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.