Vatican Favors Implanting Diseased Embryos

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That is the logical conclusion of the deliberations held this week at the Vatican during an international congress devoted to "the human embryo prior to implantation, scientific aspects and bioethical considerations." Among other questions, the conference delved into the issue of the moral status of IVF embryos discarded by would-be parents because pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) detected genetic defects.

The Associated Press began the story this way:

Scientists told a Vatican conference Tuesday that screening embryos for disease before implanting them in in-vitro fertilization posed grave ethical problems that could ultimately result in parents choosing the type of children they want.

Presumably, parents who use PGD want children who will not suffer from dread genetic diseases such as Fanconi's anemia, cystic fibrosis, Down's syndrome, muscular dystrophy and so forth. That's a laudable moral goal.

In another story, the Associated Press also reported that according to Pope Benedict XVI,

embryos developed for in vitro fertilization deserve the same right to life as fetuses, children and adults and that that right extends to embryos even before they are transferred into a woman's womb.

But a naturally produced embryo's "right to life" is empirically pretty tenuous. As I pointed out in my column "Is Heaven Populated Chiefly by the Souls of Embryos?" a while back:

John Opitz, a professor of pediatrics, human genetics, and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah, testified before the President's Council on Bioethics that between 60 and 80 percent of all naturally conceived embryos are simply flushed out in women's normal menstrual flows unnoticed. This is not miscarriage we're talking about. The women and their husbands or partners never even know that conception has taken place; the embryos disappear from their wombs in their menstrual flows.

In fact, according to Opitz, embryologists estimate that the rate of natural loss for embryos that have developed for seven days or more is 60 percent. The total rate of natural loss of human embryos increases to at least 80 percent if one counts from the moment of conception. About half of the embryos lost are abnormal, but half are not, and had they implanted they would probably have developed into healthy babies.

I think that it's pretty hard to assert that human beings should be more careful of embryos than is Nature or, for believers, Nature's God.

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  1. Let’s see if we can make this one go for 300 posts!

  2. You write that up as if it was a controversial statement to make about Vatican philosophy.

    I had a uber-Catholic roomie, who eventually earned his PhD in Philosophy from Catholic University, tell me that an embryo with spina bifida had the right to her three days of agony before dying. He said this with a straight face, and the confidence of his convictions.

  3. Of course, considering that Nature[‘s God] allows the death of up to 100% of humans who reach adulthood, I guess we ought to trash that whole right to life thing for adults as well.

  4. “Of course, considering that Nature[‘s God] allows the death of up to 100% of humans who reach adulthood, I guess we ought to trash that whole right to life thing for adults as well.”

    I kind of noticed that flaw in the argument too.

  5. crimethink,

    You’re conflating an embryo with a full grown human. They quite clearly are not the same thing.

  6. OMG! Parents might be able to choose their children!

    Yes, it’s so much better to have an unconscious part of the human being- the uterus- making the decisions than it’s conscious part…

    Sometimes the logic just *completely* breaks…

  7. matthew hogan,

    Its only a flaw if you think that an embryo and a fully grown human are the same things.

  8. I know this thread will quickly develop into people talking past each other with arguments based on very different premises, nonetheless….

    Let’s explore the implications of a stance that fertilized eggs at any stage should be protected:

    If we operate under the assumption that all fertilized eggs have the same moral status as babies, or at least close enough, are medical researchers under an ethical imperative to seek a remedy for the natural loss of fertilized eggs during the menstrual cycle?

    For instance, advances in health care have done much to reduce miscarriages of implanted eggs, as well as fatalities during childbirth and infant mortality shortly after childbirth. Many of those advances simply amount to better sterlization, sanitation, nutrition, and basic medical care. I won’t claim that they are complex fruits of scientific inquiry, but they are nonetheless major lifesaving advances.

    Now that those problems have been solved, would it be more ethical for the medical research community to turn its attention to saving those fertilized eggs that are not yet planted, or would it be acceptable for researchers to write them off and focus on diseases affecting those already born?

    I realize that this isn’t entirely an either/or scenario. Medical research advances on many different fronts at once with an army of researchers in the public, private, and academic sectors tackling a huge array of problems. No individual researcher should be faulted for working on cancer rather than corn syrup, or blindness rather than infant mortality.

    But, if the entire scientific establishment ignores a problem that kills millions of people around the globe, from every nation and social stratum, is that a sign of moral blindness on our part?

    Let’s make this a little more concrete: Say that you’re the dean of a Catholic university with a good medical school and strong basic science program. You’re proud of the many faculty members studying AIDS, cancer, corn syrup, blindness, mental illness, antibiotic resistant bacteria, and numerous other medical problems. But, you notice that your faculty are almost completely ignoring something that kills at least half of all fertilized eggs/unborn children/insert preferred term here.

    Should you direct your faculty to pay more attention to this problem?

  9. BTW, I will note that humans crudely choose their children all the time, which is why at least a large subset of the human population makes decision about procreation based on the traits they see in potential mates. That has been a theme in human society for thousands of years.

    After a while you get the feeling that the RCC and those who oppose GM foods have a lot in common.

  10. No, Hakluyt, Bailey’s argument is that if Nature is disrespectful of something’s alleged right to life, then we owe it no respect either. Whether he’s talking about adults or embryos does not affect the argument’s validity.

  11. A man has a right to life, as the term is used in the Declaration of Independence.

    A bear does not.

    So the question becomes, is an embryo more like a bear or like a man?

    Obviously, in some ways, it is more like a man (46 strands of DNA). In other ways, it is more like a bear (no self-awareness).

    So now we have to ask, what are the traits of a man that are important in making this distinction?

    If the answer is, the human DNA, then I have to ask: does that mean no nonhuman species that we might encounter in future history has the right to life, no matter how sentient, intelligent, or civilized? Can we really shoot ET like a bear?

  12. I always thought that rights are based on those things which we want for ourselves (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness). Since an embryo cannot be said to want to live, can it have a right to life?

  13. BTW, I will note that humans crudely choose their children all the time, which is why at least a large subset of the human population makes decision about procreation based on the traits they see in potential mates. That has been a theme in human society for thousands of years.

    After a while you get the feeling that the RCC and those who oppose GM foods have a lot in common.

  14. Hakluyt,

    Bailey’s argument is that if Nature does not respect something’s life, then neither should we. Whether that something is an adult or embryo has no effect on the argument’s validity.

  15. OMG! Parents might be able to choose their children!

    !! I think it would be very cool and very advantageous to families and society alike (and I’ll go out on a limb and say the Vatican disagrees) to be able to design a child with the traits you want, especially with respect to predisposition to disease, intelligence, etc. (less eye color and gender, but to each his own).

    What I take to be the Vatican’s argument, though, is that creating an embryo, finding out if it’s acceptable or not and then discarding it if it isn’t might not be the most humane way to do that, and the fact it’s currently the only way (though I can’t imagine it will be for long) doesn’t mean the Vatican needs to shut up and get behind it.

    I know. Squares.

  16. crimethink,

    No, Hakluyt, Bailey’s argument is that if Nature is disrespectful of something’s alleged right to life, then we owe it no respect either.

    No, that isn’t his argument at all. His argument is that Nature’s God doesn’t seem to care about embryos, so why should we?

  17. Hakluyt,

    The problem is not that people are choosing what kind of children they want to have. The problem is that they are doing that by destroying the ones they don’t want to have.

  18. Hak, you are seriously begging the question there.

    If X = embryo, what is Bailey’s basis for saying that Nature doesn’t care about X? Does the same statement hold true if X = adult? If so, then Nature doesn’t care about adults either.

  19. crimethink,

    Well, I don’t see an embryo as a child or as a human being, so its a non-issue from my perspective. There is nothing immoral in destroying any embryo in other words.

  20. Poor thoreau. He’ll have to wait till all the abortion threads peter out before we can have a productive discussion about anything… 😉

  21. crimethink,

    No, I’m stating Bailey’s argument. Its not my argument. In fact, I don’t even think an argument needs to be made since the potential for human life does not equal human life in my eyes.

  22. Sigh.

    Hakluyt, you are making an argument, namely that Bailey’s statement about embryos would not hold true for adult humans. And you are defending it by begging the question and now, changing the subject.

  23. crimethink,

    Also, one can only imagine the sort of police state that would be created to enforce the sorts of laws that the RCC would like to see on the books. Imagine the state snooping into your life to determine if you have condoms or whether you went to a doctor to see about say the RH factor of your blood.

  24. crimethink,

    I see, so disagreement about what Bailey is arguing means that I am changing the subject? Heh. Anyone who disagrees with you is automatically wrong, is that right?

  25. crimethink-

    My question was largely addressed at you, since you seem to be the one most likely to advocate the stance I’m trying to explore. I understand that there’s a difference between deliberately destroying a fertilized egg vs. failing to find a cure for the natural destruction of an egg.

    But if fertilized eggs have a moral standing similar to that of infants, isn’t the natural destruction of fertilized eggs via the menstrual cycle similar to the many diseases that can kill infants?

    If so, does the scientific community have a moral imperative to seek a cure in the same manner that we seek cures for various childhood diseases?

    This doesn’t mean, of course, that any individual researcher must set aside whatever medical problem he’s working on to start trying to save fertilized eggs. That would be like castigating a cancer researcher (e.g. me) for not studying diabetes (as Dave W. once castigated me). However, if nobody in the scientific community is studying this problem, isn’t that a rather serious ethical concern?

    Once could say, of course, that the destruction of fertilized eggs is a natural phenomenon. Then again, many diseases could also be seen as natural phenomena. That doesn’t mean we haven’t studied them.

    There’s a difference between the researcher who says “I don’t have time to study this, I’m busy with cancer” and the researcher who says “This isn’t a problem worth studying.” It would be shocking if a cancer researcher said that about, say, AIDS. Is it equally shocking if a cancer researcher sees no point in studying the natural destruction of fertilized eggs?

  26. Anyway, this is another example of how the RCC views human life; that mere existance, no matter how painful, etc. trumps any other concern, even the concern of the individual in question. The more people are born the more the God of the RCC has potential minions in other words. That doesn’t speak to human dignity, it speaks to human degradation.

  27. Every sperm is sacred…

  28. Can someone please tell me who exactly they’re thinking all these extra embryos are going to be implanted into? I think I can guess, but I want to hear someone actually say it.

  29. Phil,

    Forced impregnation sounds like the sort of thing the RCC could get behind rather easily.

  30. Hak, you are my hero.

    Praise Vishnu that you are here to defend reason. Maybe we can work out a time-share abortion thread defense contract, so that I can divide my time between this and doing other things.

  31. Can someone please tell me who exactly they’re thinking all these extra embryos are going to be implanted into?

    Nuns! Tons of women around, all wasting their God-given uteri.

  32. thoreau,

    I would deny that there is a moral imperative which directs medical research to study certain things and not others. Are physicists running afoul of some moral imperative if they study string theory rather than some more practical area that could conceivably help the poor?

  33. smacky,

    Heh.

    thoreau,

    You should send your thoughts to Leon Kass.

  34. Menstruation is murder!

  35. brian423,

    He he he.

  36. I see, so disagreement about what Bailey is arguing means that I am changing the subject?

    No, this means you’re changing the subject:

    His argument is that Nature’s God doesn’t seem to care about embryos, so why should we?

    Well, I don’t see an embryo as a child or as a human being, so its a non-issue from my perspective. There is nothing immoral in destroying any embryo in other words.

    No, I’m stating Bailey’s argument. Its not my argument. In fact, I don’t even think an argument needs to be made since the potential for human life does not equal human life in my eyes.

  37. smacky,

    Anyway, I’m not that interested in abortion because over time its likely the case that contraception and the like will likely minimize the use of abortions. I am very concern though about future developments in human procreative, end of life, etc. choice and how the RCC and likeminded organizations will attempt to prohibit liberty in this arena.

  38. Thinking more about the issue of fertilized eggs not implanting….

    No individual researcher should be considered obligated to change fields, of course. But let’s say you’re interviewing faculty candidates. You have two scientists before you. Each gives a sales pitch.

    Scientist #1: “Since receiving my Ph.D. in physics I have conducted work on tumor-induced angiogenesis. Cancer is an obvious health problem afflicting millions of Americans in all age groups, and so cancer therapies are a research area of obvious importance. My work focuses on understanding and disabling the mechanisms by which tumors recruit blood vessels to gain nourishment. The hope is that if we can halt this process we can prevent tumors from growing and thereby save millions of lives.” And then I go into a spiel about the technical details and why my work is promising.

    Scientist #2: “Since receiving my Ph.D. I’ve been studying the factors affecting implantation of fertilized eggs. More than half of all fertilized eggs fail to implant in the uterus, and are lost during the normal menstrual cycle. This translates to the deaths of millions of unborn children every year. My goal is to identify the factors that determine whether or not implantation will be successful, and develop therapies that boost the chance of successful implantation. We could potentially save more than a million babies every year.” And then he goes into the technical details and why the work is promising.

    Assume that both candidates display the same level of technical competence, the same deep understanding of their field, the same record of publication, the same teaching background, etc.

    Now, your job is to hire the person whose work is most worthy of departmental resources. As the dean of sciences at a Catholic university, your mission is to hire the scientists who can best advance the school’s goal of produce life-saving cures while training the next generation of scientists.

    Should a Catholic university flip a coin, or is one of the two research programs obviously more compelling than the other?

    We can either explore the implications of crimethinks views in a different context, or we can just belittle them.

  39. crimethink,

    I see, so you can’t differentiate between what I think Bailey is arguing and my own thoughts on the matter. And apparently I am completely forbidden from striking out on my own and discussing anything other than what Bailey has written about that touches on the general subject at hand? How odd. Methinks such a requirement is not required of any other discussion here on this blog.

  40. Are physicists running afoul of some moral imperative if they study string theory rather than some more practical area that could conceivably help the poor?

    crimethink-

    I read this after my last post. I deliberately set it in a context of researchers who do have a mission to help the sick: The faculty search committee at a Catholic medical school.

  41. crimethink,

    In other words, I have correctly characterized Bailey’s argument, but its an argument which doesn’t matter much to me because I see no need to justify the destruction of embryos in that Bailey does since I am not of a teleological mindset.

  42. Maybe I can relaim my “uncle” tag.

    This stuff comes from the time when it was thought that babys we’re fully developed in the sperm (although very tiny) and just got larger in the womb, and that “gog” sticks mysitcal stuff into the critter at conception and that mystical stuff is what’s valuable in a person.

  43. Blah blah blah.
    I’m just waiting for Jennifer to equate pro-lifers with totalitarian Arab shipping companies.

  44. thoreau,

    Myself, I don’t see a problem with directing resources towards preventing the loss of embryos. However, the director of such a facility also needs to be concerned with how his or her decisions look to those responsible for funding and supporting the facility. There might be hell to pay if word gets out that (s)he refused funding for a cancer treatment in order to save embryos.

    However, there are many women who have a very hard time getting pregnant because there are problems with implantation. So there would be a possible angle to sell this research as ameliorating the sufferings of already-born persons. As I’ve said before, it’s viscerally easier, even for Catholics, to be pro-choice, since it’s more natural to feel sympathy for a woman with an unwanted pregnancy, than for an entity that looks like an blood clot.

    In any case, the principled director may well choose to fund the implantation research, but in real life I’m afraid he’d have to bow to the prejudices of the facility’s benefactors.

  45. …embryos developed for in vitro fertilization deserve the same right to life as fetuses, children and adults and that that right extends to embryos even before they are transferred into a woman’s womb.

    Aside from the frightening practical consequences of such a notion (e.g., forced impregnation, etc.) the stance that embryos have the same moral status as an adult human is laughable on its face. Unless of course you believe that the mere potential to be human or alternatively the mere sharing of the same DNA pattern makes one “human.” This would seem a rather odd conclusion in light of the general distance that religionists place between themselves and naturalistic explanations of human society or nature.

  46. crimethink,

    Because there is in fact a real biological difference between something that looks like either a small mass of cells or a blood clot and an adult human.

  47. BTW, I believe that crimethink would argue that only at abortion would he argue for state sanctions. But one has to ask how he drew that line in light of his “every sperm is sacred” approach to human procreative choice?

  48. Fair answer, crimethink. I respect the fact that you brought up the issue of benefactors and perception without using these issues as a way to dodge the question.

    So, if you start a successful chain of pizza restaurants, and use your billions to endow a Catholic medical school, you would consider allocating resources in a manner that treats implantation failure as a crisis comparable to cancer?

  49. thoreau,

    If one’s objection to disposing of fertilized eggs is religious in nature, there is absolutely no requirement that “man’s action” (i.e. not implanting a blastocyst) can be compared to “God’s action” (i.e. allowing a blastocyst to fail to mature into a born kid). As such, under those religious assumptions, no, the scientific community has no such moral obligation. To religious folks, there’s a huge difference between God’s will and man’s. I don’t believe in Gods, but I certainly understand that people who do think that His/Her/Their domain is different from ours. Gods have to do something or there’s no point in believing in them.

    crimethink,

    I agree with you. Bailey’s comment “I think that it’s pretty hard to assert that human beings should be more careful of embryos than is Nature or, for believers, Nature’s God.” is bogus. It’s easy to assert such a thing, within a religious context. If he had left out the “for believers, Nature’s God” part and made it clear that he was talking about a non-religious context he’d be correct, but he didn’t. It’s no harder to assert that human beings should be more careful of embryos than God is, than it is to assert that God killed his son to save humanity.

    Not only do I not believe in God, but I have three children who wouldn’t exist were it not for in-vitro w/ICSI. I’m glad that laws and regulations didn’t prevent us from having our kids. I hope that will remain the case. Belief that fertilization is an incredibly special point in time in assisted reproduction is only one of many many things I disagree with Catholics. If they want to assert that people should be more careful with blastocysts, good on ’em. Just stay away from the law books and the bench, please. I have no problems with people who recommend high colonics, either.

  50. Hakluyt,

    I draw the line where a person’s right to life is being violated, as a libertarian should.

  51. crimethink: I see your point about my argument.
    Still in the context of this Vatican conference “right to life” equates pretty much to “right to a chance to be born.” Of course, all embryos, whether naturally or artificially produced have that chance before selection (natural or artificial) takes place. The question I have is why is “natural selection” by Nature’s God OK, while “artificial” selection by concerned parents is not?

    BTW, I do agree that Nature and/or Nature’s God is far too careless with adult lives. That’s why we should press forward with research on biotech cures for aging and death as quickly as possible.

  52. anon2,

    We agree. Its ok for crimethink to believe whatever ideas he adheres to, its quite another thing for him to advocate that they be made into positive law.

  53. thoreau,

    If it showed promise, yes I would. And I would also sell pizza by area instead of diameter. Why buy a 16-inch pizza at the other place, when you can get a 250-square-inch pizza for the same price at Crimethink’s?

  54. I’m sorry … that last post was deceptive advertising, I meant a 200-square-inch pizza.

  55. Ron Bailey,

    The question I have is why is “natural selection” by Nature’s God OK, while “artificial” selection by concerned parents is not?

    Because we were expelled from the garden.

    Because tinkering with the human reproductive cycle is inherently immoral according to the RCC.

    Because we shouldn’t “play God.”

    Because embryos have “souls” and only God should be able to make a decision about them.

    That’s just part of the standard list.

  56. Anon2 you wrote: “To religious folks, there’s a huge difference between God’s will and man’s.”

    Perhaps, but how can religious folks be so sure that it’s not God’s will to use their God-given intelligence to develop biomedical techniques that increase the number of health children in the world? Perhaps God is setting up in Heaven, saying, “It’s about time you guys figured out how to cure infertility, prevent genetic diseases, cure diabetes and so forth.” And if He’s not saying something like that, how can the religiously inclined prove me that He’s not?

  57. crimethink-

    If you are sued for deceptive advertising, this thread might turn up during the discovery process.

    And we want to know whether the dessert items use corn syrup or cane sugar.

  58. Ron Bailey,

    Remember that the Pope has direct communication with God on such matters. 🙂

  59. A man has a right to life… A bear does not.

    That’s anti-bear racism.

    The bear has as much right to life as it can defend*, just like a person.
    (*either directly or thru a proxy or thru a system of proxies.)

    Despite the wording of the Declaration, these “rights” are human inventions – nature doesn’t give a shit whether humans or cholera win out – so it’s only, er, natural, that humans apply their invented rights only to themselves.

    I meant a 200-square-inch pizza.

    I’ll go for the 16″ pizza – it’s got .502% more meaty goodness.

  60. thoreau,

    Sorry, dessert is only served to those who can provide a certificate of non-obesity from their physician.

  61. Mr. F. Le Mur,

    Most tend to forget that human morality is based on our practical experiences as a species and not on some big bearded dude in the sky.

  62. Mr F Le Mur,

    That’s all right, most of our customer base is geometrically illiterate…they wouldn’t know pi from, well, pie!

  63. Blah blah blah. I’m just waiting for Jennifer to equate pro-lifers with totalitarian Arab shipping companies.

    There’s no need, dear; you’ve done it for me. Though it would be helpful if you could explain just what the connection is; I myself don’t see it.

  64. I am sure that crimethink or someone else will soon be painting themselves as victims of anti-religious bigotry because many of us disagree with religious arguments or the religious mode of thinking.

  65. Ron,

    I wasn’t arguing that the religious position is correct. I am not a believer. For that, perhaps I’ll come back as a turnip, or spend an eternity in a lake of fire. There are a wide variety of opinions as to what will happen to this unbeliever when he dies. Just like there are a wide variety of opinions about how appropriate it is to not implant a blastocyst.

    I believe that many of the assisted reproduction folks who helped us get our kids are Christian. If so, then clearly they believe that they’re doing God’s work (or at least not violating his will). Even if they’re not, we have plenty of friends and relatives who are religious who think it’s great that we had test-tube kids. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are some, like the Pope, who believe that we did the wrong thing. They’re no less rational when they believe that there’s a difference between humans-not-implanting and God-not-implanting as they are when they believe >.

    Not all of ’em even claim to be rational; they claim that it’s faith.

    Again, I think it’s real easy to assert that human beings should be more careful than God with respect to embryos, if that’s your religious belief. The same goes for genocide, sending bears to kill children who laugh at bald priests or flooding the world to destroy almost all the life that is on it. It was OK when God did it, but it’s NOT OK for man to do it. That’s not my belief, because I don’t believe in Gods, but some do. Not holding God to human standards is important to pretty much everyone who believes in God, even pro-birth-control pro-in-vitro Catholics.

  66. Oops. That should have been “… are when they believe <<insert random belief unsupported by science>>”

  67. Hakluyt,

    Since I haven’t made any religious arguments, it doesn’t matter to me whether you would disagree with them.

  68. anon2,

    Actually, some religiouns hold that the “apparent” God is evil, much as the Albigensians (which the RCC did a good job committing genocide against) believed that the God which Catholics worship was in fact evil and a false god.

  69. anon2: I certainly didn’t mean to imply any such religious beliefs to you. I was just commenting in general on the religiously inclined people’s certainty about what God is thinking.

    BTW, just because God is bigger and meaner, that doesn’t mean that He’s right. 🙂

  70. crimethink,

    Your religious belief is the basis of your thoughts on these matters. You’ve made this clear enough many times in the past. Nice dodge though.

  71. crimethink,

    Or have you given up your argument regarding ensoulment upon conception?

  72. OK, next ethical issue:

    The Crimethink Medical College and Seminary funds faculty research to solve the implantation problem. A cure is devised, it passes FDA trials, and the side effects are rare and minimal. Because the Crimethink Foundation is dedicated to saving the lives of those fertilized eggs that failed to implant, the drug is placed in the public domain, and sold cheaply by a few generic manufacturers. Many Catholic pharmacists even agree to dispense it at wholesale price, and the Knights of Columbus raise funds to subsidize it for those women who can’t afford it. (They have an intense debate over whether it should be given to unmarried women to at least save the lives of those fertilized eggs that would otherwise not implant, even though having sex outside marriage is a sin, but we’ll leave that aside for now.)

    So, there’s no reason why most women in the US couldn’t easily obtain this hypothetical medication.

    Here’s the question: Say that a married woman has sex with her husband without the use of any sort of contraceptive. She knows that there’s a greater than 50% chance that an egg will be fertilized but will fail to implant. She has easy access to a reliable, cheap, and low-risk means of preventing this.

    If the fertilized egg has a moral status comparable to that of an infant, then isn’t it immoral to not use this reliable, cheap, and low-risk medication? Isn’t it analogous to a mother knowingly and willingly subjecting her infant to some sort of scenario that carries a high risk of death?

  73. thoreau,

    Only if you view an embryo as having the same nature, etc. as an infant. Again, all of these questions fall back to the question of what exactly an embryo is. All of your hypotheticals will not get one past that question.

  74. Hakluyt:
    Most tend to forget that human morality is based on our practical experiences as a species and not on some big bearded dude in the sky.

    Bin Laden in a helicopter?

    My mom, “Bob” rest her sole[sic], tried to trick me into being an Episcopalian (sp? It looks like a type of amoeba), but I can’t recall ever NOT being an atheist.
    That said, I tend to disagree with you that an embryo/fetus is categorically different from an adult human. They’re humans in different states of development. The fiction of a “right to life” is a good fiction as far as maintaining a society which optimizes the wellbeing of it’s inhabitants, however imperfectly, and the slippery-slope makes me leery of defining “life,” “human” and “rights” in ways that are likely to lead to abuse (typically by a government).

    In the meantime I’ll take a 200 sq-in meat-lovers pizza with extra fetuses, please. And, on the side, a heart taken from a brain-dead person – for the bear.

  75. thoreau,

    In other words you can repeat this question in as many variations as you’d like, one is still going to be driven back to assessing whether an embryo has the same moral worth as an adult human, etc.

  76. Hakluyt: thoreau’s hypotheticals are fascinating. And since some religious believers do evidently believe that embryos are the moral equivalent of born babies, surely they would have to advocate the use of thoreau’s new miracle implantation medicine. Otherwise, you would be admitting that fertilized eggs are somehow morally different than born babies.

  77. Mr. F. Le Mur,

    Why is an embryo a human being? Because it might potentially become an adult human? Isn’t sperm from a human also merely a product which is also along this continuum? Does that make sperm a human being which is due all the rights of an adult human? Honestly, the argument about potential seems so full of pitfalls and absurdities its hard to take seriously. In other words, there is more than one slippery slope here, and the sort of thing you seem to advocate to could lead to all sorts of oppressive measures in order to protect an object which may or may not become a fetus much less an adult human.

  78. By the time it implants (or fails to), it’s not a “fertilized egg,” it’s a blastocyst. Many cell divisions have taken place in the week or so since fertilization.

    It’s refreshing to see that some here are aware of the societal and ethical implications of the “life begins at the moment of conception” stance. Other questions that arise, assuming the blastocyst has washed out and perished: Assume mom has a life insurance policy for all her dependent children. Should she file a claim? Good luck getting a payout. Should there be a funeral service? We’re talking about human life here. Should the mother be arrested (e.g. for manslaughter)? She may have done something irresponsible that led to the loss of human life.

  79. The Catholic logic is entirely consistent, based on their assumptions and reading of the Bible. If you think the assumptions are all nuts, then don’t be Catholic.

    Trying to use embryology as the basis of a theological discussion is just foolhardy.

    Nonsequitor alert.

    Here’s a scary concept:

    God is a Darwinist. He has planted several religions on this planet, and is quite content to let them fight it out to see which one is the most committed/adaptive/whatever. Global war is just dandy. It’s ideal if both sides are fighting in his name, because that’s the whole point: getting people to think about God.

    Ask any good Catholic, life is all about pain and suffering, used to cleanse your soul before it goes to heaven. All the more reason to implant defective embryos.

    Heaven is populated with jihadists. “Sane” people go to Hell for seeking a comfortable life that’s not devoted to worship.

  80. The Catholic logic is entirely consistent, based on their assumptions and reading of the Bible. If you think the assumptions are all nuts, then don’t be Catholic.

    Trying to use embryology as the basis of a theological discussion is just foolhardy.

    Nonsequitor alert.

    Here’s a scary concept:

    God is a Darwinist. He has planted several religions on this planet, and is quite content to let them fight it out to see which one is the most committed/adaptive/whatever. Global war is just dandy. It’s ideal if both sides are fighting in his name, because that’s the whole point: getting people to think about God.

    Ask any good Catholic, life is all about pain and suffering, used to cleanse your soul before it goes to heaven. All the more reason to implant defective embryos.

    Heaven is populated with jihadists. “Sane” people go to Hell for seeking a comfortable life that’s not devoted to worship.

  81. Ron-

    Exactly. I’m trying to explore the implications of these beliefs in an era where a “cure” may be possible. Say we accept the premise that fertilized eggs have a more status similar to that of infants. If more than 50% of fertilized eggs fail to implant and therefore die, failing to use a hypothetical cure would be far more reckless than, say, failure to use a child safety seat in the car or failure to vaccinate your kids. It would be closer to playing Russian Roulette with your kids. As long as we accept this premise, of course.

    I wonder how many of my fellow Catholics are really prepared to follow this line of thought all the way through.

  82. Ron,

    You are making a bunch of unstated assumptions about intellectual consistency or rationality of those in the “every sperm is sacred” crowd.

  83. Why is an embryo a human being? Because it might potentially become an adult human?
    An embryo is a human for the same reasons that an adult human is a human (member of the species Homo Sapiens). I can’t see that it’s anything else; does it suddenly change DNA and species at some point? If it’s not Sapien-ing at some given point, neither are people who are unconscious.

    Honestly, the argument about potential seems so full of pitfalls and absurdities its hard to take seriously.
    I never said anything about potential because there’s nothing special about adulthood or any other given stage of life.

    It’s true that this stance causes some problems, but the choice seems to be:
    — define “human” loosely and pragmatically (perhaps the wrong word), allowing expirementation, etc, without moral qualms.
    — define “human” rigorously and let the chips fall where they may. If it’s then immoral to have abortions and expirement on embryos…too bad.
    Rather than play games with the definition of “human,” I’d rather play games with the definition of “rights,” possibly as in “if it (a human or even a bear) doesn’t feel pain/have awareness/etc and nobody else cares, then go ahead and kill it if its death benefits others.”

    Another way to look at this issue is the “our bodies are a series (generations) of shells which DNA creates to protect and reproduce itself,”
    then the moral issue becomes one which is more similar to nature itself. But that’s too weird for the general population.

  84. RON —

    crimethink: I see your point about my argument.
    Still in the context of this Vatican conference “right to life” equates pretty much to “right to a chance to be born.”

    No, I don’t think so. It means a “right not to be prevented from being born.” There is a difference. It’s the factor of deliberate human intervention, which is what introduces a moral element to the situation.

    It’s like this: We don’t have a right “not to die.” Eventually we’re all going to die. (Even if life extension technology abolishes death from old age, eventually an accident will get us. Or the heat death of the universe, or something.)

    But we do have a right not to be arbitrarily killed by another human being.

  85. An embryo is a human for the same reasons that an adult human is a human (member of the species Homo Sapiens). I can’t see that it’s anything else; does it suddenly change DNA and species at some point? If it’s not Sapien-ing at some given point, neither are people who are unconscious.

    That’s circular reasoning.

    Your other commentary simply ignores the fact that we do deal with these issues pragmatically.

  86. Mr. F. Le Mur,

    That you are also simply willing to throw caution to the wind and ignore the very real dangers and drawbacks of such a definition of human life is very disturbing.

  87. I was going to try to avoid getting involved in another embryoglio today. But thoreau raised some interesting questions.

    My thoughts: Even within the context of Catholic teaching, I don’t think there is a particular moral imperative to save embryos from …. let’s call it “natural prenatal embryo loss” (NPEL). I think, for the same reason that there is no moral imperative to “save” people from eventually dying of old age. Eventually, we all do, and there’s no moral failure in that.

    Even under RCC teaching, which is pretty strict on this stuff, you’re under no obligation to pursue “extraordinary means” to prevent someone from dying a natural death of old age or a disease that can’t currently be cured.

    (But if you deliberately whack an innocent person, even in pursuit of good ends — that the RCC comes down hard on.)

    This is pretty sensible, and compatible with libertarian thought. Nobody can lay claim a right to having an infinite amount of resources devoted to keeping himself alive. And likewise, there’s a limit to our obligation to spend resources on keeping someone alive.

    Where you draw the line, I don’t know. How much are you willing to spend to keep someone you love from dying? That may be a matter for individual conscience and the individual case.

    But I think that, at present, a massive program to prevent NPEL would qualify as “extraordinary means.”

    If it ever (can it ever?) becomes practical and affordable to catch all those lost embryos in a bucket and raise them, then maybe we’d have an obligation to do so. One of the biggest obstacles I can envision — how the hell could we possibly detect the loss of an embryo under these circumstances in time to do anything about it? Some kind of “nano-ambulance/monitor” that floats around in the womb, detects an embryo’s failure to implant, and then gloms it and flies it off to a hospital?

    Presumably the mother would in most cases just give the thing up for adoption — that might be the “default option” — although she wouldn’t have to. Since I’m an anarchist, I can’t and don’t advocate a State coercing women to participate in this process. Personally, as a creature of my own time I think it’s bizarre situation, but in the future it might be recognized as the moral thing to do. I can see women of the future volunteering if it’s not too intrusive, and possibly subject to non-statist social pressure to do it … from a woman’s own socially conditioned conscience, and the consensus of the people around her whose opinion she cares about. It all depends on what people’s attitudes toward embryos are when this becomes possible. I can’t really imagine it.

    I personally file this under “we can cross that bridge when we come to it.”

    Although I can see a 22nd version of, say, a Catholic hospital, with buildings full of recovered embryos. Maybe they’ll just be frozen indefinitely. Or maybe they’ll be raised in artificial wombs … educated in militant RCC schools … eventually growing to fervent RCCC adulthood … many of them swelling the ranks of the Knights of Columbus (that’s the 22nd century Catholic defensive militia force) … Like the “clone army” in Star Wars! (Only they won’t be cloned and won’t really be an army.)

    And thousands of them will volunteer for the Vatican’s mission to Tau Ceti, there to found the colony of St. Brendan …

    Yes, that’s the future of mankind — a galaxy full of genuflecting papists, ever increasing in number and influence! “This cathedral has now become the ultimate power in the universe!” “Bishop Vader, release him!” Bwahahaha vobiscum!

    (Sorry.)

  88. Errata:

    Maybe they’ll just be frozen indefinitely unless or until they are adopted

    fervent RCCC Uh, I guess that would be the Roman Catholic Celestial Church. That extra C is not a typo. I meant to do that. Really.

  89. “Presumably, parents who use PGD want children who will not suffer from dread genetic diseases such as Fanconi’s anemia, cystic fibrosis, Down’s syndrome, muscular dystrophy and so forth. That’s a laudable moral goal.”

    Parents might also want to kill embryos with other genetic “defects.” For instance, what if (as we’re told by many) there’s a “gay gene”? In that case, parents who find that the embryo has the gene may want to kill the embryo. Is that OK?

  90. Stevo-

    Agreed, we are under no obligation to pursue extraordinary means to save a life. But I would ask two questions again:

    1) It is not inconceivable that a drug might be discovered that would prevent the natural loss of embryos. Such a drug might plausibly be discovered as part of a program to develop better fertility drugs. If such a drug became easily available and, hypothetically, had only rare and minor side effects, would Catholic doctrine really hold that sexually active women are under a moral obligation to take this relatively minor step to protect their offspring?

    Remember, if the fertilized egg has the status of an infant, then it is her offspring. Catholic doctrine doesn’t require mothers to pursue extraordinary means to save a sick infant, but Catholic doctrine would certainly not approve of a mother who refrained from buying, say, some relatively affordable antibiotics to save her child from an infection. If the burden involved in obtaining this implantation drug was no greater than the burden antibiotics (assume the woman has a comfortable income) then isn’t she under an obligation to do so?

    2) Questions about research priorities are admittedly somewhat more hypothetical. Then again, what if a researcher goes to the Dean of a Catholic medical school with a proposal to develop the drug that I just envisioned? It would admittedly be a speculative proposal put before the Dean, but most (all?) research proposals could be characterized as somewhat speculative. But wouldn’t a speculative proposal to save millions of infant-equivalents deserve the same consideration as a speculative proposal to cure a childhood disease?

    Assuming, of course, that we accord the fertilized egg the same status as an infant.

  91. 1) It is not inconceivable that a drug might be discovered that would prevent the natural loss of embryos. Such a drug might plausibly be discovered as part of a program to develop better fertility drugs.

    Nor is it “inconceivable” that monkeys can, with the right “drug” or genetic treatment, be made smarter than your average human. You’re barely scratching the surface of this.

  92. Reading an abortion thread is even more fun than watching a knife fight!

  93. “Presumably, parents who use PGD want children who will not suffer from dread genetic diseases such as Fanconi’s anemia, cystic fibrosis, Down’s syndrome, muscular dystrophy and so forth. That’s a laudable moral goal.”

    I think all parents, whether they use PGD or not, want children who will not suffer from dread genetic diseases. It might be more precise to say parents who use PGD DON’T want children who DO suffer from dread diseases. It’s the spurning of diseased children, not the hope for healthy ones, that is the moral issue.

    I think the Catholic position might be that such parents should love and want whatever children God sends them. While I don’t believe in the Catholic position, I would say that teaching that even children with dread diseases should be loved and wanted is a laudable moral goal as well.

  94. thoreau, good questions.

    I don’t rightly know.

    The answer to the first one might be fairly look-up-able by someone already more knowledgeable about Catholic doctrine than I. (coughcoughcoughcrimethinkcoughcough)

    In thinking about this stuff, I do have a few half-formed thoughts.

    1) The depth of the moral obligation to take action to prevent someone else’s death (which, again, is distinct from the obligation not to take action that would actively cause a death) is difficult to gauge. Another example came to me while I was eating dinner. What is the depth of my obligation to prevent children from starving to death in Ethiopia? Give everything I own? Reduce my position to just barely above starving myself? Something short of that? Where?

    2) Is my moral obligation to help keep one of my relatives from starving to death any stronger than my moral obligation to help keep a stranger in Ethiopia from starving to death? I think it is, but why? I can think of a few answers, but they are all very pragmatic ones more than abstract principles — “rule utilitarianism,” I guess. Which needn’t mean they’re wrong. (The rule is something like “People will be more effective at taking care of other people if they focus first on the people they love or feel connected to,” BTW.)

    3) While the question of, “Is this affecting a stranger, or a loved one?” might not be relevant to the duty not to kill an innocent, from the above it does appear to be relevant to “How much obligation do I have to help someone else?”

    4) I’m also getting a vague idea that “the moral obligation to provide assistance” may be something close to “the market demand for providing assistance.” I may not have phrased that right; I’m still thinking about it.

    5) How much do we know about why some embryos fail to implant and are flushed out? Ron’s citation says that about half of such embryos are abnormal. Does that mean that about half of them might bear inherent defects that make them unlikely to survive even if they successfully implanted? If so, that would push even a much easier effort to “help them implant” into the realm of “extraordinary means” again, because it would probably be ultimately futile.

    Also, of the other half that are apparently healthy, and would “probably” develop into healthy babies — how sure are we of that? Maybe the implantation process acts as a kind of filter of nonviable from viable embryos — one that’s more sensitive than our own present means of detecting embryonic defects. A 60-80 loss of potential additions to the species for no particular reason seems pretty inefficient. Maybe that’s just the way it is, but I would’ve expected more of evolution than such sloppy waste.

    Those aren’t really answers, just thoughts I’m throwing out there. And the last one may be kind of a tangent that doesn’t address your “what if they could be saved?” question.

  95. According to Ben Shaprio’s book, life begins the moment the women’s bra is unhooked.

  96. I blogged your original piece, Ron, and added an ending from a Harvard Gazette article about growing a completely functional breast from stem cells 😉 Have you seen that report?

  97. “I blogged your original piece, Ron, and added an ending from a Harvard Gazette article about growing a completely functional breast from stem cells 😉 Have you seen that report?”

    Giggity!

  98. Good questions, Stevo.

    In regard to 1 and 2, isn’t there a difference between a mother’s obligation to her sick child and a stranger’s obligation to a starving person across the globe?

    In regard to 5, the Vatican is saying that even embryos with deformities deserve to live if created at an IVF clinic. What about the ones created in a bedroom? If there were a relative easy means to ensure implantation, wouldn’t there be an obligation to ensure that? Or is the obligation merely to attempt implantation, without any particular measures taken to increase the odds of success?

    If the obligation is merely to attempt, how much effort constitutes due diligence?

    If I wanted to, I could explore that due diligence issue in the context of sexual intercourse rather than fertility treatments, but I don’t feel like going there right now. The synopsis is “every sperm is sacred.” During my confirmation class the questions got pretty graphic, and I was amazed that there were actually some official answers to these questions. Then again, maybe it makes perfect sense that a bunch of celibate men, surrounded by Italian women, would work out very detailed policies concerning ejaculation.

  99. According to Ben Shaprio’s book, life begins the moment the women’s bra is unhooked.

    Since he has yet to unhook one, he has yet to live. He can therefore be aborted with impunity.

  100. “I think the Catholic position might be that such parents should love and want whatever children God sends them. While I don’t believe in the Catholic position, I would say that teaching that even children with dread diseases should be loved and wanted is a laudable moral goal as well.

    Comment by: parse at March 1, 2006 10:03 PM”

    But is it a laudable goal to require parents by law to have this child?
    When you are in this situation. that child , the one with a birth defect/disease is not the sole consideration. Money , not just the immediate care but the care of this child when the parents are gone. The mental health of the caretaker (usually the mother). The stress put upon your marriage and on any other children you have.

  101. Yo, T —

    In regard to 1 and 2, isn’t there a difference between a mother’s obligation to her sick child and a stranger’s obligation to a starving person across the globe?

    Oh, for sure. In fact, I even was on the verge of including that among my “random thoughts” earlier, but then got confused and didn’t, because I wasn’t sure it was taking us anywhere useful. A mother’s obligation to take care of her child could be parallel to her presumed obligation to her own embryos … but not parallel to the rest of society’s obligation to save her embryos. The latter is a stranger-stranger relationship.

    In regard to 5, the Vatican is saying that even embryos with deformities deserve to live if created at an IVF clinic. What about the ones created in a bedroom? If there were a relative easy means to ensure implantation, wouldn’t there be an obligation to ensure that? Or is the obligation merely to attempt implantation, without any particular measures taken to increase the odds of success?

    I don’t think the situations are parallel. I think the Vatican is saying the embryos created at an IVF clinic, even the deformed ones, don’t deserve to be thrown away (“discarded”), which is taking a positive action to end their lives. I guess the Vatican is advocating implantation by default, as the only alternative to discarding them. (I’m not sure why freezing them until they can be taken care of at a later date isn’t an option. Maybe the Vat doesn’t trust that they will be taken care of later if not now.)

    So it’s really “not actively harming” the IVF embryos versus “expending effort to avoid natural consequence harm” for the bedroom embryos.

    I think.

    PS: “bedroom embryos” would be a great name for a band. And lots of common letters in those two words. A very harmonious combination visually. Lots of opportunities for clever logo treatment there.

    PPS: I’m tired.

  102. Stevo Darkly,

    (But if you deliberately whack an innocent person, even in pursuit of good ends — that the RCC comes down hard on.)

    Except when it doesn’t.

    parse,

    It’s the spurning of diseased children, not the hope for healthy ones, that is the moral issue.

    No, people are spurning diseased embryos; these aren’t children anymore than sperm are children.

  103. Stevo Darkly,

    Freezing damages embryos over time.

    The depth of the moral obligation to take action to prevent someone else’s death (which, again, is distinct from the obligation not to take action that would actively cause a death) is difficult to gauge.

    Its a matter of duty, and that is in part determined by the issue of forseeability.

    Is my moral obligation to help keep one of my relatives from starving to death any stronger than my moral obligation to help keep a stranger in Ethiopia from starving to death?

    This is where the “selfish gene” kicks in. We perfer blood (generally) over non-blood relationships (the example of people flying home for X-mas to get in physical proximity of their blood kin is a good example of this in action).

    jm,

    But is it a laudable goal to require parents by law to have this child?

    Not to anyone with a sense of utility or anyone who is concerned with individual liberty.

  104. “I think the Catholic position might be that such parents should love and want whatever children God sends them. While I don’t believe in the Catholic position, I would say that teaching that even children with dread diseases should be loved and wanted is a laudable moral goal as well.

    Comment by: parse at March 1, 2006 10:03 PM””

    Yeah, but what sort of loving God would saddle two would-be parents with a child wracked by physical disease, who requires constant care, at excessive monetary cost, ultimately to no productive end?

  105. My Owner took me for what I thought would be a fun ride, but it was a trick. He took me to a building full of frightened dogs in pain. Then a strange man in a white coat jabbed a needle right in my fucking back! For absolutely no reason whatsoever. What kind of loving Owner would do that?

    That’s why I ran away.

    PS: Fuck the Puppy Pope.

  106. *yawn*

  107. Sorry, I fail to see how a collection of recently divided cells that may be born as a person 9 months later constitues being “human” any more than the millions of skin cells that die and fall of a person’s body daily. Both contain the DNA of a human, but if my big toe is cut off and unable to be reattached is it a seperate person?

    If a genetic disease can be corrected before birth, by all means do it.

    Why can’t women who go to fertility clinics elect for the extra embryos be used for stem-cell research? If may baby brother can be cured of Type 1 Diabetes because a few eggs wre broken, so be it. At what point do we save, protect and better the lives of those already alive over ones that merely MAY become people?

    I personally accept a fetus as a seperate entity as at the earlist point it could thive outside the womb (i.e. premature birth). I could give leeway to as soon as it’s planted in the womb, though.

  108. *yawn*

    Crimethink’s 300 post challenge is still there. We’re still well short, but the invisible man himself has yet to weigh in.

  109. Mediageek, I am sure you can find parents with a child wracked by physical disease, who requires constant care, at excessive monetary cost, who will say the birth of that child was the greatest thing that ever happend to them. I don’t doubt you could find tens of thousands of parents of children’s with Down’s Syndrome, one of the conditions Bailey specifically mentioned, who treasure the experience of raising their child.

    I’m not sure why anyone would assume that I would favor laws that force parents to have those children, but for the record, I’ll just say that I do not favor such laws. But Bailey was talking about moral standards.

    Start with the premise that if we could prevent children’s with Down’s syndrome from being born, we should do it. That doesn’t mean, of course, that children with Down’s syndrome don’t deserve to live. But I’m sure their are people who would draw that faulty conclusion. That’s why I think it’s morally laudable to remind them that such a conclusion is hideous.

  110. I fail to see how a collection of recently divided cells that may be born as a person 9 months later constitues being “human” any more than the millions of skin cells that die and fall of a person’s body daily.

    It does strike me as similar to pointing at a bulb and saying, “Isn’t that Tulip lovely.”

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