Let’s deal with Science Guy’s assertions regarding embryonic stem cell research on a more analytical level. Previous discourse was too riddled with analogies and snide comments meant to entertain but not at all helpful.
Regular font represents an introduction to what Science Guy said. Boldfaced font represents what Science Guy said. Italicized font represents my criticism.
In his first reply, Science Guy began appropriately by introducing and defining terms:
There are 3 types of stem cells. There are the embroyonic stem cells(ESC), There are adult stem cells, and there are embryonic germ cells. The last category is derived from a fetus' ovary/testicle.
The most useful one is the ESC. This is because when they are harvested at 4 to 5 days, they contain hundreds of undifferentiated cells. Undifferentiated means that the cell has the ability to grow into any type of tissue (muscle, skin, bone, epithelial, etc.).
By “most useful one is the ESC” I suppose he means most practical for research purposes. It’s easier than harvesting specific kinds of cells, for embryonic stem cells are universally adaptive. This is important to grasp, and it can be inferred from Science Guy’s own statement. Stem cell research and all the possible benefits of it can be done without embryos; it’s just that using embryos is much easier. If good and evil were defined in terms of pragmatics (i.e. what is most practical is best, and what is least practical is worst), then I would be stumped. However, we are arguing an issue of morality, and morals are not contingent upon ease.
Science Guy continues, but now he stops stating fact exclusively
Harvesting embryos is not killing people. A 4-5 day embryo in a test tube is not a person.
So harvesting embryos kills embryos, but killing embryos is not killing people because people are not embryos and embryos are not people. While it is true that I am not an embryo, it is also true that I once was an embryo, as was everyone else. Furthermore, I was a specific kind of embryo, distinguishable from other life forms (e.g. a chicken embryo) buy the fact that I—even as an embryo—was made of DNA unique only to human beings. The species of any creature can be determined by the DNA in a single cell. Get any kind of cell and analyze its DNA, and you can state authoritatively from what creature that cell came. If it’s a cell from a chicken, DNA analysis will prove it to be a chicken cell.
Human embryos have human DNA, so they are humans. The fact that they are only four to five days old means only that they are not completely grown. They are immature. They are immature humans. They are humans. It’s not merely an embryo that will do for these experiments, otherwise we could harvest ESC’s from rats. Only humans work for the kind of research that we are debating. That human embryos contain human DNA and, supposing they do not die naturally or unnaturally, they continue to grow into more easily recognizable humans.
Science Guy goes on:
It [a 4-5 day embryo in a test tube] has no chance to be a person. If left alone in the test tube it would not make it to term. In order for a fetus to develop it must be implanted in a uterus. Failing that it will not be a human. It is just a possible human.
Here Science Guy has either committed an error in clarity or deliberately used his words misleadingly. What he means is “A 4-5 day embryo in a test tube has no chance to be a person if left alone in a test tube. Under such conditions, it would not make it to term.” There’s no debating that an embryo left in a test tube will die. This does not mean that the embryo isn’t human. It means that the embryo will die. This doesn’t make an embryo in a test tube a “possible human.” It means that the embryo is in mortal danger unless it is implanted in a uterus.
Perhaps the issue should be putting embryos in test tubes, for they don’t belong there. Embryos belong in a uterus—as Science Guy inadvertently points out. In fact, it sounds rather reasonable.
As for being a possible human, that is nonsense. It can’t possibly be anything else. It’s not a possible dog.
On the non-implanted embryo, Science Guy states
This failure to implant in the uterus is not common to the "detached" researchers in the lab. It happens on a daily basis to women all over the planet. (Check out this website to learn more about the causes and possible treatment http://www.illinoisivf.com/recurrent-pregnancy-loss/pre-implantation.html)
I think that Science Guy meant to say “This failure to implant . . . is [not] uncommon . . .” But I don’t really get what he’s trying to prove. It seems like a red herring, but it’s more of a non sequitor. The fact that embryos often fail to implant naturally due either to their own flaws or to faulty uteruses does not have anything to do with our debate. People die naturally all the time at all ages—even four to five days after conception.
And Science Guy continues,
Conception does not necessarily make a person. The potential for the zygote to become a person does not make it a person. If that was the case then the arguement could be made that masturbation is as bad as stem cell research. Every sperm is a potential person, it just needs an egg. A woman ovulation cycle is wrong too. Every egg is a potential person, it just needs a sperm. Every zygote is a potential person, it just needs a uterus.
"Let the heathens spill theirs on the dusty ground. God shall make them pay for each sperm that can't be found."
-Monty Python "The Meaning of Life"
Conception, that point at which the ovum is fertilized, represents the first stage of a new life. Up to that point, the separate ovum of the woman and sperm of the man were not people. The separate ovum and sperm are far more what Science Guy means when he talks about possible human or potential person. A single sperm, or even a group of sperm (though, since they swim, perhaps they should be referred in the collective as a “school of sperm”) will not divide into identical halves (mitosis) and thus form a zygote, which will then be an embryo, then a fetus and so forth. Sperm cells only contain half of the chromosomal information that will be transferred to the zygote. The same is true for an egg. During fertilization, the two halves combine (pretty much, that is, for the sperm’s mitochondria are destroyed once in the egg—which is why mitochondrial DNA is inherited strictly from the mother).
Equating the masturbation and the menstrual cycle is a red herring. First of all, neither is comparable to what happens with ESC harvesting. Second of all, they aren’t even similar themselves. Masturbation is an act of volition, while menstruation is involuntary. They also serve different purposes. The point that Science Guy was trying to make was either a joke (hence the Monty Python reference), or red herring to take us away from the real argument, or a very weak argument by analogy. Is he suggesting that a ban on ESC harvesting and research would be akin to a ban on menstruation or masturbation?
Next, Science Guy responds to a disagreement over an analogy, which is quite reasonable, since analogies are bad arguments altogether, and it was my fault for countering his analogies with my own.
O.k. First of all your analogy is severely flawed. Are you sure you got more than 200 on your verbal SAT? Sperm:Zygote is not equivalent to Butter:Cookie. Butter is very useful. It’s good on pancakes and vegetables. It’s used to make pie crusts and yummy corn on the cob. Human sperm can make. . . oh yeah, human zygotes. (Plus some interesting stains on chubby interns blue dresses and Motel 6 Bedspreads.) That’s it. Nothing else. Human sperm is created for one purpose only – to make human zygotes.
As to my calling zygotes ‘potential humans,’ I wrote potential because, as I explained, without a uterus the zygote has NO potential other than forming a dead ball of cells. Also, zygote is not a name just to dehumanize the process. A zygote is a fertilized egg no matter what species it arises from. And with the exception of a possible slight variation in size and color, there is no visible difference between the zygotes of fish, frogs, Screech, and humans.
First, Science Guy starts off with an ad hominem assault (he attacks me personally by questioning my verbal skills). He’s right, however, to attack my analogy, for that’s the easiest part to attack. What I’d said was that his comparing masturbation to the killing of a potential human was nonsense because sperm are not humans. They are ingredients to zygotes the way that butter is an ingredient in a cookie. He then decided to take this figurative comparison literally and spin a web of red herrings. Yes, butter has many uses, and sperm has only one: to create life.
He tries to defend his “potential humans” reference by reiterating that an embryo (he says zygote, but he means embryo—for it’s already begun mitosis) will die if it is not implanted in a uterus. However, the fact that it will die does not strip it of its existence. It’s cells divide—that’s how, by definition—it became an embryo, and only living things incur mitosis. Cells do not divide in a dead body. Therefore, an embryo is alive, even if it will die under certain circumstances.
As for what he says about zygotes being the same for all species, that’s nonsense. There are differences (DNA) between human and non-human zygotes. The fact that these differences are invisible to the naked eye is irrelevant. The fact that they look just like frog zygotes doesn’t mean that they aren’t human zygotes.
The following is what happens when people (Science Guy and myself are both guilty) resort to irrational and weak arguments.
Next, the comparison to slavery and the holocaust was poetic. It sprang to mind a future episode of 20/20 where they superimpose a classic clip of tattooed Jews standing in line to be slaughtered with a clip of numbered test tubes in a lab. It was a good ploy to invoke inaccurate sympathies. But the reality of the comparison is not even close. Stem cell research involves no pain, suffering or indignities. The same cannot be said for the holocaust or slavery.
Here he gets me again. I had compared the language used to defend ESC research to the language used to defend slavery and the holocaust: that the language is morally detached and deliberately omits humanizing traits/references embryo, just as the evil of slavery was merely called “The peculiar institution,” and the holocaust was merely “The Final Solution.” I made other comparisons, such as how Goebbles used to portray Jews as sub-human vermin and that this made it easier to kill them. I was wrong. I slipped and used ad miseracordiam and a red herring. While I still see similarities between certain things (read the discussion in the comments of one of the debate posts), I recognize that my analogy did not serve my argument, though it tried to subvert his. I don’t wish to defeat Science Guy. I want my argument to prevail over his because it is right (or at least more right).
However, there is nothing noble about embryonic stem cell research just because it “involves no pain, suffering or indignities.” This fact does not make ESC research moral. It doesn’t even make it immoral. It just makes it less painful and indignant than slavery and the holocaust.
Science Guy rejects my sperm are different from zygotes argument:
Finally, your last rebuttal involving zygotes vs. sperm is flawed as well. That embryos have unique human DNA is true. However, sperm is unique human DNA as well. They both have no thought, feelings or desires. It is not a human baby left in the desert to die. It is no more than a collection of dividing cells. The killing of which is a far cry from murder (which according to Mirriam-Webster is “1: To kill (a human being) unlawfully and with premeditated malice.).
Embryos’ DNA is unique and far more so than sperm’s. A sperm’s DNA is merely a reflection it’s producer’s DNA. An Embryo is a whole new DNA sequence, made up by the combination of the sperm and the egg. As for saying that an embryo is just a collection of dividing cells, that’s more than debatable. We all are collections of dividing cells. If we weren’t we’d be dead very, very soon. What he means, I guess, is that we have an intrinsic value in our existence, but an embryo does not. I do not know why he thinks so, but that’s what I’ve gathered. The dictionary defines murder as “To kill (a human being) unlawfully and with premeditated malice.” This means that murder is 1. killing someone illegally and 2. planning to kill someone (premeditated) with wicked intent (malice). Murder is illegal because it is wrong. It’s not wrong because it is illegal. The definition cited by Science Guy is flawed, for it does not recognize the pure immorality of murder. I challenge Science Guy to find the flaw in this explanation of murder: Murder is the unjustified and purposeful killing of a human being. Simply put, the only just cause for killing another person purposefully is in self-defense. If you intentionally kill someone who was not a mortal threat to you or another, then you are a murderer.
Next, Science Guy responds to my having painted an image of morally detached scientists who go about their work without conscience.
The lab workers are not some evil mad scientist types slaughtering babies with maniacal glee. They are trying to find a cure for serious human diseases for the betterment of mankind.
I was out of line to suggest that ESC researchers were like the Nazi deathcamp scientists who performed experiments on inmates, though an argument can be made that certain scientific advancements were made in those camps (which is the principle argument in defense of ESC researchers). Absent from ESC researchers is any malevolence against the embryo. This cannot be said for the Nazis, and I was wrong to imply it. However, the ends (curing serious human diseases) do not justify the means (killing human embryos).
Now Science Guy counters my really bad and in poor taste analogy with one of his own:
I agree that embryos do not deserve to be killed, but neither do deer, rabbits and trout. Yet they are killed and are quite yummy. Even a mosquito does not deserve to be killed as annoying as they are. However they are all killed without a second thought despite the fact that they are all far more complex and feeling than a embryonic collection of human cells. I know, I know, deer need to be hunted. If they are not, they will overpopulate destroying the ecosystem and causing a severe starvation of the herd. By killing off some of the herd you insure the survival and health of the rest. So because some of the deer are going to die we might as well shoot them. Enjoy the sustenance the meat provides and know we are doing good for the animal because there was a good chance it would die a slow painful death of starvation. Harvesting 4 to 5 day old zygotes is a similar principle. The zygote will die without implantation. If we can harvest it before that we can use it to grow new spines or livers etc. This will better the human population and thus the sacrifice of the embryos will be worth it in the end.
If embryos do not deserve to be killed, then don’t kill them. To say that killing an embryo is the same as killing deer, rabbits and trout is incorrect, unless he means killing deer, rabbit, and trout embryos. Humans have a right to life. Deer, rabbits, and trout do not. The fact that they are “yummy” is irrelevant. No matter how much lemon-pepper and basil you put on a human, it is still wrong to eat him. Suggesting that the death of a deer, rabbit, or trout is somehow worse than the death of an embryo because a deer etc. might feel pain is outrageous. Ironically, however, he lapses into saying that killing deer is good just like killing embryos. He says that (and it’s true) many deer will die painful deaths of starvation if we don’t hunt them, so hunting them is good (because it saves them slow and painful deaths). Then he says that this a similar case for embryos! Really? I thought that he said that embryos died painlessly.
He then resorts to pure pragmatism by stating that since non-implanted embryos will die, we might as well harvest their stem cells. The thing is, they’re not dead, and if they were implanted in a uterus, they would be just fine. What we’re somewhat getting at here is that embryos should not be formed outside of or removed from the uterus. That would make this debate irrelevant.
Later, Science Guy says this:
I do not think that I have diminished the value of life. The ‘human’ embryo will die. By using it to cure diseases we have given the ‘human’ embryo meaning to its short life.
Again, the ends do not justify the means. And what’s with patronizing dead embryos by telling them that their short little lives (notice that he said life) has some deeper meaning? Who is he trying to make feel better? The embryos are dead. They’ve been killed. I doubt that they are comforted. Perhaps (and more than likely) he’s catering to the more emotional types who might respond better than they would to logic.
Science Guy thinks that he’s going back to stating facts (the only proper position from which a scientist should argue), but he mixes them with weak psuedo-philosophical remarks.
Humans are animals. We all belong to Kingdom Animalia. The comparison is accurate. And our zygotes are very similar [to other animals]. Yes one grows into a fish and one into a human. But they both have a tail at one point. They both have gill slits. They both contain DNA with the same 4 bases. If you are so against human embryo stem cell research then why aren’t you against rat embryo stem cell research. It seems pretty damn similar to me.
Humans are animals, yes. We all belong to Kingdom Animalia, yes. Our zygotes are similar to other animals in many respects, but all Science Guy cites are superficial similarities: Look, they both have tails! Look, they both have gills! This does not mean that they are the same. Furthermore, we are not talking about research on zygotes, but on embryos. Stick with embryos, Science Guy. Just because it’s harder to compare human embryos to rat embryos doesn’t mean you should change the subject. Moreover, don’t make arguments that you yourself do not believe. You know that rats and humans are different. If I think it’s fine to kill a rat, then I’ll have no problem killing a rat embryo. Since I think that it’s wrong to kill a human, I have a problem with killing a human embryo. Did you think that by throwing in the “damn” that it added some kind of logical force to your otherwise weak argument—an argument so weak that even you yourself don’t follow it?
Here he counters one of my bad analogies with one of his own.
If you shoot someone in the head while they are sleeping it is murder. Bad analogy. Here is a better one. A man comes into the emergency room after a bad car accident. He has severe head trauma and will not make it through the night. He is on the donor registry, so the doctors harvest his liver, kidneys and heart for other patients dying from organ failure. Is that murder? Should we start protesting the gift of life registry? The concept is the same. The patient (oh excuse me, there I go trivializing again by using a incorrect term). The human zygote (really small human baby) is terminal. It will not survive. Lets use its cells to grow a new spine for someone who needs one.
Excuse me, Science Guy, but you did mention that the dying man was on the organ donor registry, didn’t you? That means that he volunteered his organs in the event of his severe injury. Since his life is his life, that’s his call, so it’s not murder—at least not by the doctors. Some people might consider it suicide, but that’s not what I’m getting at. Embryos cannot choose to be on a stem cell registry, so it’s not the same. The one concept is one of volition and the other is one of force. Give embryos a choice, then the concept is the same.
Earlier, Science Guy had used the word “sacrifice” to refer to ESC harvesting, and I jumped all over it. If the embryo is not a human, how in the heck is it a sacrifice? He responds,
As for using the term sacrifice, I used that correctly. I never said it wasn’t a sacrifice. I said it wasn’t murder. They don’t mean the same thing.
Actually, if you kill someone else against his or her own will—even if it’s a noble sacrifice—then you’ve committed murder. It’s true that not all sacrifices are murder or are even vaguely comparable to it, but this one is because it involves intentionally killing another human without just cause.
And here is Science Guy standing by his dictionary definition of murder:
By the way, I didn’t intentionally not include other definitions. Here are all of them. What do they have in common? Malice. There is no malice involved in stem cell research.
From Mirriam Webster at http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/murder:
Main Entry: 1mur·der
Etymology: partly from Middle English murther, from Old English morthor; partly from Middle English murdre, from Anglo-French, of Germanic origin; akin to Old English morthor; akin to Old High German mord murder, Latin mort-, mors death, mori to die, mortuus dead, Greek brotos mortal
1 : the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought
2 a : something very difficult or dangerous [the traffic was murder] b : something outrageous or blameworthy [getting away with murder]
Main Entry: 2murder
Inflected Form(s): mur·dered; mur·der·ing /'m&r-d(&-)ri[ng]/
1 : to kill (a human being) unlawfully and with premeditated malice
2 : to slaughter wantonly : SLAY
3 a : to put an end to b : TEASE, TORMENT c : MUTILATE, MANGLE [murders French] d : to defeat badly
intransitive verb : to commit murder
synonym see KILL
Actually, they don’t all have malice in common. Main Entry 1, definition 1 says “especially with malice.” It does not say exclusively with malice. Main Entry 2, definition 2 says “to slaughter wantonly.” The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law defines the adjective wanton as “manifesting extreme indifference to a risk of injury to another that is known or should have been known : characterized by knowledge of and utter disregard for probability of resulting harm.” Interestingly, that’s pretty much what ESC research is, especially from the embryo’s point of view.
And so ends another rehash of the same debate. Science guy might say that we can agree to disagree agreeably, but that won’t make him any less soundly beaten.