Friday, July 02, 2004

Cellular Cacaphony

My Tribune column is still not back on schedule; this Sunday's Lack-of-Perspective section is a July 4 spectacular, and I hadn't planned on writing a July 4th themed piece. So instead I'll write over the weekend and it'll run on Wednesday. Then maybe I'll be back on the next Sunday.

If you want to read the column to which I'm reacting, it's here. If you want the newspaper version of my piece, it's here. I got a "block quote" of the fifth paragraph: "The creative argument that we should let infertile couples 'adopt' . . . humorous delusion." How about that--a newspaper using "fallacious" and "delusion" in the same article. What do they take me for, Christopher Hutchins or something?

East Valley Tribune, June 27, 2004

Last Sunday, Phillip Moon took The Tribune to task for sullying the memory of Ronald Reagan by joining with Nancy Reagan in calling for the Bush administration to lift its ill-conceived ban on stem cell research. I mean, really -- who knows better what Ronald Reagan would have wanted, his widow, or an adjunct physics professor at Chandler-Gilbert Community College? Think about it, and get back to me.

This is the latest right-wing rhetorical tactic, lecturing Nick Berg’s father claiming to know better what his son really thought, and droning interminably about Bill and/or Hillary Clinton’s real motives. I guess if the “facts on the ground” aren’t going well, conservatives have to claim psychic mind-reading abilities, even of the dead. Also, it’s not like anyone believes that conservatives’ current hero, George W. Bush, can hold more than one thought in his head.

In opposing stem cell research, Moon claims to know better than Nancy what Ronald Reagan would have wanted because he “went so far as to write a 100 page pro-life essay” in 1983. This is an interesting epistemological problem: Who really thinks Reagan actually wrote a 100-page essay, as opposed to signing something somebody else wrote?

Moreover, Reagan’s political genius was that he could just utter sentiments, but never had to act on them, to satisfy the anti-abortion crowd. Exhibit A: Who appointed Sandra Day O’Connor, the swing vote preserving the right to choose, to the Supreme Court? Reagan was too good a politician to give his base real substance on this issue, and a good enough politician that his base settled for pandering. If only W had that talent, but (and fellow Democrats, repeat after me), “He’s no Reagan.”

Stem cell research opponents like Moon try to muddy the issue by making up facts, as Bush did in claiming that researchers already had access to many robust stem cell lines before the ban took effect. That was false then, and it’s false now. At least Moon, unlike Bush, abandons the other false claim that adult stem cells would work about as well.

But people making the absolutist argument -- any fertilized embryo is human life just the same as you and me -- founder on the shoals of in-vitro fertilization. Moon makes a creative argument, that we should let infertile couples “adopt” these embryos! That’s cute, but a total misunderstanding of how IVF works. In-vitro fertilization depends on numbers: Doctors use a squadron of fertilized embryos to improve chances that one actually succeeds. Moon’s claim that “it would be very easy to get these innocent frozen embryos into loving homes” is a humorous delusion.

So if Moon, channeling Reagan’s spirit, claims that every single embryo is as human as you or me, he can’t just argue against stem cell research. IVF itself causes the destruction of fertilized embryos, and under the absolutist position, also should be illegal -- even though that argument is a political loser.

We utilitarians have the easier time; using Bush administration logic, we don’t have to prove that stem cell research will cure Alzheimer’s; we just have to show that there’s a “relationship,” or “links” or “connections” -- all the proof Bush needed to send 800+ members of our armed forces to death in Iraq.

You absolutists, however, lose the argument by making the utilitarian and political compromises needed to keep in-vitro fertilization legal. Plus, you’re fighting the wrong battle. If you ban IVF, then we lose the best argument for allowing stem cell research -- and the source of these precious embryos.

Why not try to change the terms of the debate? All you conservative clairvoyants: Isn’t that what Reagan would have wanted?

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