Friday, June 03, 2005

Another false division

Jonathan Alter, writing in Newsweek, apparently should know better, but he loses the distinction between adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells: "As a cancer survivor with an adult-stem-cell transplant under my belt, I'm not exactly neutral on the issue of embryonic-stem-cell research."

Let's look at that sentence again: cancer survivor -- adult stem cell transplant -- "not exactly neutral on . . . embryonic-stem-cell research."

And then he goes on, as so many in the pro-experimentation camp do, to deny the distinction between adult and embryonic stem cells in favor of "'pro-cure' versus 'anti-cure.'" And Leftists say that pro-lifers are incapable of nuance.

Here's the nut of his argument, if you can call it an argument:
Bioethical blowhard Leon Kass of the University of Chicago conned Bush into seeing the issue as morally complex, but the rest of the world understands that it's simple enough—reproductive cloning (to create Frankensteins), no; embryonic-stem-cell research (to cure diseases), yes. (The phrase "therapeutic cloning" should be retired.) Enshrining this basic distinction in law is a better bulwark against the "slippery slope" problem than hair-splitting limitations. Most nations understand this. Only Bush bitter-enders and the pope are in the perverse position of valuing the life of an ailing human being less than that of a tiny clump of cells no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence.
He begins with name-calling against Kass, a philospher of bioethics who argues that human life is valuable because it is human. Alter then denies that the issue is complex and explains how simple it is by hanging a happy face on one side of an equation and a sad face on the other. If we're going to call it cloning, that's bad, but if we do the same thing and call it stem-cell research, that's good. Because we're not creating monsters, he says, without really saying what the difference is, we're making cures.

The problem is that if you use a human being as spare parts, then by that very action you have made the person a "thing," if not in reality, then in your own eyes and that of everyone who gains by the exchange. So maybe the cloners are making monsters -- of themselves and their advocates.

Alter describes those who hold this position as "Bush bitter-enders and the pope" -- if that's true, I'm proud to be in their company -- who value "the life of an ailing human person less than that of a tiny clump of cells no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence." So, Mr. Alter, how big is big enough to be of equal value to an ailing person? And how do we determine the comparative value of any given ailing person against the value of any given smaller person. Alter accuses pro-lifers of splitting hairs, but he gives no clear line of distinction -- other than managing our terminology -- between those who are fair game and those who are not. Just as abortion has advanced to partial-birth abortion and the parent's "right" to a dead baby, embryonic stem cell research offers no line to stop at embryonic stem cells when there are embryonic organs to harvest.

And the sad thing is that it's all so unnecessary. The cures are in adult stem cells, as Alter himself says in his opening paragraph. He didn't need to destroy a human being to be a cancer survivor; the cures are coming from cells that people have plenty of just lying around.

It's a rare occasion when nobody has to lose, and so I don't understand why Alter and his ilk insist on making it a losing proposition -- he says for Republicans, which may be what he's looking for, but beyond partisan politics, the insistence on embryonic stem cells is a defeat for the little ones and for all of us.

UPDATE: This post is also available at Blogger News Network.

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