIDS research, so too can it easily sustain funding for both embryonic and non-embryonic stem-cell work.

(Of course, it doesn't help matters when the lead sponsors of the ESC bill generate talking points disparaging adult and other forms of non-embryonic stem-cell funding on the most spurious of grounds. Reps. Mike Castle and Diane DeGette could also use some instruction in the meaning of the word "alternative.")

Instead, both the advocates and enemies of ESC research should concentrate on the essence of the question, namely whether it is appropriate to destroy (kill, if you like) embryonic life in the service of medicine and science.

As I argued in October, traditional Judaism takes what might be described as a pragmatic approach to issues involving pre-birth life. This entails a recognition that while embryos and fetuses are worthy of respect and mustn't be discarded at will, they are ontologically different from babies who have emerged from the womb.

Thus, abortion-on-demand and in other circumstances is strictly prohibited. But destroying an embryo for legitimate purposes -- including the potential for healing the terminally ill -- is permissible according to the vast majority of Jewish religio-legal authorities.

Not every scholar concurs with this judgment, of course. Eric Cohen, editor of The New Atlantis, program director at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and consultant to the President's Council on Bioethics, is one of ESC's most prominent and eloquent Jewish opponents.

In a recent article in First Things, Cohen argues that "most Jewish thinkers have chosen one Jewish value -- the good of healing -- as the prism through which to see the old sources."

He contends instead that numerous sources in the Jewish tradition underwrite a respect for unborn life that amounts -- nearly -- to treating such life comparably to post-partum humans. Cohen suggests that Judaism prohibits "deliberately killing early embryos," ostensibly regardless of the purpose of such deliberate killing.

But this isn't a complete accounting. First, with respect to the touchstone of the analysis, the majority of Jewish scholars begin by examining the status of unborn life and then balance that status against other considerations which include, prominently, the extremely important value of healing. The starting point, as Cohen implicitly recognizes, must be Exodus 21:22-23, a passage whose Hebrew is treacherously difficult to translate but whose meaning is clear:

"If two men struggle and injure a woman who is pregnant so that her offspring be expelled, but there be not harm [befalling her], then [the injurer(s)] shall be fined as the woman's husband shall determine, and the matter shall be referred to the judges. But if there be harm [befalling her], then you shall give life for life."

As I explained last year, the universally recognized understanding of these crucial verses is that punishment more severe than a mere monetary fine is imposed only if the woman -- not the fetus -- is killed (the fetus presumably dies in both situations). Thus, the first commandment God issues concerning human beings prior to birth distinguishes sharply between the born and the unborn.

Cohen contends that this passage, along with others like it, concerns accidental, not intentional, death. Instead, he points to various Talmudic and other rabbinic utterances condemning the sheer evil of the deliberate, wanton murder of the unborn.

But Cohen largely ignores the distinction, so crucial in Jewish law, between unjustified homicide and necessary taking of life, between murder and killing. In the case of embryos and fetuses, whose status in the eyes of the Talmudic sources range from "mere water" to potential life, causeless slaughter is proscribed but killing for a very good reason is simply not.

In some ways, this distinction tracks the "double-effect" principle in traditional Catholic doctrine and the Just War theory. In my understanding, ESC research satisfies the four prongs of this principle: (1) creating stem-cell lines for research is not wrong in itself; (2) the intention of the scientist extracting the lines is right, namely saving lives through research; (3) the bad effect (i.e. killing the embryo) is not a means to the good effect (i.e. saving lives) because although the embryo dies after the stem-cells are extracted, its death is not a "means" to that extraction but rather a result thereof; and (4) the gravity of the reason for creating the ESC lines is commensurate with the foreseen (but unintended) bad effect, namely the death of the embryo.

These are all admittedly highly controversial claims. But the point, ultimately, is that there is legitimate justification in religious tradition for performing this kind of research.

Another way of putting this is that various evils must occasionally be compared. While I harbor no illusions of mastery of Christian theology, I find the following analogy very interesting.

In the early 1980's, in the crucible of heightened nuclear tension between the superpowers, the late Pope John Paul II sent a message to the United Nations Disarmament Session that declared:

"In current conditions 'deterrence' based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable. Nonetheless, in order to ensure peace, it is indispensable not to be satisfied with this minimum which is always susceptible to the real danger of explosion."

In other words, the Pontiff announced that despite the inherent immorality of nuclear weapons -- deriving from the idea that Just War theory and Catholic doctrine bar not only the massive destruction of innocent civilian life but also the threat thereof -- deterrence was permissible, but only as a transitory expedient, a way-station on the road to disarmament.

This was no compromise or accommodation with evil, but rather a recognition that evil exists on a continuum and a lesser malevolence must, in extraordinary circumstances, be tolerated if it forestalls a much greater evil.

At the same time, such toleration mustn't lead one down a slippery-slope, nor can it be the only bulwark against the greater evil; the Pope enjoined all persons to shirk complacency and pursue a peace that did not rely on deterrence.

The same concept can profitably be applied to the embryonic stem-cell debate. To Catholics, and to many other people of faith, the debate involves a tension between two evils: the existence of cruel and unrelenting diseases and the destruction or killing of embryos. It could be helpful to the debate to consider the possibility of weighing the evils -- and the benefits -- involved.

This analogy isn't meant to imply that sickness poses as grave a danger to humanity as nuclear warfare once did, nor that engaging in the practice of Mutually Assured Destruction theory was comparably immoral to embryo destruction.

Instead, the nuclear metaphor merely acknowledges, first, that differing degrees of evil can and do exist and that it is appropriate to discuss and weigh options that involve such evils. If the destruction of embryonic life in its infant stages can yield the protection of adult life in its final phases, there is a strong moral argument to engage in this lesser evil to prevent the greater one.

But John Paul II's nuclear message also insists that we simultaneously pursue other methods of curing evil that do not implicate other evils. To that end, interestingly, some ESC research has suggested that embryonic stem cells can be created without destroying embryos. If these methodologies prove successful, we can eradicate the massive evil without further recourse to the smaller one.

And perhaps this is the ultimate message: if ESC opponents and proponents, ethicists and scientists, religious and secular, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim alike would engage in a serious debate on the issues, we just might arrive at a solution that satisfies most everyone.

Michael M. Rosen, TCS Daily's intellectual property columnist, is an attorney in San Diego.

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60 Comments

Pretending
When Bush became president in 2001, the Republican spin machine went into high gear pretending he was an intellectual, the kind who reads books and newspapers and engages in thought provoking debates. Condi Rice gave him "(irrelevent title here)" by George Eliot. Maureen Dawd wondered in a column whether President George was aware of the anatomical differences between him and author Goerge.

Clue for the clueless: the intellectual side of President Bush is as fake as professional wrestling. He doesn't know the names of philosophers and his favorite author on the environment is Tom Clancy. His open mike conversation with Tony Blaire on Hezbollah has the depth of knowledge we would expect at an open bar at a Bar Mitzvah.

Now about stem cells. The "embrios" (a few dozen cells having less cognative ability between them than Terry Schaivo) are routinely distroyed. If Bush were concerned about them, he would do something about that. But this is not about "saving" embrios, it's political theater. Bush issues his first "veto", the Christian Conservatives cheerl, and Fox gets to show him as a strong leader. As the observant Jews in New York are wont to say, pleeeaaaaasse.

Preserving all embryos
I couldn't agree more, Michael. We now have a backlog of 400,000 frozen embryos that the parents don't want to make babies from and are prohibited from donating for research. Every last one represents the possibility of a viable baby, and so naturally they should all have the opportunity to get implanted into a womb-- just like every unfertilized egg should have the opportunity to get harvested, fertilized and also implanted.

The only problem is, we have a shortage of donor wombs. 150,000 of these little zygotes have in fact been abandoned. Their donors (parents?) have stopped paying the storage fees, or moved and left no forwarding address.

So then. Michael, can we put you and your wife down for thirty or forty of these zygotes? Those little snowflake babies look soooo cute. And I know you'll want to save as many as possible. Even if it's only a dozen you get right now, I know you'll want to do your part. And you can always come back and save more later.

Why is it up to the Federal Government?
Why should we look to the bloated bureaucracy of the federal government to pay for stem cell research? Almost every agency in the US federal system concentrates more on political correctness and expanding its staff and power base than it does on accomplishing anything meaningful. Should we trust the future of stem cell research to those wonderful people that gave us the current Medicare and Medicaid system? Or perhaps we could allow the same people that established FEMA or the Department of Homeland Security to run the research grants?

Why not use private money from existing foundations to pay for the research?

For example - the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has more than 60 billion dollars to spend on improving health care throughout the world. The foundation, like many non-profit organizations, is efficient and effectively managed. It could fully fund stem cell research faster than any bureaucratic federal agency. And it would be able to produce results without political influences or charges of favoritism.

rabbinic tradition, aristotle, church history; different authorities on the embryo question
I appreciate Rosen's articles on the subject. They are calm, they are respectful, they are fair, they are insightful and informative; as far as I can tell, they have valid arguments and a lot of true premises.

The issue I want to raise is to what degree Rabbinic tradition is authoritative for us. As a committed Christian, obviously I need to consider the Hebraic roots of my faith in the Old Testament; however, I feel myself more directly linked to the Church Fathers, the medieval mysticas, and the Protestant Reformers. These, as far as I know, took an Aristotelian line.

Very short lesson on Aristotle. Aristotle (see "De Anima," or "On the Soul") says that the soul is the principle that animates and organizes a biological organism. Show me a healthy organism, and I will show you the soul appropriate to it. A human embryo has a soul; it has the sort of soul that is appropriate to a human being when he or she is an embryo.

---
A slightly longer commentary on Aristotle. Readers who are in a hurry should feel free to skim over this until you see the second ---. This is the basic good sense that is so marked of Aristotle: He stands at the fountainhead of the western intellectual tradition; he is a realist; he looks around him and observes what goes on in the world; he describes; he is an early scientist in many ways. A traditional contrast is made between him and Plato. Plato looks at the things in this world and says, "These are not the real thing. These are shadows of the real. There are forms of these things that make them what they are. These forms are in a higher world. We must contemplate these forms; to do so we must escape the intellectual trapings of this world and ascend to the higher things."

But Aristotle looks around him and says, "This is the world we live in, so this world is real. These things are real things; the forms of these things are in the things themselves; we will understand the forms by understanding the things in which the forms inhere."

So it is that, for Plato, the human soul is a rational principle that causes of the movement of the body. The good of the soul is to get in touch with the intellectual world, despite the allure of material reality; the soul is considered as separate from the body. But for Aristotle, the human soul is the form of the body, much more than the source of the body's movement. The soul is a principle that is not to be considered as separate from the body. The rational power is one power of the human soul, which has other powers: movement, sense, appetite.
---

Back to the Christian tradition. I've read both Augustine and Aquinas agreeing with Aristotle that the soul is the form of the body. Basic agreement between Aristotle and St. Aquinas is traditional knowledge even in Intro to Philosohpy courses, but you can also find St. Augustine doing the same on many issues, including the human soul. For instance, I think if you find a translation of De Beata Vita ("On the Happy Life") you will see Augustine giving a basically Aristotelian definition of the soul, somewhere early on in the text; I can't remember exactly where.

Back, at last, to ESCR. If Aristotle is right, then the human embryo has a human soul. The human soul is found where the human body is found, and the human embryo is a human body, worthy of all the respect and protection under the law that the rest of us deserve. ESCR is abhorrent, an atrocity by any ethical standard that recognizes the rights of human beings. Destroying human beings is probably the ultimate gradation of evil.

Christian Church history is wont to agree with Aristotle. If you want to see what a present-day Christian looks like when he takes an Aristotelian approach on early-life issues, look on Amazon for material by Patrick Lee.

There are some differences between the medievals and Aristotle. Augustine and Aquinas do talk about the soul's separability from the body, but they point out that, since the human being is a composite of soul and body, such a separate soul would not be an entire human being. We are complete human beings in the heavenly state, where we will have bodies of some sort. The dualist mindset that thinks of the body as a necessary evil or a hindrance to spiritual enlightenment or whatever, is a failure to appreciate Aristotle. This attitude, when held by Christians, is a failure to get in touch with our own theological-philosophical tradition. It is, above all, a failure to reflect on the profound significance of the doctrine of the Incarnation, a doctrine that claims that God became human flesh, a doctrine infusing value on the human body. The Incarnation calls us to respect the human body; equating the human being with the human soul, and that with the intellectual power, is quite frankly un-Christian. Since this is the sort of thing suggested by Descartes, and since Descartes' philosophical clout is so much less than Aristotle's, it may even be un-philosophical, and even un-scientific.

BUT there are at least two open questions for me. One is whether the medievals think that the 2-day human embryo has the same soul as the adult human being. I have not read the relevant portions of Aquinas' "Summa Theologica" that deal with this subject. Question 118 of the First Part of the Summa (http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/FP.html#TOC06) may help, but beware of feeling you understand it very well if you haven't also read a good bit of the contextual material. In any case, the aforementioned Patrick Lee is a Catholic, so it's a safe assumption that he is familiar with the relevant differences between Aquinas and Aristotle on the subject.

The second open question is the question with which I began. What authorities should solve the ESCR question for us? For Christians, should the medieval tradition always overrule the Rabbinic tradition? Surely the latter is closer to a contemporary Muslim, but Aristotle is relevant to Muslims as well. Given a choice between Aristotle and the Rabbinic tradition, an atheist should probably choose Aristotle--but what other choices does she have?

I agree with Rosen; we need a more serious debate on the issue. But what are the contours of the debate, and what sort of authorities have spoken on the question of the human embryo? Perhaps someone reading this knows the answer to some of the questions I have raised; I have told you most of what I know.

Human Life
Once fertilization occurs within a host (whether a human female or an artificial mechanism capable of sustaining human embryo/fetus development to birth), the probability of a future human life approaches 100 %. Under such circumstances, applying legal status to the unborn is consistent with the facts. Thus, abortion can only be justified based on a threat to the health of the mother. And it must always be a mother’s option to sacrifice her own life in the effort to save the life of her child.

ESC research generally involves the use of material created by fertilization OUTSIDE a host. If a trillion fertilizations are generated in a laboratory setting, precisely ZERO births will occur. Human LIFE requires fertilization PLUS a host. Therefore, the scientific use of fertilized embryos outside of a host is NOT destruction of human or potential human life.

Opposing ESC research based on the claim that human lives are being destroyed is public policy based on empirically inaccurate beliefs.

Specificity
"His decision to reject Congress's passage of a bill providing federal financing for embryonic stem-cell (ESC) research was thoughtful, painful, and reflective of the president's trademark conviction and consistency."

Whether or not the federal government would fund ESC research was not at issue here; the federal government began funding ESC research during the first Bush Administration. Rather, the question was whether the federal funding would be extended to embrionic lines which were not already in use at the time the federal government began funding ESC, which was the limitation placed on federal funding initially.

Whether or not ESC research could be performed on embrionic lines which were not already in use at the time the federal government began funding ESC was also not at issue here. This research can be conducted under current law, but not with federal funding.

In this case, the majority of members of Congress and the President do not agree. The Congress is free to override the veto, if support for federal funding of ESC research on new embrionic lines has sufficient support in Congress. At least at the moment, that does not seem to be the case.

The gratuitous slurs in the first post notwithstanding, this decision was the President's to make; and, he made it in a manner consistent with his conscience and his previous positions on the issue.

Once the ESC research currently underway begins to show significant positive results, there should be adequate private funding available to take advantage of the promised marvels.

The pointlessness of the stem cell debate, and a suggestion to refocus it.
Morally justifying stem cell research is easy. I do not believe that anybody has actually suggested that stem research, in and of itself, is evil. Opponents of ESC research suggest the means by which those embryos are made available is evil.

Make no mistake, this issue has nothing to do with the potential for scientific research or the morality of using these embryos after they have already beeen removed from the mother. The argument is strictly focused on the issue of whether or not an embryo represents a living being or a tumor-like clump of tissue. If research on embryos or cells extracted from them comes to be seen as ghoulish or immoral, then abortion also becomes suspect. By acknowledging that an embryo is, in fact, a baby that would have come to term if the mother had not killed it, laws that restrict ESC research threaten to destroy the idea that abortion just removes a "non-viable tissue mass."

The trick is to take the morality of abortion out of the picture by taking voluntarily aborted fetuses out of the piucture. If the government requires that future ESC's be gathered from fetuses that were aborted on the grounds of the health of the mother, then we have removed the issue of morality. The right will never oppose research on embryos that were lost due to an accident or disease.

The left will still gripe and complain because any restriction on ESC research risks turning people against abortion by acknowledging that a fetus is more than a tissue mass. However, the right is the side that matters at the moment.

Kudos for Tabonfils
Couldn't have said it better myself.

In other news, while the great Aristotle might have spoken on his observations with regards to the soul, he had nothing to say about genetics nor about stem cells. He didn't seem to have knowledge of these things. I guess we know something he didn't know.

The word soul literally means, in its etymological roots, "appetite" (hence the slang term "soul food"). This is why the New Testament can make the statement that is is possible for the "dividing assunder" of "spirit and soul". (One's appetite or desires becoming antagonistic to one's self-awareness or consciousness. This results in mental or emotional disease.)

I find it disgusting that so many would deny possible miracle cures to the born-and-suffering because they are concerned about a loss of appetite.

Lefts and rights of passage
It is wise for one not to be so right that one is left.

Federal Funds
Why are federal funds necessary?

No federal law stops private funding.

So the real issue is welfare for science?

To be pragmatic it doesn't work.
In reality all significant medical research is funded by goverment agencies. Profit driven enterprise just isn;t interested in the UNBELIVIABLE upfront research expenditures involved with a Chance of success and 10-20 years in the future.

Would we have ever made it to the moon with private money. NO!

"welfare for science"
The United States' post war position as technological wheelhorse of the world grows directly out of federal funding for research, mostly basic, but also a lot of applied. But if we don't want to do it, don't worry: the Chinese, Japanese, & Europeans will pick up the slack and we can license their technology.

Would we ever have..
Two shuttles that catastophically failed in flight, numerous delays and scheduling issues, no discernable return on investment?

Etc.

Other than fatiguing the Soviet economic system the moon landing was so important that its been 30 plus years since we've been there.

Who's "maureen dAwd"?
Who's "maureen dawd"?

Ohhh, that would be your own high priestess of noxious left-wing lunacy Maureen D-O-W-D. Yes.. mistress.. (bizarre laughing-works better if you do it in the nasal tone of the old horror movies), we will do your bidding. Your column is my command (more bizarre laughing).

Anything you two guys have one of your disjointed circle jerks and find some matter that you couldn't agree upon more in one of your is something I would be inclined to disfavor, on the basis that we have the testimony of two of the finest barometers of impaired reasoning weighing in on the matter.

No Subject
Always good and bad, part of the price. Acceptable and EXPECTED!

Your point has nothing to do with my core argument.

The divine moment of the Quickening
An interesting path to travel down, o speaker without a name. It so happens that we do have the Church's opinion in the matter.

I will preface it by noting that Aristotle was a pagan, and thus his speculations are something less than the final word for the Church. For the past 17 or 18 centuries it has normally been the Pope who had the say in these matters.

And traditionally the moment at which the divine soul entered the physical body was not considered to be the fertilization of the egg, nor the implantation of the zygote, but much later. It came at the Quickening.

Which, of course, was the first flinch felt by the mother to be. That was the point at which the tyke became a potential person.

Check it out and see if that isn't accurate.

Charitable foundations work better than government
Foundations are not "profit driven enterprises" and they do work. Penicillin, amoxicillin, Salk’s polio vaccine, and many of the newest AIDS drugs have all been developed with funds from private foundations rather than in government laboratories. When a research facility accepts government funding it must also accept government oversight and government mandated programs.

You can come up with four things?
And they are all health releated? Pure science will only be advanced by goverment spending. There is no profit to be had so no business would persue.

Am I wRong? if so I am willing to be forgiven.

Malevolence towards the Modern
"Depicting critics of techniques that destroy embryos as anti-science boors does nothing to advance the debate."

True.

But it would also be wrong to ignore the efforts of a well-orhcestrated campaign by some Christian conservative fundamentalists/evangelicals who are anti-science, because scientific discovery CONFLICTS WITH A LITERAL INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE. From the Terry Schiavo case to Stem Cells, from Evolution to Climate Change, from Christian nationalism to Homosexuality, it's all perceived as one large, interrelated threat.

Protestants and Natural Law, Part 6
The Acton Institute, July 21, 2006

If the most common Protestant objection to natural law revolves around sin, as we saw in Part 5, we should now address the second most common objection that natural law is a rival to God and Scripture.

Contemporary evangelical critics, such as CARL HENRY, OBJECT THAT NATUAL LAW ELEVATES AUTONOMOUS HUMAN REASON ABOVE DIVINE REVELATION. Henry thinks the Thomist doctrine of natural law teaches a universally shared body of moral beliefs that exist independently of divine revelation. This contrasts, he thinks, with John Calvin's view, which is said to ground the law of nature in divine revelation, thus cutting off the possibility of a so-called independent foundation for morality.

The real issue for Henry is his perception that NATURAL LAW MAKES GOD'S EXISTENCE AND THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE IRRELEVANT TO ETHICS. For him and many evangelicals following him, it is believed that the very content of morality originates in divine revelation and the Bible...

http://www.acton.org/blog/index.html?/archives/
1046-Protestants-and-Natural-Law,-Part-6.html

LG is pretending that he knows what the issues are.
The president has not banned embryonic stem cell research. State and private money is still available. Heck, as long as the researchers restrict themselves to the half dozen or so stem cell lines that were active at the time of the original order, Bush doesn't even prevent federal money from being used.

But LG and other liberals don't care about facts, they just want to bash anyone who doesn't agree with them.

For that matter, there is no promising embryonic research going on at present. All of the progress that has been made, has been made using adult stem cells.

(I wouldn't be surprised if LG and our other vocal liberals even know the difference between adult and embryonic stem cells.)

funny thing is
most long term research is in fact funded by for profit agencies.

regardless, the previous poster specifically refered to the Gates foundation. That's not a for profit institute.
There are oodles of private charities out there funding research.

Artificial Host
I am sure someone is conduction research for an artificial womb.

Then what?

Again, why are federal funds necessary?

And, what will prevent the mass marketing of embryos, or should it be prevented?

And why not allow the sale of human organs from willing sellers and buyers?

To the extent you offered a point.
It seems to be that government scientific research offers the grand and glorious, to which I responded that another space program has been unduly dangerous and iunefficient.

If there's something WORTH doing, the private sector will martial the capital to pursue it.

Ah yes..
But as Publius Jr. points out below, we can impart any humanity to the unborn, lest we have to deal with thornier issues.

Then again, the government should always be vested with an unlimited right to experiment on who it wants with any purpose that can be classified as compelling state interest.

Surely, we'll never have a "Dr." Mengele again, we're so much more civilized.

The problem with foundations
By which I mean those that are described in IRC Sec 509, as opposed to Charitable Orgs described in 501(c) that have the term "foundation" in their corporate title, is that Congress requires annual expenditures and as a result they can occasionally need to become creative in finding qualified donees. This is why large foundations tend to attract the left support strange pursuits and why they tend to engage in "mission drift".

Impaired Reasoning.
The nature of a thing does not depend on its surroundings. Your logic, argued reductio ad absurdum would render a fish inanimate once its out of water.

The host is necessary to the continued DEVELOPMENT of the embryo to birth, not to its nature.

Nature
"The nature of a thing does not depend on its surroundings."

The is not true. Try putting your hand is a vat of hydrocloric acid for an hour...the "nature" of your hand will be totally changed. The nature of all matter is environmentally dependent. Consider the transformation your hand will undergo in the immediate vicinity of a black hole or anti-matter.

It is actualization that most accurately defines "nature", not mere possbility and certainly the impossible. Since a non-hosted fertilized egg will NEVER be a human being, it is empirically inaccurate to treat them as such.

Your not being realy honist.
Very little of private sectory money is spent on real scientific development. Most is spent of production development.

there is no military project without vast amount of goverment money backing it.

nit picking
Heaven forbid that a liberal should misspell or make a typo.

Not all wingers realize that many libs also dislike Dowd. She won a Pulitzer prize for writing columns week after week bemoaning Bill (Clinton) and Monica. Then she contributed to Al Gore losing to Bush by making fun of Gore's pants (too tight) and swooning over the Bush package (I'm not making this up). I think she's just catty and will diss anyone about anything, sort of like the 12 year old girls in the lunch room.

A retired biologist's comments
I find the entire discussion of HUMAN embryonic stem cell research reflective of the hubris of those scientists running after the Nobel Prize. The general public not trained in embryology and its history are not aware that the field was established by studies of animals(frog. pig etc) some time before the study of human embryology. Cutting to the chase, the claims made by workers in this field should first be demonstrated with animal models so as to validate their theories. After mastering the required techniques of isolating, growing and directing the desired differentiation path of a collection of stem cells and their efficacy in animals, then and then only should work begin using human stem cells, embryonic and adult.
The theological arguments then can be debated in the realm of established data rather than the Madison Avenue approach to obtaining a luxurious Gov't grant.

Don't Count Your Eggs...
Research on Miscarriage and Stillbirth
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
January 27, 2005

Miscarriage is the term health care providers use to describe the loss of pregnancy from natural causes before the 20th week of pregnancy. Most miscarriages occur very early in pregnancy, in some cases before a woman even knows she is pregnant. Researchers estimate that, among women who already know they are pregnant, NEARLY 15% WILL HAVE A MISCARRIAGE.

...

Stillbirth is the term health care providers use to describe the loss of a pregnancy after the 20th week of pregnancy, due to natural causes. According to national statistics, stillbirths occur in nearly one in 200 pregnancies in the United States every year.

http://www.nichd.nih.gov/womenshealth/miscarriage.cfm

Making it up
My post doesn't say Bush wants to ban stem cell research. It gives the correct reason Bush does not want federal funds for it (nit pick here, what he wants to restrict is more detailed than this), it distroys "viable" embrios.

So here's the structure of his post. He makes up what I said (but didn't), then says it (what he made up) is wrong (which it is, but not in ways important for the argument). Then he says I don't care about facts because what he says I said is, in his opinion, wrong. Then he makes a separate false statement about adult vs. embryonic stem cells. Then he wonders whether I know the difference, which I do.

A baby stem cell is dumb and votes Republican. A grown up stem cell knows that Republicans are bumbling lying cheating morons. That's why Mark wants to dispose of the adult ones and keep the babies.

More info, please
It was I, the Elsharm. I think I found some of the cracks in the web design here. If you log on at a computer for which a friend or family member has too many cookies set up, and you navigate in certain ways, you accidentally log in as he, or you end up being logged in w/o a name. Very bizzare.

Thanks for your post, and it's very interesting, but I could use more details. Of course you're right about Aristotle per se, but I don't see any reason to consider him overruled by special revelation in this case.

Your use of the word "traditionally" is to be assumed to to be associated with your reference to "the past 17 or 18 centuries." I can't find anything with a few minutes of Yahoo, Google, Wikipedia, and NewAdvent.org searches, so I can only request you give enough information that I don't have to spend a lot of time confirming it.

I gladly give you the benefit of the doubt, however, and so I continue with the most important question: Why does Rome oppose ESCR if "the divine soul" (more vague language there, no Christian believes the human soul to be divine but to be something resembling the divine and capable of knowing the divine) "enters" the body at that point? You need to make a distinction, man.

---
Ok, then, two more smaller problems. "entered the physical body" is vague. I know some of the basic theories about the origins of the soul include it "entering" the body, but others include the soul being passed on from our parents and such. Augustine was famously vague. Aquinas was never the type to be vague, but I'm not sure which Question of the Summa to look at; perhaps you have a reference in Aquinas or NewAdvent.org?

Finally, your reference to "a potential person" coupled with your reference to "the divine soul" seems contradictory. I would have thought that the Quickening as you describe it would be the point at which "the tyke" ceases to be "a potential person" and becomes a person.

Deep philosophic musings
Thank you, Elsharm. I always like to know someone's web handle, so I can imagine I know who I'm talking to.

I don't think you're going to find much on the web about the quickening. I expect it has never been explicitly related in any papal bull. I just know that I grew up with many Catholic friends and neighbors, in an age when they were decidedly not encouraged to read the Holy Book... or indeed to pose any followup questions once the priest had answered their first question. Their job was merely to believe,,, and if it didn't make sense to just believe harder.

And the answer they got when they asked this question, pre-1950, was that the soul entered the body at the moment the little tyke first kicked. And from that point on it was a living human being, inside mommy, with a soul all its own.

Of course the question, and the answer, is all a matter of speculation, dressed up in a tangle of traditional beliefs and reasonable guesses. My friends in Brooklyn used to marvel at how I was being raised without any overt religious indoctrination. They'd tell me "You're lucky you're not Catholic. You can believe anything you want. Us, for the rest of our lives we have to either be Catholics or anti-Catholics."

In fact, I think we know nothing of existence, beyond what we see or what we think. The day after we die, we may well all find that all along we were totally mistaken.

Oh, I almost forgot. You asked why, at the moment of the quickening, is the fetus only a potential person. Well, he's not out there in the world yet, is he? I think it's contriving a point to call one a person when he's not even in the world. But he may well have a soul, in that there's actually someone inside that little body. Every mother knows, for instance, that when they're alone and sing to the baby, it hears her voice.

At least that's my best guess.

Democratic Party Constituencies
A grown up stem cell knows the democratic party has been following the same playbook since their first great born-rich WASP living in the lap of luxury (yeah, that would be hey Uncle Joe Stalin nice to see you-FDR) claimed to understand the plight of actual working people born of ethnic and religious "minorities".

Make them dumb and dependent. This is why welfare recipients (both individual and corporate) vote overwhelmingly Democrat. exhaust them with every more onerous rules and taxes. Be the pied piper, lead the lemmings off the cultural, economic and demographic cliff.

There's a reason the democratic party is portrayed by a braying jackass.

Not Nit Picking, Nut Picking.
Heaven forbid that a liberal should misspell or make a typo.


Dear LiberalGoofball:

Don't underestimate yourself, you make far more types of errors than misspelling. Logic, grammar, facts have all been grist for your error mill. Remember your use of the term "statistical certainty"? How about your assertion about economists equating wealth with happiness?

Secondly, you are not a liberal, liberals would be people like Acton, Hume, etc. You are a socialist, I wish you'd stop running from your proper name. I know its unpalatable and reeks of murder and misery, but you are what you are, so embrace it.

Of course, Dowd is far from being a 12 year old, she's really a scattered brained growing-old-fast loon, bitter and discontented, and but for people of your political leanings, wouldn't have a forum other than a soap box in a small park, where her ill manners, poor personal hygiene and stridency would initiate action by mental health authorities to determine her sanity.

I'm being HONEST-you just don't know what you are talking about
The military, constabulary and other endeavors are not enterprises producing a commercial product. They are examples of public goods. I suggest you take a basic economics class in Public Finance to understand the difference.

Of course
I can put ANYTHING into a surrounding that will be degrading or destructive. At the point of insertion it will momentarily be the same, before the degradation occurs. Am I owed any less protection under the law because I could be burned alive?

However that isn't the question is, is something different in benign environments, one natural which allows FUTURE development, one artificial which does not. The question is, does the location change the nature of the thing in such a way as change the legitamacy of an others action.

Moreover, your statement that a non-hosted ovum will never be a human being is a logical fallacy-it will never be a human being IF it is not implanted. Implantation in a natural setting, e.g., a uterus, will allow implantation and maturation. The choice isn't between sitting doing nothing and experimenting, the choice is between implantation, doing nothing and experimentation.

As for the argument about "actualization", thats retread conceptual Maslovian psychopop. Mr. Maslow asserted that "self actualization" was indefinite and elusive.

The fact that you can torture reason to suit your utilitarianism to the point that you find it logically harmonious doesn't make it valid or even novel. Its no different than the logical slight of hand used by Mengele, or in Japan or our own stateside adventures into medical malfeasance.


Consciousness
Whether it's in a freezer or in a womb, an embryo does not have consciousness. To you, that's an unimportant disctinction, I understand. But do try to understand that it IS an important distinction for many rational, moral people.

No Subject
My friend, urban legends cannot speak for Rome. Not even Catholic urban legends. But Thomas Aquinas absolutely can speak for Rome, and can speak to a powerful degree for Canterbury and Waco.

"In fact, I think we know nothing of existence, beyond what we see or what we think. The day after we die, we may well all find that all along we were totally mistaken."

Are you familiar with Pascal's Wager? How do you respond? Also, I think we know what people tell us, as well. Some people told us they saw some wonderful things in the first century AD.

I don't see any reason why spatial location should be taken--philosophically, scientifically, or theologically--as a criterion for identifying personhood. Neither should ability to survive outside the mother--this argument, at least, cannot be made without some distinction: especially why the pre-born, who cannot survive without the mother, is so different from the newborn, who likewise cannot survive without his mother.

--This is Elsharm

Pascal's wager?
"Some people told us they saw some wonderful things in the first century AD."

People saw a lot of flying saucers back in the 1950's too. The subject of delusional behavior is a fascinating one, and the first century AD was a time when competing religions and philosophies preoccupied everyone. Hundreds of new religions were spawned (my personal favorite was Simonism, ask me about it). Television had not been invented yet, and there was nothing much else to preoccupy one's brain.

I understand Pascal's Wager to be as follows:

"If you erroneously believe in God, you lose nothing (assuming that death is the absolute end), whereas if you correctly believe in God, you gain everything (eternal bliss). But if you correctly disbelieve in God, you gain nothing (death ends all), whereas if you erroneously disbelieve in God, you lose everything (eternal damnation)."

This kind of thing is just a mental construct. One could say the same about any fictitious creature-- Beelzebub, for instance. If Beelzebub exists, serving the Evil One makes a lot of sense. But if He doesn't, you've lost nothing by it.

Does that argument convince?

I actually follow the Pascal argument in a sense, in that I do live as though it makes no difference whether there is one god, another god or no gods at all. I can answer to any of them for the things I've done.

If after all that I get an invitation to come stay in the Christian heaven, I will respectfully decline. I have my own ideas about how a proper afterlife should be lived.

Finally, I think one imagines an unnecessarily restrictive universe when one posits that all those little tykes whose immortal souls get implanted in a bit of flesh that doesn't come to term, must wander in the shades of nonexistence forever. Certainly a God with anything on the ball has found this problem and corrected it?

In the real heaven, all the good dogs have little boys who love them. Sayonara, Elsharm.

Snowflake adoption
People are already doing this sort of adoption. 30 frozen zygotes are 10-15 viable unfrozen zygotes are two to three kids carried to term. The unfreezing and implantation wastage will nail the rest. You find people willing to adopt two or three children who have already been born so it isn't so farfetched. The paperwork could be eased and you'd have enough of a demand side population of women.

Or was your post really about trying to scare people away with the prospect of "babies!". Some of us don't find that scary at all.

Not being careless with life
The Church fathers had different opinions. What was inadmissible to all of them was for Christ's bride (the Church) to stake down a doctrinal position which even possibly legitimized using human beings as a means and not an end to themselves. That's the road to human lampshades and the Church knows it.

Even ectopic pregnancies, which the Church currently allows to be terminated, have to be handled differently in Catholic jurisprudence. The embryo may be removed but not killed and when there is appropriate lifesaving equipment, the embryo must be hooked up to it and saved. That's a real double effect application because death only occurs because we weren't smart enough, skilled enough to save that life.

Unfortunately, the good rabbi's solution leaves no situation at which future developments would lead to those embryos being saved. They would always be killed. Thus while the words "double effect" are used with skill, it's nothing that the Catholic Church at least would recognize.

Implantation wastage
To me it would be hard to scare people with the prospect of having babies. Lots of people are having babies. The reason we've got so many frozen embryos now is the popularity of having babies.

The point I was trying to put across is that if you assign any degree of humanity or potential value to these frozen (things? children?) you have to feel some responsibility toward those hundreds of thousands that will never be implanted, never come to term and never be born. Consistency requires that we concern ourselves with either minimizing the number of future excess embryos being produced, or encouraging the adoption of excess embryos already produced, or both. And by adopting them I don't mean by twos, threes or by the dozen. I mean finding a use for hundreds of thousands of them already in existence.

If implantation wastage was effective in reducing the numbers, they wouldn't have doubled from only two years ago-- when there were only 200,0000 excess embryos sitting in in vitro lab freezers.

We can't just sit there on our high horse saying using them for medical purposes is wrong. We need to look at how they are already being used-- just to take up freezer space until someone decides to throw them out. Is that okay? Or should we continue not deciding until we have a million of them?

Who's maureen dAwd?
Who brought up Maureen Dowd? And what does she have to do with my comment?

I've read it over, and don't see that I refer to her anywhere. Or to any "maureen dAwd".

If you have a comment to make about any thoughts you have on frozen embryos, please make them. That's what the article was about, and that's what my comment was about. You were totally off the topic.

Saving all souls
I gues this brings up the larger topic:

In a world where everyone was designed by God to die, why this great emphasis on the part of the Church on preserving life? If you posit that life is good and death is bad, why do we all undergo death? Great saints and concentration camp ghouls all die in exactly the same way, at life's close. What is going on here?

Is the Church saying that one chance is all you get? And that God designed the world such that if a fertilized egg doesn't come to full term, its chances for existence for all eternity are thwarted?

This is a very weird religion.

There are consistent pro-lifers out there
This is why the Catholic Church is against abortion and if a woman knocks on most churches' doors will get aid in making sure that she can responsibly birth her baby and hopefully keep it. That's not a cheap commitment to make. As far as I can tell, the Church is still wrestling with the implications of snowflake babies and there's division among the theologians.

Eventually, there will be an artificial womb and the pro-life movement will fund sufficient units for all these children to be born whether or not a woman will bear them to term. Today, snowflake adoptions are being organized in ever increasing numbers.

You're right that it's not enough to just talk the talk. I just don't think you're aware of present efforts to walk the walk and thus your discussion points miss the mark.

You've mistaken the rules of the game
Take a close look at Pope JP II's death. He did not preserve his own life as much as he could. His personal example demonstrates in pretty dramatic fashion that it's not about preserving life at all cost. In fact, one of the great moral challenges in the 1st world is creating a Catholic consensus on when it's time to let go and just die. The clerics *get it* but it hasn't fully filtered out to the laity in this generation.

All Abrahamic religions specify that you get one shot. If you're hearing reincarnation for ordinary human beings, it's neither judaism, conventional christianity, nor islam. You may or may not personally find that strange but it seems to be a pretty widespread opinion.

In Catholicism, entry into the kingdom of Heaven is the alpha and omega of the organization. Premature death cuts short the chance of an individual to work out a relationship with the Divine that ensures entry into Heaven. We pray for all and never give up on any case.

Roy do you enjoy being a Pinata?
Who brought up Maureen Dowd? And what does she have to do with my comment?

I've read it over, and don't see that I refer to her anywhere. Or to any "maureen dAwd".


Try reading LiberalGummy Bear's opening salvo "Pretending"

"Maureen Dawd wondered in a column whether President George was aware of the anatomical differences between him and author Goerge."

But I thought you already did read the post because you responded to it in your post "Preserving all embryos"

"I couldn't agree more, Michael."

Interesting, you think you can assert you "couldn't agree more" to a column you apparently haven't read thoroughly or completely. Once again,an unrepentent lib puts his deficient cognitive skills on public display, and isn't even aware of it. Wow, everytime I think you guys have outdone yourselves-you kick it up another notch.

Glass Houses
Clue for the clueless: the intellectual side of President Bush is as fake as professional wrestling.

As is the credentials of a guy who writes about "maureen dawd" and "goerge".

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