On Monday, August 23, 2010, Chief Judge Royce C. Lambreth of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued his injunction ruling in Sherley v. Sebelius, which deals with whether federal funding of embryonic stem cell research is legal. Judge Lambreth determined that Congress has prevented such funding and the lifting of the Bush ban by President Obama is immaterial. Judge Lambreth has since been either heralded or lambasted, not on the legal merit of his decision, but rather based on ideology, morality and religious conviction, which seems grossly unfair. It also oversimplifies a complex issue and the fact that Judge Lamberth’s legal analysis seems sound.
In 1996, Congress enacted the Balanced Budget Downpayment Act, which contained a rider, known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for “(1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or (2) research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero…” Congress has since included the Dickey-Wicker Amendment in every appropriations bill for Health and Human Services (“HHS”) since 1996 without any substantive alteration.
On August 9, 2001, President Bush announced a policy statement on stem cell research that limited federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells. On March 9, 2009, President Obama, by Executive Order 13,505, removed President Bush’s limitations on embryonic stem cell research in order “to expand NIH support” for human stem cell research and “to enhance the contribution of America’s scientists to important new discoveries and new therapies for the benefit of humankind.” In response to President Obama’s executive order, NIH published draft guidelines entitled “National Institutes of Health Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research.” The draft guidelines allowed “funding for research using human embryonic stem cells that were derived from human embryos created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed for that purpose.”
The problem with the Guidelines wasn’t that they were not well thought out, but rather that they directly violate the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. In fact, the Guidelines seem particularly well thought out and would have allowed donated embryos only to be used were such embryos “were created using in vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed for this purpose.” So these embryos would seemingly either be used for scientific purposes or discarded completely.
The Department of Health and Human Services argued that the term “research” used in the Dicky-Wicker Amendment is ambiguous and, therefore, HHS should be given deference under Supreme Court precedent (i.e., Chevron) to determine the appropriate meaning of the term. The offered definition for the term research by HHS was, apparently, this: research means “a piece of research.” It is hard to imagine that such a definition could ever be suggested by any educated individual. You simply cannot define a term using the same term, but that is what Judge Lamberth’s decision explains was argued by HHS. (From Page 10 of the Lamberth decision: “The language of the statute does not support defendants’ alternative definition of research as “a piece of research.” (Def.’s Opp’n  at 31 (citing RANDOM HOUSE DICT. (2009).)”)
Judge Lamberth was not buying this argument on the ambiguity in the meaning of the term “research.” He forcefully pointed out that there was but one meaning for the term research – “a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.” 45 C.F.R. § 46.102(d). He further pointed out that this regulatory definition of the term is supported by the Random House Dictionary, which defines research as “diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.” He then explained that “[t]his is the most common definition of research, and no other definition of research is supported by the language of the statute.
In reaching his critical determination on the likelihood of success on the merits, Judge Lamberth explained that “plaintiffs have demonstrated a strong likelihood of success that the Guidelines violate the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.” He went on to explain that the Dicky-Wicker Amendment prohibits all research in which an embryo is destroyed, not just the “piece of research” in which the embryo is destroyed. He concluded that if “Congress intended to limit the Dickey-Wicker to only those discrete acts that result in the destruction of an embryo, like the derivation of embryonic stem cells or to research on the embryo itself, Congress could have written the statute that way.” Of course, Congress did not write the statute that way, choosing rather expansive language that seems quite clearly to evidence the intent to prevent federal funds from being used in research where an embryo is destroyed.
It seems to me that Judge Lamberth reached the only appropriate legal conclusion based on the language of the statute and the wording of the Guidelines. But is it the right decision to prevent federal funding from being used to study embryonic stem cells? That is a question that society, and in particular Congress, needs to address.
Federal funding is essential for early stage, highly speculative research. It is unrealistic to expect for-profit enterprises to engage in much highly speculative research. It is, however, this highly speculative research that leads to the greatest potential discoveries; the innovations that we as a society want most desperately. That is why the federal government can and does play a vital role in the innovation life cycle. The great success of this innovation life cycle and key role for the federal government has been on display for everyone to see for some three decades, thanks to the Bayh-Dole legislation that allows Universities to accept federal money for research and then own the intellectual property rights therein.
Under Bayh-Dole Universities can license the rights to for-profit enterprises, with regulations in place to favor small businesses that create jobs and are more risk tolerant. The Universities retain the royalties and can and do reinvest them into successful laboratories to further research. In a University with a well developed licensing scheme scientists in laboratories can and do focus on cutting edge research that has the greatest chance for commercial exploitation. This is at least in part due to the fact that successful commercial exploitation can fund a lifetime of work without ever having to write another grant proposal, which is something many researchers simply hate doing. In short, Bayh-Dole works, but would not work without the critical seed funding of the federal government. For more on Bayh-Dole see Duke Researchers Say Patents Block Competition.
The day after Judge Lamberth’s decision Jim Greenwood, who is the President and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which is one of the largest, best organized and most successful industry advocacy groups had this to say:
For more than a decade, embryonic stem cell research has consistently demonstrated that it holds great hope for the development of breakthrough treatments and cures for debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injuries, diabetes and more.
Each day we wait for the judicial process to play out is a day lost for patients and their families living with such diseases.
We already have seen the promising possibility of stem cell research with companies like Geron showing astonishing results in the area of spinal cord injuries. As we have previously said, researchers should pursue all areas of stem cell research in the search for new therapies and cures.
I understand the objections to embryonic stem cell research, but I simply cannot understand anyone that has a moral objection to embryonic stem cell research. Jim Greenwood is exactly right. We need to pursue this and other research that shows promise and not stall progress, particularly when that would deny those in dire need of hope and potentially one day therapies and cures. How is it moral to watch those with crippling diseases agonize without trying to do everything we possibly can to find cures and treatments? Simply put, there is nothing moral about watching the suffering of another human being and doing nothing.
I am sick and tired of hearing about how embryonic stem cell research shouldn’t be funded because it hasn’t produced any results. First, as Greenwood points out that is false. Second, research takes time and since 1996 the federal government has had its foot on the break, not on the accelerator. So if you want to keep your head planted firmly in the sand you can pretend that embryonic stem cell research doesn’t hold any promise, but that type of 16th century thinking is exactly what has always caused science, technology and innovation to progress at a slower than necessary pace.
I am pro-life myself and never having had a child of my own I simply do not understand how anyone could willing choose abortion. The debate regarding embryonic stem cell research is one that is a proxy for the abortion debate and that is simply wrong in my opinion. No one is talking about aborting an unborn child. The embryos that would be used are those created via in vitro fertilization and no longer needed, which means they will be discarded. So why in the world would anyone want to see an embryo destroyed for the sake of destruction but not used to allow researchers to attempt to find cures for horrible diseases? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.
I am pro research and as a Republican patent attorney it was quite disappointing to me that President Bush limited federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells. So many things that President Bush did were anti-innovation, from his handling of embryonic stem cells to his political appointees handling of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
While I disagree with President Obama on virtually all kitchen table issues, so far he and his Administration have created an extremely friendly and favorable culture and environment for inventors and scientists. Now it is time for him and his Administration to stop with the fundamental alteration of America and tend to the smaller issues that in the long run will matter far more.
Join the Discussion
39 comments so far.
Catholic ObserverSeptember 13, 2010 10:45 am
Such surprise is no surprise – given that you do not seem to understand what “principles” are. It is further actually no surprise the evident pride you take in displaying this ignorance.
IANAESeptember 13, 2010 09:52 am
“Principles are not dependent on facts.”
Yes, I’ve noticed that. I’m always surprised when someone is proud of it, though.
Catholic ObserverSeptember 11, 2010 09:55 am
I am not sure you understand what “principle” means, given your comment of “Suppose you had a principle that you don’t eat meat on Friday. “Not eating meat on Friday” is not a principle. That would be an application of a principle. The principle would be the rationale and driving force behind the application. That rationale would always be active. It would be active on every day of the week, regardless of whether it was Friday or not.
Principles are not dependent on facts. They are not filtered or selected based on the ends in mind. Your reasoning does indeed remind me of a “Mengele complex” where you think the ends justify the means – no matter what those means are. Having principles is not limited to Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus or Muslims. Principles can be influenced by your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), but principles apply regardless of facts – I have no clue where your argument is going when you say “This is where the “knowledge” comes into play.“. You seem to be saying that for smart people who “know the facts”, principles can be suspended. Such is a sign of the Mengele complex. Such shows a fundamental misunderstanding of principle that underlies amoral behavior – such is a sign even of behavior of a sociopath. You do not have to be “illegal” to be a sociopath (in fact, the most dangerous sociopaths are those that stay within the legal bounds), but the differences between legality and morality have already been established on this thread, and the debate, the issue, is not limited to a legal one.
Blind DogmaSeptember 10, 2010 10:41 am
And you cannot have life with only food.
I don’t think the poster was “scrupuously avoiding all knowledge” and was more in fact trying to pin you down and have you address the substance of his comments. Obviously, Logan is unfamiliar with your writings.
I think he sees your birthday coming up, but that ruby palm of yours might mean something different.
IANAESeptember 9, 2010 10:56 am
There’s more to life than food, but you still can’t have life without food.
If you’re going to scrupulously avoid all the knowledge, you can’t claim the wisdom. You need to be able to think about the situation rationally, rather than continuing to shout your religious principles that (1) aren’t even necessarily relevant to the situation, and (2) aren’t shared by a lot of the people who would conduct or benefit from the research.
I didn’t say to turn off your principle. I said your principle doesn’t apply on the facts. This is where the “knowledge” comes into play.
Suppose you had a principle that you don’t eat meat on Friday. And I ask you whether you’d prefer beef or chicken on Thursday, because those are the only choices we have. You’re welcome to keep your principle, but it is inapplicable on the facts and it doesn’t help you make the decision.
LoganSeptember 9, 2010 10:36 am
I had to put my pen down, so to speak, as I was so incensed by your callous and empty reply. There is more to wisdom than knowledge, and you, it appears, delight in not even reaching the knowledge stage, but would rather employ tricks and sophistry. I assume that you think that this makes you sophis-ticated. In reality, it makes you an a$$.
Let’s start with your accusation of Kevin employing a strawman argument. I have never seen such a detailed four part “strawman” argument before. If you feel that any points were purposely left out, or that points made do not belong, please feel free to add or subtract and contribute to the discussion. Mere dismissal serves no purpose. Your own strawman analogies of sand and almonds fail to reach the distinct level of the discussion on what it means to be human.
You then lark onto a sophis treatment of my wording of “exact”, ignoring the obvious context, and treating my straight forward explanation as “some serious weaseling”. I have never seen someone try so hard to not understand a plain statement. I hesitate to assume that you might not be serious when you suggest that a pygmy chimp’s DNA might be more similar to an adult human than the DNA from the same species. What possible logical argument does such a reference bring to the discussion? You are either deliberately being obtuse, or you are really that ignorant. The jury is still out.
Then to compare the DNA that is actively driving the development of a human being with a printout – I cannot fathom you being serious. Did you really attempt that argument?
As far as elective surgery from an adult body – you miss the obvious difference in the consent of that adult dealing with DNA that is uniquely hers or his (without ending his or her lief – which, by the way is still illegal even given all the personal privacy rights that abound). Further, this is a far cry from the “every sperm is sacred” argument – which was only introduced by you. Sperm is not a fully functionable and unique item.
Your admission that DNA will not change juxtaposed with the chutzpa of “So what?” is only matched in your ignorance by the facetious “The embryo is no more defined by it s DNA than you or I by ours” – that is precisely the point. You and I are exactly defined – jut as the embryo is defined, just as the human at the embryonic stage is completely defined.
Your smart a$$ remarks serve no purpose, and the points made remain to be answered.
Your earlier comment on the “fallacy” of the continuum principle is a fallacy in itself. “You don’t have people looking at the embryo with their thumb over a button and saying “okay, this thin has civil rights starting… now!” is actually very much analogous to what happened in determining the legal status of when a Human starts. As mentioned upthread, the legal status and the moral status are not the same.
Perhaps you suffer from a Mengele complex as you say “your principles apply even less”. Principles are not something you turn off or turn on. Principles are what guide your behavior every moment of your life. Ignoring the reality that creating an industry that utilizes embryonic stem cells “feeds the beast” is what is immoral. Cloaking that immorality in the guise of righteousness is downright evil. You admonish to “stick to the issue” at the same time that you run from the real issue. Turn on your principles, if you can find them, and rejoin the human race – not the bonobo’s.
IANAESeptember 8, 2010 04:56 pm
Wow. That’s some serious weaseling there. The embryo has “human DNA”, whatever that means. It’s only barely more similar to your DNA or mine than it is to a bonobo’s. Possibly even less similar. When you dispute my “more similar” with your “exactly the same”, you very strongly imply that you mean exactly “exactly the same”.
Okay, the DNA will not change. So what? Everything else about it will. Everything about it that we can relate to will change. The DNA is just the information the embryo needs to build itself into what we might someday recognize as a human. The embryo is no more defined by its DNA than you or I are by ours. The mere fact that it contains human DNA is not a reason to call it a human. It really is no more human than your genome or mine printed out on paper. The DNA is the same in a petri dish, as you point out, so are we free to dispose of the petri dish? What about cosmetic surgery that removes living cells full of DNA from an adult body? If you’re going to stand on the “every sperm is sacred” principle, you should be consistent about it.
Your principles apply even less in the case of an embryo that was going to be destroyed anyway. An embryo that has no central nervous system with which to experience pain or discomfort, and never will. You can’t argue that destroying an embryo is wrong when you’re choosing between destroying an embryo and destroying an embryo plus learning – it’s simply not a relevant consideration. Your principle is not at stake here. Destroying the embryo is going to happen either way. It’s already happening. We’re just not learning anything from it yet. We’re trying to decide between destroying the embryo wastefully or destroying it productively. Stick to the issue.
LoganSeptember 8, 2010 04:35 pm
Stop running INANE – “exactly” applies in the context of the discussion – since the plural “our ” was used, the obvious allusion to cloning was forestalled. Your non sequitur of “burning a sequence listing” is just more obfuscation – unless you believe that taking a picture is also “cloning”.
The point is that an embryo’s DNA will not change – not ever – that DNA will be the same in the petri dish as it will be if allowed to fully gestate, be born, and live a full productive life. Deal with that fact.
Stick to the issue. If you cannot, simply stay quiet and spare us your juvenile wit.
IANAESeptember 8, 2010 02:07 pm
No, it’s not. If it were exactly the same it would be a clone, and furthermore it would make the embryo even more disposable because you could trivially make more exactly like it.
Should we be permitted to burn a sequence listing of human DNA? Would that be murder?
It’s not simply a matter of timing. You don’t have people looking at the embryo with their thumb over a button and saying “okay, this thing has civil rights starting …. now!” It’s a matter of a particular interval of time during which this glob of DNA and DNA-carriers undergoes its most extensive and fundamental changes ever. Other than fertilization itself, perhaps. Every other change that happens from the time its lungs develop to its death by senscence is a minor tweak by comparison. The difference between a newly-fertilized embryo and a newborn baby is far greater than the difference between a 30-year-old and a 29-year-old (or even a newborn), and if you can’t see that difference I’m surprised you can even tell an almond from a tree.
You can use the continuum fallacy to rationalize your beliefs all you want, but you shouldn’t ever expect that line of “reasoning” to convince anybody who doesn’t already agree with you.
LoganSeptember 8, 2010 12:44 pm
“the only similarity is that our DNA is more similar to a human embryo’s DNA than it is to anything else on the planet.”
Not to speak for Rick, but IANAE, you quite miss the point – it is not that a human embryo’s DNA is similar to, or more similar to a our DNA (as recognized living beings with basic human rights), it is quite that the human embryo’s DNA is exactly the same as our DNA. It is merely a matter of timing (like saying killing is not murder if you are over thirty). Your almond tree prable begs the point that needs to be proven.
IANAESeptember 7, 2010 10:23 am
It was reason enough to take a whole lot of human lives in Iraq. Adult lives, mostly. And that whole debacle was orchestrated by the pro-life party, if memory serves.
Your strawman argument is wonderful, it really is. “Here are all the differences I can think of, which by implication is all of them, and I’m going to just say ‘that’s not a good enough reason’ for all of them.”
Sure, there’s a continuum between a fertilized embryo and an adult human. But that doesn’t mean an embryo is the same thing as an adult human, any more than a grain of sand is a heap of sand.
If you hold an embryo and an adult side by side, it’s obvious that they’re different in multiple ways, including the ways you listed. Really, the only similarity is that our DNA is more similar to a human embryo’s DNA than it is to anything else on the planet. That’s not nearly enough justification to keep them alive, especially when we don’t offer the same courtesy to so many adult humans in our own country. You would eat an almond, but you wouldn’t eat an entire almond tree. There’s a difference, and I think you know what it is.
RickSeptember 6, 2010 03:39 am
Anon (#16), I can assure you that I was not upset by your comments; I just didn’t know what point you were making. And I disagree with your comments that the issue is not whether embryos should be discarded or used. I understand there is a bigger picture, but the issue that I was responding to with my comments is exactly whether the embryos should be used or discarded. Go reread comment 13. I am responding to the quote that I put at the very beginning of the comment.
Gene (#17), you are correct, I know little about “in vitro.” But I do know that there are people who are against in vitro because it creates embryos that will most likely later be discarded. Those people who want to end in vitro would likely be against the creation of an industry dependant on a supply of embryos that are created from the in vitro process because they want to end in vitro. It is very very similar to my death penalty comparison.
Gene says (#17): “You are naive to a special degree if you think that the use of unwanted embryos for scientific research has anything to do with, or would at all influence a decision to pursue in vitro procedures.” —-I never said or implied this with my comments. And is the name calling really necessary?
Gene says (#17): “First, they are not at all similar.” —- I missed your reasons. You just gave an assertion with no support.
Gene says (#17): “Exactly, which is why I am perplexed that you are not making an honest effort. You are setting up a false choice and pretending to be taking the moral high ground. The choice is not between the embryos continuing to exist or ever becoming a fetus or human and destruction. The choice is between destruction by discarding without any benefit to anyone, or destruction for research purposes that could lead to treatments and cures for horrible disease. Your arguments are from the heart and lack intellectual honesty. — (1) I am not “pretending” to take the moral highground. I am not even arguing my opinion. I am telling you why some people might oppose use of the embryos because you said you could see no reason to discard them. (2) I never said the choice was between “the embryos continuing to exist or ever becoming a fetus or human and destruction.” The fact that you say this lets me know that you didn’t take the time to understand my point. (3) How can my arguments be “from the heart” when I am not even arguing my position? You couldn’t be more wrong with your characterization of me.
Gene says (#17): “So at the end of the day your position is that the embryos should just be destroyed and those with horrible diseases that could be cured from the promising research on embryonic stem cells just need to suck up and deal with the hand that God dealt them. That is cold hearted, cruel and immoral in my opinion.” — thanks for the mischaracterization of my argument and the name calling. Are you capable of having a civil debate?
Blind DogmaSeptember 4, 2010 02:31 pm
The answer to your question, and one that answers your additional four points at post 24 was posted by Anon.
I can guarantee that you will not like that answer, but that is the law.
Now, morality is a different subject and should not be confused as being coincident with the law.
Gene QuinnSeptember 4, 2010 12:41 pm
What about the thousands that are destroyed? You cite hundreds, and that is fine, but you ignore the fact that by definition those were not unwanted. Obviously they were wanted because embryos cannot give life to themselves.
Now, what about those thousands that are destroyed? Better to destroy them for the sake of destruction? Your position simply cannot be supported morally or logically.
KevinSeptember 4, 2010 02:21 am
You write: ” …those [unwanted] embryos are a sunk cost in this case.”
Tell that to the hundreds of formerly “unwanted” embryos now walking around as a result of this program… http://www.embryoadoption.org/testimonials/index.cfm.
KevinSeptember 4, 2010 02:09 am
This is an important debate, becaue it shows how much confusion there is on what should be a very simple thing to decide. You still haven’t answered the only question that matters when you’re debating killing something: “What is it?”
You write “Obviously, there is a huge difference” (between an embryo and an implanted fetus). Oh yeah? Like what? There are only four that I can count, and none of them justify the taking of a human life:
1) Size — There was a big difference in size between you as a baby and you now, but that doesn’t change who you are or you’re worth. Every living things changes size throughout its different stages of development. Is it your position that we can kill an innocent human being based on his or her size?
2) Level of dependency — An embryo needs a nice soft womb to land in, and once implanted it needs oxygen and food and warmth from its mom. We’re all dependent when we’re young, and then again when we’re older. Just because someone is hooked-up to a respirator doesn’t make them less worthy of life. Are you suggesting that it is okay to kill a person based on their level of dependency?
3) Location — An embryo is in a pitri dish, and an implanted fetus in in a mother’s womb, and a baby is outside of its mother. Are you saying that a person’s mere location would be adequate justification for taking their life?
4) Level of development — An embryo is at the earliest stage of life, but it isn’t less human. You had the same, full set of DNA as an embryo that you do now. Do you hold that a person’s stage of development could give you the right to kill them?
I can’t think of any other differences… and none of these four seem like adequate justification for taking someone’s life.
Then you write: “You continue to ignore the reality that nothing that you, I or anyone does will change the fact that the embryos in question will be destroyed. You are pretending that the preservation of the embryo is an option, or that the embryo maturing to a fetus and ultimately a child born alive is an option.”
You must have missed the whole section in my post where I wrote that there ARE options: “There are embryo adoption options that can take these embryos out of stasis and let them grow and develop normally (see http://www.embryoadoption.org and http://www.nightlight.org/adoption-services/snowflakes-embryo/default.aspx for examples).” I even gave you two websites that allow these embroys to develop. So you seem to be the one ignoring facts on this point.
Then you write: “Based on everything you have said it must be your position that you prefer the destruction of embryos for the sake of their destruction as unwanted rather than in an effort to help those with horrible diseases. That is, in my opinion, immoral.”
How did you get that? Of course that’s not my position. My position is the embryo is a living human being (just like you, when you were an embryo), and that we should stop their destruction in the first place. What’s really immoral is saying that because someone is unwanted, you can carve them up and use them for spare parts instead of doing the virtuous thing and trying to find ways to not kill them. “Oh, sorry, looks like someone is going to kill you, but can I have your spleen?”
Plus your whole argument is circular reasoning. On one hand you say it’s important to help save human lives (with embryonic stem cell research), but your assumption must be that the embryo is not a human life, because you don’t seem to care that such stem cell research kills the embryo. But that’s exactly the point in question, isn’t it? What is the embryo… is it human or not? If it is not, go for it… take all the stem cells you can get. But if it is human, then those are not your stem cells to take.
(And there are plenty of other stem cell sources, too, not just the ones that kill embryos when you harvest them.)
RogerSeptember 1, 2010 01:44 pm
Thanks for the nice article.
Peyton FarquharAugust 30, 2010 12:47 pm
Here! Here! It’s nice to see someone who subscribes to one political ideology, but who has the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in his head concurrently. If the modern gee oh pee were still like this, I’d still be voting for them.
IANAEAugust 30, 2010 10:33 am
Gene, you can’t reason with people who will deny a benefit to sick people on principle even when their principle isn’t actually at stake. They don’t care about being moral, because they’re too busy being ethical. Someone told them at some point that research on embryos is wrong wrong wrong, and they’re incapable of reconsidering their rules when confronted with new facts.
I find it encouraging (is “inspiring” too strong a word?) that at least one person is willing to stand up and say “look, I’m generally opposed to doing bad things to embryos, but those embryos are a sunk cost in this case so I’m willing to consider it”. As the Federal Circuit gets told time and again, there are no bright-line rules, and sometimes life needs a more flexible approach – even if it requires us to use our common sense from time to time.
Gene QuinnAugust 30, 2010 10:15 am
Why don’t you tell me what YOU think the difference is. You know well what the difference is even if you don’t want to admit it.
JesseAugust 30, 2010 09:49 am
Gene, would all of your comments above apply with equal force to performing experiments on death-row inmates who have exhausted all appeals or other potential remedies? If not, what is the difference?
Gene QuinnAugust 29, 2010 01:53 pm
You are setting up the same false choice that Rick is talking about and doing a real disservice to the debate. You say:
“then no justification is adequate… even helping other people overcome a disease, since it would require the destruction of someone else to get there.”
The embryos are unwanted and what that means is they will be discarded (i.e., destroyed). So you can pretend that the destruction of the embryo is the same as destroying “someone else” but that is simply not true on a factual level. The embryos will never be more than an embryo and then they will be destroyed. You might not like that, and I might not like that, but to pretend that this research would deprive an embryo of life in the same way as an abortion of a fetus (which is an unborn child) is factually inaccurate.
You say: “Now you may disagree that killing an embryo is the moral equivalent to killing a 5-week old fetus in the womb, but I’d say the burden of proof is then on you to show that what you’re killing is different in each case (ie., that one is not an innocent human being).”
Obviously, there is a huge difference. You continue to ignore the reality that nothing that you, I or anyone does will change the fact that the embryos in question will be destroyed. You are pretending that the preservation of the embryo is an option, or that the embryo maturing to a fetus and ultimately a child born alive is an option. The embryo will be destroyed. The burden of proof is not on me, but rather that burden is on YOU to explain why the destruction for the sake of destruction is preferable to you.
You said: “Since when does the manner in which fertilization occurs change the humanity of the embryo?”
Answer: It doesn’t. But again you are choosing to ignore the real question and pretending that the preservation of the embryo is an option. Under the Guidelines only those embryos that are unwanted could be used. You know darn well what that means. Why are you ignoring the truth?
Based on everything you have said it must be your position that you prefer the destruction of embryos for the sake of their destruction as unwanted rather than in an effort to help those with horrible diseases. That is, in my opinion, immoral.
Gene QuinnAugust 29, 2010 01:44 pm
You say: “If a person is against the creation of embryos that might later be discarded, then they would be against the use of any embryos for research because it creates a market for embryos. It creates a demand for research embryos and encourages somebody to supply embryos.”
Obviously you are not at all familiar with in vitro. People pursue this because they desperately want a family. You are naive to a special degree if you think that the use of unwanted embryos for scientific research has anything to do with, or would at all influence a decision to pursue in vitro procedures.
You say: “Would you also support harvesting the organs of people who are executed by the state? I think that is a very similar situation.”
First, they are not at all similar. Second, I absolutely support harvesting organs from those who are executed. I am not in favor of compulsory organ donation, but those who are evil and have committed horrific crimes seem to me to have lost whatever rights they had or deserved. The real question is whether capital punishment makes sense. I personally hate the argument that it is applied in a discriminatory manner. The answer to me would be to then apply it more, not less. If, however, we really could get assurances that violent offenders would just be warehoused until they die I would be in favor of locking them up and throwing away the key. Oddly that costs less to society than executing them.
You say: “It really isn’t very difficult to understand opposing points of view if you make an honest effort.”
Exactly, which is why I am perplexed that you are not making an honest effort. You are setting up a false choice and pretending to be taking the moral high ground. The choice is not between the embryos continuing to exist or ever becoming a fetus or human and destruction. The choice is between destruction by discarding without any benefit to anyone, or destruction for research purposes that could lead to treatments and cures for horrible disease. Your arguments are from the heart and lack intellectual honesty. So at the end of the day your position is that the embryos should just be destroyed and those with horrible diseases that could be cured from the promising research on embryonic stem cells just need to suck up and deal with the hand that God dealt them. That is cold hearted, cruel and immoral in my opinion.
AnonAugust 28, 2010 07:05 pm
My point is that you miss the point. It is not merely an issue of either discarding something or using it. If that were the case, than it would not be being discussed here concerning a moral or ethical strand.
You try to draw an analogy to harvesting organs of people who are executed by the state. There is an argument that such people having forfeited their lives, also forfeit their bodies. Can you say the same about fetuses? What crime have fetuses committed to have legally forfeited their lives? Your analogy falls short of the critical point. Don’t get upset with me because you miss the point.
The issue that you are missing is that for some, there is a moral concern with when human life starts with the intersection of when society should recognize when human rights start. I was pointing out that the current legal acceptance of when human rights start is very much after most ordinary people think that a separate and distinct human life has either begun or has reached a viable state. I was pointing out that law and morality are not the same. Is that a difficult point to grasp?
RickAugust 28, 2010 06:04 pm
Anon, I am not really sure what your point is. The situations are very similar in that in both situations something can either be discarded or used. People who are against creating embryos for research and people who are against the death penalty could have a similar objection to the use of the embryos/organs. The death penalty is legal in some states, so the “timing of the recognition of life” isn’t relevant unless you are arguing that the death penalty is immoral, and if you are arguing that, you missed my point entirely.
AnonAugust 28, 2010 01:22 pm
“Would you also support harvesting the organs of people who are executed by the state? I think that is a very similar situation.”
The situations are worlds apart on the key and critical question of the timing of the recognition of life.
Not that it matters to the moral debate, but that question has long been answered legally – the fetus gains the right incumbent to being a person when it is born, that is, when it draws its first breath outside the womb. Up to that point, the fetus does not have legal rights.
Again, I am not saying that this is morally correct, but it is important to note that morals and laws are two very different things.
rickAugust 28, 2010 12:26 pm
“I see no reason to simply destroy an embryo and deny research when the embryo will be destroyed anyway.”
If a person is against the creation of embryos that might later be discarded, then they would be against the use of any embryos for research because it creates a market for embryos. It creates a demand for research embryos and encourages somebody to supply embryos. It makes sense to me that a person who thinks that an embryo is a human being would not want an entire industry to be created around the use of embryos.
Would you also support harvesting the organs of people who are executed by the state? I think that is a very similar situation. After all, there are people dying who desperately need those organs. Why let the organs go to waste? There is one very good reason if you are against the death penalty: the need for organs would encourage the execution of more people. Similarly, the use of embryos in research encourages the creation of more embryos for research.
It really isn’t very difficult to understand opposing points of view if you make an honest effort.
KevinAugust 27, 2010 08:43 pm
> I am pro-life myself and never having had a child of my own I simply do not understand how anyone could willing choose abortion.
Why are you pro-life? Most people are pro-life because they believe that the destruction of an embryo or fetus is the killing of an innocent human being. If that’s not in fact the case, then no justification for abortion (or embryonic stem cell research — ESCR) is necessary. But if it is the case, then no justification is adequate… even helping other people overcome a disease, since it would require the destruction of someone else to get there. Now figure-out how to get stem cells out of embryos without killing or damaging the embryo and then we’re getting somewhere (and we can also get stem cells in other ways that don’t involve killing an embryo). So why all of this defending a process that arguably kills a human being? I don’t get that. Shouldn’t we error on the side of caution?
>The debate regarding embryonic stem cell research is one that is a proxy for the abortion debate and that is simply wrong in my opinion.
But it’s exactly the same issue… the question comes down to this: What are you killing? If it’s an innocent human being, than it’s wrong to kill him or her. If it’s not a human being, then who cares what you do with it?
You still have to answer the “what is it?” question first in both cases (abortion and ESCR). In that respect, these two issues do require the same debate. Now you may disagree that killing an embryo is the moral equivalent to killing a 5-week old fetus in the womb, but I’d say the burden of proof is then on you to show that what you’re killing is different in each case (ie., that one is not an innocent human being).
>No one is talking about aborting an unborn child. The embryos that would be used are those created via in vitro fertilization and no longer needed, which means they will be discarded.
Since when does the manner in which fertilization occurs change the humanity of the embryo? When embryos, however created, are discarded or destroyed, that’s the problem, because that’s the destruction of an innocent human life. We are, in fact, “talking about aborting an unborn child.” An embryo is an unborn child, however it was created. If it’s not, Gene, what is it? Again, it comes down to the same question. And these left-over embryos do not necessarily have to be discarded. There are embryo adoption options that can take these embryos out of stasis and let them grow and develop normally (see http://www.embryoadoption.org and http://www.nightlight.org/adoption-services/snowflakes-embryo/default.aspx for examples).
As an engineer and a patent agent, I’m all for scientific discovery. I think stem cells hold great promise. But let’s not destroy our morality in the process. We’ve already lost over 40,000,000 lives to abortion since 1972’s Roe v. Wade… for what, “privacy?” You can’t “privately” kill your two-year old toddler and say it’s okay, so the whole Roe case is flawed. They never answered the key question you always have to ask: What is it?
Gene QuinnAugust 27, 2010 12:32 pm
So you would rather the embryos be destroyed simply through discarding them as unwanted rather than them being destroyed for some great purpose to help find a cure for truly horrible diseases? I am happy to get into a debate about whether in vitro is a good or a bad thing and whether embryos should be discarded as unwanted. I suspect our positions on that might be quite similar. However, the fact remains that in vitro fertilization exists and when a couple is successful the “unwanted” embryos are discarded. So the question is whether they should be destroyed merely for the sake of destruction or whether they can be used. I see no reason to simply destroy an embryo and deny research when the embryo will be destroyed anyway.
I agree with you completely regarding the health care costs and financial regulations. It amazes me that the rocket scientists in Congress and the Administration enacted financial reform that exempted the entities that caused the crisis in the first place – Fannie and Freddie. That would be comically funny if it weren’t tragically sad and irresponsible. I also agree that the impending tax increase is bad across the board for everyone — all businesses and all individuals because it will be a huge drag on the economy and likely take us into a double dip recession if it actually happens as planned. So there is absolutely no way to characterize what the Obama Administration is doing as pro-business. I think that is why US corporations are sitting on about $2 trillion in cash and hording it. Big business doesn’t like what is going on and is starving the economy of cash, which punishes the Obama Administration but ultimately the people are the ones injured.
In terms of the pro innovation climate take a look at what is going on at the Patent Office. David Kappos has totally revitalized the USPTO. Patents are issuing again, which was not happening by the end of the Bush Administration. More patent applications are being filed, and the uptick in patent applications corresponds with the arrival of Kappos at the USPTO, so businesses see him as positive. He has revised examination practice and there is more streamlining and revision yet to come. The issuance of patents puts assets in the hands of innovative growth companies that can attract VC money to expand and create jobs. Obviously, there would be a multiplying affect if not for the horrible business climate you correctly point out. So I am divorcing innovation climate, which is good, from business climate, which is horrible.
RichAugust 27, 2010 12:22 pm
For those who believe life begins at conception, destroying the embryo is destruction of human life, and many people think that should not be taken lightly. You speak of “using” embryos to alleviate the suffering of others, but many believe it is indeed immoral for some people it is not a proper “use” of others, particularly what that other is entirely powerless and innocent. So the lecture about the irrationality of those opposed to this research is startling.
I’d like to know what this administration has done that has created such a favorable climate for innovation. It seemed to me investors are rather scarce these days and innovation appears to be (consequently) at a low ebb. Innovating companies find themselves saddled with new and yet undetermined health care costs, still unwritten financial regulations, and an impending tax increase. Doesn’t sound like such a favorable climate to me.
Gene QuinnAugust 27, 2010 10:09 am
I’m glad you like the article.
Yes, Congress is always fixated on funding. It seems that the power of the purse makes them go to extraordinary extremes to regulate everything positively or negatively. I was going to write about how sadly common it is that something like the Dickey-Wicker Amendment gets attached to a budget bill, when it is really about social policy, but thought that might take away from what I wanted to get out. So thanks for bringing that up. We are on the same page there.
I personally am in favor of (1) legislation short enough for EVERYONE voting to have read; (2) for them to have ACTUALLY read it; and (3) only one bill at a time without any riders.
IANAEAugust 27, 2010 09:59 am
It’s a reach, but where else can you look for standing on these facts? Researchers who receive money will never challenge their own entitlement to it, and it’s not like those Dickey-Wickers in Congress have standing qua Congressmen.
Gene QuinnAugust 27, 2010 09:47 am
That is my understanding regarding the plaintiffs. If you read the first paragraph of Judge Lambreth’s decision he very quickly recounts the standing matter. The district court originally ruled that the plaintiffs did not have standing and on appeal that was reversed. They apparently have “competitor standing,” whatever that is. I guess it is the logical extension of academic research being a business, but one set of researchers injured because the US is funding another kind of research? Is research funding becoming an entitlement? I am not sure I like the way things are heading in America these days.
BiostatAugust 27, 2010 09:18 am
I heard about this on NPR and it sounded from that report as if the only plaintiffs with standing were themselves stem cell researchers who use adult stem cells and were worried about competition (i.e., for research dollars) if embryonic stem cells were used because all the research dollars would then go to the (i.e., more promising) embryonic stem cell research programs. If this is correct, it just reeks and I think the plaintiffs should be banned from ever getting federal research dollars. How can one purport to uphold the ideals of scientific research by obstructing other, more promising avenues of research? Shame on them.
TomAugust 27, 2010 08:14 am
Thanks for your thoughtful essay. I am dismayed by the ranting that continues around stem cell research. Congress is funding-fixated, and seems to believe that every problem can be solved by granting or withholding funds. Why can’t Congress ever address an issue openly, directly, and forthrightly, instead of using some back-door funding amendment? It reminds me of the people in Galveston a few years ago who tried to get rid of a cabaret using an environmental argument.
Blind DogmaAugust 26, 2010 05:21 pm
Kool Aid is not very effective for hornet stings.
Gene QuinnAugust 26, 2010 04:22 pm
Thanks for reading. I am not per se trying to open up a Pandora’s Box, although I suspect it will likely open up based on what I wrote. This is not one of those situations where I am trying to go up to the hornets nest and club it with a baseball bat, although it might be so perceived I know. What I wanted to do is add my true feelings and biases so everyone can see where I am coming from. I wanted to try and not be too preachy while acknowledging my view and pointing out my biases. We’ll see if that is what I accomplished in time.
step backAugust 26, 2010 04:17 pm
Thanks for clearing up the legal details of what is going on in this case.
MSM News usually gets it wrong and this case appears to be no exception. I had suspected, based on some cryptic news articles, that this is what is going on, namely a Federal statute trumping an agency ruling, and thus the judge had no choice but to rule this way.
Now as for the rest of your posting (pro-life and all that jazz), it looks like you are trying to open a new Pandora’s Box and drum up some comments.
However, I suspect that all is quiet on the Eastern and Western fronts on account of this being the last week of summer. Maybe next week all the regulars will be back. 😉
Pablo EdwardsAugust 26, 2010 03:30 pm
I think that there is too big of divide along party lines and the research has not really advanced to the point where it is making an impact yet. Time will tell.