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everything that lives will someday die, but our love still grows

by mg at 06:43 AM on October 14, 2004

Nietzsche wrote that God was dead. He believed the next level of human attainment is the superman. Well, earlier this week Superman died, and many people blame it on god.

Or at least blame it on politicianís interpretation of Godís laws.

It is widely believed that research using embryonic stem cells might lead to finding cures for any number of diseases and physical damage. Christopher Reeve believed that he, and people suffering similar damage to nerve cells, might one day be able to walk again because of the potential wealth of knowledge gained through further stem cell research.

But, I canít talk about the science. I just donít know enough.

On the other side of this issue, and there always is another side, is religion. They believe that life begins at conception, and using embryonic stem cells is tantamount to murder. Even if the ensuing research saves 1,000 lives, taking the one is not worth it. This belief comes mostly from the Christian right, who, because of our current president, and because people are sheep, are a significant political power in the country.

Iím not at all religious either, and a year or so ago, if you had asked me about when life began, there isnít much chance Iíd have cast my lot with the Billy Graham crowd. But Iím a new father, and that has forced me to rethink a lot of things recently.

A year ago today Frances was a three and a half week old fetus. We didnít even know she existed; we had some idea, and my wife has always said she already started to feel different. Stem cells from a human fetus are at their most active in the first week. Even now, I wouldnít go so far as to say that a fetus is a person, but I just canít imagine taking something that would, if left to do so, grow up to be my daughter and end the possibility of that life.

You may believe that once the kid pops out itís a person. You may believe that once youíve hit that magic third trimester, youíve got a person. But, I for one donít want to trust some magic book (the bible). I donít want to trust legislators. Isnít this one of those issues where you have to give Life the benefit of the doubt?

I couldnít tell you, biologically, what is going on with an embryo at one week. But when we saw our first ultrasound at about 11 weeks, there were hands and fingers. There were feet and toes. There was a head and a face. A brain. A beating heart.

There are some number of embryos in cold storage somewhere that will either be kept on ice forever, or destroyed. As someone who has spent my entire life believing in the power of science over magic (a.k.a. religion), I hate to admit I agree with Bush on this issue. He takes a surprisingly pragmatic approach. Bush, against the wishes of the most strident of the religious right, has allowed these to be used for research purposes. Bush makes his stand on the creation of new embryos, and has opposed it stridently. Use the embryos already existent, but donít create any new ones

No matter how noble the reason, to create a life, just so you can end it is wrong. It may not be murder, but it is wrong. Iím canít speak as a scientist. I canít speak as a theologian. But I can speak as a father, and it is just wrong.

comments (23)

I can't either. But I do recall that after Bush got elected there was the longest time where he never came on TV. It was a welcome respite from the verbose Clinton. When he did give a speech it was about this very topic. I thought, what an oddly cerebral choice of subject matter.

by anna at October 14, 2004 7:40 AM

I'm not a father but, as a son who lost his mother he adored to cancer, I can tell you that I am in favor of using newly created embryos if that is what it takes to cure that dreadful disease. I don't know enough about the process to even begin to speculate how these embryonic stem cells are supposed to be harvested. As long as it was done in a humane way, I don't see the problem. What about abortions? Couldn't they be used in some way? Some mothers don't want to birth a child so why can't we work something along those lines. It all comes back to the moral dilemma though. When is murder, if that is really what it is, humane? I'm not sure I would classify it as murder. Yes, if you didn't abort and followed through to birth the child would have a chance at life. Do they really understand something they have never experienced? What if the child ends up a heroin addict and kills themselves to escape it? Was the pain and suffering they endured until they killed themselves worth it to them? I just don't know.

by Ezy at October 14, 2004 3:19 PM

The argument pro-stem cell research folks give for Bush's plan is that most of those existing lines are contaminated and are useless. I have no idea whether that's a stretch or not, that's just what they say.

More importantly, viable fetuses are not destroyed explicitly for stem-cell research. The fetuses used to harvest stem cells come from left over fertilized material that is a by product of in vitro fertilization. The overwhelming majority of couples who conceive via in vitro sign an agreement saying that other couples can't have their excess fertilized material. Hence, those eggs/fetuses/whatever stage of development are either frozen or destroyed. If they're being destroyed, they could be used for stem-cell research. If they're frozen, they're usually just put on ice until ... they aren't any more. I don't undertstand the circumstances (except the same couple conceiving again later from the material) that lead to the material being frozen, but, eventuallly, it is not viable anymore or just economical to keep anymore. When those materials are destroyed, they could be used for research as well.

I'm all for not killing babies for research, but I think that there is no reason to let all the possibilities slip through the cracks.

by Mike Sheffler at October 14, 2004 3:29 PM

You're crazy mike. my fiance can't have children. so this issue is mute.
NOTE: I'm back. I also started my own queer blog: www.tradinganddrugs.blogspot.com

by LOCKHEED at October 14, 2004 4:28 PM

Lock my man, good to see you back in the fray. How's life been treating you?

by Ezy at October 14, 2004 4:50 PM

word up ezy. let's just say my debt to equity ratio is about 1:1 right now. I went to a pyschologist/psychiatrist and got rid of my 'tattoo' issue. So I stopped all laser treatments which were running me over $6000. So that issue was solved. I can live mildly comfortably with my extensive tattooing. So instead I made more of a gamble instead of a trade, and I got stopped out at a loss of 10,000. which was all used from a credit card. So financially I'm barely balanced. Still clawing back from the dead since summer of 2002 when I first came upon this lovely site.

by LOCKHEED at October 14, 2004 5:10 PM

I'm a little disturbed by the name of your site, but I'll check it out. You know, there comes a time... Then again, my absinthe wine arrived today. I am afraid of it.

by anna at October 14, 2004 6:16 PM

Well MG, first let me console you on the loss of your other children. It's very cruel that Mother Nature only allows one in three of those week old embryos to have a chance to implant in the uterus. Perhaps we should mourn collectively for the 2/3 of humanity that made it to the same stage at which we could do stem cell research, but which Mother Nature herself waved through the birth canal, never to implant, and so has been lost forever.

Secondly, we have to get the language correct. Embryonic stem cell research was a bad choice of words - as scientists had no idea the public would react to the word embryo, which is used in common parlance to refer to just about anything between fertilization and a recognizable human fetus. The correct term for the clump of cells used in stem cell research is BLASTOCYST. Under the microscope it looks like a little soccer ball, and consists of about 150 cells.

If we were to accept Bush's premise (that we have to destroy life to save life), and the one put forth in your post, that life begins at conception and using ES cells is tantamount to murder, then we must act to outlaw in vitro fertilization (IVF) at once. As has been said, IVF creates blastocysts that will not be used - they are destined to be destroyed. Kerry stated it accurately in the debate, there are hundreds of thousands of these entities sitting in freezers, and thawing out in garbage cans as we speak. In addition, if we accept the premise above, every IVF technician plays God and commits murder everyday. Every fertilization event gives rise to a zygote that is cultured and examined. Like many things, they are screened for those with the best morphology, and those that don't make the cut are discarded. It is very important to point out that many of the ES lines that have been created came from blastocysts that would not have been picked for implantation. Either way, IVF creates and destroys the same blastocysts that are used for ES research. If we can destroy life for IVF, why can we not do the same for ES research? If we as a society accept IVF, why can we not accept ES research? The question for Bush is: why is it acceptable and ethical to empty a freezer box of blastocysts into a garbage can, but not to tease off a few cells from these same blastocysts and study their properties?

In summary, in nature 2/3 of blastocysts never implant. It's only a minority of life that survives. As a society we accept a practice (IVF) which traffics in a high volume of sacred entities, the majority of which end up dead. Our president has decided that these entities which are destined for destruction, are precious enough to throw away, but not precious enough to be used for research purposes. They are not fetuses, they are not embryos, they are little spheres of about 150 cells called blastocysts. Unfortunately, Bush "doesn't do subtlety", so these minor details are a waste of his time, and when he made his decision he did virtually nothing to educate the public, but instead effectively misled us by posing a false dichotomy. He's holding back humanity based on false pretenses and out of ignorance. Oh how I wish he would educate me. But now that his mind is made up, at least I can rest assured that he'll be consistent and won't change it.

by Chris at October 15, 2004 2:19 AM

First off, calling them blastocysts to support science is as much a semantic argument as calling them fetus' or embryos to support a religious argument. The fact is that a blastocyst becomes a fetus becomes a person.

The nature that allows only 2/3 of blastocysts to sucessfully implant is the same nature that causes Michael J. Fox' Parkinson's Disease, Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer', or someone having to resort to IVF. Why, in one case is nature something we must accept and in the other, something we must overcome? If we must accept embryonic stem cell research because many of those embryos probably wouldn't grow into a person anyway, why is preventing stem cell research "holding back humanity?"

Finally, if (and I'll take your word on this) Bush is allowing research on the lines already in use, but not allowing research on the embryo's sitting in cold storage waiting for nothing but to be eventually thrown out, then I don't agree with him; we should use those otherwise unused embryos, but end the practice of IVF. If this little point of confusion is accurate, why do you blame Bush for standing by his (in your view flawed) opinion, and not Kerry for point out this logical fallacy?

by mg at October 15, 2004 7:29 AM

Chris, pleased to be telling us how you seem to be so knowledgeable about such a wide variety of topics. It's amazing.

by anna at October 15, 2004 9:43 AM

Good to hear things are, somewhat, leveling out for you Lock. I've been in a little therapy myself to deal with some past issues. I can see some light but some days are still harder than others.

I hear you Anna. I wish I knew more but I'm just lazy.

by Ezy at October 15, 2004 10:27 AM

You know MG, I've read that existential philosopher too. But for the life of me I can't spell his name and have it look right. It's like "Shiite" and "Sikh."

by anna at October 15, 2004 11:07 AM

I blame Bush because he's in charge of the problem yet he even states it incorrectly, in a way that misleads people. (from the Friday debate, "destroy life to save life...it's one of the real ethical dilemnas that we face.") However I was also frustrated with Kerry, because he often articulates a point - but seems to hold back when it comes to really driving it home. On the other hand, Kerry loses for winning. When he puts too much "nuance" or detail into an answer he gets criticized for being too smart and lecturing. When it comes to Bush we get, "I sit with world leaders. I make lots of decisions. It's hard work." And people seem to love it.

It's not just that the blastocysts in cold storage will be eventually thrown out - they are thrown out every day. Every single day blastocysts at IVF clinics are going into the garbage (or the incinerator). The cost of IVF, or unprotected sex, is unused blastocysts. I don't care to make the argument that IVF should be stopped. I'm just pointing out that as a society we've already commited to the "destroy life" part of Bush's dilemna, but we're leaving out the "save life" part.

I disagree that the distinction between blastocyst, embryo, and fetus is merely semantic. The terms refere to distinct distinct entities to which we attach different amounts of meaning for various reasons. "The fact is that a blastocyst becomes a fetus becomes a person." Yes, and every sperm is sacred. But the critical part of your statement is "becomes". We can't just extract time and causality out of the picture and equate end points. A blastocyst is not a fetus, and a fetus is not a person. In truth, for a given product of human fertilization, we don't know what will happen to it. 2/3 of the time it fails to become anything. Occasionally two people arise from one event (twins) so how many people (how many souls) are actually in that original zygote (sperm and egg fusion)?

As for accepting versus overcoming nature, and holding back humanity by preventing stem cell research, we choose to overcome nature every day - Whether it's taking an aspirin for a headache or shouting to alert someone who has inadvertently stepped in front of a speeding car. So the real question is, what is humanity?

One aspect of humanity is the application of the Good Samaritan law, the ability to help others, if possible. Because all life is sacred, Bush's stance requires me to place as much value on a blastocyst that may never implant as I place on a sick child (or adult) who will die of a debilitating disease. (Blastocysts are off limits regardless of their source or fate!) And further he prevents me from reaching into the garbage to retreive some discarded cells that could help save that sick child. Because he prevents us from doing research that will help people (using blastocysts that are going into the trash, thus at no cost to society), that will help humanity, I describe him as holding back humanity.

Thanks for the compliment Anna.

by chris at October 15, 2004 1:43 PM

The decision someone makes on this topic depends on when they think life begins. I sit right on the fence between pro life and pro stem cell research. Hereís why:

Eggs and sperm both have the potential to join and create an embryo. We do not protect eggs and sperm separately as if they were potential humans. They have the potential, but are not there yet. The equation for life needs more than a fertilized egg because it canít develop until it attaches to a uterus. For me, it takes all three parts for the potential of life to become life: sperm, egg (fertilized egg) and a uterus. Once the egg attaches, it should have all the same human rights as everyone else.

Since stem cell research happens before the egg has a chance to attach, Iím OK with it. Destroy the fertilized egg after it attaches, its murder.

I find it really odd that a lot of liberal thinkers find it necessary to protect all animals (even ones that arenít self-aware) and oppose the death penalty (even for murderers and rapists) but think itís perfectly OK to kill an unborn child.

by MrBlank at October 15, 2004 2:02 PM

Mr. Blank I love to engage those people in debate. So many people favor the death penalty but oppose abortion on moral grounds. They might as well sell the bumper stickers in sets. But it isn't possible to defend that position. Best not to even try.

Hey Lock cool sight.

by anna at October 15, 2004 2:37 PM

I once gave you a similar compliment Chris, but you never responded to my email. That made me sad.

As for Bush, he isn't being dishonest. Just because you disagree with his opinion about when life begins doesn't mean he is lying or purposfully obfuscating the issue. He believes life begins at conception. You believe it begins ... sometime after that.

It certainly isn't clear in my post, and not entirely clear in my last comment, I believe we should probably be using the already created embryos for research , rather than simply destroying them. But, I'm not sure when life begins. Bush is certain. He may not be right, but having had recent first hand experience about how strange, and amazing life is (My wife knew she was pregnant within days. I tried to deny it, even after the home pregnancy test. But she knew.) I'm not willing to be uncertain about this. I am giving Life the benefit of the doubt.

You mention souls. I don't know from souls. But I do know that you and I, and every one of the the 6 billion people on the planet started out as blastocytes. I do know that, if I had an absolutely incurable and deadly disease, society would cringe at the thought of killing me to use my body parts to help others. But if I died in a car crash, I would expect (having declared myself as an organ donor) that whatever could be used, would be.

True, part of being being human, is helping others. But another part is not hurting others. You believe stem cell research is destroying a mass of cells to help a person. I believe it to be destroying a person to potentially help another.

by mg at October 15, 2004 2:46 PM

Mr Blank, I would just want to clarify that liberal thinkers typically do not think it is OK to kill and unborn child, rather they think that no one but the mother herself can make that decision. There IS a difference.

by chris at October 15, 2004 3:02 PM

Not much of a difference. Killing is killing. The only time I can see it being OK is in self-defense. If the pregnancy is life threatening to the mother, then she has a right to defend herself. If not, then it is murder.

Aborting a child because it is an inconvenience is not an excuse for murder.

by MrBlank at October 15, 2004 3:14 PM

I'd also add that an unborn child's only crime is having been (un)lucky enough to beat the odds and get conveived and implanted. Wheareas, someone on death row has (presumably) comitted murder. That seems quite a big difference to me.

Also, I think it is clear from my comments that I'm uncertain about this, and trying to work through things. I believe we should always try to help others, and that using something, rather than simply destroying it, is always best. With the lines currently in existance, umbilical cord cells, adult stem cells, and animal stem cells we should be able to do significant research. But with this question of when life begins such an open an unknowable sort of a question, it just seems like life wouldn't be something we'd want to fuck with if we could avoid it.

by mg at October 15, 2004 3:15 PM

Don't be sad MG. I finally sent the reply I began composing on Sept 7.

I haven't been clear. If Bush believes life begins at conception (or at the joining of sperm and egg), why then is it ok for the IVF technician to look up from their microscope, and place this aliquot of hand selected blastocysts in a dish for putting into a mother, and that aliquot of blastocysts with slightly different somewhat subjective characteristics into the liquid waste. Why then, is it ok for the IVF technician cleaning out the freezer to open up a freezer box, and dump all of those unused persons (aka blastocysts) into the garbage? Why am I forbidden from going to the garbage, and plucking out the clump of cells that could be teased apart and cultured (i.e. given new life!) and put them to use to save other lives?

As for Bush's honesty, whether he knows it or not, he is obfuscating the issue and misleading people. As stated above, we already satisfy the first part of the Bush dilemna - we destroy life by throwing blastocysts into the garbage. He is specifically forbidding the "save lives" part of his quandry.
I don't believe I called him dishonest, but it's hard for me to respect someone who makes such an important decision when they can't even phrase the question correctly (and who consistently shows no commitment to doing so).

by chris at October 15, 2004 3:30 PM

MrBlank contrary to your statment I believe it is ALL in the difference - but you are right, killing is killing. Thus those who believe such would do well to do their damndest to convince those whose decision it is to make - to make the right one. It would also help if we could do as much as possible to prevent the situation frm arising in the first place (yet unfortunately many of those who want to remove choice, are also not in favor of sex education).

by chris at October 15, 2004 3:39 PM

Sex education wouldn't work anyway. That is why I believe in mandatory sterlization at birth. When you reach an appropriate age, decide you want kids, and can pass a parent-worthiness test the government will provide you with the sterlization antidote. No more unwanted children!

by mg at October 15, 2004 5:42 PM

You began composing a reply 9/7 and it's still not done? You might be knowledgeable but that's an awful long time. Email is supposed to be quick.

by anna at October 15, 2004 5:42 PM

comments are closed