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War (on Stem Cells): What is It Good For?

X-posted at Skepchick

Reader Davery sent in this link to a Slate article on Obama’s recent reversal of the Bush administration’s ban on stem cell research: Winning Smugly: You just won the stem-cell war. Don’t lose your soul.

First of all, if you’re new to Slate the main thing to remember is that they earn their ad revenue by being contrarian. If you say torture is bad, they’ll argue that sometimes it’s good. If you liked Wall-E’s message, they’ll find someone to say it was a terrible message. If they say Suze Orman is terrible, then . . . well, they’ll also say she’s got some great ideas. Whether or not you agree with any of that, the point is that this is the purpose Slate serves.

So, it’s no surprise that they found William Saletan to tell us crazy liberals to just calm the hell down. Saletan is concerned because:

Embryos are the beginnings of people. They’re not parts of people. They’re the whole thing, in very early form.

This sounds a bit like Saletan believes that an embryo is a homunculus, a tiny person waiting inside to grow larger and emerge from the womb. If he believes that the entire person is contained within an embryo, then surely crushing some acorns would be as upsetting as clear-cutting an old-growth forest. It’s not, though, because we understand that a seed is not an organism – it’s only different from other cells because of the possibilities we imagine for it.

Remarkably, buried within the article is the sentence that renders the point moot:

It seems worse to let the girl die for the embryo’s sake than to kill the embryo for the girl’s sake, particularly since embryos left over from fertility treatments will be discarded or left to die, anyway.

That’s what this decision was really about: whether or not we can use trashed embryos to save countless lives. Saletan’s entire argument is based on a slippery slope: if we allow testing on embryos that would otherwise be thrown in the garbage, we’ll soon allow embryos to be created and destroyed for testing purposes. And then, and then, and then, who knows? This argument is familiar to those fighting for equal rights for homosexuals, since really the only non-Bible-based argument against allowing gays to marry is to argue that next thing you know, ducks will be marrying oysters. In this case, the only non-Bible-based argument against making use of someone’s garbage is that next thing you know, we’ll be ransacking orphanages in search of unwitting organ donors.

Saletan calls this a “war” as a way to tie all those ideas together, insinuating that now that we’ve won we’ll have our ugly way with stem cells and abuse morality as we see fit. But that’s not true: there are still strict regulations in place, and people will carefully weigh the options at every stage, as they should.

At the current stage, I’ll go out on a limb and say that there is not a damn thing that is immoral about testing on trashed embryos. Further, it was outrageously immoral to allow embryos to go to waste in the name of morality when those cells could so positively affect our lives. This wasn’t a war – it was a crime, which we’ve finally stopped.

4 comments to War (on Stem Cells): What is It Good For?

  • irishjazz

    If I recall the lyric:

    “The only thing it’s good for is the undertaker”

    With apologies to atheist sensibilities… “Good God y’all.”

  • Just because an egg is fertilized does not mean it is a child. A fertilized egg has just as much chance of implanting in the uterus after sex as not. If all fertilized eggs are children what about all of these eggs that just failed to implant. This would mean there are just as many children dying every day as there are being born every single day. What about those thousands upon thousands of children? Should women be subject to strict and invasive testing after all acts of sex so as to save as many “children” as we can? Oh, I should keep my mouth shut. I might give the religious right some ideas.
    I know this is an argument from consequences but it just goes to show that these religious types don’t even think.

  • DLC

    Something tells me Slate is rapidly approaching Huffington Post in terms of posting nonsense.

  • The Blind Watchmaker

    I for one am grateful for this reversal. Back in November, we in Michigan got to vote on a proposal to allow funding for stem cell research. It was a nasty battle. Churches were unconstitutionally handing out “2 Goes 2 Far” signs that littered the landscape. Fortunately, reason won out and 2 passed. Now, this brings us further into the current century.

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