Friday, November 10, 2006

Stem Cell Research : Behold the Non Sequitur (His Argument Ain't Got No Soul)

I was gonna let it go because I like Jim Esch and he made an impressive showing against Lee Terry. But since OWH columnist Mike Kelly brought it up again . . .

Non sequitur is Latin for "it does not follow." It's a term applied to a statement that might seem to be a coherent argument when you first hear it, but falls apart upon closer analysis.

In his column, Kelly wrote:

"One of my favorite campaign quotes came from Jim (Esch) -- my fellow parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Church -- after he said he doesn't consider an embryo a child unless it is implanted in a woman's womb: 'I have never believed we can create a soul in a petri dish.' "

What does that mean?

Does it mean people created by in vitro fertilization have no souls because they were created in petri dishes?

Does it mean that man puts a soul into an embryo by implanting it in the womb? Esch said "we," not God.

Does it mean that God withholds a soul from a human being unless he is placed in a womb? That seems harsh. God can put a soul anywhere He wants. That's His department. What difference does it make how man creates the physical creature, whether it's the old-fashioned way or through technology? The result is the same 46-chromosome creature called a human being.

Upon closer analysis, the statement actually makes no sense. There is no logic in the assertion that the environment in which embryonic humans find themselves determines whether they have souls.

It's also irrelevant. The debate is not about religion or spirituality. It's about science. The issue is whether the embryo is a living human. The answer provided by embryology is yes. An atheist can read an embryology textbook and understand that human life begins at the beginning. Even hero of the secular left Peter Singer said in Omaha (and later in the New York Times) that the embryo is alive and human.

I don't mean to belittle Esch. Jim has wrestled with the issue. His Democratic Party officially is for abortion and for embryo-destructive research. Nationally and locally, some of the deepest pockets and most passionate partisans in the Democratic Party share those priorities, and they are every bit as fierce in that direction as the most ardent pro-lifers are in the opposite direction.

I wonder if the Democrats will ever again recruit and really promote a thoroughly pro-life congressional candidate in Nebraska? I guess as a Republican I should hope not, but I know there are a lot of Nebraska Democrats, starting with my dad, who yearn for such a candidate.


Ted said...

You DO mean to belittle Esch. To say otherwise is a non sequitur, not to mention cowardly and classless. I am told you are a better human being than what this post indicates; I hope by the time I wake up you have reconsidered whether this is the appropriate time for this, with a bitter electoral defeat still very fresh in everyone's mind. I assume that the late hour clouded your judgment and I hope you do the right thing.

Ted Warin

Ecclesiastes 3

1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:

2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Chip Maxwell said...

Ted, thanks for the comment. Let's talk about it tomorrow on the air!

mike said...

Thanks for addressing Mr. Esch's comment about the petri dish. As usual, you were able to cut right to the point and explain the lack of effective reasoning employed by Mr. Esch.

I didn't take your comments as "belittling" Mr. Esch, rather, you were just helping him to finish his logic. Good job!

Chip Maxwell said...

Thanks for the comment, Mike.

Sandy Goodman said...


You define the debate incorrectly. As I put it in my last World-Herald piece, "the ultimate issue in this debate [is] the extent to which the moral standing of the microscopic, 200-cell embryo trumps the moral imperative to heal and alleviate the suffering of born human beings."

I think if you review your notes from the Singer lecture, you might see the issue defined similarly. He clearly defines it this way in his letter to The New York Times reproduced below. Next time you quote somebody, please make sure you do it in a way that conveys correctly and accurately the point they were making.


June 23, 2005
Science, Religion and Stem Cells

To the Editor:

Mario M. Cuomo mars his well-reasoned essay on the use of embryonic stem cells by characterizing the crucial moral issue as whether ''human life starts at conception.''

Even the earliest embryo conceived of human parents is alive and a member of Homo sapiens, and that is enough, in the eyes of many, to make it a living human being.

The crucial moral question is not when human life begins, but when human life reaches the point at which it merits protection.

It is to that question that the significance of consciousness and viability, discussed by Mr. Cuomo, should be addressed.

Unless we separate these two questions -- when does life begin, and when does it merit protection? -- we are unlikely to achieve any clarity about the moral status of embryos.

Peter Singer
Princeton, N.J., June 20, 2005

The writer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University.

Chip Maxwell said...

Sandy, drop the jargon and do what Peter Singer does -- use plain language and face up to the reality of your position. The "moral imperative" you endorse is that under certain circumsntaces it's OK to cannibalize one human to help another.

Did you read the letter you quoted? "Unless we separate these two questions -- when does life begin, and when does it merit protection? -- we are unlikely to achieve any clarity about the moral status of embryos."

Singer agrees that human life begins at fertilization. He does not believe there is a right to life at that stage, but he recognizes the scientific reality that the embryo is alive and human. Who cares what size it is?

When asked in Omaha if the government should have a say in abortion, euthanasia, and destruction of embryos for research, Singer emphatically said yes. He said each case involves termination of human life, which is a public policy matter to be decided by legislators, not judges. Antonin Scalia couldn't have said it better.

Sandy, deep down you know that Singer and NCER are right about the humanity of the embryo. That's why you fall back on the hype about what embryonic stem cells might do someday. What you're saying is maybe they are human, but we still have to cannibalize them because their cells might cure diseases.

Just say it straight out like Singer does: It's OK to destroy humans at the embryonic stage because they are not sufficiently developed to "merit protection." I disagree, but I respect Singer for debating the issue straight up and having the courage of his convictions.

Sandy Goodman said...

On February 16, 2005, I wrote in the Omaha World-Herald:


Finally, Maxwell adopts a radically materialist position on what makes us human, and he selectively cites from embryology texts. Maxwell and others consistently fail to note that the UNMC embryology textbook author states that human development is a transformational process.

Regardless, while there is fundamental agreement as to the physical facts of human development, what is at issue is the relative moral status of suffering, living, breathing human beings and the microscopic aggregation of 250 cells of the human blastocyst.

It is wrong to suggest that the presence of the 20,000 to 25,000 protein-encoding genes of the human genome is dispositive and that the issue depends on other than philosophical considerations, especially when the religious motivation of opponents of embryonic stem-cell research is so apparent.


I do not think that I have been less than straightforward in stating my position publicly.

No doubt you will object to my use of the phrase "what makes us human" in the first sentence above. Since you are so enamored of Peter Singer, I quote from him:


If ... "human" is taken to mean no more than "member of the species Homo sapiens," then the conservative defense of the life of the fetus is based on a characteristic lacking moral significance...


As you noted, Singer states his views very straightforwardly. The article from which the quote is extracted, "Taking Life: The Embryo and the Fetus" (here as published in Singer, P., 2001, Writings on an ETHICAL LIFE, The Ecco Press, paperback edition) expresses many views that are often cited to excite people against him.

Clearly, I do not think that "the moral standing of the microscopic, 200-cell embryo trumps the moral imperative to heal and alleviate the suffering of born human beings."

Your use of the inflammatory term "cannibalize" is based on your philosophical stance as to the moral status of the blastocyst-stage embryo. There is profound disagreement in our society on that question, but the majority view differs from yours.

While we are on the subject of debating issues straight up, I call on you again to stop making the misleading claim that “70 diseases have been successfully treated in humans with adult stem cells.” In fact, a real stem cell researcher, Dr. Mark Noble of the University of Rochester, has noted, there are currently zero “conditions for which there is unambiguous data for clinical utility of transplants of adult-derived stem cells, repeated in appropriate clinical trials, that are not simply the outcome of replacing the cells of the bloodstream.” [Noble, M. 2005, Ethics in the Trenches: A Multifaceted Analysis of the Stem Cell Debate, Stem Cell Reviews, Vol. 1, pp. 345-376]

I will also point out to you YET AGAIN that your claim was refuted last July in a letter to Science magazine that showed that there are only 9 FDA-approved treatments using adult stem cells, all limited to the blood system as noted above.

And as Dr. Noble further notes, “If those who argue that embryonic stem cells have not cured anyone yet would have applied exactly the same criteria to bone marrow transplants, they would have ended that research effort in the early 1960s, before the first successes occurred.”