IVF hypocrisy 2.0

Scientists with Advanced Cell Technology yesterday announced a minor breakthrough in stem-cell collection. The White House immediately seized this opportunity to announce its own major breakthrough in IVF hypocrisy.

The Seattle Times cobbles together a nice summary from reports by The Los Angeles Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer:

A biotech company has developed a way to generate human embryonic stem-cell colonies without intentionally destroying embryos in the process. …

But opponents of embryonic stem-cell research said the new approach still poses moral dilemmas. Proponents, meanwhile, said that going to extraordinary lengths to avoid destroying embryos during research is hypocritical, considering that embryos are created and discarded every day in infertility clinics. …

The method, described in the current issue of the journal Nature, involves taking a normal 3-day-old embryo with eight to 10 cells and removing a single cell, which is then biochemically coaxed into producing embryonic stem cells. The original embryo, despite missing one cell, is unharmed, thus avoiding concerns about destroying a potential life, the researchers say.
Stem cells from days-old human embryos can morph into virtually every kind of tissue, including nerves to replace those destroyed by spinal injuries and cardiac muscle to fill in for cells lost in a heart attack. Scientists see stem cells as the key to a new era of regenerative medicine.
Until now, however, the only way to get these cells was to destroy embryos — which, though smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, are deemed by some people as "the youngest members of the human family." …

Fertility clinics have been removing cells from embryos created in vitro since 1990 to screen them for genetic diseases and chromosomal abnormalities. Doctors estimate at least 2,500 children alive today had a cell or two removed when they were early embryos.

The Bush administration … said it was too soon to say whether the new approach could solve the ethical dilemma at the heart of the research.

President Bush offered little encouragement Wednesday and, if anything, raised the bar higher, suggesting he would not be comfortable unless embryos were not involved at all.

"Any use of human embryos for research purposes raises serious ethical concerns," a statement released by the White House said. "The president is hopeful that with time scientists can find ways of deriving cells like those now derived from human embryos but without the need for using embryos."

So, to review:

Unobjectionable: The discarding of uncounted thousands of embryos every year by fertility clinics. IVF clinics are popular, and therefore good. And therefore their discarding of thousands of embryos is unquestionably also good. Freeze, flush, repeat.

Unacceptable: The use of any of these destined-for-the-dustbin embryos for potentially life-saving research. Embryonic stem-cell research is something conducted by pointy-headed, intellectual blue staters and advocated by out-of-touch Hollywood types like Superman, Marty McFly and that actress who used to play the First Lady. It is therefore bad. And therefore the diverting of any of these clinically doomed embryos from their preordained disposal is a violation of the culture of life and constitutes the "murder" of "the youngest members of the human family."

Morally blessed: The removal of a single cell from an embryo for genetic testing ("pre-implantation genetic diagnosis") in a fertility clinic to separate the healthiest YMOTHF from those who may be prone to disease and which/who will therefore be discarded, as will that single cell used for PGD.

Depraved: Permitting the cell taken for PGD to divide and using the second cell for embryonic stem-cell research.

You can approve of both embryonic stem-cell research and IVF clinics, or you can disapprove of both. But you cannot, as President Bush does, condemn the former while embracing the latter. The logic of Bush's YMOTHF argument against stem-cell research demands an even stronger opposition to fertility clinics. The logic of Bush's sanguine acceptance of fertility clinics demands an even stronger affirmation of embryonic stem-cell research.

The president's circumstantially contradictory attitude toward the sanctity/disposability of the YMOTHF makes no sense. And it doesn't seem possible to even try to make sense of it without coming to some uncharitable conclusions about his intellect and/or his integrity, so I'll stop here.

  • Beth

    To illustrate: Sinn Fein or Hizbullah voters are not terrorists.
    Well, Sinn Fein has historic ties to terrorism, but it has renounced violence, and I doubt that any pro-life candidate endorses pro-life terrorism. Hizbullah is a different matter. I wouldn’t call the voters terrorists, but a vote for Hizbullah is, at least to some degree, a sign of support for or acceptance of terrorism and thuggery.
    A better analogy would be calling people who support the Palestinian cause terrorists because Palestinian groups engage in it. Bad behavior on the part of some supporters doesn’t poison the cause itself.
    As far as abortion goes, I don’t really understand how someone who believes abortion=murder could condemn the terrorism unless they’re absolute pacifists. If you thought there were groups engaged in the mass murder of children, could you oppose preventative violence against the guilty parties? It seems like they’re trying to have it both ways, providing moral justification for the terrorism while denying any connection to it.

  • Jesurgislac

    Beth: Well, Sinn Fein has historic ties to terrorism, but it has renounced violence
    That’s meiosis, Beth. The IRA renounced violence on July 28, 2005. True, they declared an indefinite ceasefire in August 1994, and that ceasefire has been kept ever since (well, temporarily broke down between 1995 and 97) but they formally renounced violence only just over a year ago. Sinn Fein’s “historic ties to terrorism” are damned recent – not quite as recent as the pro-life movement’s ties to terrorism, I grant you, but still, recent. (I’m leaving Hezbollah out of the discussion on the grounds that it seems likely only to cause a distraction.)

  • wintermute

    > Well, Sinn Fein has historic ties to terrorism, but it has renounced violence
    It’s hard to believe their renunciation of violence (which, after all, is pretty much an annual event for Sinn Fin) when they continue to defend the IRA’s right to plant bombs in pubs, or to shoot police officers; when they allow known IRA terrorists such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to remain in leadership positions; when they continue to accept campaing funds from the IRA.
    Sinn Fin exist solely to legitimise and excuse the dirty work of the IRA. Renouncing violence is nothing more than a way for them to pretend the two organisations are different.
    When they actually condemn murder, then I’ll believe they’re not terrorists.

  • wintermute

    > True, they declared an indefinite ceasefire in August 1994, and that ceasefire has been kept ever since
    It’s only been kept if you believe that the IRA, the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA and the Provisional IRA are all different groups, and that Sinn Fin can only speak for the IRA. I think it’s suspicious that during the cease-fire, known IRA terrorists were using known IRA weapons and tactics, and being publicly commended for it by Sinn Fin, and yet the IRA is somehow entirely blameless and didn’t break the cease-fire…

  • Jesurgislac

    Damn, I should have known that using any terrorist/former terrorist/still has ties to terrorism organisation would cause a distraction.
    The initial point of bringing up Sinn Fein/Hezbollah was as a comparator to the pro-life movement’s recent acts of terrorism and continuing acts of violence, not to argue about Sinn Fein/Hezbollah in itself.

  • bulbul

    Jesu and Beth: Damn, I should have known that using any terrorist/former terrorist/still has ties to terrorism organisation would cause a distraction.
    It’s entirely my fault. But then again, it seemed to liven up the debate a bit. A handy information to have… :o)
    The initial point of bringing up Sinn Fein/Hezbollah was as a comparator to the pro-life movement’s recent acts of terrorism and continuing acts of violence, not to argue about Sinn Fein/Hezbollah in itself.
    Exactly.
    Duane:
    Because if pro-lifers were against abortions, we would expect to see this reflected in what pro-life politicians and pro-life organizations do.
    Yes, exactly. You see it, I see it, but I doubt they do. In other words, the word “pro-lifer” is a misnomer.

  • bulbul

    Beth:
    A better analogy would be calling people who support the Palestinian cause terrorists because Palestinian groups engage in it.
    I was gonna go with Hamas, but somehow Hizbullah slipped in…
    If you thought there were groups engaged in the mass murder of children, could you oppose preventative violence against the guilty parties?
    That is a very good point. I would even go a little further and wonder why there (kholile!) haven’t been any wide-scale ‘pogroms’ against abortion clinics and doctors performing abortions. Surely there are enough guns in the hands of the pro-lifers and if those people really REALLY believe in what they are saying, then they should rise up and … Well, you get the picture.

  • Duane

    My very pro-life “Christian” mother just told me that John Mark Karr ought to be executed just for causing a commotion (or somesuch). I asked her if that was Jesus’ philosophy and she said it was God’s philosophy. We then had a very tense five minute discussion about the teachings of Jesus versus the “kill ‘em all” attitude of God. My dad graduated from Bible school and my folks did a stint as missionaries. Their politico-religio-societo views are in perfect harmony with millions and millions of other so-called findamentalist and evangelical Christians. Two things I am sure of:
    1. They are not anything close to pro-life.
    2. They worship an poisonous and arbitrarily vindictive God.

  • Duane

    Duane:
    Because if pro-lifers were against abortions, we would expect to see this reflected in what pro-life politicians and pro-life organizations do.
    Yes, exactly. You see it, I see it, but I doubt they do. In other words, the word “pro-lifer” is a misnomer.
    That wasn’t me, but I was thinking it if that means anything.

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea that anyone identifying as “pro-life” is necessarily identifying with the most radical and violent extremists in that movement. That argument too easily turns towards weapons that can be used against me: I’m a feminist, but that doesn’t mean I embrace the man-hating extreme; I’m a Wiccan, but I don’t identify with that coven that protested that the Harry Potter books misrepresent proper broomstick riding; I’m all for being more humane towards animals, but I don’t identify with PETA; I consider myself an environmentalist, but I think violent ecoterrorism sucks great big granite rocks until all the quartz has been slurped up.
    Why are we handing the least reasonable extremes of a movement the right to define the movement?

  • Jesurgislac

    Nicole: Why are we handing the least reasonable extremes of a movement the right to define the movement?
    I could say that, by and large, the people who identify as pro-lifers will do just that: not least, that they will consistently argue that if you say you’re pro-choice, that means you regard abortion as a joyous sacrament and every woman should have as many as possible. (Never mind that I have never met an actual pro-choicer who holds those views, whereas the pro-lifers who murder, bomb, commit arson, harass women going into health clinics and harass health clinic staff do really exist.)
    But also: when a movement identifies as pro-life, and claims that their movement is all about caring for all human lives, and yet their extremists kill in the name of their own movement, and their activists behave as the lives of adult women were worth nothing compared to the life of a fetus.
    Yes, they do deserve to be challenged: it’s a high-sounding name, a high-sounding aspiration, and yet, plainly, to those most active in the movement, it means nothing.
    Let moderate people who do not wish to be associated with what the pro-life movement does call themselves anti-abortion.

  • Jesurgislac

    As for example: a common pro-life question/bumper sticket/comment: “What if your mother were pro-choice?”

  • Merlin Missy

    “What if your mother were pro-choice?”
    *raises hand* My mother was. People are honestly stupid enough to believe that “pro-choice” = “would have an abortion under any and all circumstances”? Funny, ’cause I always thought it meant I also had the chance to choose to continue a pregnancy and have a baby. *looks at sprogs, who obviously can’t exist — the bumper sticker told me so*
    (I once met a woman who was conceived two months after her mother had an abortion due to German measles exposure. She wouldn’t have been born without her mother’s prior abortion, and she said it really screws with people when she tells them.)

  • Angelika

    Jesurgislac wrote I could say that, by and large, the people who identify as pro-lifers will do just that: not least, that they will consistently argue that if you say you’re pro-choice, that means you regard abortion as a joyous sacrament and every woman should have as many as possible.
    Just to get the picture round, there are not only violent pro-life activists, but also pro-choice act who do act like there were no alternatives to abortion at all: I have met several women who had been unplannedly pregnant and all counseling they ever received was how they could have an abortion – but they were not given any information on what social services existed to help them, if they’d choose to carry the child. In the end they had been so intimidated by the pro-choice people trying to help them that they had an abortion they afterwards regretted very much.

  • Jen R

    Actually, there was a time when the people who advocated the murder of those who performed abortions did not refer to themselves as pro-life, precisely because they were for killing some people. Whether they still have that level of self-awareness, I couldn’t say, since I don’t do a lot of debating on the internet anymore and am not exposed to them.
    I would note that those same people also hated the mainstream pro-life movement precisely because the mainstream didn’t support them.

  • Jesurgislac

    Angelika: I have met several women who had been unplannedly pregnant and all counseling they ever received was how they could have an abortion – but they were not given any information on what social services existed to help them, if they’d choose to carry the child.
    Assuming this story is true (it has the standard marks of an urban legend to me) I wonder where these women claim they went for counselling, and why – if they actively wanted to stay pregnant and have the baby – they didn’t behave the way a woman who actively wanted to have an abortion would have behaved. Of course, they may have lived in a pro-life state where services to help low-income parents or single mothers have been cut down ruthlessly. source
    In the end they had been so intimidated by the pro-choice people trying to help them that they had an abortion they afterwards regretted very much.
    Or so they said.
    It sounds like a perfect framing for someone who had an abortion and then doesn’t want to take responsibility for making that choice: to claim that she didn’t think she had a choice, and blame her “pro-choice friends” for not telling her that she didn’t have to have an abortion…. because obviously, she couldn’t possibly know for herself that there was any possible alternative to having an abortion.

  • Angelika

    Jesurgislac: (it has the standard marks of an urban legend to me)
    I happened to talk with the women in person – these were not a fabricated second-hand stories. And given that it happened in Germany where social services are better than in the USA, there definitively would have been options to have a child. These women found out they were pregnant and were at first overwhelmed by the thought (which I think is a completely understandable reaction. To find oneself unexpectedly burdened with an enormous reponsibility simply makes a person vulnerable.) – so they sought out counselling at Pro-Familia and were there exclusively informed about abortion, but not about the social services available for single mothers.
    because obviously, she couldn’t possibly know for herself that there was any possible alternative to having an abortion.
    That is not as easy as it sounds. Of course they knew that the alternative was to give birth. What they didn’t know was that they would have help available, if they made that choice. The knowledge on how to access social services is not that widely spread as one would wish – there are lots of people in Germany (and probably even more in the US) who qualify for social aid programs but do not benefit from them, because they simply do not know these programs exists/or that they qualify. If an official pre-abortion counselling center neglects to inform the pregnant woman about other services available to her except for abortion they are not serving their clients well. (Especially, if the woman appears to be doubtful on what to do and isn’t marching in declaring she wants an abortion.)

  • Jesurgislac

    And given that it happened in Germany where social services are better than in the USA, there definitively would have been options to have a child.
    According to this abstract, support programs in Germany for single mothers are rare compared with other Western European countries.
    However, let that go: your friends went to ProFamilia for counselling when they knew they were pregnant. ProFamilia, like Planned Parenthood, is an NGO for sexual and reproductive health and rights. It is not the right organization to go to – no more than Planned Parenthood is – if you want to find out about social/support services for single mothers. And your friends must have known this: they didn’t go because they wanted to find out about support services if they stayed pregnant and kept the baby, they went because they wanted to get an abortion.
    there are lots of people in Germany (and probably even more in the US) who qualify for social aid programs but do not benefit from them, because they simply do not know these programs exists/or that they qualify.
    Well, probably not in the US, as social aid programs have been radically slashed by Bush. But possibly in Germany, if your friends had gone to an advice center which specialises in providing help in obtaining Sozialhilfe, rather than a family planning organization which provides help with contraception and abortion.
    If an official pre-abortion counselling center neglects to inform the pregnant woman about other services available to her except for abortion they are not serving their clients well.
    Um… as I said: Pro-familia provides abortions, contraception, etc. Their website makes no secret of what their remit is. It’s not their job to do the thinking for women who want to know if they are pregnant and want to know if they can get an abortion.
    Your friends went to a center where they knew they could get an abortion, and terminated their pregnancies. Now they want to put all the blame on the NGO that gave them the help they asked for, rather than taking the responsibility themselves for making the decision not to go find a welfare advice center and find out what their other options were?
    (Especially, if the woman appears to be doubtful on what to do and isn’t marching in declaring she wants an abortion.)
    I say again: it doesn’t look from their website as if it’s any part of Profamilia’s remit to research social/welfare services and tell women about them. It looks as if your friends went to Profamilia knowing exactly what kind of help Profamilia would offer them: contraception/advice, pregnancy testing/advice, abortion/counselling. And now they don’t want to admit they wanted an abortion, so they trash Profamilia for not being what it never said it was.
    Silly and irresponsible of them.
    NGOs are funded with fairly firm remits. If it’s not inside the NGO’s remit, individual people who work there may know enough to advise in other areas, but they may not, and there may be directives that employees should not attempt to advise clients outside their areas of expertise. (I know I’ve worked for NGOs where that was the case.)
    The idea that Profamilia has a moral obligation to also provide advice on how to apply for welfare is as illogical and unreasonable as the idea that a welfare advice center has a moral obligation to also tell pregnant women where they can get an abortion.

  • Jeff

    Jesurgislac:
    Shorter Angelika would be My friend went to a dentist, but he was evil because he didn’t test her for liver cancer. Sounds like abbrogating responsibility to me.
    (An odd case of this working, although not very well: Warron Zevon first knew he was sick when he went to the dentist for the first time in a long time. The dentist told him to see a doctor, who found the lung cancer.)
    I can see why NGO workers are not supposed to give advice outside their area of expertise: If they get it wrong, the NGO might be liable for the mistake. Better to claim ignorance and shuffle the client off than give bad advice.

  • the opoponax

    or think of it this way: remember those people who tried to sue McDonald’s for (gasp!) selling them unhealthy food? and they were all, “but how were we to KNOW it was such junk?”
    I also wonder how much of it is hindsight. you’re put in a situation where you have to make one of the most difficult choices a person can make. and you decide a certain way based on your understanding of the situation. and then it turns out you were wrong about what the situation really was. and had you just talked to the right person, come upon the right website at the right time, it all could have been different. easy to blame all the people who didn’t happen to be that right person rather than understanding that the world works in mysterious ways.

  • A Texan in Bavaria

    Angelika: Here, it’s practically impossible to avoid Catholic Social Services. Maybe in other parts of Germany, Profamilia would be the most obvious place to go when in trouble. In my mid-size Bavarian city, though, you see the Sozialdienste cars everywhere and I have no idea if we even have a Profamilia office. There’s probably one in Nuremberg, about 60 kilometers away.
    Germany has a much lower teenage abortion rate than the US.
    It’s possible that your friend heard a lot of, “you have so much potential, why let this little mistake screw it up?” and so got it in her scared, confused head that an abortion really was her only choice, and Profamilia, figuring she’d already made the decision and just needed help acting on it, did nothing to dissuade her and tried to be supportive.
    But I see less ostracization for unwed mothers here in even very conservative Bavaria than I saw back on the East Coast (to say nothing of attitudes in my native central Texas).
    Actually, it seems that a lot more social services for all ages (Kindergartens, counselling, old-folks’ homes) are handled by the churches here than in the States. That’s the main reason my Lutheran boyfriend doesn’t mind paying his church taxes. He rarely attends services and is free to declare himself no longer Lutheran, but believes in the services his and the Catholic church provide. He can’t stand people who officially leave their churches just to avoid the church tax, then turn around and expect services from their old churches later. But anyway.
    I don’t fully understand it, coming from “separation of church and state,” but that’s Germany.
    I have a feeling your friend knew full well how to get help to continue her pregnancy, but really felt like getting an abortion was a better idea. I’d tough it out now, but then again, I’m 26, have a well-paying job with a boss scared to death of losing me and significant savings. I can’t judge anyone in a less-advantageous situation. Plus, I gather that abortion laws are in some ways stricter than the US; shorter time limits, for starters, so she didn’t exactly have a lot of time to think this over carefully. I feel sorry for her that she regrets it now, but we often do rash things when scared.
    If I were in her shoes and needed to resolve (in my view, misplaced) guilt and anger, I would work to make life as a young single mother in Germany a bit easier. Very concrete: less expensive good care for pre-kindergarten-aged children. Creches in workplaces. Laws to make employers unable to dismiss or deny promotions to women who happen to become pregnant.
    To me, the Catholic Church in modern Germany, for all its faults, is consistently pro-life. They provide affordable senior homes, Kindergartens for young children and help to young women with unplanned pregnancies beyond the advice “well, marry the father”. They look askance at both birth control and IVF. They oppose unnecessary military action and the death penalty (the latter of which has been banned in Germany for decades).


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