Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Yesterday, in response to a post I wrote on President Bush's obedience to special interests, the TDEC offered up some interesting commentary. Specifically, she posted a comment that read as follows:

Hmm. I actually feel conflicted on the matter, and while I find the misinformation on sex and abortion repugnant, I would like to see stem cell research as a fully seperate issue.

Using frozen embryos for research should not be done lightly, much as abortion should not be done lightly. The kind of anti-anti-stem cell research arguments you give, tying Bush's point of view in with the broader spectrum of Christian right issues, do no help me. I already know all that, and well, Bush really isn't my president anyway.

In my mind, there are a lot of caveats where it concerns research using frozen embryos. How do you practically see this? Do you believe there should be governmental guidelines or should it be left up to the scientific community? If so, what should the guidelines be?

You see, personally, I don't trust the scientific medical community any further than I can kick them, and I strongly believe that if we allow this type of research the community should have some say in it. After all, in medical research the step from "benevolent" non-profit research to pharmaceutical-giant-monopoly is a very small one.

Now, there are a lot of issues in here, so I want to take the time to deal with them.

First, there's the question of whether stem cell research is an issue separable from abortion information, sex education, and so on. Secondarily, there's the issue of whether my original post could help someone grapple with the issue of stem cells as a whole. I absolutely agree that stem cells, abortion, sex education, and a host of other things are separable issues, and should be discussed independently. The problem, in this case, is that for certain others they are not separable. For Bush's fundamentalist backers, they are effectively the same issue. As a result, we are in a position where Bush gives us a "package deal." If we want to support him on stem cells, we also have to recognize that certain other positions come along with it. My post was intended to bring this point to the forefront, rather than to discuss the issue of stem cell research itself.

Does this recognition help all persons decide what to do on the matter of stem cells? Of course not. Deciding whether one supports that type of research should not be determined by examining some cluster of other rhetorically (if not logically) related issues. It should be the result of a careful weighing of the philosophical, ethical, and pragmatic points on both sides. But then using a blog like this one to make a decision about stem cells is, perhaps, not the best idea. "Careful weighing" isn't really what I do, and anyone who says otherwise is a damn liar.

Next, there's the issue of government guidelines and whether or not scientific research should be limited by government action. Simply put, I do think that government has a role to play in regulating research. I think that is appropriate and really have no objections to it. Granted, I have concerns about its practicality as I am unaware of very many instances when government has been able to prevent the development of a new technology, but in principle I have no objections. While my ethical system does not construe an embryo of the type we're considering to be anything more significant than a fragment of organic material, I can certainly see room for debate on the point. Indeed, I think debate on that point is healthy for society generally.

My issue at the moment, however, is not that government is potentially regulating the research, but rather that the extent and nature of those regulations are largely being dictated by a minority, and extremist, opinion. Further, that position is, itself, largely hypocritical and often logically absurd.

If this segment of the population truly regards embryos as human, then why aren't they protesting outside of fertility clinics that routinely prepare more embryos than are used in in vitro fertilization procedures? After all, every one of those embryos is a "person" and, as such, is deserving of rights, correct? Yet, with few exceptions, simply keeping those embryos in indefinite cold storage seems to be acceptable, and discarding them preferable, to using them to reduce suffering. Either way the embryos never truly "live," but as it stands now, even their "deaths" are wasteful.

Is there a slippery slope argument to made here? Perhaps, but that sort of argument is seldom very useful. Embryos are potential people that cannot develop without the right circumstances and resources (i.e. a womb) and even then require the infusion of additional material. What about sperm? A sperm is a potential person, in a sense, and lacks only the proper environment and resources to become a person. Maybe we should ban sperm banks too, given this knowledge. Is this a false comparison? Hell yes, it's ridiculously arbitrary, but so are many similar slippery slope arguments. Do we really think that once people get used to the idea of stem cell research, that they will automatically be okay with creating a race of genetic slaves? Let's be serious- humans have proven they are more than willing to enslave their fellow humans as it is; I don't think a future race of engineered slaves would be the result of a decision about stem cells.

What about the argument that the government shouldn't fund stem cell research because a small minority regards it as murder? Well, the government really can't do anything without someone finding it morally objectionable. Many people are pacifists and ethically object to the military- yet we fund that. Some people object to taxes of any sort as an imposition on individual liberty- but the IRS still enforces tax law. Numerous people consider the death penalty to be immoral- but the government still engages in that. Governments routinely do things that some portion of their citizenry disagrees with. Moreover, in a society composed of diverse viewpoints, that's effectively unavoidable. So, if government could not fund an activity that some group objected to, then government would effectively cease to exist. Please don't misunderstand, I am certainly not arguing that governments should run roughshod over the desires of the people. Rather, I am only indicating that small minority objection is not, itself, sufficient to prevent government action.

As to what guidelines I might view as reasonable, I think the existing guidelines for research on donated biological materials are probably sufficient.

I agree that the community needs to be involved in this sort of decision making but, right now, that involvement is being circumvented. Bush isn't your president, or mine, but he is still the President. As a result, whether his decisions are yours or mine, they still carry substantial weight. And right now it isn't the community that's involved in this decision.

It's the religious right.

Note: My computer has been acting poorly of late and I'm frustrated with it, so the crappiness of this post is largely attributable to that. You know, as opposed to my normal run-of-the-mill crappiness.


Blogger Plain(s)feminist said...

Actually - and I think this is very important for this particular debate - stem cells don't come from embryos, exactly. Stem cells are what you have BEFORE you have an embryo. They come from blastocysts. That's how rudimentary they are. 50-150 cells, according to Wikipedia.

I think it's important to make this clear so that people aren't walking around imagining week-old babies (which, unfortunately, is what some people do imagine when they think "first trimester abortion") when we're talking about stem cells.

Sunday, July 30, 2006 4:28:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Excellent point! Thanks for bringing that up!

Monday, July 31, 2006 9:40:00 AM  

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