Stem Cell Vote and the President Bush's Moral Inconsistency

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The U.S. Senate will be voting this week on expanding the federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research. Last year, President Bush issued his only veto to block such funding arguing, "This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others." Apparently the President believes that embryos consisting of 200 or so cells are the moral equivalent to a baby. But does he really believe that?

Harvard university political philosopher and member of the President's Council on Bioethics, Michael Sandel wonders about the President's moral consistency:

A further reason to be skeptical of the notion that blastocysts are persons is to notice that many who invoke it do not embrace its full implications. President Bush is a case in point. In 2001, he announced a policy that restricted federal funding to already existing stem cell lines, so that no taxpayer funds would encourage or support the destruction of embryos. And in 2006, he vetoed a bill that would have funded new embryonic stem cell research, saying that he did not want to support "the taking of innocent human life."

But it is a striking feature of the president's position that, while restricting the funding of embryonic stem cell research, he has made no effort to ban it. To adapt a slogan from the Clinton administration, the Bush policy might be summarized as "don't fund, don't ban." But this policy is at odds with the notion that embryos are human beings.

If harvesting stem cells from a blastocyst were truly on a par with harvesting organs from a baby, then the morally responsible policy would be to ban it, not merely deny it federal funding. If some doctors made a practice of killing children to get organs for transplantation, no one would take the position that the infanticide should be ineligible for federal funding but allowed to continue in the private sector. In fact, if we were persuaded that embryonic stem cell research were tantamount to infanticide, we would not only ban it but treat it as a grisly form of murder and subject scientists who performed it to criminal punishment….

If he [Bush} does not want to ban embryonic stem cell research, or prosecute stem cell scientists for murder, or ban fertility clinics from creating and discarding excess embryos, this must mean that he does not really consider human embryos as morally equivalent to fully developed human beings after all.

But if he doesn't believe that embryos are persons, then why ban federally funded embryonic stem cell research that holds promise for curing diseases and saving lives?

Whatever your stand on federal funding of research, Sandel's whole thoughtful column is worth reading here.

Here's where I ask "Is Heaven Populated Chiefly with the Souls of Embryos?"

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  1. Yes, Bush is hypocritical on this. Of course if he followed through and tried to ban the research all together he would be branded a fanatic unwilling to compromise. Is it really the case that one must either be a fanatic or a hypocrite on difficult moral issues? Perhaps there is a middle ground here where someone says that they while they have an opinion, they understand that others have a different opinion and that as mortals we cannot come to a definitive solution and therefore reach a compromise by not banning the research but also not making people who object pay taxes to support it.

    If you disagree with Bush on stem cell research then say so and say why it is a good thing for the government to fund it. But I don’t think, he is a hypocrite argument really flies.

  2. To pretend that Bush cares about human life at all is utterly ludicrous. If he was all that serious, he’d throw huge amounts of energy and resources into preventing deaths of born people. Forget it. He does not think of babies when he thinks of stem cells; he thinks only of power.

  3. I support this research, I think it’s a good thing; but forcing the public to fund scientific research that a sizeable portion finds immoral is simply not in line with liberterian principles in my opinion.

    The best option you have to to try and convince people why they shouldn’t think of the research as immoral, your article is good work in this regard.

  4. Putting forth another variation of the “blastocysts aren’t persons because no one grieves them” argument? Dare you taste crimethink’s Fist of Justice again?

    If you’re just trying to say Bush is a scumbag, well, no argument there. But that doesn’t prove anything about the personhood of blastocysts.

  5. 1. Libertarian except for stuff that benefits me. As per usual.

    2. False dichotomy. President Bush believes that embryos have value, but that this value is not the full equivalent of an already-born person’s value. This is something I agree with the president about. Similar (but not the same) as the way most people believe that animals have more metaphysical value than rocks, but less than humans. Duh.

    3. Why is this guy still the science writer here?

  6. Isn’t killing innocent people (actual people, even) in the hope of saving others…a basic premise of Bush’s “preventive war” strategy?

  7. speedwell, Democratic Underground is down the road, on the left.

  8. If he [Michael Sandel] does not want to invade Iraq, or prosecute Saddam Hussein for murder, this must mean that he does not really consider Iraqis as morally equivalent to American human beings after all.

    Is this a valid argument, Ron?

  9. crimethink: If you’re looking for RedState or LGF, follow Speedwell to the fork and take a right. Or, hell, take a left to DU, I don’t really care.

  10. Is Heaven Populated Chiefly with the Souls of Embryos?

    Don’t unbaptized babies go to hell?

  11. 3. Why is this guy still the science writer here?

    He’s usually pretty good on other issues, but he throws logic to the four winds when there’s a pro-life stance that needs bashing.

  12. Timothy –

    just realize that his, um, “views” aren’t based on his religion.

    Too bad. His grand dragon here in chicago almost met his maker over the weekend.

  13. Timothy,

    Do my views threaten you so? If you could show why they are false, I would be forced to depart the thread in shame, no?

  14. if he followed through and tried to ban the research all together he would be branded a fanatic unwilling to compromise.

    For some reason, I don’t think this figures into this particular president’s reasoning much…

  15. the first question is how do you measure “being” in order to prove anything about it?

  16. For a magazine called Reason, you guys really have a hard time separating the person from his argument…

  17. John,

    Bush is only hypocrtical here because he’s arguing the position that blastocysts are full human persons, and yet issues a policy far weaker than the protections he supports for actual full human persons.

    If he was arguing that blastocysts had some moral standing we were bound to respect, but that their standing is less than that of a human person, then his compromise would be consistent with his stated beliefs.

  18. dhex – being cannot not be. not being cannot be.

    did i tell you the time I threw an ENTIRE OAK TREE into the lake?

    oh. wait. was just an acorn.

    or: sum ergo cogito

    lol.

  19. I’ll be back at 1:00 EDT. By that time, you guys better have proven that the blastocyst isn’t a person, or I’ll have to go Dominican on this thread…

  20. yup. lotsa bubbles here. Just opened a tonic water. lotsa bubbles.

  21. crimethink: your views? No. Your utter douchebaggery? Well, that’s another matter entirely.

  22. Bush is only hypocrtical here because he’s arguing the position that blastocysts are full human persons, and yet issues a policy far weaker than the protections he supports for actual full human persons.

    That is not what he said.

    His words were “innocent human life.”

  23. Frankly, crimethink makes me miss Dan T. Man, that’s a fucking shame, isn’t it? Don’t you have an imaginary friend to bother or something, dude?

  24. Don’t unbaptized babies go to hell?

    It was Limbo, and not anymore. Bennie XVI says so.

  25. Dave W.,

    Terminology aside, Bush is arguing that a blastocyst has the full compliment of human rights, and that we are bound to respect those rights just as much as those of any person you pass on the street.

  26. Extracted fetus
    You had it coming, jerk face
    Teach you to implant.

  27. “Don’t unbaptized babies go to hell?”

    nope. on whole wheat with lettuce, onions, and tomato.

    (it’s called “the Living Sandwich”. And it’s a prime seller with a diet mountain dew and a bag of chips – lunch special for $5.99)

    (put your business card in this bin, and if drawn, you get to try to roll away boulders from cave #1, cave #2, or cave #3. if you can move it, you win a prize!)

  28. Freedom, schmeedom — I want my federal subsidies!

  29. Welcome back crimethink. Just what kind of evidence would persuade you that a blastocyst was not human person worthy of moral consideration?

    I am generally opposed to federal funding of research, but I am also opposed to what amounts to using religious tests for determining which research gets funded. Finally, I have tried (and obviously failed) to make a distinction that such federal bans “chill” even private research since it implies the future possibililty of criminalizing even private research.

  30. The cave is empty!
    Where has the dead guy gone to?
    Zombie Jesus Day!

  31. “The cave is empty!
    Where has the dead guy gone to?
    Zombie Jesus Day!”

    Tim wins the free lunch
    and r u four eighty six
    for everybody

  32. blastocyst is mad
    harvest me will you jerkoff?
    “shit it has a glock!”

  33. There is no free lunch
    VM does not understand
    Free market RULEX0RZ!

  34. dhex will have to
    Explain my chortling to
    The boss man later

  35. A Die Hard prequel
    Armed blastocyst, smart assed lines.
    I smell an Oscar.

  36. Tim has won the prize
    got to roll rock away. just
    melted chocolate there

    MATT DAMON was right
    demand kurv is immoral
    zog’s word trumps all thought

  37. blastocyst being?
    die hard five: prenatal sez
    “harvest this, fucker!”

  38. Joe, not an Oscar
    You smell rotting flesh
    Failed to freeze remains

  39. I’VE HAD IT WITH THESE MOTHERFUCKING BLASTOCYSTS ON THIS MOTHERFUCKING PLANE!!!

  40. Proof is crimethink’s job.
    Why are blastocysts people?
    First: define “person.”

  41. I hate to even bring this up, because it seems so obvious, but how does our President reconcile his opposition to “the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others” with his willingness to take innocent human life (say, Iraqi civilians) in hope of providing political benefits for others?

    I’m not saying that Bush is out there wantonly murdering Iraqi civilians, but in a war, civilian casualties are unavoidable. So what I’m wondering is, how to reconcile the two viewpoints? Does anybody have a moral calculus to support these two positions? I’m genuinely curious.

  42. ‘Timothy | April 9, 2007, 12:31pm | #
    Joe, not an Oscar
    You smell rotting flesh
    Failed to freeze remains”

    the carbon footprint
    of the deep freezer unit
    violates Al Gore

  43. Al Gore wears size 10
    His feet are not all that large
    Sort of surprising.

  44. Why so binary?
    Blastocysts are more than rock,
    but less than children.

  45. Grindhouse: Blastocyst
    fetus with machine gun leg
    free delivery

  46. Blastocysts do rock
    They play heavy metal sound
    Make GWAR look like sluts

  47. Because, Stuart L,
    You’re for us or against us.
    [“Us” means “blastocysts.”]

  48. A Die Hard prequel
    Armed blastocyst, smart assed lines.
    I smell an Oscar.

    No, make it a ‘Dome!
    “Two clumps of cells enter
    “One clump of cells leaves!”

  49. We the Blastocysts of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Fetus, establish life, insure progressive birthrates, provide infinite salty ham tears, promote the general population, and secure the straps of diapers to ourselves and our Posterior, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

  50. coke spoon is better
    when removing blastocysts
    than any pitchfork

  51. I have a sinking feeling that there is some sort of conspiracy between Bush and the blastocysts, and perhaps it is even somehow related to this strange and disturbing case:

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/29871

  52. Then get a lighter
    Behave like gold dust woman
    High on blastocyst

  53. Keith Richards and
    His blastocyst were so close
    He snorted it. Not.

  54. I am generally opposed to federal funding of research, but I am also opposed to what amounts to using religious tests for determining which research gets funded. Finally, I have tried (and obviously failed) to make a distinction that such federal bans “chill” even private research since it implies the future possibililty of criminalizing even private research.

    So you compromise
    Fed funds objection, due to
    Realpolitik?

    What then of “moral
    Inconsistency”? Or is
    Rule only for Bush?

  55. Just what kind of evidence would persuade you that a blastocyst was not human person worthy of moral consideration?

    What kind of evidence would persuade you that a one-week-old baby is not a human person worthy of moral consideration?

    Why is the burden of proof on me when it is you who is drawing the line separating person from non-person?

  56. Oh, for crying out loud, if PETA tries to ban the sale of clothing made out of dog fur, I don’t call it hypocrisy when they don’t simultaneously call for a ban on the sale of clothing made from the fur of less cute animals, like minks and chincillas.

    Besides which, a ban on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research is something that is clearly within the powers of Congress (i.e., control over federal spending), while a ban on all embryonic stem-cell research per se is something that only falls within Congress’s powers under the a strained reading of the Commerce Clause (though admittedly not more strained than the one employed in Gonzales v. Raich–but at least in that case it wasn’t Bush who had proposed enactment of the law in question (I thank “strict constructionist” Richard Nixon for that one)).

  57. Stevo,

    You’re forgetting the #1 rule of Reason: it’s OK to base decisions on any ideology, even if it’s not rationally justifiable, so long as the bearded guy in the sky doesn’t make an appearance.

    So, Mr Bailey’s decision that ESCR needs to be funded, based on his transhumanist ideology, is OK. Bush’s decision that ESCR should not be funded, based on his religious beliefs*, is not.

    * of course it can also be justified on non-religious grounds, but I don’t want to open up that can of worms again…

  58. I’ll play too. I’ll start with the dictionary:

    blastocyst – the modified blastula of a placental mammal.

    blastula – an early metazoan embryo typically having the form of a hollow fluid-filled rounded cavity bounded by a single layer of cells.

    metazoan – any of a group (Metazoa) that comprises all animals having the body composed of cells differentiated into tissues and organs and usu. a digestive cavity lined with specialized cells.

    I didn’t see the word human or person anywhere in those definitions.

    My arbitrary bright line of personhood is viability without reliance on the womb. This will undoubtedly get more murky as our Matrix like support systems make embryos viable at earlier and earlier developmental stages.

  59. Just what kind of evidence would persuade you that a blastocyst was not human person worthy of moral consideration?

    Mr. Bailey here challenges crimethink to apply the principle of falsifiability, which is traditionally used to test empirical propositions (e.g., the earth revolves around the sun), in order to test his moral proposition. This amounts to asking crimethink what kind of “is” will cause him to change his “ought.” As crimethink points out, by posing a counter-question, this doesn’t really work.

  60. let’s play the name game
    blastocyst, blastocyst, b–
    …harder than I thought

  61. science has thresholds
    it’s not a moral issue
    unless religious

    he spends too much time
    convincing us that he’s not.
    closed minded bigot

  62. If a person claims a position based upon biblical truth and compromises that position for political positioning, is that what the bible would call blaspheming the holy ghost?

    Isn’t religion supposed to be fanatical? I mean,if jesus really was the son of god, that God sacrificed to atone for everyone’s sin, is it really possible to be overzealous toward God? Shouldn’t christians be doing all they can to spread the Gospel so that all may come to Christ for salvation?

  63. Sauce for the gander,
    Seamus. crimethink asked for proof
    cell clumps are not folk.

  64. Dictionary is
    A tricky weapon to wield.
    I whip out my dic:

    mam?mal /[mam-uhl]
    -noun. Any vertebrate of the class Mammalia, having the body more or less covered with hair, nourishing the young with milk from the mammary glands, and, with the exception of the egg-laying monotremes, giving birth to live young.

    “Human” not mentioned
    In this broad definition.
    No mammals human?

  65. Y’all see Hellraiser?
    Fetus ugly, like Pinhead
    Good slasher villians

  66. Square is rectangle
    Rectangle is not a square
    Mammals have boobies.

  67. Why do you look for reason and consistency in Bush? Haven’t we given up on that long ago?

    Bush is an imbecile. A convenient puppet.

    Now, who is pulling his strings?

  68. and tasty with wine
    a nice cabernet will do
    depends on how cooked.

  69. I oppose federal funding for damn near everything, including stem cell research.

    Not because it’s “immoral” but because its not the federal governments job.

  70. mammals have boobies
    so says Timothy the Wise.
    I’ll be in my bunk!

    sorry for double
    premature postulation
    not from bating, tho.

  71. Friends, disagreement
    Pains me. But if I fake thoughts,
    I’m unworthy friend.

    I hope this debate
    Leads not to loss of respect.
    I promise I won’t.

  72. Baiting can be fun
    But I don’t really like fish much
    My food used to walk.

  73. Mister Darkly, sir
    You are respectful and kind
    Crimethink is the dick.

  74. 1. Argument from dictionary is a form of argument from authority, and thus invalid.

    2. Not all blastocysts are human. There are chimp blastocysts, dog blastocysts, ferret blastocysts, etc. Only the ones produced from human reproductive cells are human.

  75. And then there are crimethink blastocysts, lowest among them.

  76. Stevo is very
    kind, decent, and respectful
    Timothy: Concur!

    baitin is not same.
    batin only in own bunk
    per judge’s order

  77. Websters collegiate dictionary

    embryo-1. an animal in the earliest stages of its development in the uterus: the human organism in the first three months after conception is called an embryo, thereafter a fetus.

    human-1.of or characteristic of a person or persons: such as people have. n. a person: usually human being.

    organism-n 1. any living thing

  78. “Rectangle” includes
    More than rectang’s that are squares.
    Just as I argued

    “Blastocyst” includes
    More than just human blastos.
    That’s just what I meant.

  79. If this discussion were about me being a dick, Timothy would be on the right track.

  80. Dictionary, WHOO!
    Words and pictures for us too
    this is a haiku!

  81. Stevo Darkly rocks!
    want to form rock n roll band
    with Stevo on lead!

  82. Oops, crimethink made the point I just put up
    I’m inclined to fuck this; I can’t keep up.

  83. I apologize
    for making this about dicks
    Wait, no I do not.

  84. And then there are crimethink blastocysts, lowest among them.

    Probably not, seeing as the activity that leads to blastocyst creation has never been partaken in by crimethink.

  85. Darkly would be great
    what should he name his sweet band?
    Stevo and the Jets*?

    *Where Jets=hot chicks with cellphones set to vibrate.

  86. Have you seen ed’s thought
    interesting idea hier
    might solve our problems

    Band is really sweet
    Mr. Crane will sing back up
    with Noam Blow Up Doll!

  87. What makes blastocysts
    more “human” than pints of blood?
    Both are human cells.

  88. Crimethink is virgin
    That explains his attitude
    Needs nice CR girl.

  89. If he [Bush} does not want to ban embryonic stem cell research, or prosecute stem cell scientists for murder, or ban fertility clinics from creating and discarding excess embryos, this must mean that he does not really consider human embryos as morally equivalent to fully developed human beings after all.

    But if he doesn’t believe that embryos are persons, then why ban federally funded embryonic stem cell research that holds promise for curing diseases and saving lives?

    I don’t see that Bush is being self-contradictory. It seems that the horns of this dilemma become less menacing when you consider that Bush need not consider embryos to be the full moral equivalent of human children in order to take his position of banning federal funding of stem-cell research. Embryos are, in Bush’s view, merely “innocent” and “human.” I don’t like his stance, but his position seems, in effect, to be a compromise resulting from an acknowledgment of the great disparity of opinion on the issue of the status of embryos. Since there are so many people that object to the practice, they shouldn’t be forced to pay for it (he is saying), even though they (and he) might be mistaken in their objections.

    Now if he would only apply this logic to the war.

  90. Argument from dictionary is a form of argument from authority, and thus invalid.

    Says who?

  91. Dave W.

    I get your point, but doesn’t Bush’s position seem a little like Pilate washing his hands?

  92. With the faster couplets on this thread I think I’ll stick
    Crimethink can be prickLY; I don’t think he’s really such a prick

    I’ll probably withdraw now, if you don’t mind
    To me you all are literally too kind.

    I’ll watch crimethink do the dirty work, while I just snark
    As other clumps of human cells trade bite and bark

  93. Ethan,

    Heh, good point!

    I guess it’s just a principle of rational argumentation that an argument’s truth value cannot depend on the one making it. If one accepts this, then claiming that Y is true because X says so, is not a valid argument.

  94. That’s also the principle behind the ad hominem being a fallacious form of argument.

  95. Mister Steveo I’m with you
    This thread will go nowhere, thus I am through

    There’s little point in arguing such things
    They’re axiomatic, like birds having wings.

  96. …which some posters and Reason staff seem to overlook from time to time.

  97. That’s also the principle behind the ad hominem being a fallacious form of argument.

    Yeah, well you *would* say that, wouldn’t you?

  98. Why is the burden of proof on me when it is you who is drawing the line separating person from non-person?

    Your dismissal was that this is an argument from authority is lame. A definition is where one must start. Your definition of person includes these blastocysts. What is your basis?

  99. I get your point, but doesn’t Bush’s position seem a little like Pilate washing his hands?

    Actually to me it seems more like having the President of Iran or Hugo Chavez say stuff that you agree with, and then you cringe because of who’s mouth the words are coming from.

    It would be like if Celine Dion liked my band, or Rose Bird liked my patent blog.

  100. I’m not saying that Bush is out :there wantonly murdering Iraqi civilians, but in a war, civilian casualties are unavoidable. So what I’m wondering is, how to reconcile the two viewpoints? Does anybody have a moral calculus to support these two positions? I’m genuinely curious.

    I would have thought it fairly obvious that the difference is the one between deliberately and directly causing a death and causing a death indirectly, as a foreseen but unintended side effect of some other action that is morally licit in itself. The most fanatical pro-lifer finds it morally licit for a pregnant woman with cancer to undergo radiation and chemotherapy treatment, even if she foresees that the treatment is likely to kill her unborn child as well as the cancer cells.

    Indeed, Catholic moral philosophy teaches that it is even licit to remove a diseased uterus, even from a pregnant woman, because the intention is not to kill the unborn child. See, e.g., this discussion of the case of St. Gianna Beretta Molla: “Considering the dangers, she could have chosen to have her uterus removed (hysterectomy) in order to remove the fibroid from her body. This would be a fairly low-risk approach for her situation. It would result, however, in the death of her 2 month old fetus, and preclude the possibility of future pregnancies. Based on the particulars of her case, this option would not have been morally problematic; Catholic moralists have analyzed cases of this sort under the Principle of Double Effect. Such an intervention is directed towards saving the life of the mother by removing the cancerous uterus (which has the undesired effect of ending the life of the unborn child). Morally, such a case would be properly considered under the aspect of a hysterectomy, not under the rubric of elective abortion.”

    (Source: http://www.saintgianna.org/medicalcircum.htm)

  101. crimethink: I didn’t put the burden of proof on you. I just asked you what kind of evidence would would persuade you that a blastocyst was not human person worthy of moral consideration? If you can’t think of any sort of evidence then there is no use the two of us arguing further. You think I’m wrong for what you believe to be good and sufficient reasons, and I think that you are wrong for what I believe to be good and sufficient reasons.

    BTW, I hope you were not hinting that I have engaged in ad hominem arguments with you.

  102. Crimethink writes I guess it’s just a principle of rational argumentation that an argument’s truth value cannot depend on the one making it. If one accepts this, then claiming that Y is true because X says so, is not a valid argument.

    Actually, an appeal to an authority figure can, and often is, a perfectly acceptable form of reasoning (look it up). The Fallacy of Appeal to Inappropriate Authority occurs when either of the following occurs: (1) the authority to whom you appeal is not an authority with respect to the specific question at issue, or (2) there exists disagreement among the mainstream experts with respect to the specific question at issue. If neither of these obtain, then an appeal to authority is a perfectly rational form of reasoning. Think about it: how do we know things about which we are not experts? By looking to see what the experts say. If you and I are wondering whether we may conclude that “X” is true, it is obviously relevant to go and see what the X-perts say (ha ha).

    I taught critical thinking for a few years, so you can accept what I am saying as true.

  103. Ethan,

    I was about to point that out, so thanks for all that work. 🙂

  104. Wouldn’t a ban on destroying embryos probably be regarded as running afoul of Roe vs. Wade? (Not that Bush supports Roe, but he has to work with the law as it is.)

  105. Wouldn’t a ban on destroying embryos probably be regarded as running afoul of Roe vs. Wade?

    Only if conducting research on embryonic stem cells is a method of terminating a pregnancy.

  106. BTW, I hope you were not hinting that I have engaged in ad hominem arguments with you.

    Possibly ad blastonem, though.

  107. Every blastocyst is sacred…

  108. Alas, I’m too late
    The haiku jihad dissolves
    And I have missed it

  109. Chocolate Jesus drinks
    liquid blastocyst on ice
    but from muslim kids

  110. Actually, an appeal to an authority figure is a bit Freudian, if you know what I mean.

    [sigh…]

    Regardless of the expertise of the authority, such authority’s merely asserting X is not proof that X is true. That, and only that is the sense in which the appeal is an informal fallacy. (Obviously it’s a formal fallacy — “A believes X; therefore, X” clearly is not formally valid.) Yeah, sure, it’s a splendid reason for believing that X probably is true, and yadda, yadda, but that ain’t quite the same thing.

  111. D.A. Ridgely,

    No, it would be Freudian if it were an appeal to a father figure. Or Burkean. Take your pick.

  112. DAR,

    Though the best part about Burke is him describing the English as being like cows chewing their cud. 😉

  113. Most homicides are not against federal law.

  114. DAR,

    And of course Burke meant that as compliment! But I digress.

  115. I just asked you what kind of evidence would would persuade you that a blastocyst was not human person worthy of moral consideration?

    Asking for “evidence” on a metaphysical question?! Why is this guy still the science writer here?

  116. Asking for “evidence” on a metaphysical question?! Why is this guy still the science writer here?

    It’s actually a moral question rather than a metaphysical one. But as I noted earlier, Mr. Bailey seems to have forgotten his undergraduate philosophy education, or else he wouldn’t be asking crimethink to derive an ought from an is.

  117. Regardless of the expertise of the authority, such authority’s merely asserting X is not proof that X is true. That, and only that is the sense in which the appeal is an informal fallacy.

    That’s simply not true. The informal fallacy is as I described it above (3:03 p.m.). Google “fallacy of appeal to authority” if you’d like. Or perhaps try http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-authority.html It has a pretty good explanation of the informal fallacy.

    Yeah, sure, it’s a splendid reason for believing that X probably is true, and yadda, yadda, but that ain’t quite the same thing.

    Well, if it’s a “splendid reason,” how can it be fallacious?

  118. Ethan,

    It is true that an appeal to authority is a convenient substitute for one’s own careful consideration of a question. For instance, if someone were to ask me what the ratio of the mass of a proton to that of an electron was, I would tell them 1836. I haven’t ever “weighed” electrons or protons, so I can only be asserting that based on the authority of those who have told me so. I don’t have the time, resources, or inclination to test every scientific question for myself.

    However, when in doubt, the question of what that ratio is must ultimately be settled by directly measuring it, not by parroting the received wisdom. The latter road is what led the Catholic Church into its past attempts to squelch science in the name of preserving Aristotle’s authority, and as a Catholic I’m the first to discourage going down that road.

  119. Or perhaps try http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-authority.html It has a pretty good explanation of the informal fallacy.

    Well, since Nizkor isn’t an expert on logical fallacies, I think we can safely reject this appeal to authority.

  120. Seamus,

    Well, I’ll appeal to authority and state that the way Ethan is describing the matter was what I was taught.

  121. From Wikipedia, a questionable authority:

    There are exceptions to the idea that appeal to authority is a fallacy, however. There are two basic forms of appeal to authority, based on the authority being trusted. The more relevant the expertise of an authority, the more compelling the argument. The only case in which an appeal to authority definitely proves the claim to be factual is when the authority cited is an absolute authority.

    I would agree with this statement; in the question at hand (the personhood of blastocysts) it’s hard to think of a non-supernatural absolute authority that a valid appeal could be made to. A dictionary would definitely not qualify.

    Do Grotius, Ethan, etc, disagree with the above statement?

  122. Yeah, since that is essentially what Ethan wrote.

  123. Um…no he didn’t.

  124. Crimethink,
    You have finally answered Ron Bailey’s question – the only evidence you will accept would have to come from God.

    Had you honestly admitted that as your original premise, we would have saved a lot of time. I’ll know better next time.

  125. The whole discussion of the validity of the appeal to authority in this context is a little silly. The problem with Tbone’s argument isn’t that he was citing the dictionary, it’s that he was citing dictionary definitions in ways that failed to engage the arguments he was purporting to refute. No one on the anti-ESCR side thinks there’s a moral problem with research involving blastocysts *generally*; they only find a moral problem with research involving *human* blastocysts. Tbone will have a hard time finding a dictionary definition of “human blastocyst” or “human blastola” that excludes the word “human” in such a way as to permit him to draw conclusions of the sort he’d like to draw.

  126. Seamus,

    By using the term “play” I assumed that there was some irony involved in Tbone’s statement.

  127. You have finally answered Ron Bailey’s question – the only evidence you will accept would have to come from God.

    Crimethink wasn’t answering a question about evidence; he was answering a question about authority. There is a difference, you know.

    Moreover, as I pointed out, by raising the question of evidence at all, Mr. Bailey is trying to suggest that one can derive an ought from an is. There are, however, means other than evidence or authority that can lead someone like crimethink to change his moral opinions. One of them, I would imagine, is logic. Thus, for example, if one could demonstrate to crimethink that his views on the moral status of a blastocyst were inconsistent with other views he holds, then either crimethink would revise his opinions one one or the other point, or he could be dismissed (as Mr. Bailey prematurely attempted to do so at 2:56 pm) as a person not worth arguing with.

  128. Seamus,

    I am perfectly comfortable arguing or drawing conclusions about human blastocysts provided human is used in the proper context, as an adjective, not as a noun.

  129. I meant to italicize the quotation in the first paragraph of my 4:45 pm post. Sorry about that.

  130. I am perfectly comfortable arguing or drawing conclusions about human blastocysts provided human is used in the proper context, as an adjective, not as a noun.

    I await eagerly your argument using the dictionary to prove that a human blastocyst is not a human being. (Note the use of “human” in both places “as an adjective, not as a noun.”)

  131. Back to the original discussion, I must say I disagree slightly with Dave W and Seamus about the possibility of “evidence” for a moral proposition. While empirical knowledge cannot prove or disprove the validity of moral principles, it can inform their application.

    For instance, abortion proponents often note that medieval Church authorities didn’t consider abortion before “quickening” to be murder, citing this as evidence that the Church hasn’t always opposed early abortions. However, this ignores the fact that until the 1700s pregnancy was essentially a “black box” process; something that was clearly not a human being (semen) went in, and a baby came out a while later. There was no way to know that a human being was present inside the mother until it started kicking, and since early abortions/miscarriages produced only a bloody clump, it must have seemed reasonable to believe that the thing inside the mother was closer to semen than a baby.

    However, when the process of conception and early development was better understood in the 1700s, it became clear that conception produced a totally different entity from semen. Thus, the application of Church teaching on abortion was updated to take into account that from conception on, the unborn entity is a distinct human being from the mother and the father’s semen.

  132. Tbone,

    You might recall that a little over a month ago crimethink claimed that the “income tax” (by which he presumably means the 16th Amendment) was instituted so as to pay for WWI. Keep in mind that the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1913 (after being out in the states for some time*), whereas WWI started in 1914 and the U.S. did not become involved in that war until 1917.

    I have to ask, where does this myth about the federal income tax arise from?

    Crimethink’s language:

    It’s also responsible for the income tax — originally a temporary measure to force the wealthy to fund WW1…

    *The notion of an income tax had been fermenting in Republican circles since the 1890s and many wealthy people perferred it over a tax structure which relied primarily on taxes on businesses, corporations, etc.

  133. Er, the 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913.

  134. My comments on appeals to authority concerned appeals to authority generally–I was merely correcting CT’s claims about appeals to authority. Whether in this particular case an inappropriate appeal to authority has been made I haven’t submitted an opinion. It strikes me, though, that in the case of moral questions there is often no authority to appeal to nonfallaciously (in that there is always disagreement among the experts on such questions).

    I agree that an appeal to authority can only be as strong as the expertise of the authority appealed to, and that there probably is no authority to appeal to in the case of the question of the personhood of blastocysts.

    Well, since Nizkor isn’t an expert on logical fallacies, I think we can safely reject this appeal to authority.

    Seamus, the authority I was appealing to was my own. The explanation in the link is accurate. I wasn’t appealing to Nizkor’s authority; rather, my expertise in the area allowed me to see that it was accurate.

  135. crimethink,

    …it became clear that conception produced a totally different entity from semen.

    How did this become “clear?”

  136. Uh, Grotius, may I ask what that has to do with anything?

  137. My 4:59 post was referring to your 16th ammendment post, Gro.

  138. Grotius, are you claiming that the product of conception is not a different entity from semen?

  139. I understand the difference between an argument from authority and evidence. What I haven’t seen is any response from crimethink. He challenged the notion that blastocyst are not persons ignoring an argument from authority to that end but offers no counterpoint. He further defends this dismissal by stating there is no credible non-supernatural absolute authority to properly judge.

    So is that it crimethink?

  140. Moreover, as I pointed out, by raising the question of evidence at all, Mr. Bailey is trying to suggest that one can derive an ought from an is.

    Thanks for explaining this. Not knowing much about philosophy, I was confused by your earlier reference to it, as well as by other people referencing this bit in other discussions. I think I get it now.

  141. crimethink,

    I’m not the one making noises about “not … parroting the received wisdom.”

  142. I’m not in the mood for another holy war over abortion here. My purpose in this thread was merely to show that the attacks of the anti-blastocyst types are without merit — which I think we can all agree I’ve done handily. Pulling the weeds before the planting begins, and stuff.

  143. I await eagerly your argument using the dictionary to prove that a human blastocyst is not a human being. (Note the use of “human” in both places “as an adjective, not as a noun.”)

    Human – of, relating to, or charaterstic of man.

    As used in a sentence: Human blastocysts are an organized form of human cells that, under the proper conditions, have the potential to become a human being.

  144. I’m still looking for an explanation of why a blastocyst is morally different from, say, a heart that’s been removed from a donor. They’re both collections of human cells that can’t survive on their own; and properly installed into a human host, both sets of cells are capable of going on living and reproducing (and dying), all while consuming some of the host body’s resources.

  145. crimethink,

    Grotius, are you claiming that the product of conception is not a different entity from semen?

    No I’m stating that it is a distinction without difference. Sperm and blastocyst are morally identical entities.

  146. crimethink,

    Anyway, I am curious where you got the idea that 16th Amendment was instituted to pay for WWI. I see this myth pop up from time to time and I wonder what its genesis is.

  147. I’m still looking for an explanation of why a blastocyst is morally different from, say, a heart that’s been removed from a donor. They’re both collections of human cells that can’t survive on their own; and properly installed into a human host, both sets of cells are capable of going on living and reproducing (and dying), all while consuming some of the host body’s resources.

    So is an infant.

  148. Dave W. & Seamus: I am not trying to derive an is from an ought. As crimethink reasonably points out scientific evidence can and does bear materially on ought questions on ocassion. The Roman Catholic Church changed its stance on abortion in light of scientific evidence concerning conception. For example, in 1779, Lazarro Spallanzani described the process of conception (using dog and frog eggs) for the first time. My hope is that scientific details such as the fact that up 70% of naturally conceived embryos will have some effect on how other people think about how morally important embryos are in the scheme of things. After all, all people were once embryos, but not all (in a minority) embryos become people.

    If I believed embryos are (an “is”) people, then I would also believe that they ought to be protected from destruction. But that’s not what I believe and I cite scientific evidence that distinguishes embryos from beings that I do regard as people. So what would convince crimethink that embryos are not people, and thus ought not be protected?

  149. that up to 70% of naturally conceived embryos disppear in the menstrual flow of women without ever having been registered as existing ….

    Sorry for the truncated comment above.

  150. Human – of, relating to, or charaterstic of man.

    As used in a sentence: Human blastocysts are an organized form of human cells that, under the proper conditions, have the potential to become a human being.

    You call that an argument? That use of “human” in a sentence is, at best, a demonstration that it is possible for a person who denies a human blastocyst the status of a human being to use the word in a way that conforms with that opinion. I think we all knew that already.

  151. So what would convince crimethink that embryos are not people, and thus ought not be protected?

    It may be risky for me to speak for crimethink, but I suspect he would be convinced if you could show him that embryos were not the product of conception from the union of human gametes.

    So what evidence would suffice to convince you that *you* were not a human person worthy of the protection of the law?

  152. Dave W.,

    Neither a human heart nor a human blastocyst has a brain, or a consciousness, etc.

  153. Seamus: If I were to suffer whole brain death, please turn off the respirator. BTW, embryos don’t have brains.

  154. that up to 70% of naturally conceived embryos disppear in the menstrual flow of women without ever having been registered as existing ….

    BTW, this fact convinced me respect embryos less than I used to. I almost mentioned that above when stroking Seamus.

    However, I would hesitate not term this as “evidence.” “Evidence” implies scientific and/or legal methodologies that are simply not applicable in the moral realm.

    If you could come up with evidence that the embryo was not the thing that grew into the human person, and also not necessary or helpful for this growth, then I think that would convince crimethink that it has the zero metaphysical value that you want to accord it. Got anything like that, evidence-wise?

  155. Seamus,

    You asked for a dictionary-based response. I use the term “human” consistent with its commonly understood definition of relating to man. You are using it in a context that connotes personhood. My sentence was not an argument, just a statement.

    My argument – that a blastocyst does not a human make – would be based on nonviability outside the host.

  156. Neither a human heart nor a human blastocyst has a brain, or a consciousness, etc.

    Okay. An unconscious infant then.

  157. You asked for a dictionary-based response.

    No, actually, I asked for an argument. At least, that’s what I take the words “I await eagerly your argument using the dictionary to prove,” etc., to mean. I guess I wasn’t aware of the definition of “argument” that means “not an argument, just a statement.”

    Guess I need to get a new dictionary.

  158. Please respond to this argument then. Blastocysts are nonviable, therefore not a human being.

  159. That’s not an argument, it’s contradiction.

    No it isn’t!

  160. Tbone, that’s not an argument, it’s an assertion. You haven’t offered any evidence to convince us (besides your authority, if any).

  161. If I were to suffer whole brain death, please turn off the respirator. BTW, embryos don’t have brains.

    When a fully-developed human is without brain function, there is no known way to regain it. If there were such a way, you might want to reconsider your DNR.

    However, for a blastocyst, it is possible to develop brain function despite the fact that it has no brain.

  162. that up to 70% of naturally conceived embryos disppear in the menstrual flow of women without ever having been registered as existing ….

    Right Ron, and since I don’t even notice the millions of African kids shitting themselves to death each year due to lack of sanitation, that must mean they’re not persons either. If I don’t grieve for someone, they must not be that important.

  163. crimethink,

    Yeah, its possible, but that possibility doesn’t make it a human being anymore than the results of a wet dream are a human being.

  164. My argument is a blastocyst is not a person – by definition. This is an argument from authority (Websters); it holds the same footing as the argument that an apple pie is not a Volvo – by definition. You have offered no counterargument. And until you do, I am done.

  165. Anyway the “possibility argument” suffers from a serious flaw: where does one stop? One could justify a dozen or more areas where one creates a dividing line but they all ultimately look rather arbitrary.

  166. Let’s do a hypothetical.

    Say I created a creature which looks like a human being, has all the internal organs of one, etc. except for one: it lacks a brain. (Leave aside for now the moral aspects of me creating such a creature.)

    Would such a creature be a human being?

  167. Let’s also add a twist to the hypo: say I could add a brain to the creature at any time. Would it be a human then (even before I added the brain)?

  168. I got one here for you, Grotius.

  169. If human embryonic stem cell research is so important can not the funding come from the private sector? Why does the gov have to involved at all? Something is fishy here. If the only way to get this reseach funded is from stealing the money from the people by way of taxes then I would have to say it is not worth it. Let the market decide and leave gov out of it.

  170. Ethan, an appeal to one’s own authority to argue the nature of appeals to authority is almost thrilling in its boldness. I applaud you.

    Mr. Bailey is correct in noting that facts are relevant to moral judgments. If I recall correctly, however, it is not the mere possession of a brain that he considers morally sufficient, since both animals and, for that matter, later stage human fetuses have them, too. In any case, the better question, really, is not what evidence he or others would require to change their minds but why this piece of evidence or that, as the case may be, is deemed morally significant to them. There, really, is where the is / ought nexus is most perplexing.

  171. Political comprimises are rarely logically consistent. That’s all there is to it.

  172. DAR,

    If I understand you two correctly you and Mr. Bailey are actually wrong (in most cases). People as a rule apply “facts” to the moral positions they have already adopted. Which is why new facts, even of the damning variety, are so often easily discounted.

  173. DAR,

    So really the facts don’t matter much; what matters is why the person adopted the position in the first place.

  174. My opinion of the beginning of personhood, after leaving the Catholic Church, has always centered around the development of the human brain in the fetus. Whether he is viable outside Mom or not, once the kid’s brain is sufficiently developed so that it is more like an infant than a clump of goo, we ought to seriously consider protecting it. Prior to any such development it is similar to a fully braindead adult.

    The trick, of course, is determining when to draw that bright line. This isn’t a problem for those who think that their god “ensouls” newly fertilized ova before any cell division takes place.

    Kevin

  175. kevrob,

    I’d say that the vast majority of those who have problems with ESCR fall into the “ensouls” category.

  176. kevrob, there is no bright line. Wishing for one won’t make it so. Good arguments can be made for anything from conception to drawing the first breath or saying the first word.

    Grotius, if you have to draw a line, conception is clearly one of the best. No ensoulment required. Choosing a later point is a cost benefit analysis: “Well, it isn’t very much like what I consider human, and the benefits for me are high.”

  177. stuartl,

    Why is it one of the best again? Because there is no cost-benefit analysis involved? I beg to differ – that period is just as amenable to cost-benefit analysis as any other period in the human reproductive cycle.

  178. Grotius, you are correct, my wording was poor. I meant that prior to conception there is no cost, so no analysis is required. Nonetheless, if a line must be drawn, conception is as good (or better) then embrainment or enbreathment. It doesn’t take religion to see that it is a convenient spot.

  179. stuartl,

    It doesn’t take religion to see that one of the most convenient periods to end a pregnancy is right after conception. No fuss, etc. It is certainly far easier to deal with the issue at that time than say two or three months later.

  180. Doesn’t the Bible say, or at least heavily imply, that “humanness” begins at birth? Our “spririt” begins with our first “breath”?
    Too bad the Bible is irrelevant in this matter, because I kinda like that idea, even though I am a devout atheist.

    I see the difference between a blastocyst (or a fingernail or a heart or whatever) and a human (in the moral sense) like this: the blastocyst lacks the properties that cause us to consider humans to be worthy of moral consideration. It isn’t the case that humans have value merely by virtue of being humans; rather, they have value (i would say) because of what they are capable of (in general), their mental properties, their ability to suffer, etc. We don’t say, “Don’t kill that man! He is made of DNA!” Rather, we might say, “Don’t kill him! He has a wife and kids, he values his life, he has a desire to live, he will feel great physical pain and mental anguish, etc.” The blastocyst lacks all of these properties.

    And before you say, “well, what about infants?” note that I would contend that infants have a great many of the relevant properties, and so our moral duties to infants are far greater than our duties to blastocysts (to which I think we have none). I would also say that our duties towards infants are not as great as our duties to children and adults.

    It is for these reasons that we flush fish down the toilet when they die but often give dogs and cats a full burial.

  181. “People as a rule apply “facts” to the moral positions they have already adopted. Which is why new facts, even of the damning variety, are so often easily discounted.”

    QFT!!!!!

  182. that up to 70% of naturally conceived embryos disppear in the menstrual flow of women without ever having been registered as existing ….

    Further thought on this: if they were harvesting all the medical research embryos directly from expelled menstrual blood, I doubt this would be such a controversial issue.

  183. VM,

    QFT?

    Anyway, I’m big on the whole limitations to human reason these days. One has to delicately balance praising humans while admitting our limitations.

  184. quoted for truth.

    Considering many of the discussions that have simmered here, there are lots of examples of exactly that!

    I liked how smoothly you put it!

  185. It doesn’t take religion to see that one of the most convenient periods to end a pregnancy is right after conception.

    It also doesn’t take much to see that the most convenient period to end a pregnancy is before it begins, ie, either using contraceptives or abstaining from sex altogether.

    But we can’t do without an insurance policy for people who want consequence-free sex, can we?

  186. Ron,

    Since ‘people’ is a morally charged term, it’s highly doubtful that you can empirically and scientifically settle the question whether blastocysts count as people. All you can do is gather the facts about blastocysts and then bring moral reasoning to bear on these facts.

    crimethink,

    No one needs to claim that if you don’t grieve over something’s death, then the thing has no moral standing and it’s morally okay to kill it. That’s implausible, as you’ve pointed out. But what’s far more plausible is this: if it makes no sense at all to grieve over something’s death, then the thing has no moral standing and it’s morally okay to kill it.

    So let’s look at some cases and ask whether it makes any sense to grieve over its death. Your mother? Obviously yes. A starving African child? Sure, it’s sad to think of its death and if you cry a little at the thought, then that makes complete sense. A housefly? No, that would be stupid. A tadpole? No, of course not. A blastocyst? No, that seems totally misplaced and senseless.

    I suspect most of us here have these reactions. Maybe you don’t share these reactions — if you’re consistent, then I suspect you won’t share them. But if you do, then you should probably conclude that blastocysts don’t have any moral standing and that it’s morally okay to kill them.

  187. Wow, this thread isn’t dead yet. In that case:

    Please respond to this argument then. Blastocysts are nonviable, therefore not a human being.

    A very easy response is that this isn’t even a valid syllogism. It would be one if you added a major premise, to the effect that “no nonviable thing is a human being.” Of course, if you did that, I’d have to point out that it’s far from evident that the premiss is a true statement.

  188. (I really had intended to use a single spelling for “premise” (or “premiss,” if you prefer). I will appeal to authority and note that the dictionary lists both.)

  189. Seamus: If I were to suffer whole brain death, please turn off the respirator. BTW, embryos don’t have brains.

    This doesn’t qualify as an answer to my question of “what evidence would suffice to convince you that *you* were not [i.e., at present] a human person worthy of the protection of the law.” It is rather, an answer to a different question, that of “what are the circumstances that could occur to you that would cause you to cease to be a person worthy of the protection of the law?” That’s cool, but I presume that your concept of “whole brain death” includes irreversibility; that is, if what appeared to be brain death was in fact a temporary condition, and your brain could start functioning again within an hour, a month, or even up to nine months, that you would not say that this was a case of “whole brain death,” nor would you conclude that you were no longer entitled to the protection of the law. (You might decide that, if you were not going to regain consciousness for nine months, you’d like the plug pulled, but that’s a far cry from concluding that others would have the right to off you notwithstanding your wishes, the way they would if they were dealing with a dead body.)

    Conversely, I think crimethink would agree that if a blastocyst could be shown that a blastocyst was “dead,” under whatever definition of death might be applicable to such a creature, then he would have no problem with conducting research on that entity (or no more problem than he would about research on your brain dead corpse).

    (So yeah, I guess I have to concede that there are certain kinds of evidence that can lead to changed moral conclusions, but that’s only because of moral principles we have that are not dependent on empirical facts, but that dictate what moral significance we attach to different facts about which evidence has been presented.)

  190. No one needs to claim that if you don’t grieve over something’s death, then the thing has no moral standing and it’s morally okay to kill it. That’s implausible, as you’ve pointed out. But what’s far more plausible is this: if it makes no sense at all to grieve over something’s death, then the thing has no moral standing and it’s morally okay to kill it.

    Isn’t “It makes no sense at all to grieve over something’s death” highly subject — and worse, doesn’t it still place the locus of the entity’s moral standing in the emotional reactions of others rather than in the nature of the thing itself? I don’t see how how that’s different from “Your entitlement to human rights depends on whether you provoke a suitable emotional reaction from external parties” which strikes me as a bizarre argument.

    As it happens, I do know a couple that grieved when the wife suffered an early miscarriage/spontaneous abortion. I don’t have details or firsthand experience with such situations, but the husband reported that the thing was “literally a clump of cells.” Nevertheless they grieved as if they’d lost a child, and their nurse sent them a sympathy (funeral-type) card, which they appreciated.

    They were not a couple of Bible-thumping pro-life whackaloons, either — as it happens, they were both agnostic, and also pro-choice. However, they recognized the existence of a human individual begins at conception as a biological fact. The husband articulated his pro-choice stance in what I thought was a very memorable way:

    “When I was with the Rangers in Vietnam, I was partly or entirely responsible for terminating several full-grown fetuses. I took no joy in this, but it had to be done. I don’t regret it either, because it had to be done. Sometimes ending another human being’s life is the least bad option available to you. But we should at least own up to what it is we’re doing, rather than be all mealy-mouthed about it and call it ‘a clump of cells, nothing more.’ ”

    I don’t agree entirely with his stance, but it’s one I can respect.

  191. “highly subject” = “highly subjective”

  192. Stevo:

    You write that the matter of a thing’s being worthy of grief is subjective. But if this is subjective, then (as far I can see) so too is the related matter of having a moral right to life. If you want to insist that all morality is subjective, then that’s not quite to the point when discussing a moral issue. If you think the question of the appropriateness of moral emotions is especially badly off (especially subjective), then I simply don’t see why.

    “Your entitlement to human rights depends on whether you provoke a suitable emotional reaction from external parties” is plainly different from “Your entitlement to human rights depends on whether you warrant a suitable emotional reaction from external parties”. The latter depends on the nature of the thing in question just as much as human rights ever did.

    I suspect that, in the cases you mention, grief over the spontaneous abortion was due to the missing out on a family, and not due to the tragic and all-too-early death of a being with full moral standing. Of course, if it was the latter, then I’ll continue to say (presuming that most are with me on this) that the grief is misplaced.

    I agree that it’s mealy-mouthed to deny or downplay the moral equivalence of a late-term fetus and a newborn infant. But it’s quite another matter — and there’s nothing mealy-mouthed about it — to deny moral standing to a zygote or a blastocyst or a newly implanted embryo. (I mean, there’s no bright line between child and adult, but it would still be ridiculous to treat a toddler like an adult.)

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