Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Steve, you ignorant bigot!

I didn't say it. My hometown newspaper - the Baraboo News Republic - did.

On Saturday, they published an opinion piece (not online, but reproduced here) - an arrogant, ignorant opinion piece - on President Bush's veto of additional funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Over the past few months, on several issues, I've defended the BNR from accusations of liberal bias. Will I, anymore? Not so sure.

Here's my column, posted today, on the subject.

And now, a fisking.

Bush throws the baby out with the bathwater
Baraboo News Republic Editorial (July 29, 2006)

While George W. Bush has made some missteps in his presidency, last week may have been his biggest when he used his first presidential veto to block funding for stem cell research.
They mean “additional federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.” I wonder why they don’t say that?

The bill, which Bush vetoed July 19, would have given more federal dollars to stem cell research, which supporters say could lead to cures for everything from diabetes to multiple sclerosis to Alzheimer’s.
Ah, honesty. Before 2001, no federal dollars were spent on embryonic stem cell research. Bush agreed to fund existing stem cell lines in 2001 as a compromise: no further embryos would be destroyed on the taxpayers’ dime, but existing research, for which the embryos had already been destroyed, would be funded.

Embryonic stem cells are cells that can theoretically be formed into any tissue of the body. Scientists hope they can learn to control them and cause them to form in ways that would replace damaged or dysfunctional tissues.
More honesty. “Theoretically.” “Scientists hope.” Where was this in the first paragraph?

Opponents of embryonic stem cell research object to the destruction of embryonic cells and say research on adult stem cells is more advanced and more deserving of funding.
If you’re looking for the BNR’s reasons for disagreeing, you’re going to be disappointed. They don’t explain why opponents are wrong.

A healthy majority of senators – 63 of 100 – voted in favor of the legislation after the House approved it, also by an ample majority. When a bipartisan majority can agree on something, it’s a good indication that the country thinks it’s a good idea too.

According to the Associated Press, polls show as much as 70 percent public support for embryonic stem cell research.
Large majorities think abortion should only be legal in the most extreme cases, too. And that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights should be law in Wisconsin. Referendums to define marriage as one man and one woman pass, in most cases, with over 70% of the vote. Can we expect the BNR to opine in favor of those majorities, too?

Sadly, both the house and senate votes were just shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. Even conservative Republicans like Sen. Orrin Hatch and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were appalled by Bush’s veto.
Excuse me? Arnold Schwarzenegger – conservative? Do the BNR’s editors even know what a conservative is?

The president obviously has a fundamental misunderstanding of science.
No, he doesn’t. He understands that destroying human beings – even embryonic ones – for scientific research is ethically disturbing, at best. Like putting Grandma to sleep so we can take her organs. She isn’t going to live much longer, anyway, and look at the lives she’ll save!

He’s supported study only on those stem cell lines created before Aug. 9, 2001, when he gave a speech on stem cell research.
That’s funny – Governor Doyle pointed out that exact same thing.

The bill would have allowed federal funding for study on excess embryonic cells from fertility clinics, which would be discarded anyway.
Not necessarily.

Stem cell banks like the one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are now looking to send their stem cell lines out to other countries; Bush’s veto has the potential to actually throw American scientific progress in reverse.
Because there are absolutely no other avenues for American science to grow, other than this one. That’s crap. This isn’t even the only avenue being explored for treating the diseases most often cited as beneficiaries of embryonic stem cell research.

We wonder why the president has apparently ignored the most pragmatic and promising science in favor of arbitrary deadlines and sentimentality.
“…the most pragmatic and promising science?” From what liberal talking points did that sentence come? Please show me the documentation to support that, particularly when adult stem cells have already produced results.

Bush has clearly allowed himself to be swayed by the extreme right, who value religion over science.
Those damned Christians with their “morality” again. How we do hate them!

He’s tried to draw a black and white distinction of “innocent human life” in an area that is very gray at best.
The BNR is drawing their own “black and white” distinctions here, are they not?

If Bush really wants to protect life, why not sign a bill that could prolong it?
Require medical experimentation on all comatose patients who have little to no chance of recovery. Or…double funding for research using adult stem cells, and those harvested from umbilical cords.

Apparently he and the other extreme conservatives would rather see potential cures tossed in the trash – literally.
Yes, we whose consciences oblige us to pause when considering the destruction of a human life are the extreme ones.


PaulNoonan said...


"Adult stem cells and umbilical cord stem cells have already been successfully used in treatments for leukemia and multiple sclerosis. However, most researchers believe that stem cells derived from embryos hold more long-term promise for developing cures and transplantable tissues."


"Bush claims he’s blocking stem cell research because each embryo “is a unique human life with inherent dignity and matchless value.” If that were true, we would constantly be in the midst of a holocaust. John Opitz, a professor of pediatrics, human genetics, and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah, testified before the President’s Council on Bioethics that millions of embryos — between 60 percent and 80 percent of all naturally conceived embryos — are simply flushed out in women’s normal menstrual flows unnoticed. This is not miscarriage we’re talking about. The women and their husbands or partners never even know that conception has taken place. What are we to think about the fact that Nature (and for believers, Nature’s God) profligately creates and destroys human embryos?

Of course, culturally we do not mourn the deaths of these millions of embryos as we would the death of a child — and reasonably so, because we do in fact know that these embryos are not people. Similarly, 3- to 5-day old frozen embryos leftover from in vitro fertilization attempts are not people either. It is true that every person was once an embryo, but not all — in fact, most embryos do not become people."

Lance Burri said...

Big difference between it happening naturally, and through our direct and deliberate action, Paul.

PaulNoonan said...

Infant mortality used to happen "naturally" all the time. 150 years ago it happened over 1/3 of the time. Through better technology and prenatal care we've significantly reduced the incidence of natural infant mortality. If we suddenly stopped providing such care and infant mortality went back up to even 20%, would that be OK?

Why did we even decide to invent such tech? Is it because watching babies die is absolutely horrible?

If these fertilized eggs are in fact human, isn't this just as horrible, "natural" or not? Shouldn't we work on technology to prevent these 40-60% of naturally destroyed embryos from being destroyed?

Or are these one-celled organisms simply not people? Or are they people, but not as valuable as babies? Just looking for consistency.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"Big difference between it happening naturally, and through our direct and deliberate action,"

Why, what's the difference? Embryos don'thave brains or feelings. There's no difference except that when it happens naturally, it's difficult to retrieve the embryo so that we can use it to save lives.

Lance Burri said...

We haven't cured cancer yet, either. Is there no difference between a patient dying from cancer, and me smothering that same patient? Of course there is. There's a world of difference between the inability to save someone and the deliberate action of killing someone.

I understand you may not believe an embryo is a human being, or that it's ethically permissible to conduct experiments on them, even if they are human. Okay.

We do have the scientific capability to "grow" these embryos in a laboratory. Move them further along the gestation process. Maybe not to full gestation (yet), but well along it.

Should we do so, to conduct other scientific experiments? It may result in medical advances. How far can we "age" an embryo before it becomes wrong? 5 days? 5 weeks? At what point is it no longer ethical? And how do you make that determination?

Scott H said...

So Lance, is it better to allow all of these embryos to be fertilized and then be tossed out like melted ice-cream? Should we not be doing in-vitro in the first place? What is the difference between utilizing them and destroying them that makes the former horrid and the latter acceptable?

Also, should my sperm be considered human life? If put in the right environment and joined with another human being, it too develops into life. This is very much like a zygote (1 cell) or embryo of just a few cells which cannot survive on it's own and does not have the ability to develop unless it joins with another human being. And yes, the interaction of the embryo with the mother greatly shapes what the resulting person will be like.

Does God really place a soul into every egg and sperm that join in a petri dish?

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"Is there no difference between a patient dying from cancer, and me smothering that same patient?"

People have brains and feelings. You're analogy false short in that respect. That said, if the terminal cancer patient with brains and feelings says you should smother him to put him out of his misery, you should be able to. It's the same thing in that way I suppose.

"We do have the scientific capability to "grow" these embryos in a laboratory. Move them further along the gestation process. Maybe not to full gestation (yet), but well along it. Should we do so, to conduct other scientific experiments?"

YES! Or we should at least consider it.

"How far can we "age" an embryo before it becomes wrong?"

Until it has a brain seems like a good spot to me. What is lost if the thing never has a brain? If it never knows it's "alive"?

Lance Burri said...

Scott, that's a great point. We are creating these embryos, many of which are destroyed during the fertilization process. Very few people want to tell childless couples they can't use in-vitro fertilization. I sure don't.

This makes the question a lot more difficult, obviously. My best options are to: improve medical science to the point that we don't need so many embryos; or find something else to do with them, like adoption.

As far as when God gives us a soul, I have no idea. But I think it's best to err on the side of not destroying life whenever possible.

My intention in these posts was not to simplify the issue, but to point out that the BNR is over-simplifying it and opposition to embryonic stem cell research.

JIJARWM: I really disagree with you, but good for you for at least saying what you're thinking. Now: why stop when the brain develops (begins developing)? The child/embryo still is not aware of itself, even at that point.

And what about coma victims who will never wake up? They're not aware of themselves, either.

Scott H said...

I think in-vitro is accepted because it is perceived as creating life not destroying it. If I remember correctly, it was controversial at first, but is now accepted. Perhaps because most of those who could afford it were Republican voters (not my suggestion, but interesting).

As for BNR oversimplifying, well, it is an opinion piece not an in-depth multi-page article. Most of your objections are just taking quibbling jabs that do little to change the overall argument.

Also you never answered my sperm inquiry. What justifies starting life at the zygote? Why is the combination of genetic material the key point instead of something else? Adult stem cells have the full genetic make-up too. In fact, every single one of my cells has all of my genetic material, but there's nothing wrong with sacrificing a few of them. You can say err on caution's side, but you still need to justify where that line is drawn as well.

Frankly, I think three things cause such lines.
First, the basic stance is often developed and spread by those who have very little understanding of what really occurs. Thus they form opinions based on notions based more in folklore than reality.

Second, those opposed to abortion groups want to draw the line as far as they can to protect any encroachment.

Third, many people are find manipulation of life and the implications scary and are just generally opposed to non-natural things.

None of these really seem to be a good reason to oppose stem cell research.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"And what about coma victims who will never wake up? They're not aware of themselves, either."

SOmetimes they do wake up. Sometimes they don't, but they dream. That's something. I will tell you this though: If I am ever absolutely brain dead and unconsious, please take all of my usable organs and give them to people who nead them. If anything left over can be used for research, do it. Then pull the plug. But you shouldn't need my permission to do that, since I'll be brain dead at the time anyway.

Steve said...


Are you actually asking one of us to assess your sperm? I don't think so.

As for a spermatozoan generally, all humans are genetically diploid, sperm cells are monoploid. In themselves they have no possibility of developing further. The question attempts to force a square peg into a round hole.

Jesus is just alright, twit me,

You preach a power religion. With you and your disciples you attempt to make an arbitrary distinction over which you'll have the power of life or death. In this case it is a brain and feelings. It could just as well be skin color, ethnic heritage, or contribution to society. The weakest make the easiest targets.


You (from quote) presume that embryos are not human without offering reason. You also blur distintion between accidental/natural death and that caused by the direct, deliberate actions of other people.

Concerning the seeming inconsistency of grief levels among the holocaust, it is through ignorance and hardness of human hearts. One will grieve more at the loss of the more proximate in space and the more inter-related through time. It is not ultimately any more grievous, but to a given individual it will appear so.

Without using 'religious' ideals, how does a rationalist deem any death or murder bad at all? The weaker in body and wit dies off leaving only the strongest to pass on genetics to keep the species more highly hale and hardy.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

The difference between drawing the line at awareness/brain/feelings versus drawing the line with skin color is quite obvious. The reason a thing has (or should have)a right to life is that that thing enjoys life, wants life, or chooses life. The thign can't do any of these without awareness/brain/feelings. A human with whatever color skin can do all of these things. Humans of all skin color or whatever can enjoy life, want life, choose life, or at least feel life.

"Without using 'religious' ideals, how does a rationalist deem any death or murder bad at all?"

How did the inventors of your religion make that determination? The humanist is far more moral in this respect than the religious. If your god tells you to murder someone, under your interpretation of what is "bad", murder is not bad. But if, hypothetically, your god told me to murder someone, I would still know that it is wrong to murder. Murder would not become right, your god would become wrong, or evil, or clearly a halucination. And your god has been in the habit of telling people to murder you know.

Why is murder wrong absent god? Human well-being, in this life, increases in a world without murder. It's a bit of instinct, a bit of game theory. It's economics and physics and math. It's feelings and thoughts that come from our brains that maybe we don't quite understand entirely yet. It is the same things that led the inventors of all of the world's religions to place such tenets into their mythologies.

Steve said...

Jesus is... me,

"Why is murder wrong absent god? Human well-being, in this life, increases in a world without murder. It's a bit of instinct, a bit of game theory. It's economics and physics and math. It's feelings and thoughts that come from our brains that maybe we don't quite understand entirely yet."

Instinct is debatable, game theory, math, and physics make your sentence longer, and feelings/thoughts must be of the warm and fuzzy variety to add credence to your assertion. Not all are warm and fuzzy.

Naked economics (not the warm and fuzzy kind) more than likely would support murder. The aged, infirm or injured, contrary or criminal, and otherwise weaker members of our society are heavy economic drains on human society. Evolutionary nature culls them, both to strengthen the present herd and to insure future generations are only possessing the superior genes.

Hobbling the advance of human society by heavily draining finances, technology, manpower and skills, and valuable time decreases the well-being of others.

That loud sucking sound you hear? It's economics swirling down the drain.

However, since man was created in the image of God, he has implanted within him these moral motions, these 'instincts' "that maybe we don't quite understand entirely yet." Since man also is of a fallen nature, he has perverted this image into one exhibiting all varieties of incongruities.

(JIJAWM, I think I'll put the question on a regular post along with our arguments in order to keep it going. This is how the first year or so of Grandpa John's started. Maybe I can get Grandpa John and Todd to get more active again.)