Juno and Abortion: Maybe Pro-Life Side Has More to Learn From It

January 1, 2008

publius over at Obsidian Wings gets it right on the issue of “Juno,” a movie that many on the right are billing as a powerful pro-life movie. Worth a read.

As Matt Zietlin notes:

The reason Juno is able to go through with the pregnancy is the same reason she is able to openly contemplate abortion. It’s because everyone close to her is incredibly supportive of whatever choices she makes.

HT: Sullivan.


Bush, Solomon, & Stem Cells: Yuval Levin at National Review

November 24, 2007

Yuval Levin has some more to add on the stem cell debate as well. Like many of his fellows, Levin also rather overplays the science here: painting the currently discovery as any sort of scientific endpoint is simply silly. The technique in question answers some questions and opens new avenues of possibility, but it does not by any stretch negate what there is still to learn. Nor does it, as many have suggested, take embryonic stem cells out of the picture. Despite surely having heard about it by now, he apparently still can’t quite bring himself to tell his readers that this somatic research owes much, and will continue to owe much, to knowledge gained from studying embryonic cells, even those outside Bush’s stand. Researchers in Japan, of course, work outside of American restrictions, and have created and delved into embryonic lines and their mysteries. As such, his picture of how the breakthrough was attained by proudly holding firm against immorality is still a distortion.

But look: if you believe the things Levin and Bush believe, their core position is reasonable and perhaps their Solomonic moderation was indeed laudable. I can empathize with that, and appreciate the back-patting that’s going on as legitimate for how they view things.

Fair enough.

But can they do the same? What if those ethics are mistaken? Then their decision is not laudable, and is, simply put, immoral. It would indeed be wrong to overlook some moral importance to developing embryos, but it would also be wrong to falsely ascribe moral importance to something that doesn’t have it. There’s harm either way.

The best conservatives seem to be able to do in empathizing with our position is in arguing that by avoiding embryonic research, we are “playing it safe.” Maybe they can’t convince us for sure that embryos are morally important, but shouldn’t we acknowledge the possibility and be more careful? They even seem to imply that we should now universally agree that handicapping the research was and is a good idea.

No. There is no playing it safe when it comes to moral decisions. Putting undue value on something leads to harm just as surely as overlooking its value. Reading the Bible such that you believe that blood transfusions are immoral, for instance, can lead to death. There is no “playing it safe” by avoiding blood “just in case” it turns out that it’s wrong to take it.

I can put myself in people’s shoes and see why they feel embryos are worth saving. But instead of doing the same and appreciating the values that suggest to us that they are not, polemicists on the right generally prefer to ignore our values and paint us as nihilists: rapacious scientists who are driven to devalue human life so that we can use it as raw material for our obsessive devotion to experiment. Surely they know that this is precisely the opposite of our position: that in fact it is a deep respect for human life and human dignity that drives us as well. But, they prefer to argue otherwise.

Unfair enough?


Freddoso Responds: More on the National Review & Stem Cells Debate

November 23, 2007

Freddoso responds, and again, I think there’s plenty I agree with him on (as long as I grant, for the sake of argument, his belief that its morally wrong to destroy embryos at all).

I’ll just cover what I think he gets wrong.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Environment: Population Growth is the Solution, not the Problem!

November 23, 2007

This woman seems to believe that she’s helping to save the planet by not having any kids. Her math is pretty simple: a few more human beings means less resources, more burden on the environment, and so on. She likes the environment the way it is it seems, and fair enough.

But I think she’s got it totally backwards. Economist Julian Simon had it right, I think: the lesson of human progress is that more people means more minds to solve problems, and we can ultimately solve problems faster than we make them. What matters is not the number of people, but whether they have the education and the political and economic liberty to act and adapt. That doesn’t mean we can’t improve and preserve the natural environment if that’s what we value. It’s just that the only plausible way we’ll be able to do so is via political and technological solutions.

Less kids doesn’t do anything to bring those solutions about, and it just as well might mean less scientists, thinkers, and workers willing to innovate those solutions and then bring them into being. Worse, if she presumably would have raised her kids to care about the environment, it will also just mean a lower percentage of people on the planet that share that value!

Less total people does not necessarily mean more resources consumed in any case. If the supply of human beings is lower, then this means the price of the world’s resources overall will be less (since the supply is the same, but demand has reduced): everyone left could and probably would just ultimately consume more. Less people just means bigger shares of the earth for everyone else, not less consumption period.

So this woman’s decision to sterilize herself is probably pointless, at least insofar as reaching her goal of a cleaner earth. Luckily, someone has already thought of a solution to such poor judgment: tubal ligations can now be surgically reversed!


Stem Cells: Liars to the Left of You, Hypocrites to the Right…

November 23, 2007

As I noted earlier, Corner-blogger David Freddoso is quite right to call out the dishonesty on the pro-ESCR side. I even mostly agreed with Yuval Levin’s original post about the hopes that Bush’s strategy of caution on stem cells would ultimately work out well for pluralism, even though I still don’t agree that it works out well morally.

But the thing is, where is “Time for Some Truth” Freddoso when his fellow Cornerites and National Review pensters carry out their own glaring omissions and distortions in their presentation of science?

Take this Wesley J. Smith article, rather improbably crediting George Bush as the man responsible for a scientific advance based on what science he didn’t choose to fund. As biologist PZ Myers notes, Smith leaves out one rather important element of the story that is pretty problematic for his whole thesis: that the very research he is touting is in part based on knowledge gained from embryonic stem cell research, and will continue to require yet more research on embryonic stem cells to perfect and take it forwards. In other words, the premise that research on embryonic stem cells was and is a blind alley that has so far produced nothing, and that George Bush actually advanced our scientific understanding by helping us avoid it, is flat out false: a gross oversimplification that’s just meant to play into a politically-correct narrative.

Freddoso? Levin?

This is what I mean about both sides of this debate coasting along on the falsehoods peddled by their fellows. Both sides whine about the dishonesty and spin of the other side, and then they quietly sit by as their allies play the same game.

Pretty much of what’s being done in this field of reprogramming, regardless of the provenance of cell lines, is about research: unlocking the big mysteries of cell biology and programming. It isn’t directly about making cures: that’s the expectation and the ultimate expected benefit, but not the practical or even really the theoretical focus. It’s dishonest when Democratic politicians pretend that stem cell panaceas are right around the corner (or even more ridiculously, that they already exist but evil Republicans won’t let you have them), but it’s also dishonest when Republican spinsters claim that an immediate lack of direct applications and treatments proves the uselessness of any one avenue of research.

Generally, the only people who hold the other side accountable is… the other side. That’s not unexpected, I suppose. But maybe it should lead more folks to title posts “Time for Some Truth on Stem Cells” with a big emphasis on the “Some.”


Stem Cell Debaterama, Part One: The Stakes

November 22, 2007

With the recent blockbuster breakthrough in stem cell research sparking up plenty of renewed bickering over the importance of embryonic stem cell research, I thought I’d devote a couple of posts to the controversy.

Let’s be honest. Both sides of this issue have long been coasting along on some pretty shady narratives.

Read the rest of this entry »


Planned Parenthood is Misleading You: The Pill Probably can Kill Embryos

November 21, 2007

Richard Carrier doesn’t just jujitsu apart bogus books. He also regularly takes his fellow pro-choicers to task for a dirty bit of obfuscation over the issue of the birth control pill’s affect on fertilized embryos.

Simply put, there’s a good case that pro-life pharmacists aren’t crazy when they worry that the morning after pill, or even the regular birth control pill, can cause abortions (which they define as including anything that actively prevents a fertilized embryo from implanting and surviving), and then refuse to proscribe the medication on moral grounds. They might be unethically breaching their profession’s duties, depending on how you define them, misleading and hurting their customers, or even dishonestly shortchanging their employers. But their suggestion that these medications can lead to the death of post-conception embryos (via blocking implantation) isn’t, as it is so often portrayed by even some pro-lifers, an improbable lie. Certainly, it isn’t the common mechanism of contraception, but as Carrier notes, the blocking of implantation is perfectly possible (which is what matters to pro-life folks), and the presentation of the science in this area by advocates of the morning-after pill, or even the regular pill, seems decidedly misleading and deceptive. Per Carrier:

Since the effects on the endometrium are fully documented and conceded by these authors, and since as a matter of established physiology these changes will certainly reduce the probability (which is a fancy word for frequency) of successful implantation of fertilized embryos, and since it is an equally established fact that chemical birth control often fails to prevent fertilization, I do not see how the authors of this paper can honestly get away with dismissing the obvious outcome as “unknown.”

Even the maker’s of Plan B, which works primarily by suppressing ovulation, state right on their product information page that it can prevent implantation.  Which is a plus if you are trying to prevent pregnancy, of course.

All this is not to say that I, or Carrier, support, like, or condone anyone pushing to reduce women’s access to birth control or even chemical abortions. In fact, the realization that even the regular birth control pill could be a potential abortaficient might even be a powerful argument for things like Plan B: demonstrating just how widespread and normal the death of embryos via failed implantation is (its something, in fact, that even the human body sometimes does on its own in any case).

Misrepresenting the science doesn’t do the pro-choice side any good: it sets us up to look like liars, and perhaps worse, it distracts us from the harder but ultimately more important work of convincing people that a discarded embryo is not a murdered person.