Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance

I already said my peace on stem cell research, but after browsing around for interesting news I realized a lot of people are, not surprisingly, uninformed of what exactly President Obama’s lift on the stem cell research ban means.

I want to share this infuriating article from Slate:

On Monday, President Obama lifted the ban on federal funding of stem-cell research using destroyed human embryos. If you support this research, congratulations: You won. Now for your next challenge: Don't lose your soul.

The best way to understand this peril is to look at an issue that has become the mirror image of the stem-cell fight. That issue is torture. On Jan. 22, Obama signed an executive order prohibiting interrogation methods used by the Bush administration to extract information from accused terrorists. "We can abide by a rule that says we don't torture, but that we can still effectively obtain the intelligence that we need," the president declared. "We are willing to observe core standards of conduct not just when it's easy, but also when it's hard."

The next day, former Bush aide Karl Rove accused Obama of endangering the country by impeding interrogations of the enemy. "They don't recognize we're in a war," said Rove. "In a war, you do not take tools that are working and stop using them and say we'll get back to you in four months, six months, eight months, a year, and tell you what we're going to do to replace this valuable tool which has helped keep America safe."'

To most of us, Rove's attack is familiar and infuriating. We believe, as Obama does, that it's possible to save lives without crossing a moral line that might corrupt us. We reject the Bush administration's insistence on using all available methods rather than waiting for scrupulous alternatives. We see how Rove twists Obama's position to hide the moral question and make Obama look obtuse and irresponsible.

The same Bush-Rove tactics are being used today in the stem-cell fight. But they're not coming from the right. They're coming from the left. Proponents of embryo research are insisting that because we're in a life-and-death struggle—in this case, a scientific struggle—anyone who impedes that struggle by renouncing effective tools is irrational and irresponsible. The war on disease is like the war on terror: Either you're with science, or you're against it.


First off, it is completely asinine to try and make stem cell research similar to torture. Torture is a very clear cut issue, it’s wrong. I don’t care what you think the benefits are. It’s wrong on every level from morality to just plain common sense.

Second, there are no sides with science. Either you’re on board with the continual research and drive to move forward and answer the tiny mysteries of the universe, or you’re completely irrelevant in my book.

Because you can’t be “against science” (well maybe the Amish are). You can disagree with certain behaviors that a person might take in the name of science. If someone said the only way to cure cancer was to eat live babies while ass raping farm animals, I would think it was very very wrong and be against it.

But that still doesn’t make me “against science.”
You don't have to equate embryos with full-grown human beings—I don't—to appreciate the danger of exploiting them. Embryos are the beginnings of people. They're not parts of people. They're the whole thing, in very early form. Harvesting them, whether for research or medicine, is different from harvesting other kinds of cells. It's the difference between using an object and using a subject. How long can we grow this subject before dismembering it to get useful cells? How far should we strip-mine humanity in order to save it?

If you have trouble taking this question seriously—if you think it's just the hypersensitivity of fetus-lovers—try shifting the context from stem cells to torture. There, the question is: How much ruthless violence should we use to defeat ruthless violence? The paradox and the dilemma are easy to recognize. Creating and destroying embryos to save lives presents a similar, though not equal, dilemma.
First Saletan admits that embryos aren’t equal to fully grown human beings, but then he continues to conflate the argument that embryonic stem cell research is on par to torturing people. In reality, it is more equatable to dissecting cadavers.

By saying “Embryos are the beginnings of people. They're not parts of people. They're the whole thing, in very early form,” Saletan is very clearly trying to get people to think of stem cells as tiny people, which they’re not.

I also find it amusing the way the author, William Saletan, asks the rhetoric question of "how long can we grow this subject before dismembering it to get useful cells? How far should we strip-mine humanity in order to save it?" Well the answer is actually pretty simple. We can grow the subject until the cells differentiate (at this point it becomes a fetus) and its cells are useless for research.
At their best, proponents of stem-cell research have turned the question on its head. They have asked pro-lifers: How precious is that little embryo? Precious enough to forswear research that might save the life of a 50-year-old man? Precious enough to give up on a 6-year-old girl? How many people, in the name of life, are you willing to surrender to death?

To most of us, the dilemma is more compelling from this angle. 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. But it's still a dilemma. And as technology advances, the dilemmas will become more difficult. Already, researchers are clamoring to extend Obama's policy so they can use federal money to create and destroy customized embryos, not just use the ones left over from fertility treatments.

This is blatantly untrue. Obama has clearly stated that he is against scientists creating the embryos purely to research purposes. He is leaving it up to congress to make the law though (they are the legislative branch).
The danger of seeing the stem-cell war as a contest between science and ideology is that you bury these dilemmas. You forget the moral problem. You start lying to yourself and others about what you're doing. You invent euphemisms like pre-embryo, pre-conception, and clonote. Your ethical lines begin to slide. A few years ago, I went to a forum sponsored by proponents of stem-cell research. One of the speakers, a rabbi, told the audience that under Jewish law, embryos were insignificant until 40 days. I pointed out that if we grew embryos to 40 days, we could get transplantable tissue from them. I asked the rabbi: Would that be OK? He answered: Yes.

If you don't want to end up this way—dead to ethics and drifting wherever science takes you—you have to keep the dilemmas alive. You have to remember that conflicting values are at stake. On this point, Obama has been wiser than his supporters. "Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research," the president acknowledged on Monday. "We will never undertake this research lightly. We will support it only when it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted."

In politics, to be a good winner, you have to pick up the banner of your fallen enemy. You have to recognize what he stood for, absorb his truths, and carry them forward. Otherwise, those truths will be lost, and so will you. The stem-cell fight wasn't a fight between ideology and science. It was a fight between 5-day-olds and 50-year-olds. The 50-year-olds won. The question now is what to do with our 5-day-olds, our 5-week-olds, and our increasingly useful parts.
This last paragraph is just atrocious. To compare an embryo that’s only future is the bottom of a medical waste heap to that of a five year old little girl is irresponsible and infuriating.

The problem with these people against embryonic stem cell research is their propaganda is the same as Bush’s was when he banned federal funding for this research. The are trying to make people think of a future filled with “fetus farms” and cloned experiments gone awry which is clearly false.

That's usually the first argument you hear. The second, is that these tiny cluster of cells have the potential of life.

I stated this yesterday but let me make this perfectly clear; the embryos that will be used in this research have no potential to become fully grown adults. They are MEDICAL WASTE. That’s the embryos two options, research or being flushed down the toilet.

If, for some odd reason, people still don’t agree in using medical waste in potentially life saving research, then they should be protesting infertility clinic and not these scientists (since that is where these embryos are coming from).

It just doesn’t make sense that hundreds of thousands of these embryos have been thrown away by IFV clinics and no one gives a rat’s ass. But the second we have a president willing to look logically at the situation, people fill the airwaves and talk shows with their fundamentalist brouhaha.

I just can't wrap my brain around that.

The third argument you might hear is the idea that these embryos can be donated instead of thrown out. This is definitely true. Couples can choose to donate any embryos they do not want to use, but it is very uncommon. I heard one person estimate the number to be around 400 cases of children, sometimes called “snowflake babies,” born from donated embryos.

400 out of hundreds of thousands.

Now, couples will have the choice of donating any unneeded embryos to science. I can’t grasp how people think this is wrong? It just doesn’t make any sense to me to be against embryonic stem cell research. All the anti scientific progress camp offers us is arguments with little validity and muddled morality.

Saletan does make one good point, that euphemisms can be dangerous. That's especially true when calling a blastocyst a human being or trying to use the word fetus interchangeably with embryo.

You will also hear the "slippery slope" argument time and time again in this debate. It's mainly because they don't have a valid argument against what's happening now. The reality is this slippery slope leads to the lessening of human suffering.

As one reader commented, “cognitive dissonance is such a beautiful thing.”

*Here is a link to a Stem Cell FAQ from the University of Michigan. The answers are clear and easy to understand.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, stem cell research can offer so much to society, it could make alot of peoples lifes alot better and healthier.

    As far as i know in the UK it is aloud but we had a simaler kind of outcry from the Pro-Life and Anti Science lot as you have in the US.

    I dont except thier flimsy Moral reasoning.A fetus is not a human it is but a small cluster of cells with no awerness of even feeling of what it is .

    Well done Obama

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