Friday, July 21, 2006

The Vultures of Life (Stem Cell Veto)

When I was a child, I remember a National Geographic article about a Buddhist sect so respectful of life that its members took care not to step on insects as they walked.  Like many people, I confess that I’ve not followed the stem cell controversy all that carefully except to note that the word “blastocyst” needs to be changed if those who see this as the frontier of the anti-abortion movement really want to romanticize embryonic cells as sentient life.  I have, however listened to the rhetoric around embryonic stem cell research and if you knew nothing else about these folk who were talking about the sanctity of life, you would assume that they lived the rest of their life like those Buddhist monks.  Obviously it would be more than a little weird to learn that those same Buddhist monks operated a slaughterhouse or that half of them were serial killers.  Most of us would ask, “What would be the point of worrying about accidentally stepping on ants if you so wantonly kill creatures who are clearly sentient and communicative?”

When the President vetoed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act last week, I wasn’t surprised from a political perspective.  I’m pretty sure that if part of his hardcore base insisted  that the stars and sun revolved around the earth, he would endorse legislation making it so.  I did read his veto statement though and found myself trying to apply some of what he says about the “culture of life”, which I interpret as protecting human life as long as you can fit it in a culture dish, to the rest of Administration policy.  For instance, could this really be the same people who are presiding over an invasion of Iraq where 100 civilians have died a day over the last two months?  Could it be the same Congress who overwhelmingly endorsed Israel’s right of self-defense to include killing 300 civilians?  Are these the same people who support the death penalty when DNA testing repeatedly reveals that we’ve executed more than a few people who were actually innocent?  

I wouldn’t call myself a practicing Buddhist, but their perspective at least makes some sense to me.  They talk about mindfulness, respect for life, and the interconnected web of cause and effect put into play by any of our choices.  When it comes to something like abortion, the Buddhists wouldn’t question the idea that a fetus is a potential life and certainly they would stress that we must take responsibility for all of our actions (both father and mother), but they also recognize that decisions about life aren’t simple.  One does not necessarily just draw a line and say “life begins here” and we must protect it at any cost.  The world and life is much more complicated than that since one must both respect life and respect the right and need of others to make mindful choices.  Interestingly, there’s almost no history of Buddhists starting wars.  

My issue with the whole stem cell debate in America is that there’s little to no perspective on how it fits in to the rest of our culture.  If we back off enough, we look less like a “culture of life” than “vultures of life”  (that may be an insult to vultures who do the ecosystem an enormous service).  Whether or not we defend embryonic stem cells has no impact on the bigger picture.  We live with and promote policies that actively disdain the value of life in any larger truer sense.  

Years ago, I also read a book (whose title escapes me) that argued that our notion of ourselves as a single sentient being is peculiar.  We walk around with any number of organisms living on or inside of us.  When we get a rash for instance, most of us think nothing of eradicating it with whatever means necessary because we tell ourselves that it’s our body.  As I’ve looked at the whole matter of embryonic stem cells, it’s clear to me that the philosophical and ethical questions are much more complex than either side has been willing to admit to.  But to worry about our society, our own body politic if you will and evaluating its “culture of life” at a microscopic level is deeply misguided.  

Most of America should understand by now that the current administration has permitted the deaths of thousands of people based on gross misrepresentation of the facts.  When seen from any sensible perspective, its talk about ethics around embryonic stem cell research and balancing the needs of science with a deep respect for life is really much closer to Hitler being a vegetarian than it is to Buddhist monks not stepping on insects.  



At 7/21/2006 11:56:00 AM, Blogger inkyhack said...

Great post. I agree wholeheartedly.

Would be unfair to say that this current administration is killing me?

At 7/21/2006 07:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

IF nothing else, in their own wretched terms, all of women's menstrual blood should be captured and inseminated by, say, Jimmy Swaggart so the potential innocent (sans original sin?) life can be preserved.

Also there seems to be no fuss that these blastos are being unceremoniously dumped in the trash instead of nobly being enlisted with the permission of their "parents" to aid in helping the living. Where's the logic of the illogical?

At 7/21/2006 08:00:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Inky. The current administration seems intent on killing all of us.

Mr. Pogblog,
I suppose it wouldn't shock me to see "funerals" for discarded blastocysts. I still say, what a name!
We do have a president who won't go to funerals for American soldiers, but he might very well go to a blastocyst funeral.

At 7/23/2006 07:03:00 PM, Blogger benny06 said...

Did you see the GMA interview of Michael J. Fox? I missed it. Thankfully, someone on YouTube captured it.

I bet W hasn't even seen the interview. It makes his press conference about the veto so insincere and disgusting as his PR people exploited children to make a point that didn't make sense about being "pro-life". I guarantee that the effect of Parkinson's on MJ Fox is so transparent in the video clip, and disheartening to watch.

Disappointment from day 1 about a president who touted himself as a "compassionate conservative". Yeah, he and his ilk does everything they can to get a child born, but sure as heck lets the door swing on his/her rear end out of the hospital. True pro-families would be caring for their own for the rest of their lives and they expect the government to do the right thing. MJ Fox says he has lost 6 years because not enough research is being done, and we should have the will to do it. I agree.

I hope this veto and lack of override, along with other cheap-shot intiatives that make our country better, such as flag burning and gay marriage amendments, encourage enough voters come out and vote these clowns out, among them, Sen Ben Nelson of Nebraska, up for re-election this year. I cannot support him as for the life of me, I don't understand why he seldom votes with his colleagues of the party who stand for social justice.

Why doesn't Ben Nelson just be honest about his party affiliation?

At 7/25/2006 12:45:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...


I've seen Micahel Fox, though don't know if I've seen the particular video no youtube. I do think there are some potential ethical limits to scientific research and drawing the line can be very tricky indeed as the technology advances.
I just think the whole picture of what the current administration does makes its embryonic stem cell rhetoric laughable. I have no idea why more people don't ask the simpler question in the debate. "If you really worry that much about life, then what the heck are you doing with the rest of your policies?"

Some of the "moderate" democrats like Ben Nelson scare me almost as much as the hard right republicans. Sadly, if the Democrats want to take back Congress, they probably need every last one of the Nelson, Chaffee, Hillary's they can find.

At 7/28/2006 02:35:00 PM, Blogger Ron Franscell said...

You are so absolutely correct, Chance! The sanctimony, even if the cell call be called a "life," will cost millions in the quality of lives that are now being lived ... or will be lived in the near future. Could we return a Stephen Hawking, Muhammad Ali or a Michael J. Fox to some comfortable and comforting semblance of an undiseased life if federal money helped to underwrite some research?

I cannot understand how stem-cell research is deemed to be anti-life ... while military-weapon research is gleefully funded to the tune of billions. I'm glad we have good weaponry in the Age of Terror, but is it not inconsistent with a pro-life government policy? The quick answer is yes.

At 7/30/2006 03:09:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thank Ron,
I do think it's fair to say that embryonic stem cell research per se hasn't yielded any major advances yet, so a cure for Michael J. Fox, Hawking, or Ali is hardly right around the corner. Years ago I had a professor who argued that all government policies are tradeoffs of one good against another, the other usually being a certain number of deaths or injuries. His favorite example was the speed limit, e.g. every mile an hour you raise the speed limit on the highway is pretty much proven to be a couple thousand deaths/year. Does it mean that the speed limit should be 30 miles an hour?

The answer to that is pretty clearly 'No." I do think it's possible to carry out research in a way that's ethically careful and well-defined. If government gets involved in protecting all possible forms of human life, you have a government that can't operate in the modern world or any world for that matter.


Post a Comment

<< Home