Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Each embryo has constitutional rights!

Following up the stem cell thing. Here's what conservatives are saying (emphasis mine): George Bush, in the New York Times:
"The children here today remind us that there is no such thing as a spare embryo," Mr. Bush said, amid the squeals and coos of babies cradled in their mothers' arms. "Every embryo is unique and genetically complete, like every other human being. And each of us started out our life this way. These lives are not raw material to be exploited, but gifts." The parents, who worked through a Christian adoption agency, applauded enthusiastically. When Mr. Bush said that "every human life is a precious gift of matchless love," a mother behind him on stage mouthed the word "Amen."
Focus on the Family:
But every time a human embryo is used for research, another snowflake is destroyed, another glimmer of hope for some future parent is dimmed [Huh? Dimmed? How? -J]. Since 1998, there have been more than 80 children born to parents who adopted snowflakes, and 15 more are due. "Each embryo, no matter how small, is an American who has a constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," snowflake parent-to-be Sarah Cochran said. "And if we murder them through experimentation, we are denying them rights that we wouldn't deny a serial killer."
Tom DeLay, in the New York Times:
"An embryo is a person, a distinct internally directed, self-integrating human organism," Mr. DeLay said, adding, "We were all at one time embryos ourselves. So was Abraham. So was Muhammad. So was Jesus of Nazareth." He went on: "The choice to protect a human embryo from federally funded destruction is not, ultimately, about the human embryo. It is about us, and our rejection of the treacherous notion that while all human lives are sacred, some are more sacred than others."
So let's see. According to the Right, we must oppose federally funding scientific experimentation on embryos that would otherwise be discarded, because embryos are humans, worthy of our protection. So we should just discard them, because they're worthy of our protection. Tom Delay doesn't seem to mind killing the embryos, just as long as that killing isn't federally-funded. He's perfectly happy to have the government stand by and not be involved in the killings. Sarah Cochran doesn't want the embryos to be murdered "through experimentation", but apparently it's ok to murder them through throwing them in the garbage can. If these people are serious about embryos having human dignity, then the fact that they're happily standing by while millions of embryos are being destroyed is morally horrific, in the worst possible way. Bush thinks that there are no spare embryos, and that every one is a gift? Then where's the massive push to bring the number of snowflake babies from the dozens to the millions? This strikes me as one of the most confused positions out there in the American political mainstream today. And that's saying a lot.


  1. Maybe Sarah recognizes the important moral distinction between the intention to kill hundreds of embryos and an intention to act so as to knowingly and pointlessly cause the deaths of hundreds of individual embryos?

  2. I can't tell if you're kidding or not, Clayton -- and I know I'm in a position to know, but have forgotten, what your normative ethical views are on the matter.

    I reject that distinction as morally significant (and maybe even as a genuine distinction). I know lots of people accept it, and maybe that's a charitable interpretation, but if that's what the line is, then I stand by my moral atrocity line.

  3. I was kidding. I thought your comments were spot on. Blogger needs a sarcasm html tag.

    Judith Thomson has pretty much disabused me of the idea that there could be any importance to the idea I alluded to. On purely action-theoretic grounds, it isn't clear that the distinction I jokingly suggested Sarah had in mind could be a distinction in the reasons of the relevant actor. If there is a difference between a technician intentionally killing something and a technician intentionally acting so as to end the life of something for no further reason, I don't know what it is.

  4. Actually, what Sarah had in mind, being the Sarah in question, is that the embryos should not be discarded at all - they should be donated anonymously to people who would be willing to give them life - a right denied to them through destruction.

    Why should an embryo have rights? Because they are humans, as are you and I. There are only 4 differences between an embryo and a newborn, and none are compelling enough to say that one should live while the other dies:

    1. Size - embryos are smaller than newborns, that's true. Are tall people more human than short people? Do they deserve more rights than short people? Is Hillary Clinton less human than Wilt Chamberlain? No. So there is no logical justification that size can be used as the basis for declaring someone as human and deserving of rights while denying another their rights.

    2. Level of development - an embryo is not as developed as an infant. If that justification is used to destroy them, then we have also have the justification to destroy those with a lower IQ, with developmental delays, and even a cleft palette, and that those with higher IQ can exploit those with lesser IQ. Does lower intelligence make someone less human and worthy of rights? No. Is a toddler with a lower IQ less human than a university professor? No. So level of development is not a justification for declaring an embryo un-human and undeserving of rights.

    3. Environment - an embryo cannot live outside of the proper environment. This argument means that where we are determines who we are. When you go from your home to your work, do you stop being you? No; your environment doesn't define your humanness, nor does the embryos environment define theirs.

    4. Degree of dependency - an embryo is dependent upon the womb to survive. So a toddler who relies on his parents to feed, clothe, and protect him is less human than an independent 24 year old living outside the home? Does this also mean that those with pacemakers are expendable? What about insulin-dependent diabetics? Those with artificial limbs? How about someone with a pacemaker? They are dependent on things outside of themselves to survive, just as the embryo does. None is less human due to their level of dependency.

    I hope this helps better explain my position that every human life has worth and value.