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In the Washington, DC Examiner, Ronald Bailey gives the stem cell bill a Viking funeral—and George W. Bush gets singed by the flames.

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  1. Although I firmly support stem-cell research, I hate the argument that since embyros “die” nautrally all the time, it’s okay to humans to “kill” them willfully as well.

    60 year old women die all the time from natural causes! So it’s okay to kill them!

  2. You are certainly right, calliope. Bailey seems curiously unaware of ethical concepts that are at the core of most people’s moral thought. It would be nice to see a real libertarian analysis of this situation.

    Is it ethical to force American taxpayers–many of whom believe destroying an embryo is murder–to support stem cell research?

    After all, Bush’s position does not ban stem cell research or even federal funding for such research — it just prevents the expansion of federal funding to new stem cell lines. This seems defensible even from a libertarian position–if you take the ethical concerns of your fellow citizens seriously.

  3. Since when was it a Bad Thing? for a President to veto a bill that would have spent more taxpayers’ money?

    I realize that Bush is the worst spender of all time, but does that excuse libertarians for complaining that he didn’t spend even more?

  4. Calliope: No difference between a clump of cells and a 60 year-old woman? I can think of a few differences.

  5. @lamar

    of course, there are many difference. It wouldn’t be an analogy if they were exactly the same. I just believe that the aforementioned argument is not effective. It’s easy enough to say that SCR does not do anything that doesn’t occur naturally on a much larger scale, but that doesn’t address the ethical issues surrounding embyro destruction at all.

    Someone who does believe these cell aggregates are “people” is not likely to be convinced that’s it okay to “kill” them since many similar entities “die” all the time. To truly win over opponents such as GWB, they have to convinced there are quantitative differences between a human being and a stem cell, and those difference necessitate different rights.

    Arguments like the one I addressed help SCR supporters feel smug about themselves. They (supporters) can feel how much more wordly and sophisticated they are than the primates that simply have “icky” feelings because they don’t understand biology. What these arguments won’t do, however, is help advance us to a more enlightened public policy

  6. Calliope,

    That’s not actually the argument that RB has put forth. His argument is that 1) embryos are not people and that 2) more often than not embryos fail to turn into people. 1 is sufficient to allow embryos to be killed, but 2 is a useful rejoinder to people who argue that embryos really are people and the proof is that when left alone, embryos become fetuses and fetuses become babies.

    M. Hoes,

    Is it ethical to force American taxpayers-some of whom are opposed to animal testing-to support research in which animals are killed?

    I absolutely agree that opposing federal funding to stem cell research is defensible from a libertarian position, it’s just that your particular defense has a glaring hole in it.

  7. Lamar,

    Take it up with the original logical formulation, not with Calliope. The argument that

    “since embyros “die” nautrally all the time, it’s okay to humans to “kill” them willfully as well.”

    Doesn’t say anything about the nature of the embryo to begin with. That’s Calliope’s point. (correct me if I’m wrong, Cal.)

    Anyway, why do ‘libertarians’ all of the sudden support the expansion of federal funding? Oh yeah, because it’s more fun to trash Bush than stick to principles.

    Oh, and of course it’s the old, “person X said the world is round because God made it that way, but I don’t believe in God so it must be flat!” type fallacy. What’s that called anyway?

  8. anon2,

    Where’s the hole?

    “Is it ethical to force American taxpayers?some of whom are opposed to animal testing?to support research in which animals are killed?”

    No, it is not. What’s your point?

  9. I agree with Ken. No real libertarian would think that funding stem cell research is a legitimate function of government.

  10. calliope,

    You missed the point of Bailey’s analogy.

    While we don’t prosecute anyone when a 60 year old woman dies of natural causes, we do mourn her. There is a loss of something with meaning – her life. It is this loss that results in laws against killing her.

    We don’t mourn zygotes and blastocysts when they die of natural causes. We don’t consider there to be an equivalent loss; therefore, we don’t consider it to be a crime when the death occurs through deliberate action.

  11. kohirabi,

    It’s the selective nature of the ban on funding that appears to be causing the concern.

    Many libertarians are opposed to income tax. However, were a bill introduced that would eliminate income tax only for libertarians, I would think that most libertarians would oppose such a bill, even if they are opposed to income tax in principle and such a law would, hypothetically, benefit them in particular.

  12. anon2,

    I’ve heard that argument before, like how some libertarians hate, say, tax breaks only for married couples or whatever. But, for me, any small step the government takes away from me, the happier I am.

    “eliminate income tax only for libertarians”

    See, that’d be fine with me. It’s a start.

  13. I’m with the “even a stopped Bush is right twice a day” crowd.

    Bush vetoed a spending bill. He did not make embryonic stem cell research illegal. It’s perfectly legal, and must now be funded with private money.

    I’m surprised to see Reason missing this point.

    As a counterpoint, consider the California taxpayers’ 3 billion dollar bond measure last year to fund stem cell research. Is that suddenly a wonderful thing just because it tweaks the cultural conservatives?

  14. Semantic confusion. Zygotes are “alive” but not PERSONS under the law. They are “human” tissue, not PERSONS.

  15. Many libertarians are opposed to income tax. However, were a bill introduced that would eliminate income tax only for libertarians, I would think that most libertarians would oppose such a bill, even if they are opposed to income tax in principle and such a law would, hypothetically, benefit them in particular.

    anon2,

    Hold on there a second, hoss. If Congress said that anyone who was a libertarian was exempt from paying income taxes, then everyone would become a libertarian in short order. It would, indeed, be a very powerful recruiting inducement. Therefore, as a libertarian, I support your proposal. Call Ron Paul!

    By the way, why “income tax” instead of “the income tax”? You sound Russian. You aren’t one of those old KGB moles who is looking for work, are you? 😉

  16. Kohlrabi: I misunderstood the original argument. I should leave this one to the ethicists, but an embryo cannot survive on its own as a 60-year old woman can. If the woman goes into a coma and cannot survive on her own, we usually wait to see if she might come out of it, but I suspect that is based on the idea that 60 years of life are worth a bit more waiting and seeing than 3 cell divisions. Please tell me how off I am.

  17. kohirabi @ 1:22,

    The glaring hole is that although it may not be ethical within your ethical framework, it’s certainly ethical within many others’ frameworks.

    But since it’s not ethical within your ethics, can you explain whether it would be ethical to force American taxpayers to support research in which animals are killed if there were no American taxpayers who were opposed to animal testing? In other words, is your opposition to forcing American taxpayers to support the research due to the forcing part, or the morally opposed part?

    I already said “I absolutely agree that opposing federal funding to stem cell research is defensible from a libertarian position.” It’s just that the thing that makes such funding objectionable is not the fact that some citizens find the research morally objectionable.

    Regarding repealing the income tax, but only for libertarians, perhaps I’m wrong when I said “most” (although self-selected “surveys”, i.e. blogging, won’t let us know). I’m a libertarian and I’d oppose such legislation. However, substitute “people with a particular skin color” for “libertarian” and perhaps my point will be seen better.

    There are multiple income taxes. I would object to selective repeal based on political party (regardless of the chosen parties) of county, state and national income taxes.

  18. And most everyone with a family member suffering from diabetes, Parkinson?s disease or heart failure wishes Bush had kept that historic veto pen in his pocket this time

    Remember kids, be a libertarian until your pet project gets vetoed, then make emotional appeals and stamp your feet. Oh, and remember:

    Forced Taxation for Medicine: It’s for the children (and the old people)

    Ron – you’re an unprincipled hack.

  19. Calliope and others: Anon2 has properly interpreted the argument that I’m trying to make, but I guess I haven’t succeeded since it has been misunderstood several times.

    As I tried to point out, I think that it is morally significant that we do not mourn the “death” of most embryos. We don’t because we don’t think that they are people. So why should we mourn the “death” of those frozen in liquid nitrogen?

    As for persuading those who believe that embryos are people already, there is clearly no knock down argument because if there were the debate would be over. I believe that moral opinions about the status of embryos will evolve over time so that most people will agree that they are not the sort of entities that have rights. Part of the evolution will take into account biological differences between people and embryos including the presence of nervous systems and so forth. My evidence for this? Two-thirds of Americans already agree that it’s OK to use leftover embryos for stem cell research.

    Regarding taxpayer funding of scientific research, I am very conflicted by the subject. Economist Paul Romer suggests that because researchers cannot capture the value of their discoveries, it is possible that the market is underfunding (especially cutting edge) scientific research. If this is true, then we (and I do mean all of us) could benefit from subsidizing research. On the other hand, there is no guarantee that government bureaucrats and Congress can properly identify the “best” research programs to fund. As I say I’m conflicted and I plan to do some reporting and analysis on this topic some day soon.

    Finally, if you would like a much longer discussion of my views on the moral status of embryos try reading my debate with Robert George and Patrick Lee. You can start at URL http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-bailey072501.shtml and follow the links from there if you’re interested.

  20. Joe, your analysis is exactly right, from my point of view

    I don’t mourn the loss of embryos, thus I am not opposed to SCR.

    the converse position, however: he DOES mourn the loss of embryos, thus he DOES oppose SCR – is equally valid under your logic. It is these original proposition (whether or not to mourn) that we must work to overcome.

  21. Is it ethical to force American taxpayers–many of whom believe destroying an embryo is murder–to support stem cell research?

    I don’t want to destroy unwanted embryos. I want them to grow up into strong, healthy kidneys.

  22. oops –

    how about instead

    he does oppose scr, thus he does mourn embryos

  23. Since I don’t want science progress to stop and since I can see that our current system isn’t going to change anytime soon, I can’t say, “No more federal funding of scientific research”. However, even with things the way they are, I’d really like to see a major effort to diversify the sources of research dollars. Too danged much comes from the government. Thus, research decisions are politicized and heavily weighed down by bureaucratic nonsense.

    While we’re at it, I don’t like the use of funding by the feds to block research avenues, etc. They can say that they won’t fund certain types of research, but that shouldn’t mean that the researcher receiving some of his funding from the feds should be forestalled completely from conducting such research. I don’t know that that’s the case here, but such things have been done in the past. Yeah, yeah, I know, if the feds give you one dollar, how do they know that you used that dollar instead of some other dollar to conduct the forbidden experiment? They don’t. Too bad for them.

    Again, we were screwed by the Supreme Court. Changing drinking ages, speed limits, etc. via the purse seems quite unprincipled and of dubious constitutionality. The government should either deal openly and directly with whatever it dislikes–if it has the power to do so–or it should keep its big head out of science.

    Now back to the abortion discussion already in progress.

  24. Lamar,

    It is true that there is a vast difference. I’m with you on that, I just agreed with Calliope’s statement that Ron’s argument, as interpreted by Calliope, was insufficient. Ronald then pointed out that Calliope’s interpretation was inaccurate. Anyway, it sounds like your thoughts are more in line with what Ron’s point was.

    anon2,

    “is your opposition to forcing American taxpayers to support the research due to the forcing part, or the morally opposed part?”

    I think they are inseperable in a way. Primarily I’m opposed to the “forced” part. It’s the moral opposition that seems to be ‘necessitating’ the use of force as opposed to just asking for donations.

    “substitute “people with a particular skin color” for “libertarian” and perhaps my point will be seen better.”

    When you’re talking about the government getting smaller, I don’t care what method they use or in what increment. Still a step in the right direction.

  25. Re: taxpayer funding libertarian purity test-

    Personally, I think this situation, and others like it, can be looked at from a practical point of view without handing in the decoder rings. As long as we live in a country where the federal gov’t sucks up and redistributes enough money to club people over the head with threats of withholding (i.e., highway funds, education funds, etc.), then it’s productive to criticize the ways decisions are made about distributing those funds, especially when it involves transparent religious pandering. This was a flawed decision, so I appreciate Ron’s pointing that out, Libertarian or not.

  26. eliminate income tax only for libertarians

    And within a week everyone with a job will be a libertarian.

  27. Ron, how many people mourned last night when some homeless guy living in a back alley gave up the ghost? Does that mean he’s not a person?

    As Ayn_Randian notes, you are an unprincipled hack. I hate to jump to uncharitable conclusions about my opponents, and I understand that sometimes in the rush to defend one’s position one can put forth a ridiculous argument without thinking it through. But it’s different when you offer the same argument, over and over, and read other people’s refutation of it, and still act as if it’s a knock out punch.

  28. crimethink: I don’t know how many people mourned whatever homeless guy you’re referencing, but I bet some did.

    Of course, you and Ayn Randian are wrong about me, but …. In any case, I’m waiting for some stunningly original knock down arguments on your part in this debate.

  29. Really? The argument that your zeal for cutting back government programs suddenly dissapates when you think “Cool, new technology!” All of the sudden, it’s something Bailey likes, so others should be forced to pay for it. That’s really no different than any bureaucrat or government lobbyist that would gladly reduce the scope of government, except for “X program/entitlement is different, ’cause it’s IMPORTANT!”.

    That, my friend, is unprincipled hackery.

    (Note: this argument isn’t really stunning or orginal, and yet, Ron, you’re having problems grokking it regardless)

  30. crimethink: I don’t know how many people mourned whatever specific homeless guy you’re referencing, but I bet some did. Of course, you and Ayn Randian are wrong about me, but …. Anyway, why in the world do you labor under the misapprehension that you’ve refuted my arguments? It’s true that you’ve contested them, but they are not as persuasive as you apparently think they are. So I’m still waiting for some stunningly original knock down arguments on your part in this debate.

  31. Really? It’s funny that your zeal for cutting back government programs suddenly dissapates when you think “Cool, new technology!” All of the sudden, it’s something Bailey likes, so others should be forced to pay for it. That’s really no different than any bureaucrat or government lobbyist that would gladly reduce the scope of government, except for “X program/entitlement is different, ’cause it’s IMPORTANT!”.

    That, my friend, is unprincipled hackery.

    (Note: this argument isn’t really stunning or orginal, and yet, Ron, you’re having problems grokking it regardless)

  32. While there is intuitive appeal to the idea of a sense of loss being used to determine whether an entity’s (person vs embryo) destruction is ethical, it doesn’t seem grounded to me – kind of a perversion of descartes

    if people care about the loss of me, i am a person? is that what anon and ron are advocating?

    does that shift the debate to simply trying to make people anthropomorphize de-anthropomorphize) embyros? is anthropomorphize even a word?

  33. While there is intuitive appeal to the idea of a sense of loss being used to determine whether an entity’s (person vs embryo) destruction is ethical, it doesn’t seem grounded to me – kind of a perversion of descartes

    if people care (or at least, should care) about the loss of me, then i am a person? is that what anon and ron are advocating?

    does that shift the debate to simply trying to make people anthropomorphize de-anthropomorphize) embyros? is anthropomorphize even a word?

  34. Ron,

    Have you read The Economic Laws of Scientific Research, by Terence Kealey? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the book.

  35. Ayn Randian: You’re assuming that your principles are the only ones? I have never claimed to be a pure libertarian (whatever that is). I am a libertarian in that I favor such things as much smaller government, free markets and free trade, unfettered speech of any sort (porn and Marxism both allowed), against the drug war, prostitution, gay marriage and adoption, organ markets, and so forth. You get the idea. I do however believe that one can and should take into account empirical arguments of whether or not we can arrange our lives collectively (yes, police, courts of law, national defense, paying for bad externalities not accounted for by markets) in better ways. That might include taxpayer funding of scientific research.

    May I refer you to pro libertate’s post above? He’s got a good point to make regarding whether or not it’s OK to critique federal funding decisions other than just saying “bah, humbug.”

    Finally, please don’t call someone unprincipled because they don’t happen to agree with whatever YOUR principles are, OK?

  36. oops, that would be “FOR prostitution, gay marriage and adoption, organ markets, and so forth.”

    RH: It’s on my radar screen, but I have not yet read Kealey’s book. Thanks for suggesting though so that others might also consider reading it.

  37. I don’t know how many people mourned whatever specific homeless guy you’re referencing, but I bet some did.

    No, no one mourned him. Everybody was pretty indifferent. Now, I’m sure the people who had to dispose of the body weren’t happy about having to do it, but I wouldn’t call that mourning.

    In any case, the knock down counterargument is this.

    not(mourned) -> not(person)

    , which is your argument, is equivalent to its contrapositive

    person -> mourned

    , which is only true if every person is mourned upon dying. Thus, if I find one instance of someone fitting your definition of “person” who is not mourned, your argument is generally false. And I believe I have done so.

  38. While I can empathize with the frustration of some people who think they’ve retread the same ground over and over to no avail, we should try to restrain the heat. Remember that reality is often complex, and people aren’t evil just because they perceive things differently.

    Okay then Ron, suppose what if nobody mourned the death of our anonymous homeless person? Would he then be disqualified from having been a human being?

    Normally, people don’t mourn for strangers that they never get to know. That is not what mourning is for. Yet the unknown and unmourned is not necessarily unhuman.

    Calliope called it. The argument that the humanity or moral status of an entity is dependent upon that entity’s ability to evoke an emotional response in other people is mighty weak.

    A Randian would put it this way, and I think most logicians would agree: A is A because A is A. It’s “A-ness” is not dependent upon whether or not some people feel it is A.

    Hopefully we can discuss this stuff without anybody coming off like a big A-ness.

  39. Consider dead_elvis’ post included here by reference.

    You’re being a twit, AR. This is not an appropriations bill we’re talking about. It’s a spending bill. This money was already stolen. Given that, I’d much rather it was spent on something potentially useful than on another fucking porkbarrel highway or worthless social program.

  40. Stevo,

    I’m all for honey over vinegar, but there comes a point where you have to call a spade a spade. Please throw your wet blankets on someone else.

  41. I just reread and realized I used the word ‘appropriations’ incorrectly. Hopefully you got my meaning anyway.

    Let this be a lesson to all: Don’t try to post while also working. Get your priorities straight; put work on hold while you post.

  42. Ron:
    You seem to be endlessly attracted to that transhumanist school which has many supporters among the wealthy, elite and influential. People who are training for extreme old age, infant old men, embryo nonagenarians. There really is no scientific basis for federal funding of this research. The wish list of diseases people attach to it remind me of interferon and superconductivity, both duds.
    It is not feasable except in the eyes of those who wish to dehumanize us further.

  43. On the moral point:

    I don’t think the argument is ‘we should be able to kill embryos because who cares about embryos, anyway?’

    I think the argument is that the President’s position is logically inconsistent. That is, if embryos are to be given the status of persons insofar as their deaths are considered a Bad Thing, and to be avoided, then we must also not allow any embryos that could be viable persons to be discarded.

    Many, many embryos are discarded from fertility clinics. The President’s position must forbid this discarding, and require every one of them to be grown into actual persons.

    (The absurd next step, as Bailey suggests, is that we turn medical research towards capturing and re-implanting all of the otherwise viable embryos that the body itself discards as part of the woman’s monthly cycle.)

    If they are instead still to be discarded, then they do not have the moral status of persons, so what does it matter whether they’re destroyed as part of a discarding process, or destroyed as part of a useful research process?

  44. Ah, yes Art, the old “it isn’t gonna work anyway” bit. How about nerve damage paralysis as a disease to add to your list? Right now, only working in rats. It will be years before the leap to humans can be made, perhaps by then Italy, Spain or some other country who isn’t as phobic about using ‘discarded’ embryos will have perfected this technology.

  45. isildur: “I think the argument is that the President’s position is logically inconsistent”

    i guess there’s a first time for everything…

  46. isildur,

    The same reason McDonald’s doesn’t let their employees eat food that’s going to be thrown out. It encourages the production of extra food that’s going to need to be thrown out.

  47. crimethink: Why not pick Pol Pot? Probably nobody mourned him, so you’d argue that I would argue that he was not a person based on the lack of mourning, I’d guess.

    People are the sort of entities that are generally mourned (even if all failed to be mourned for specific reasons, Pol Pot because he was evil, the homeless guy because he had no friends or family), whereas embryos are the sort entities that are not generally mourned. That suggests that the vast majority of people do not see them as morally equivalent. It is possible that the majority (and I) are wrong, but while you have made arguments that that is so, you have failed to persuade them or me that we are wrong.

    I am curious what sort of evidence would persuade you that you are wrong about the moral status of embryos? Frankly, I can’t imagine what sort evidence could persuade me that embryos are people. That’s why I am waiting for stunningly original arguments from you or anybody else who believes that embryos are people.

    Bioethicist Tristram Engelhart (who is also a deeply committed Orthodox Christian) points out that all that it is possible for moral strangers to live together in society by mutually recognizing a “thin theory of the good” (which I oversimplify to libertarianism). Engelhardt argues that if moral strangers cannot agree on mostly procedural rules for getting along, democracy, markets, then they will eventually resort to revolvers to settle moral disputes. I think that we are engaged in trying to navigate many bioethical issues as moral strangers using procedural techniques–I hope the result will be that we can each live our own values peaceably while disagreeing. I and mine get the benefits of things like embryonic stem cell research, while you and yours express your rectitude by refusing them.

  48. crimethink,

    Ron’s argument isn’t that embryos aren’t people because they’re not morned when they die.

    “Of course, culturally we do not mourn the deaths of these millions of embryos as we would the death of a child-and reasonably so, because we do in fact know that these embryos are not people”

    His assertion that embryos are not people is independent, but he is pointing out a significant difference between how people treat the death of an embryo (99.999% of such deaths are not mourned) and how they treat the death of a born human. He is saying that they’re not mourned because they’re not people, in other words

    ?person ? ?mourned

    Now since people mourn the passing of pets, and since couples who are trying very hard to conceive would mourn the death of an otherwise viable embryo that failed to implant, I don’t think Ron really meant his statement to be transcribed into logic, but if he did, clearly he’d want the implication in the correct direction.

  49. Ron & crimethink,

    What a person is is a matter of definition. By some definitions, embryos are people. Words often have multiple meanings, sometimes overlapping, some narrow, some broad, etc. The problem is people will mix and match meanings in an attempt to strengthen their argument.

    If someone uses a broad definition of person that includes eight cell embryos, one can’t then claim that it’s immoral to kill that eight cell embryo because it’s a person. Because the particular definition of human they are using implies no such property.

    Similarly, if someone uses a more narrow definition of human and that person’s morality doesn’t allow the killing of humans, but that person’s morality does allow the killing of eight cell embryos, then, naturally, that person’s definition of human isn’t going to include eight cell embryos.

    Neither definition of human is inherently incorrect, but neither definition resolves the morality issue. The issue is independent of the definition.

  50. Ron,

    All this is boiling down to: you happen to like this research so I should fund it. I generally think you have fairly good insights but what the hell?

    I like how magically living with one’s own values includes me funding yours. Beat it.

  51. This argument mirrors the abortion debate, in that it asks: When does human tissue become a person. No one has problems experimenting with tissue, just as all (hopefully) have problems with unconsented experimentation on human bodies.

    So when does this magical transformation occur? Some people says it’s (a) the moment the sperm enters the egg, other, (b) after implantation, (c) upon the development of “human” appendages, (d) the time the fetus becomes viable, in that it can survive outside the womb (~25 weeks I think) (e) the third trimester or (f) the moment after delivery

    Myself, I’m most conformatable (I think) with (d) but that’s a real problem as of all the criteria, it’s the one that’s most elastic. It will continue to inch closer to conception as neonatal technology advances

    One thing that’s been unsaid, in the presence of a particular pressure – ie no fed. funding for research on a certain kind of stem cell, the successful scientist will be the one that adapts her methodology in order to be elgible for the most funding. Evolution at work!

  52. All this is boiling down to: you happen to like this research so I should fund it

    Thank you, kohlrabi, this apparently cannot get through Mr. Bailey’s skull that this makes him unprinci… Oh, never mind.

  53. Regarding Federal funding for research, I’m going to be a troll again and ask all libertarians to stop using the Internet, out of principle.

  54. That’s cool Dan T., you’re a real bright guy.

    Just don’t go using anything created by slave labor, either now or in the past, then.

    Oh, and don’t live anywhere acquired by force.

    Dumbass.

  55. People are the sort of entities that are generally mourned (even if all failed to be mourned for specific reasons, Pol Pot because he was evil, the homeless guy because he had no friends or family), whereas embryos are the sort entities that are not generally mourned.

    Very slick, Ron. If not having friends or family prevents persons from being mourned, doesn’t that kind of explain why embryos — whose very existence is unknown to anyone — wouldn’t be mourned, regardless of whether they are persons?

    I am curious what sort of evidence would persuade you that you are wrong about the moral status of embryos?

    The identification of a point in development after conception, which involves a radical enough change in the entity that one could say that the entity went from being a non-person to being a person.

    anon2,

    Clearly Ron intends it as a logical argument, since he has defended it on those terms. And if he didn’t intend it as a logical argument, but as an assertion, then I don’t see how it helps his case to mention it.

  56. Mingya crimethink, where did you learn to be so full of yourself, or were you born that way?

  57. kohlrabi & Ayn Randian: Unprincipled = disagrees with whatever “principles” kohlrabi and Ayn Randian hold. Fine.

    crimethink: Evidently, the sorts of “radical enough changes” that satisfy many others as evidence that embryos are not people do not satisfy you. Thus it seems unlikely that any new information will persuade you are wrong.

    As anon2 said: “That’s not actually the argument that RB has put forth. His argument is that 1) embryos are not people and that 2) more often than not embryos fail to turn into people. 1 is sufficient to allow embryos to be killed, but 2 is a useful rejoinder to people who argue that embryos really are people and the proof is that when left alone, embryos become fetuses and fetuses become babies.”

    Again, if you are in fact interested in a much longer discussion of why I don’t believe embryos are people (besides my occasional short op/eds) please see my debate with Robert George and Patrick Lee.

  58. crimethink, just possibly I was out of line with my schoolmarmin’ tone. Follow the beat of your own heart, dude.
    ——————–

    anon2, maybe Ron’s thought process are more complex than I originally perceived, but if your attempted clarification at 4:07 is correct, then Ron would appear to be assuming his conclusion in his premise and arguing circularly: “People know embryos are not people, therefore people do not mourn embryos, because people know embryos are not people, therefore embryos are not people,” as near as I can follow it.

    I’m going to look up that “thin theory of the good” concept. Of course, “you speak your piece and I’ll speak mine and we’ll leave it at that” isn’t really a resolution when a perceived violation of human rights is the issue at stake. But if the “thin theory of the good” allows the peaceful pursuit of change, that’s cool.

    I do think actually advocating government funding for this type of research is wrong. Kohlrabi has a point. And government funding can only politicize the issue further, almost by definition. You can no longer argue that a difference of opinion must remain a matter of private conscience once it’s paid for via the public purse.

    I’m now going to try to withdraw from H&R Embryoglio # 4357 as a poster. I think I’ve made my points as best I can. So far this has been a pretty good thread WRT opportunities to learn and think instead of just blast each other. I’ve seen worse.

  59. Gee Kwik,
    How stupid am I. A success story.
    Of course why the nerve damage can’t be repaired with Adult Stem Cells, as many non government funded researchers are currently doing is very telling. Make no mistake Kwik, this is not about science. It is about stealing our money with no accountability.

  60. “I and mine get the benefits of things like embryonic stem cell research, while you and yours express your rectitude by refusing them.”

    Yeah, and maybe the “Intelligent Design” crowd will start refusing to have their kids vaccinated and turn down antibiotics when they get sick.

  61. The identification of a point in development after conception, which involves a radical enough change in the entity that one could say that the entity went from being a non-person to being a person.

    Sounds to me like the “adding one grain of sand at a time, when does a mound become a hill” problem. Which tells me that this is a fool’s errand. There is no such point that you’re looking for, yet no one would ever look at a small pile of dirt in my backyard and call that a hill.

    In other words, using your method, instead of working forward and looking for where an embryo becomes a person, work backwards to find the point at which a person was just previously an embryo. You would then be able to prove that no person was ever an embryo. Which is of course false.

  62. Art: Actually some (most?) of the US scientists working on adult stem cells are using government money–about $200 million last year from NIH for example. BTW, let’s hope that they make even more breakthroughs in this area.

  63. kohlrabi & Ayn Randian: Unprincipled = disagrees with whatever “principles” kohlrabi and Ayn Randian hold. Fine.

    Uh, no, Ron, Unprincipled = wanting to cut back on programs where the government shouldn’t be involved until it’s your little pet project, then you change your tune.

    Let me make it clearer: you are unprincipled because you abandon your principles when something comes along you like…is it getting any easier now?

  64. Ayn Randian: So I can only be “principled” if I FAVOR funding all government programs or if I am AGAINST funding all government programs?

    mediageek: I suspect that you are about to be called “unprincipled.”

    Finally, it’s 5 pm EDT, so I’ll wish everyone a good weekend and sign off now.

  65. In response to Ron’s question, “I am curious what sort of evidence would persuade you that you are wrong about the moral status of embryos?” crimethink wrote:

    The identification of a point in development after conception, which involves a radical enough change in the entity that one could say that the entity went from being a non-person to being a person.

    Why is this so important? Even when there are fuzzy borders between two categorically different things, we can often still point to examples that fall unambiguously in one category or the other.

    We may not be able to say exactly when daylight becomes twilight, but we can still say that the light at high noon is daylight. Or consider the color spectrum. It’s hard to say where one color becomes another, but that doesn’t mean we can’t say some colors are clearly red and other colors are clearly orange.

    Similarly, it may be possible to argue that while we can’t say exactly when during pre-natal development a person comes into existence, a tiny clump of cells clearly doesn’t qualify as a person.

  66. The veto by Bush on moral grounds is just plain stupidity. Embryos are not persons.

    However, I have to laugh at the ‘Libertarian’ arguments put forward that we must all reject any government funding of ANYTHING that ANYONE disagrees with. This is exactly the type of argument that keeps us all from being able to elect candidates that might move us away from the nanny-style government we have toward one which would encourage free choice.

    I prefer to be saved from any sort of Absolutism, even the ‘Libertarian’ kind.

  67. crimethink,

    You got the summary of Ron’s argument backward (and dragged Stevo in behind you). Please reread.

    Ron was not claiming that embryos aren’t people because they’re not mourned. Ron claimed that embryos aren’t mourned because they’re not people. I quoted the relevant section in my post above. Your counterargument to Ron was based on a misreading of what he claimed.

    But there’s still a difference between a textual argument and my coercion into propositional logic. Ron was proposing a heuristic that is useful as a sanity-check against a statement that he supplied without proof or claim of proof. In logic, a single exception disproves a rule. Heuristics are more forgiving than that. But even if you don’t understand that distinction, you should be able to see that there’s a big difference between:

    ?person ? ?mourned

    and

    ?mourned ? ?person

    Ron’s argument was closer to the former and you then spent time refuting the latter. If you don’t see the difference, then our ways of thinking are sufficiently different that further discussion is unlikely to be fruitful.

    Stevo,

    Ron wasn’t trying to claim in that article that he had proved that embryos weren’t people. He simply said they weren’t. Sometimes in articles you explain why you think what you think and sometimes you don’t. In this case, Ron did something in between he stated something he thinks (embryos are not people) and he stated an observation that tends to be consistent with what he thinks. He never said that he thinks what he thinks because of the observation. He said, in essense, that the observation was consistent with what he thinks.

    As for whether embryos are human, you can disagree. I disagree, at least for some definitions of people. However, crimethink’s representation of what Ron said is simply incorrect. It’s trivial to reread:

    “Of course, culturally we do not mourn the deaths of these millions of embryos as we would the death of a child-and reasonably so, because we do in fact know that these embryos are not people”

    and see for yourself.

  68. I was raised on the fertilized eggs are human persons meme, though I don’t hold with it anymore. If one does believe that, than of course one would want the equal protection of the laws to be extended that far. At the very least, you don’t want the government subsidizing the destruction of your tiny human brothers and sisters.

    Ron’s argument about how profligate nature is with new life ought to give reasonable people pause. The occasional miscarriage – a/k/a spontaneous abortion – was seen by most as a tragic exception to the natural gestation of a child. The knowledge of the uncounted deaths of so many micro-humans ought to call into question their classification by those convinced of their personhood. If one is unwilling, as I am, to accept a sociological definition of humanity, some sort of scientific rationale seems important. There’s the notion of Marjorie R. Maguire that one isn’t a human person until one is accepted into the human community by the mother. Stretch this point, and you have authorized infanticide by any mother who decides after birth that she’d rather not have a kid. I don’t think it is too much to ask that we try to come up with a legal starting point for personhood that doesn’t stand at either of these poles.

    Of course, the “they’re people, damnit!” wing of the embryonic stem cell debate claims that they are being scientific. The conceptus has all the genetic material necessary to grow into an infant, should it manage to find its way to a supportive womb. Heck, we could invent artificial wombs for as many frozen super-preemies as we can afford, and solve the white infant shortage for prospective adoptive couples! 🙂 Now, that wouldn’t be economically practical, even if we could figure out the tech. I am ignoring one of the important reasons why these folks twist themselves around to take this position, which is, of course, religion.

    If the deaths of countless fertilized eggs on a daily basis is part of their god’s plan, that just can’t be helped. All through human history people have lived and died, often horribly, without the divine lifting an ectoplasmic finger to help them. The devotees of Religion X can wail and gnash their teeth when they consider how the overwhelming majority of the populace go to their graves without converting to the true religion, or even having it preached to them. Compared to consignment to the flames for what you actually did, how unfair it must seem to miss out on eternal life because you didn’t get to hear the magic words? Next to that, all those embryo-souls must be on the fast-track to heaven. (In the old days I would have said Limbo, but the R.C.s decommissioned that recently.)

    The religion v. science problem might be resolved if it was just an argument about natural law. Before the Pope spoke ex cathedra on abortion and birth control, the Catholics had changeable positions on the question. Frex, Augustine followed Aristotle’s position that fetuses didn’t get souls until quickening. But any random conservative Protestant can trot out verses from the Old Testament that they interpret as forbidding abortion, and supporting the personhood of the “pre-born.” No amount of logical argument is going to trump revelation, if the person you are arguing with has fully bought into the “revelation trumps everyting else” mindset.

    I’ve long held that society and the law would be better off trying to determine when the “lump of protoplasm” is sufficiently complex to compare on some level to a born infant. Development of the nervous system and brain should be the standard, not whether a heart beats or a lung functions. It is our minds that distinguish us from the other animals, and that’s why I think the brain is the key. Who knows when a fetus approaches thinking, but if it can feel I’d say it is time to say “whoa”. Of course, that will not satisfy the anti-ESCR crowd or the pro-late-term-abortion folks.

    Bailey is special pleading when he whines about government funding being restricted on Task Z but not on Tasks A-Y. If I want to rein in spending on most programs, protecting funding for a particular hobbyhorse isn’t in anyway admirable. As for general research not supported by the for-profit sector, that’s what non-governmental non-profits are for. If you want the gubmint to fund your research, come up with some connection to a legitimate govt. function (ex. defense) and make your case.

    Kevin

  69. “Unprincipled = disagrees with whatever “principles” kohlrabi and Ayn Randian hold.”

    Keep saying it and it might become true!

  70. Ron –

    I’ve read through most of the back and forth on here that focuses on your unmourned dead embryo argument (UDEA, hereafter).

    I understand that you feel it is being misinterpreted by some of the commentators here. Perhaps it is, but this has more to do with how you used your UDEA in the article.

    On the stem cell issue, I’m quite torn. I was born with a genetic disease which, at the time I was born, gave me a life expectancy of 7 years. I’m now 33 and have just gone through IVF with my spouse, which resulted in the birth of our 2 beautiful children (something that as recently as 10 years ago was not possible for us). In addition to IVF, science has obviously produced a greater life expectancy for me than was the case when I was born, primarily through new drugs.

    I’m torn because I do personally believe that at the moment of conception, there is life. All that means is that it is entitled to the protections of our Constitution. I think, perhaps, this is the point you gloss over too freely with your UDEA. No sensible person believes there is moral culpability in situations where nature takes its natural course and a human life ends (whether it is a 60 year old or an embryo).

    Simply pointing out that many embryos die a natural (and unknowing) death does not PROVE that embryos are not human life forms. I can tell you that had those 1 or 2 day embryos growing in a petri dish (2 of which eventually became my children) had all vanished (none of them did in that process), we would have certainly mourned their loss, though perhaps not with all the public fanfare of losing a 60 year old grandmother. However, that we would have doesn’t prove that they were human life either. Point being – there are two sides to that coin, and I don’t think the “truth” of whether they are or are not human life is to be found on either side.

    In summary, your article would be much more persuasive w/o the UDEA. I would not have been persuaded, but it just sticks out as logical fallacy.

    No offense intended, just my .02.

  71. anon2,

    For the sake of argument, lets assume that Ron’s argument was that

    not(person) –> not(mourned)

    as you say. As you admitted earlier, even this version of the statement doesn’t hold water, since people mourn for pets when they die. In fact, none of the propositions relating personhood to being mourned:

    person –> mourned
    mourned –> person
    not(person) –> not(mourned)
    not(mourned) –> not(person)

    are true in general, which should tip one off that being a person and being mourned have no consistent relation to one another.

    In short, either Ron is making one invalid argument, or making another invalid argument based on an unsupported assertion.

  72. All right everybody, I’m still here after all. I have been wracking my brain to recall what government science funding you all think I’ve ever come out against on “principle” as opposed to massive waste (e.g., manned spaceflight but not unmanned scientific missions). So please propagating what I think is the false claim that I’m “special pleading” or “whining.”

    Now go have a great weekend, damn it!

  73. As for the not-mourning thing: funerals and memorial serices for aborted fetuses has been a standard agitprop trope of pro-lifers/sincere religious expression by the faithful (take your pick) for decades. It would surprise me not at all if the PLM will or has already included discarded embryos in these memorials.

    Kevin

  74. Sorry, Ron. I thought you were more of a libertarian than you actually are.

    Kevin

  75. Ron Bailey,

    RUN COWARD!!!!!

  76. In any case, these people mourn for even unknown unborn angels…

  77. Libertarian defunding in desquise as christian crusade.

    Where is the argument that my tax dollors should not be spent on research better suited for private intrusts to fund?

  78. Many libertarians are opposed to income tax. However, were a bill introduced that would eliminate income tax only for libertarians, I would think that most libertarians would oppose such a bill, even if they are opposed to income tax in principle and such a law would, hypothetically, benefit them in particular.

    …and the very next day everyone is a libertarian.

    Lets have unintended consiquinces work for use for the first time in history.

  79. Many, many embryos are discarded from fertility clinics. The President’s position must forbid this discarding, and require every one of them to be grown into actual persons.

    strawman alert…presidents position is that government should not pay for it.

    that would be why it is still legal to do the research…ie not forbiden

  80. meanwhile hilary wants to protect the unborn from having chips implanted into thier brains:

    “At the rate that technology is advancing, people will be implanting chips in our children to advertise directly into their brains and tell them what kind of products to buy,” Clinton said at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/front/story/436952p-368077c.html

  81. crimethink,

    Reread and make a decision as to whether you got things backwards in your 3:36 comment. By saying “for the sake of argument”, you are suggesting that perhaps your post was valid. If you believe that, then I don’t think you and I will ever come to terms on issues that involve logic. One of us is wrong-it doesn’t matter who-and the way in which we think is incompatible.

    You may also want to reread the distinction I made between a heuristic and propositional logic.

    Ron’s point is that, by and large, embryos, as a class, aren’t mourned but people (by using one definition of people, a practice I think causes more trouble than it’s worth), as a class, are. The percentage of people who mourn embryo deaths is several orders of magnitude less than the percentage of people who mourn “born human” deaths. This is a fact despite some mourned embryos and some people who aren’t mourned. Several orders of magnitude is fine for a heuristic in the context Ron used it.

    For all the people who think Ron was attempting to prove that human embryos aren’t people, consider if he had said something like “Of course, culturally we do not teach that humans co-existed with dinosaurs-and reasonably so, because we do in fact know that the two were not contemporaneous.” If he said that, would anyone think that he was arguing that he had proved that dinosaurs and people didn’t exist at the same time? No. Perhaps he has good reasons to believe that dinosaurs and people didn’t coexist, but he wouldn’t be making them in that particular statement.

    Even if tomorrow there was an amazing discovery that proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that dinosaurs and humans were together at the same time, the new evidence would only show that Ron’s statement about dinosaurs was wrong; it wouldn’t falsify Ron’s observation about what we don’t teach.

    None of the above suggests that I think Ron’s tack of using the word “people” was a good one. I think he could have avoided using a loaded term. But that still doesn’t justifying mischaracterizing his argument or attempting to refute a proof that he never even attempted to make.

  82. I just think you’re a sick individual if you think that a small group of cells that may or may not be able to grow into a person is more important than someone that we would all call a person at this very instant, and who through this line of research, may one day be helped.

    But then, I do not believe life begins at conception (or at least not in a way we could call fully human), so my opinion is not going to matter to someone who disagrees with me on this very basic point.

    (I also think the folks crimethink links to above are completely nuts, but again, myself and them are coming from very different places, so who am I to judge?)

  83. Oops, screwed up my closing tags…should have closed after “instant”.

    (I don’t normally correct myself on these here blogs, but I guess there’s a first time for many things.)

  84. Lowdog,

    Heh, I’ve got to agree with you about those sites. But trust me, we’re worse in person…

    * the old lady who pushes around a baby doll in a baby carriage, with a rosary tightly wrapped around its neck,

    * the guy who got an ugly pro-life patch sewn onto his jacket at the March for Life, and who keeps duct-taping it back on every week,

    * the woman who refuses to pass out literature about Birthright, a secular organization that helps pregnant women avoid having an abortion, because “the only way to stop abortion is to pray the Rosary.”

    I could go on. Suffice it to say, we may be crazy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re wrong.

  85. Kob and Rand, stop being twats. You have no fucking idea what Ron’s principles are. And save me your hyperlinks because you’re going to hyperlink to Ron saying he doesn’t support federal funding for X research. And that in no way means he doesn’t support federal funding for Y research. It doesn’t even mean he never-ever-ever would support funding for X! Even if you have 999999999 cases of Ron saying he doesn’t support federal funding for different types of research you still can’t prove the next time he won’t. All you have is a good trend. One you can bet on. One you can safely use in a coverstation regarding what Ron is likely to think about a subject. You can even publish a treatise on the “Bailey Mindset” and no one would blame you for including no upward trend on your “future support for government science funding” graph. What you do not have is what’s needed to get on your highhorse, beat your chest and say he’s unprincipled.

    Now, granted, I do not live inside Ron’s head. I have only read his Reason articles. And from them I’d say Ron thinks federal funding for science is generally bad but in some cases it’s a good thing. This is not the first time he’s come out in support of federal funding for science.

  86. Bush takes a perfect libertarian position on the embryonic stem cell issue. I wish it were extended.
    We should all be free to own and use property(and enter into contract) as we see fit……as long as no Federal Money is used to pay for it.

  87. (A) While I disagree with Bailey, I do not think that it is “unprincipled” for him to support government funding of this research. If he has rational reasons for supporting it, so be it. Beyond scanning such reasons and looking for obvious inconsistencies (which don’t exist here as far as I know) you can’t really know what is in his heart.

    (B) The trading of insults back and forth really gets us nowhere. In fact, if it is your goal to persuade, then you are probably doing that goal more harm than good.

  88. crimethink,

    …which should tip one off that being a person and being mourned have no consistent relation to one another.

    They have a general relation to one another. And really, that is the only relationship that has been claimed.

    But really, this is neither here nor there. There is no wholely or even partly “objective” fashion to solve this issue and that is that.

  89. Ron,

    I actually don’t think (nor ever said) you are unprincipled, you just have principles I strongly disagree with.

    Anyway, enjoy your weekend!

    PS: “Unprincipled = disagrees with whatever “principles” kohlrabi and Ayn Randian hold.”

    …is still untrue. 🙂

  90. @Ken Barber

    Since when was it a Bad Thing? for a President to veto a bill that would have spent more taxpayers’ money?

    Well, wait a minute – it’s not clear to me the bill would have spent more of the taxpayers’ dollars. If it specifically prohibited allocating additional funds over what the federal government is already spending on scientific research, then fine.

    But assuming government has already earmarked X amount of dollars for scientific research, I can’t think of a particularily good reason why stem cell research should be excluded from competing for those dollars on an equal footing with other research.

    So is this actually saving the taxpayers money, or is it simply preventing them from getting the best value out of money that’s going to be spent on scientific research anyway?

  91. So is this actually saving the taxpayers money, or is it simply preventing them from getting the best value out of money that’s going to be spent on scientific research anyway?

    Good points Pig Mannix but there are more losses then just the tax dollars…an industry created and paid for by tax dollors vs an industry created and paid for by private dollars are very differnet things…regardless of if the tax dollars are going to be spent on other things anyway.

    There are more unintended consiquenses to government research then just stealing my money…and the less effective government research is the better for all of us.

    now if that comment doesn’t get Thourou to comment I don’t know what will.

  92. Phil Lip,

    The trading of insults back and forth really gets us nowhere. In fact, if it is your goal to persuade, then you are probably doing that goal more harm than good.

    Biting … tongue…

    But you are right… 😉

  93. I’m torn because I do personally believe that at the moment of conception, there is life.

    Actually, there is life before conception. Sperm cells and eggs are alive.

  94. crimethink,

    Why are you “biting your tongue?”

  95. Phil Lip,

    Your previous incarnations didn’t seem to possess that bit of wisdom, or at least ignored it.

  96. crimethink,

    Even if that is the case, does it effect the verity of my statement?

  97. I find it amusing that no one has started a discussion about what the proper role of government is: protection of individual liberties.

    I’m not arguing that an embryo is an individual, so don’t get worried on that score.

    Ron’s not unprincipled, but his principles are rather badly worded.

    “I do however believe that one can and should take into account empirical arguments of whether or not we can arrange our lives collectively (yes, police, courts of law, national defense, paying for bad externalities not accounted for by markets) in better ways. That might include taxpayer funding of scientific research.”

    Police, courts of law, and national defence protect citizens from the initiation of force and establish justice. This is the constitutional protection of civil liberty.

    However, federally funding scientific research to account for bad externalities not accounted for by markets is in a separate category. This comes from the believe that people deserve the fruits of scientific research regardless of they are paying for it or not. It is immoral to appropriate funds from unarmed citizens in order to give them to other citizens. This is basic minarchist libertarianism. Supporting federal funding for non-military scientific research puts you on the side against individual liberty. I’m kind of surprised that Ayn Randian hasn’t made a comparison of Ron Bailey to Dr. Robert Stadler, the “pure scientist.”

  98. Phil Lip,

    I said you were right. I just thought it was funny that you were the one to say it. If it makes you feel better I’ll shove a glass catheter into my urethra and break it, geez.

  99. Re: Vic Sage.

    ?

    Kevin

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