Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Morality and Reason

I'm not quite buying into the hype - it remains to be seen what benefits to humanity will ensue from research using embryonic stem cells. But, while we can argue over the appropriate allocation of scientific resources, I am very happy to see that the new administration will not allow irrational ideology to stand in the way of scientific investigation.

There is of course a difference between ethics and facts, and we can't have productive discussions if we don't keep them straight. So you might say to me well, if somebody believes that human life begins at conception and zygote or a blastocyst are human beings, that's just their belief, you can't argue with it. In this case, however, I can, because such a belief is illogical and traps anyone who holds it in inconsistency and absurdity.

The embryos in question under the ban president Obama just lifted are left over from in vitro fertilization. If they aren't used for research, they will be destroyed anyway. Ergo, if destroying them constitutes "destroying innocent human life," the bishops and evangelical fundies should be far more vociferous in their opposition to IVF than they are to stem cell research, because far more embryos are created and destroyed for purposes of IVF. If they are used in stem cell research, there is at least some benefit, but either way, innocent human life is destroyed. But the bishops and fundies aren't opposed to IVF, aren't clamoring to outlaw it, don't even discuss it. Why not?

Second, it doesn't require IVF to destroy zygotes and embryos, it only requires nature. Most of the human embryos that are created by doing what comes naturally never develop into babies. In fact most of them never make it to become fetuses. Most of the time, the woman never even knows she was pregnant, or she may only suspect it due to a late period. If these lost embryos are indeed innocent human life, then this is by far the greatest public health catastrophe on earth, and we should be redirecting all of our scientific resources away from diseases that afflict people who have already been born, and toward ending this horrific holocaust. But I have never heard anyone calling for an end to the slaughter.

Finally, it is very difficult to justify the position that a microscopic ball of slime with no nervous system is a baby. This supposedly "ethical" position is in fact a mystical, irrational belief, specifically that upon the fusion of gametes, an unobservable, non-material entity called "God" endows the slimeball with a non-material, unobservable entity called a "soul," and it is this soul which makes a human being, not the capacity to experience or to think. Since there is no evidence for the existence of a soul, nor can there be any such evidence in principle since it is by definition outside of the observable universe, nobody ought to believe this. It's just a bunch of made up words that don't mean anything.

The really good news? The percentage of Americans who tell a pollster they have no religion has nearly doubled since 1990. And I'm linking to Fox News just so they can suck on it.

1 comment:

kathy a. said...

there is a difference between personal beliefs and public policy. i don't think other people's beliefs are generally my business, just as mine aren't theirs.

policy is a whole different ball of wax. it is idiotic to mold policy decisions on the personal beliefs of a loud few.

and you provide the perfect illustration: if life from conception was policy across the board, every woman's reproductive cycles would become government business, despite the fact that human reproduction is hit-and-miss as a matter of its nature. early miscarriages are extremely common. later miscarriages happen fairly often, too. should those women be prosecuted? should every woman's cycles be monitored?