The Bioethics Vote

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Uber-bioethicist, Arthur Caplan has an insightful column about how voters thoroughly repudiated bioconservativism in this election: 

The state of Michigan passed Proposal 2, loosening restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. This means that in Michigan — whose universities such as Michigan State in East Lansing are major biomedical research powerhouses — scientists will be able to use the excess embryos created at in-vitro fertility clinics as a source of stem cells for research, as long as they have the written consent of the parents who sought treatment…

One of the main arguments against embryonic stem cell research is that all embryos are persons from the moment of conception. The voters of Colorado were given the chance to put that view into law with the proposed Amendment 48. The so-called "Personhood Amendment" sought to define fertilized eggs as human beings, extending them constitutional rights. Coloradoans defeated this amendment by a margin of three to one…

In South Dakota a measure that would have banned abortions — except in cases of rape, incest and serious health threat to the mother — also lost. An even tougher version, without the rape and incest exceptions, was defeated two years ago. The 2008 initiative went down to a resounding defeat of 55 percent to 45 percent…

And even medical marijuana:

Michigan became the 13th state to enact an amendment legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes. Proposal 1 passed by a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent. It allows patients with "debilitating medical conditions" to register with the state and, with the permission of a physician, legally buy, grow and use small amounts of marijuana to relieve pain, nausea and appetite loss, among other symptoms. Massachusetts decriminalized possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, shifting the penalty to a $100 fine. 

Whole Caplan column is well worth reading here

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  1. Interesting move, to decriminalize pot possession in MA and reduce penalty to a parking-ticket-like fine. When the government needs more money, it just trawls through the neighborhoods, looking for obvious pot-smokers (who will probably become more obvious now that their drug of choice has been “decriminalized”).

    In essence, the fine has become an inconsistently levied “stoner tax.” I hope the next step (motivated by revenue needs, surely) will be to eliminate the fine and the “offense” altogether and simply tax the stuff upfront — no doubt at a lower rate that guarantees more compliance and maximizes revenue.

    Is there some kind of federal “gotcha,” whereby the States must at least maintain anti-pot laws on the books as finable infractions, in order to receive federal money (such as law enforcement grants for such things as CAMP flyovers, etc.?)?

  2. The term “bioconservatism” seems contrived and contradictory in the context Bailey uses it.The Caplan link fails to define it as he doesn’t use the word.Would it be correct to assume that a future single-payer system of State health care that performed “involuntary euthanasia” on individuals with troublesome and expensive conditions, and upon who had a low value to society, would be a triumph of “bioprogressivism”?

  3. SIV:

    You ask Would it be correct to assume that a future single-payer system of State health care that performed “involuntary euthanasia” on individuals with troublesome and expensive conditions, and upon who had a low value to society, would be a triumph of “bioprogressivism”?

    Answer: No

    Definition: bioconservative — bioconservatism is a stance of hesitancy about technological development in general and strong opposition to the genetic, prosthetic or cognitive modification of human beings in particular. Whether arising from a conventionally right-leaning politics of religious/cultural conservatism or from a conventionally left-leaning politics of environmentalism, bioconservative positions oppose medical and other technological interventions into what are broadly perceived as current human and cultural limits in the name of a defense of “the natural” deployed as a moral category. See also, Leon Kass.

  4. Ole Obama looks like he likes to roll a big fat one every now and then. Maybe he will be the one to finally legalize mary jane! Wouldnt that be a hoot!

    Jess
    http://www.Privacy-Center.net

  5. Would it be correct to assume that a future single-payer system of State health care that performed “involuntary euthanasia” on individuals with troublesome and expensive conditions, and upon who had a low value to society, would be a triumph of “bioprogressivism”?

    No, but your question is a triumph of bioreactionaryism.

  6. Ron,

    Under that definition I don’t see the relevancy of applying the term “bioconservative”to medical marijuana or “assisted suicide”.

  7. Ole Obama looks like he likes to roll a big fat one every now and then.

    Nah. He’s wrapped way too tight for that.

  8. tags….. preview….

  9. Nah. He’s wrapped way too tight for that.

    Are you kidding? He’s so chill and unflappable that if it were in any other context I’d take bets on whether he was an epic stoner or a Zen Buddhist.

  10. At least you’re acknowledging the intrinsic link between cell “research” and abortion.

    “excess embryos”

    also known as “lives unworthy of life.”

    “Coloradoans defeated [the Personhood] amendment by a margin of three to one…”

    It seems the Personhood Amendment got about 33 times the support of the average Libertarian Party candidate.

    If an antislavery measure lost by *only* a 2-1 margin in 1850s Mississippi, the leaders of that state would have fretted about the dangerous level of abolitionist influence which had been introduced into their state.

  11. Oh, 3 to 1. Same response.

  12. twenty-five times the support of the average Libertarian candidate.

  13. Doesn’t it say something that 45% of SD residents have a pretty hard core pro-life opinion, even if the measure failred?

    This is a very far cry from current law.

  14. Hell, I’m pro-lifish and I’m creeped out that 25% of Coloradans would give constitutional rights to a frickin embryo.

  15. So is there a “bioconservative/techno-progressive” angle in Obama’s choice of a “hypo-allergenic” dog? I was unaware of such animals.
    Are they GMD s?

  16. Are they GMDs?

    Apparently, they are just selected traditional breeds. No newfangled genetic engineering involved.

  17. Are you kidding? He’s so chill and unflappable . . .

    What you see as chill and unflappable I see as an iron self control and a perhaps troubling level of detachment. I stick with my completely unprofessional opinion.

  18. Clicked too soon. Watch him in a rare “uncontrolled” setting, and you’ll see what I mean.

    His legendary streams of “umms” and “ahhs” when he’s off-script are not product of chill and unflappable, they are the sound of a man weighing every . . . single . . . word and trying to control every nuance and implication.

  19. The supposed equivalence/conflation of abortion and slavery, such as posited by Mad Max, has always puzzled me (except for the utility of that shorthand, kneee-jerk invocation as a substitute for serious thought on the topic). No one has seriously proposed enslaving zygotes, embryos, fetuses or any other prenatal form of life.

    I also find it more than a little peculiar that diehard abortion opponents squawk about embryonic stem cell research, but remain strangely silent as to the process of in vitro fertilization itself, whence the “excess” embryos are generated. Could that be because those with enough disposable income to afford in vitro fertilization–young(ish) yuppies with tens of thousands of dollars available over and above routine living expenses–tend to vote Republican?

    As to the notion that life begins at fertilization, let me pose a hypothetical. Suppose a fertilized ovum naturally fails to implant and is eliminated with the mother’s menstrual flow. Does that represent the same loss of human life as would a full term stillbirth?

  20. “No one has seriously proposed enslaving zygotes, embryos, fetuses or any other prenatal form of life.”

    No, just killing them.

    “Could that be because those with enough disposable income to afford in vitro fertilization–young(ish) yuppies with tens of thousands of dollars available over and above routine living expenses–tend to vote Republican?”

    Yup, you got me – just a Republcian shill. All that stuff I said against Republicans on this forum was just a feint.

    “As to the notion that life begins at fertilization, let me pose a hypothetical. Suppose a fertilized ovum naturally fails to implant and is eliminated with the mother’s menstrual flow. Does that represent the same loss of human life as would a full term stillbirth?”

    It’s very much like a natural stillbirth, and therefore shouldn’t be prosecuted. Nor do I know anyone who thinks it should be prosectued.

    How about this – if we were back in an era when infant deaths were extremely high, would that mean infanticide was justifiable? After all, more babies would be dying “naturally” than from murder, so why not just let the occasional murder sort of, you know, slide?

    Infanticide was actually an accepted practice in many pagan cultures unpolluted by Christianity, and certain post-Christian philosophers (like Peter Singer, and “ethicist” at Princeton) want to re-legalize the practice in certain circumstances. So the example hits closer to home than you may think.

  21. Mad Max:

    Why do you consider a fertilized egg to be a person?

  22. Malto,

    Please clarify for me:

    (a) To what species does an embryo belong at the time of conception? Homo Sapiens, or some other species?

    (b) Is an embryo, at the time of conception, alive, or is it dead?

  23. Is it the position of this site that voting against government funding of stemcell research is bad?

  24. Why do you consider a fertilized egg to be a person?

    It’s a fair question, and I really want to know your reasoning.

  25. It’s a living member of homo sapiens. I thought I made that clear. Now explain why it isn’t, or if it is, why it’s not a human person.

    If it’s not a human person, when does it become a human person? When brain-wave activity can first be detected? When it is capable of surviving outside the womb? Careful – Either definition would undermine much of *Roe v. Wade.*

    Or does it only become a human person at the time of birth? What makes a human being human *after* passing the birth canal when he wasn’t a human being a few seconds before?

    Or does he only become a human person when he is valued by its parents – “every child a wanted child.” If so, do you also believe “every Jew a wanted Jew?”

  26. Hard core pro-lifers are against IVF, and they think the embryos currently in freezers should be adopted.

    So, they are really rather remarkable in their intellectual honesty and consistency. Much more so than those who thinks it’s not ok to kill a baby, unless daddy was a bad man who committed rape.

  27. Mad Max, a few more questions to consider:

    (c) Has an embryo, at the time of conception, developed a brain or a nervous system?

    (d) Is an embryo, at the time of conception, capable of feeling pain?

    (e) Is an embryo, at the time of conception, self-aware?

    (f) Is it unethical to kill a ball of cells containing human DNA that has no nervous system, isn’t capable of feeling pain, and isn’t self-aware?

  28. When brain-wave activity can first be detected? When it is capable of surviving outside the womb? Careful – Either definition would undermine much of *Roe v. Wade.*

    Well, those at least would be *rational* reasons to undermine Roe v. Wade.

  29. Mike,

    (c) No. Has a Congressman? Does a Congressman have a right to life? What about a total moron? But I repeat myself.

    (d) No. Is a comatose person? A person under extreme pain medication? Someone who is blotto with vodka (I think the expression is “feeling no pain”)? Do these folks have a right to life, or does their incapacity to feel pain ivvalidate that right?

    (e) No. Is a newborn baby “self-aware”? A sleeping person (not REM sleep, but deep sleep)?

    (f) Yes.

  30. It’s a living member of homo sapiens. I thought I made that clear.

    You stated that it (a fertilized egg) is alive and it has human DNA.
    It is not clear that these two conditions are all that is required to be a person. Every cell in your body (red cells excluded) are alive and contain DNA, yet they are not considered persons.

    If it’s not a human person, when does it become a human person? When brain-wave activity can first be detected?

    Initiation of a working brain is a good first cut at personhood, I think.
    Certainly, if your brain stops working with no chance of regaining its function, it is not unreasonable to consider you dead, with consequential loss of personhood status.

    Either definition would undermine much of *Roe v. Wade.*

    I don’t care that such definitions would undermine Roe v Wade.

  31. “Every cell in your body (red cells excluded) are alive and contain DNA, yet they are not considered persons.”

    I didn’t say that a human being was a person from the time of conception merely because it was a cell. A mere cell never grows into an adult Malto Dextrin. However, Malto Dextrin was, at one time, a zygote. You were much smaller, to be sure, and you hadn’t yet acquired such human characteristics as posting on blogs (assuming that’s evidence of brain activity). But the red blood cells in your body won’t grow up into fully functioning adults and bloggers (absent some scientific intervention which most blood cells won’t benefit from).

    “Certainly, if your brain stops working with no chance of regaining its function, it is not unreasonable to consider you dead, with consequential loss of personhood status.”

    Then why didn’t they bury Terri Schiavo as soon as her brain lost any chance of regaining its functioning? Instead, her feeding tube had to be cut off. Why was it necessary to cut off the feeding tube of a dead person? Come to think of it, why was a dead person taking nutriment through a feeding tube? Your average corpse doesn’t do that.

  32. I could do without the snide comments such as “assuming that’s evidence of brain activity.” I’m really trying to understand your position.

    Terry Schiavo wasn’t buried as soon as her brain lost any chance of its regaining function, because there was disagreement over whether she was dead, that is, disagreement on the very issue we are discussing.

    It seems to me, that a body can be alive, without a person being present in that body. Do you agree with this possibility?

    I didn’t say that a human being was a person from the time of conception merely because it was a cell. A mere cell never grows into an adult Malto Dextrin.

    Actually, all persons have grown from single cells, namely fertilized eggs. What is a “mere” cell?

    So, what is your definition of personhood?

  33. MD,

    I’ve already explained that a person is a living human being of the species homo sapiens. I’ve also explained that this includes zygotes, or “fertilized eggs,” or whatever you choose to call them. Please don’t persist with the “you haven’t answered my question” thing. You may not agree with my definition, and we may discuss this.

    “Terry Schiavo wasn’t buried as soon as her brain lost any chance of its regaining function, because there was disagreement over whether she was dead, that is, disagreement on the very issue we are discussing.”

    Just to clarify – if your own definitions of human life were fully recognized, are you saying that Terri Schiavo, and others with loss of key brain functions, could have been buried without any further formalities, just as if they were corpses?

    I’ve responded to everyone’s catechizing with plain answers. I would prefer that other people answered my own questions, too, but I am not trying to win 100% conversion. Many posters here are potential allies, in the sense of defining life in a way which would undermine *Roe v. Wade,* and I don’t wish to undermine that potential support with snarky comments.

    After *Roe v. Wade* has been cast in the dustbin of history, then we can have a constructive debate on what rule to replace it with. I don’t want to burn bridges, but I don’t want to pretend that I agree with you, or that your points are so irrefutable as to reduce me to silence. Like many people on this forum, I lack the diplomatic skills by which people can win allies from those of opposing views. If I had those skills, I might be President like Obama.

  34. Many posters here are potential allies, in the sense of defining life in a way which would undermine *Roe v. Wade,*

    I think if you want to overturn Roe v Wade, it makes more sense to define personhood in a way which is independent of Roe v Wade, and then use that definition in your arguments. People – especially smart people like successful lawyers – can easily see through and argue against a circular definition, which is what you will have if you start from Roe v Wade and work backwards to your definition of personhood.

    I myself think it makes more sense to define personhood from observing the nature of persons, and crafting a definition that allows one to test a ‘thing’ for various attributes that make up personhood.

    So, saying that a ‘person’ is a ‘living human being’ is just begging the question.

    In other words, perhaps the best way to cast Roe V Wade onto the dustbin of history, is to first have a constructive debate on what to replace it with. Such a debate will have as its essential core, a debate about how to define what a person is, that is, an objective test for personhood.

  35. MD,

    Roe v. Wade is undermined by anyone who adopts a definition of human life which is broader than what the Justices were willing to admit.

    Bear in mind that the Roe decision was not based on the actual text of the constitution, but on the Justices’ notions of what a good public policy would be. If the justices’ conclusions are boneheaded (as they are) and if their reasoning fails every test of legal logic (as most defenders of the result in Roe acknowledge), then the result should be to overrule Roe and return the issue of abortion to the states, where the Constitution leaves it (with some exceptions like the interstate commerce power – strictly construed – and the power of Congress to legislate for the federal territories).

    In other words, the defenders of Roe are already aware of the problems of their position in strictly legal terms. So is the Supreme Court, which is why, in Casey, the Supremes did not say that Roe was based on sound law, but upheld it on the ground that it had generated expectations on the part of women that they could abort their babies. Then, after much huffing and puffing about the value of precedent, the court proceeded to revise and overrule Roe so as to make it more manageable.

    Overturning Roe won’t result in protecting fetal life. Only the state, exercising their rights and responsibilities under the 10th Amendment, can do that.

  36. (f) Yes.

    Mad Max, can you honestly say that you answered yes to question (f) for any other reason than your religious beliefs?

  37. And question (g):

    (g) Is it ethical for you to call for legal prosecution of a woman who kills a ball of cells, containing human DNA that has no nervous system, isn’t capable of feeling pain, and isn’t self-aware, that is interconnected with her own body?

  38. Mike,

    I’m not pro-life because I’m Catholic; I’m Catholic because I’m pro-life.

    If you would like to consider religion and ethics – which you appear to regard as polar opposites – you might want to consider the role of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, formerly known as the Clergy Consultation Service. When abortion was still illegal, the Clergy Consultation Service took it upon themselves to ignore the law and refer women for abortions. Want to talk about clerical and religious meddling in politics? These guys did it all. Did their religious motives invalidate their actions?

  39. (f) I believe that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life. These views are religious, of course. They are also part of the fighting faith which resulted in the creation of these United States.

    (g) Yes.

  40. Catechism time again:

    (h) Do you believe that “all Men are created equal”?

    (i) Do you believe that “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”?

    (j) Do you believe “that among these [rights] are Life”?

    (k) If you believe these things, at what point is someone “created” under the foregoing principles, thereby entitling that person to the right to life?

  41. (h) Yes, in the sense that they should be treated equally.

    (i) There is no Creator. The idea of God is absolutely, 100% make believe. Just like Santa Claus.

    (j) Moot question. I’ve already rejected the idea that rights are God-given. Rights are invented and negotiated by societies.

    (k) It’s hard to say exactly when an embryo develops into a person. That’s OK: the legal system sets arbitrary lines all of the time. For example, I could accept the arbitrary line of saying that the baby in the womb becomes a person when brain activity starts. Saying that person-hood starts at conception, however, is clearly irrational and nowhere near where a rational line would be drawn.

  42. Mike,

    Unfortunately, much of this line-drawing is pointless so long as the courts are enforcing *Roe,* which most certainly does *not* allow full personhood rights upon the development of brain-wave activity.

    The Founders of the U.S., although the probably don’t meet all tests of libertarian purism, nevertheless advocated, and fought for, principles which continue to inspire libertarians today, including atheists. This would seem to suggest that freedom-minded Americans should have a certain respect for the religious views of the Founders, even for those who don’t share those views.

    Did Santa Claus ever inspire the creation of an independent nation? Did Santa reach into his bag of gifts and grant Americans their heritage of liberty? Did Thomas Jefferson tremble for his country when he reflected that Santa Claus was just, and his patience with bad little boys would not sleep forever? Did George Washington solemnly warn Americans, before handing over his executive powers in a peaceful transition, to be heedful of the need for faith in Santa?

  43. Unfortunately, much of this line-drawing is pointless so long as the courts are enforcing *Roe,* which most certainly does *not* allow full personhood rights upon the development of brain-wave activity.

    And I think it’s reasonable to have a public debate about that. You’re side would be much more likely to convince people if you left religious arguments and the idea that person-hood beings at conception out of that debate. By being so extreme, you help your your most extreme opponents.

    This would seem to suggest that freedom-minded Americans should have a certain respect for the religious views of the Founders, even for those who don’t share those views.

    Not sure why their ideas about freedom wouldn’t be separable from any irrational religious ideas they also held. Besides many of them were Deists, which, as far as I can tell, was just a socially-acceptable way of saying they weren’t really believers.

    [Your last paragraph…]

    You’re begging the question.

  44. You’re side would be much more likely to convince people if you left religious arguments…

    I should amend that a bit. You’d still need religious arguments to convince people who respond to religious arguments. However, to convince a lot of people in this country you have to have non-religious arguments, too.

  45. “By being so extreme, you help your your most extreme opponents.”

    That’s what they said to Frederick Douglass. If only he had simply put forward some ameliorative reforms to make slavery more humane . . .

    “However, to convince a lot of people in this country you have to have non-religious arguments, too.”

    You might profit from reading the actual pro-life arguments out there, to see if those arguments conform to your image.

    Naturally, I am aware how much the Clergy Consultation Service alienated so many people with their pro-abortion religious arguments. They only managed to get New York, their base of operations, to legalize abortion three years before the Supreme Court did so nationwide.

    Then there was the *Reverend* Martin Luther King, Jr., who opposed evil where the Clergy Consultation Service supported it. Imagine how much more influential Dr. King might have been if he’d dropped the “Reverend,” and omitted references to God from his public statements like the “I Have A Dream” speech (“Thank God Almighty I’m Free At Last”) and from the Letter from a Birmingham Jail (with all the extremist arguments about following God’s laws instead of man’s, the citation to theologians, etc.

  46. “many of them were Deists, which, as far as I can tell, was just a socially-acceptable way of saying they weren’t really believers.”

    The Founders in the first rank went so far as to believe in unitarianism (Adams, Jefferson), others were more traditional. Jefferson was no Deist, since he believed in divine intervention (“His justice will not sleep forever”), whereas Deists are more into a watchmaker, absent-father God who doesn’t even visit on weekends.

    If you want to find deists, you will have to look at the Founders of the second rank, especially Thomas Paine. His Deism was openly proclaimed in *The Age of Reason,* which he said he wrote in part in order to stop the French, then just liberated from Christian superstition, from slipping into atheism.

  47. (Paine had this idea that atheism was a bad thing)

  48. Incidentally, do you know who keeps introducing those “moderate” abortion bills into Congress and the state legislatures? You know, the parental-notification bills, the born-alive infant bills, the bans on certain “rare” abortion procedures and on late-term abortions, the requirements of viability testing, the limits on government funding, etc?

    Do you think it’s principled centrists who take the initiative in drafting and pushing these bills through? Legislators who are sincerely seeking a “middle ground” solution to abortion, avoid the “extremes” of totally supporting abortion or totally supporting it? No, indeed. I’m sure such principled centrists exist, but most of the so-called “moderates” on the abortion issue don’t fit that category. Your average “moderate” would prefer never to have to debate or vote on abortion, leaving the issue to others (especially the courts), because they don’t want to commit themselves and alienate one side or the other. These moderates want to spend their time on “win/win” issues that alienate as few people as possible – like subsidies for favored constituents.

    The “moderates” don’t come up with these moderate bills – it’s done by the pro-lifers, on the principle that half a loaf is better than no bread, and that taking *some* action against abortion, however inadequate as a principled matter, is better than preserving the status quo. *That* is why legislatures keep debating – and often passing – the “moderate” bills, because the “moderates” are *forced* to choose between their professed moderation and the pro-abort, status quo extreme.

    If the “moderates” had their way, there would be scarcely any discussion and votes about abortion in legislative bodies, and the matter would be left to the courts to decide, taking the heat off the politicians who desperately want to avoid any chance at principled, centrist leadership.

    If any principled centrist comes to the forefront (Obama?), it will be because the political climate, kept as a boil by the prolifers, *requires* some kind of leadership

  49. “extremes” of totally supporting abortion or totally opposing it.

  50. Well, have fun with your self-righteousness.

  51. I’m not particularly righteous, as you would be able to ascertain from my New Zealand sheep jokes in other threads. However, the prolife *cause* is certainly righteous, and I am willing to lend that righteous cause the support of my regrettably non-righteous self.

  52. I’m glad the rest of the country is getting better bioethics laws. NJ’s cloning policy is kind of creepy, hinting on vampiric. Reproductive cloning has been banned for a few years now, but the state funds a stem cell research lab at Rutgers that uses cloning. Apparently giving birth to a child through cloning is so horrible, we have to outlaw it, but carving up cloned embryos for spare parts is a goal the state can really get behind.

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