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June 14, 2005

The shamelessly adorable picture is just to remind you what I have at stake

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Here's your IVF update.

Will Saletan explains why seemingly sane Italians passed (and now preserved) their clearly insane IVF laws, and what their nightmare means for the US if the religious right has its way.

The ghoulish ironies don't end there. Last year, President Bush's council on bioethics, well-stocked with conservatives, strongly urged fertility clinics "to reduce the incidence of multiple embryo transfers and resulting multiple births, a known source of high risk and discernible harm to the resulting children." But the Italian law requires such multiple transfers, endangering healthy embryos in the name of protecting unhealthy ones. By limiting the number of embryos in each IVF round to three, the Italian law has doubled the average number of rounds necessary to get a successful pregnancy. This means more hormonally induced egg production and extraction, which, according to Bush's council, "carry significant medical risks to the women."

Oh, and don't forget the increased risk of low birth-weight and infant mortality. Define "pro-life" again, please?

Ellen Goodman calls the Snowflakers' bluff. "When people claim to believe that a frozen embryo is the moral equal of a child, ethicists like to pose this question: If a clinic is on fire and you could save either a 2-year-old or a vial full of embryos, which would you pick?" She also has some advice for people in my position: "Embryos are not human beings. Nor are they hangnails. They carry the potential for human life that deserves moral attention and respect. It's not disrespectful to donate embryos to the search for a curing diseases. Nor is it respectful to keep embryos in a freezer until they're eligible for Social Security." No sweat. Social Security will be bankrupt by then.

Jane Eisner sees the next move on the chessboard: "if the embryo were legally a person, we wouldn't have to worry about low birth rates because contraception would become problematic. Barrier methods such as condoms and diaphragms would, I suppose, be permitted, but certain birth control pills and the IUD would be banned because, as a last resort, they sometimes prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. The protracted argument over the so-called morning-after pill could end, because that, too, occasionally works after fertilization and therefore would be banned."

Well actually (not that I expect the religious right to give a shit about facts), the latest research shows that emergency contraception (aka the morning after pill) "appears to work by interfering with ovulation, thus preventing fertilization, and not by disrupting events that occur after fertilization." (Full disclosure/nachas: my wife Gina wrote this article)

Regular readers of this site won't learn much from Pam Belluck in the Times, but here's the nugget I fished out. Remember when I said that I was willing to compromise with the Flakers? ("Clinics can agree to deal with adoption agencies IF the agencies agree to pursue a political course that will allow donation/adotion to be only one of many legal options, including permanent storage, disposal, or donation for stem-cell research.") Well, what a shock, it's precisely such reasonable moderation that they disapprove of: "Ron Stoddart, the executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, which runs Snowflakes, said he believed more people would donate embryos to other couples if the option was advertised and encouraged. He criticized many fertility-related organizations for telling patients that donation to another couple is just one choice among many, including storing the embryos, discarding them or donating them to research."

Yes, how dare doctors tell their patients the truth! You can see why this war is being waged, can't you?

[Related posts]

Posted by Daniel Radosh

Comments

I don't have an IVF dog in this fight, but I just wanted to point out that the save-only-one-from-the-fire test for inclusion in the moral community is bogus. As Gary Francione points out in "Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?" (the subtitle refers to exactly that save-only-one-from-the-fire question): If faced with the choice of saving your child or the family dog from a house fire, you would pick your child. But *that fact* doesn't mean the dog is not entitled to moral consideration.

Why not? Well, if you could only save your child or some sick elderly person you've never met, Francione argues, you would almost certainly make the same choice - your child - for a variety of defensible reasons. But does that mean we exclude sick elderly people we've never met from moral consideration? No. So the supposed "test" fails.

Things or beings may have different degrees of value within a moral sphere, but that is not the same as one having moral value and the other completely lacking it.

But Bennet doesn't say embryos are *completely* lacking moral value; she's specifically says they aren't. She's just challenging the following sentiments of total equivelence: "He now calls embryos ''real human lives'' just like ''the lives of those with diseases that might find cures.'' Tom DeLay goes a step further when he describes research using embryos as ''the dismemberment of living, distinct, human beings.'' Not to be outdone, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., talks of the ``slaughter of human life.''"

The test is admittedly gimmicky and has little to do with real-world ethics, but it's accurate on its own terms. If you were in a situation where you could save either one 2-year-old child or 11 2-year-old children (none of them your own), you'd save the 11 without hesitation. But if the 11 are embryos, I'd think even Tom Delay would save the 2-year-old. If not, why not? What's more, I'd hope that if a Flaker had 11 of her own embryos in storage, she'd still save a 2-year-old she'd never met. Deep inside, even the most hardcore Flakers must know embryos aren't fully-realized children.

The test is admittedly gimmicky and has little to do with real-world ethics, but it's accurate on its own terms.

Only if those terms are for absolute equality. The issue, though, seems to be whether they're equivalent in exactly one way - that ending such a life has a moral component or doesn't have a moral component. Goodman's ethicists seem to be using this to dispense with exactly that moral component - i.e. if you wouldn't save the embryos in *that* situation, it's fine to destroy them in *any* situation. And I'm saying that's specious.

Again, my objection in no way asserts that these embryos are worthy of moral consideration tantamount to that of humans - I'm only pointing out that this one "test" is not a logically sound one.

Did you even read the Ben-- I mean, Goodman essay? (Sorry about that. Ellen Bennett is someone I used to work with, duh). She specifically says she is addressing claims of absolute equality and not trying to deny any moral component: "Embryos are not human beings. Nor are they hangnails. They carry the potential for human life that deserves moral attention and respect."

Well, yeah, I had read it before you linked it, but I went back and reread it now. She never makes any distinction about "absolute equality" - the only relevant portion is what you've quoted (and requoted above). So to return to my original comment, using Goodman's exact term - if you would save your child rather than a sick elderly person, does that mean that a sick elderly person is not "the moral equal" of your child? Unless you answer yes to this question, you have to admit that this "test" is bogus, a red herring in the larger argument.

I get that you're deeply into this, and I didn't intend for this one thing to become the sole subject of this thread, but much as I love Ellen Goodman (and agree with the article as a whole), that who-would-you-save-first trope is just lazy rhetoric masquerading as logic.

I think you're being willfully argumentative here, Vance -- I'd say the who-would-you-save-first thing does, in fact, accurately measure which of two things you value more, and the fact that this is *all* it measures doesn't mean that what it measures is useless.

You ask, "If you would save your child rather than a sick elderly person, does that mean that a sick elderly person is not 'the moral equal' of your child"? Who the heck suggested that? Saving one's child is the reasonable thing for one to want to do; it's the entity you care most about. The thought experiment here is saying that *if* someone has stated that they honestly consider embryos to be just like children, and they *truly* feel that way, then their behavior in an eleven-embryos-vs.-one-child situation should reflect their true feelings. And yet it is really hard to imagine *anyone* honestly answering, "I'd save those eleven children first." It is not a measure of what moral worth the embryos have, it is a measure of the hypocrisy inherent in claiming that children and embryos are essentially interchangeable. Why is this tricky?

I'm so glad someone else weighed in, only because I was about to admit that Vance and I should just take the whole discussion to IM.

I can't answer you why it's tricky, Francis, but it apparently is, since both of you keep straying from the actual words "moral equal" and claiming that the question is about whether "embryos [are] just like children." Even you must admit the Snowflakers have nowhere said that embryos are just like children. The only question is whether there is a moral component to destroying them that is equal to the moral component of destroying a child.

I'll try to simplify it:

Person 1: X is the moral equal of Y.
Person 2: Really? Then if you could only save one, which would you choose?
Person 1: X.
Person 2: See? Therefore X is not morally equal to Y.

You and Dan find the last line logically sound when Y = "embryos" but not when Y = "old man." In fact, you can substitute any two things you might care about and get the same result - the fact that one is more valuable to you does not mean the other lacks a basic moral value (i.e. the do-not-kill value). What I'm saying is that this shows that this thought experiment itself has nothing to offer (logically, that is - it's still worthwhile as a rhetorical device) on their moral equality and that you have to bring in completely different factors to answer this question.

I can do that, if necessary, and make that argument, because in my opinion they're not morally equal. But that rhetorical question does not do the trick.

You're forgetting something, Vance. Your dialogue should read:

Person 1: X is the moral equal of Y.
Person 2: Really? Then if you could save either 1X or 13Y, which would you choose?
Person 1: 1X.
Person 2: See? Therefore X is not morally equal to Y.

Adjusting for biases (eg, X is someone you know, Y is a stranger) how does that not make sense? if X and Y are equal, 13Y should be 13 times more valuable than X. I also note that you when you say "the fact that one is more valuable to you does not mean the other lacks a basic moral value (i.e. the do-not-kill value)," you're the one who strays from the initial set-up by changing the terms from "moral equal" to having "basic moral value."

As far as "Snowflakers have nowhere said that embryos are just like children," they most certainly have. Goodman quotes several people saying they are "real human beings" (which is more accurately what Goodman was referring to with her test, unless the religious right is suddenly going to start accepting that some human lives have less value than others, which would defeat the whole purpose) and here's someone saying "It grieves my heart to see these preborn children in these frozen orphanages around the nation" The Snowflakes agency also calls them "preborn children," which, as we well know from the abortion debate, are in their eyes "just like children." And here's the head of Snowflakes saying, "an embryo is not an egg, not a sperm, it's a baby. It's a baby at its very earliest stage of development. But it's a baby, and the idea of destroying it is the same as abortion."

This goes back to a flaw in the anti-abortion argument that I noticed even as a youngster. I grew up in an intellectual evangelical town and family that completely rejected the abortion-doctor murders that were ongoing at the time. Though my family and their friends are staunchly anti-abortion, they were appalled by the radicals terrorizing clinics.

But if a fetus was actually a full human life, weren't those murders justified? After all, I often heard about Dietrich Bonhoeffer's heroism in his (failed) plot to assassinate Hitler. Those radical actions should either be moral equivalents, which I knew they were not, or a fetus was not a full human life.

The only conclusion I could come to (ok, it took me another decade or so) was that while fetuses are worthy of moral consideration, they are not "babies."

if X and Y are equal, 13Y should be 13 times more valuable than X.

OK, so putting it in symbolic notation apparently didn't help. Please note that I only used the equals sign to signify assigning a variable to an object. I didn't say "X = Y." Saying two things are "moral equals" is not saying that they're the same thing, or even essentially the same thing. It means that within the context of a given moral question (e.g. whether killing/destroying them is defensible), they deserve the same consideration. The difference in number is only a distraction, an additional rhetorical layer, because it's not as if the fundamental morality changes from 12 to 13, or, realistically, from 1 to 2. Honestly, if in this scenario you could save your own child or two sick old men, are you telling me the fact that there were two of them would make you save them instead? And if not, would you be commiting an immoral act?

And of course right after posting that they'd "nowhere said" that I knew you'd be able to dig something up where one of these zealots had said something close to that, so yeah, that was wrong. The point, which I fumbled, was that Goodman wasn't referring to any such statements in bringing up the save-only-one test, but was using that specifically to answer the question of "moral equals."

As to abortion, my take on the morality of that question leaves any analogy completely out, but we don't need to go even further afield than we have. Do we?

Yeah, but arrrrrrrgh, if X = a baby that's related to you and Y = a sick old man you don't know, then there's no equivalency -- X is more valuable to you. It's your freakin' baby. So you can't use those two things as a counterexample of "if X and Y are equal, 13Y should be 13 times more valuable than X," because X and Y aren't equal.

if X = a baby that's related to you and Y = a sick old man you don't know, then there's no equivalency -- X is more valuable to you.

Exactly. There's no "equivalency" in the sense that these two things have the same value - yet as a society we agree that they are *moral equals* - neither one do we have a right to kill.

So you can't use those two things as a counterexample of "if X and Y are equal, 13Y should be 13 times more valuable than X"

I didn't. My counterexample for that was for Y = multiple old men, showing that the number of Y is irrelevant. But again, as I said above, "if X and Y are equal" is not at issue, only "if X and Y are moral equals," which is a different proposition.

Um, why is it wrong to leave a dog in a burning house? Aside from one's own projection of value, isn't a dog morally equivalent to cattle raised for consumption? I mean, we can't draw hard biological distinctions regarding consciousness for lesser mammals because we have no interpretive framework with which to compare experience. What if rats are the most advanced social beings after humans, apes and chimps? There are good arguments to be made for that.

The equivalency argument is a dodge, just like the 'ticking bomb' scenario for torture. If there is an old man and a baby and a dog in a burning house, you go in for the baby first, the old man second. Retreiving domesticated animals is morally equivalent to family hierlooms, a matter of personal value investment. Embryos rank about the same place.

I just wanted to point out the Google Ad on the side:

Intelligent IVF
Compassionate, Conservative Convenient, Chargeable
www.ivf-de.


Oooh. It's conservative, and I can put it on my American Express Card? Now that's culture of life!

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