Wednesday, July 19, 2006

1st Veto: Anti-Existing Life

So. Bush vetoed a bill for the first time today. Guess what it was? A bill supported by Democrats, many Republicans, and most of America, which would go toward saving lives (you might even say, it was a pro-life bill). It would have allowed further stem cell research. But, as usual, political pandering to the far right won the day. Sorry scientists of America, it looks like we’ll be watching other countries surpass us by leaps and bounds in the pursuit of finding cures for fatal and debilitating diseases.

I’m beyond frustrated.

“But Democrats, citing opinion polls showing that most Americans support the research that could lead to new treatments for conditions ranging from diabetes to paralysis, said that Bush's stance may alienate centrist voters.

Iowa Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin called the veto a "shameful display of cruelty, hypocrisy, and ignorance" that crushed the hopes of millions of suffering people. He vowed to reintroduce the legislation next year.

Even conservative Republicans who generally oppose abortion are split. Some prominent anti-abortion Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah championed the legislation but most of Bush's fellow conservatives shared the president's view.”

Ignorance, yes. Pretending that fertilized eggs deserve personhood is ridiculous. Equating said egg in a Petri dish with a seven year old child is disingenuous at best, and disrespectful to women’s role in reproduction at worst. Said fertilized egg will NEVER develop into a person without a woman volunteering to develop it. And that’s the fate of most embryos frozen at fertility clinics. What, less than 130 such embryos have been “adopted” by couples for implantation, out of 400,000? So what do we do: learn from these abandoned embryos that no woman wants to implant, or do we let them get freezer burn and then throw them out? Let me be bold: If I were such a frozen embryo, and somehow magically could learn the cultural apparatuses (e.g., language) and social contexts to weigh in on the debate, I would far rather go toward helping someone in a wheelchair walk again, than languish in storage until I was beyond use.

My favorite Bush comment:

"It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect, so I vetoed it," Bush said of the research that involves tiny human embryos.

I can’t help but laugh at this. Bush is trying to instruct us on morals? Seriously? After Katrina, the Iraq war, all the blunders? After feeding into the hate and discrimination against gays? While trying to take a woman’s right to choose away, and pretending that he knows best what individual women should do with their bodies? And while it’s perfectly acceptable to sacrifice the innocent lives of many Iraqi women and children for the “greater good” of the war, it’s totally morally reprehensible to use unwanted and doomed embryos for medical breakthroughs. So, embryos = human life we must respect, but already living people (especially women) = expendable. The doublespeak is mind boggling.

Now I’m going to end with some points that I was thinking of while debating this recently…

1. I’m confused as to why conservatives point to the fertilized egg as the definitive make-or-break moment in a very long and complicated process. You can claim that life begins at conception, but you’re already treading theological ground. Why? Because the medical community and our government agree that pregnancy (ie, the beginning of the development of life) begins at implantation — not the meeting of sperm and egg. Next thing you know, the extreme right will say that life begins with the egg, which is simply a person without a complete genetic code yet. This would feed in wonderfully with the Washington Post’s coverage of the CDC’s “pre-pregnant” status for ALL women between puberty and menopause.

2. Some conservatives see the embryo-in-utero as equivalent to that in a Petri dish. This stance overlooks the fact that in order for a fertilized egg to mean something, to have the potential to gain personhood, it *requires* a woman’s womb. This isn’t just a simple change of place, this is asking a fully realized human being to use her physical, emotional, and financial resources to grow an develop a human being. Embryos don’t become people outside of the womb, period. Until they’re in a womb, I don’t see how we can possibly grant them anything that even resembles rights. And even once it’s implanted in the womb, I would argue that a woman still retains the right to her own body, and can act in self-defense against the fetus. (Believe it or not, there are people who want to outlaw abortion who are against even the health exception of the woman’s life.)

3. Another huge moral quandary: If you think it’s A-OK to keep intelligent, conscious, sentient beings in cages (i.e., primates), while giving them diseases and testing out experimental meds on them, for the human good, then you should really re-consider your stance on using frozen, destined-not-to-be-used embryos for scientific study.

4. Our technology is bringing us closer everyday to allowing even infertile couples to produce their biological offspring (in a few years, even same sex female couples may be able to use this technology). So why, exactly, would anyone think that these thousands of frozen embryos are going to be desired by, well, anyone? Right now, there’s not enough demand for said embryos, and that demand is only going to lessen over time with advances in technology. Most people who go to fertility clinics want their biological children (otherwise, why not adopt?). Given the much more compelling case of living, breathing, homeless children, I think that most couples who want to do something good will adopt those children, rather than implant someone else’s frozen embryo.

5. Back to that whole embryos-have-personhood thing. If no woman wants to develop that embryo (which is quite common right now, as fertility clinics struggle with an “acceptable” way to dispose of unwanted fertilized eggs), how exactly does that embryo have any rights? It doesn’t. We can’t confer rights to an embryo by taking away the rights of a woman. The idea of “right to life” doesn’t make sense to me: we owe a tremendous debt to our mothers (and the men who act as fathers). I’m lucky and thankful that my mother chose to have me (maybe you’re reading this, Mum!), but I don’t see how I could possibly fault her if she chose not to have children. I think it’s bizarre to act as though a fertilized egg has some compelling rights over the living. Most of these embryos exist because a couple was trying to give life to their children; these are unfortunately what is left after such processes. I think it’s better to use these embryos to help the living, than to pretend that they’re actually going to be adopted through an embryo adoption program. A few will, but we’ll still have many left over, so why not let scientists do what they can to advance our ability to save already existing lives? And while many want to adopt children, these embryos clearly need a woman to volunteer to carry them first (not a lot of women, understandably, want to do this). Further, last I checked, we aren’t exactly suffering for want of people on this planet. Overpopulation is one of our most pressing problems as a species. We’ve added what, 4 billion people to the world population since WW2? Imagine, 2 billion to 6 billion in about 50 years. And that growth isn’t expected to stop anytime soon. So logistically, no, not every would-be combination of DNA has a “right to life,” and I don’t see why we should be worrying about finding ways to develop unwanted embryos when we have people dying of disease that we hope to learn how to treat.

And that’s all I have to say.

Except, again:

Bush, THIS is what you veto? This is seriously the only thing you’ve vetoed since coming into office? (Well, not counting line-vetoes…)


karuna said...

Ok, first of all, line vetoes have been struck down by the supreme court. So, yes, this is Bush's first veto, and it makes me sick as well because there are so many horrible spending bills that give tons of money to pointless domestic programs and that should be vetoed. But whatever.

Becky, you miss the entire point. It was both bold and courageous for the President to go against his own party and stand by his principles. I'm very proud of him for that. It's one of the few times I have been so proud of Bush.
But the point is not when does life being and is there life in a petri dish and yada yada. Your little rant there is well noted but this is not what this bill is about.

Yes, the President believes life begins with fertilization, as do I and as do well over a majority of Americans. But, this is about whether we should be using American tax dollars to fund this stuff - research that over 40% of American tax payers strongly disagree with. Notice how there is no ban on stem cell research. NOTE THAT BUSH IS THE FIRST PRESIDENT TO EVER ALLOCATE ANY GOVERNMENT MONEY TO STEM CELL RESEARCH.

So what do we have here? We have a difference of opinion. I believe that life begins and fertilization and you don't. Fine. Don't use my money to destroy innocent lives (my belief)! You are free to invest your money in it, and I suggest that all those strong stem cell research proponents go for it (they won't given that the research done thus far hasn't yielded a ton of results but that's besides the point).

Now I know what your response is going to be - something along the lines of you not agreeing with the Iraq war and not wanting your money to go there. And yes, you have a point. But, you have to understand that in a democracy, if there is a direct threat to our national security (as Bush AND CONGRESS thought there was), the government has a responsibility to protect. Stem cell research is not in any way, shape or form an issue of a direct threat to our security. Yes, it may yield wonderful results (although, we have yet to see this). But it does not deal with our national security.

On the political side, I suggest you read a speech made by Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN). He is a good man who pretty much gets to the heart of the issue.

Becky said...

This won't be long (we're going to the county fair!), but, I had to say, that I did read the Pence speech. It was moving, but I think it's rather misapplied. No one's trying to take away a couple's/woman's right to adopt an embryo. And until it's adopted, it doesn't have, well, any chance at becoming one of those "snowflake babies." As I'm reading Pamela right now, I can't help but note the extreme sentimentalism that has entered the debate, which I think obscures the facts. I'd like to see some arguments appealing more to logos than bathos. I more enjoyed Arlen Specter's note that he's thinking more of what the "end of life" means than caring to debate and split hairs over the beginning. Fertilized eggs at IVF clinics don't become children on their own, and until they magically develop that capability, I see no reason to throw those unwanted embryos out rather than let scientists do what they feel is necessary to advance what we know about saving lives.

Bush's policy isn't helpful in moving our nation along with others in the advancement of this technology (eg, Canada). If we spent a fraction of what the Iraq war is costing us, we'd be doing much more for human health, in my opinion, than this war has done so far (I hope the Iraqis are better off in the future for our intervention, but at the moment I'm not sure how all will turn out. And as for the lives of Americans, I firmly believe we are and were more at risk from countries like North Korea and Iran).

Considering how much money this country has wasted under this administration (the misspent money on Katrina clean up comes to mind), I can't see why this would be the one project that gets shot down.

I'm more worried about the ethics involved in doing primate research -- slowly killing intelligent animals closely related to us -- than about the ethics of using freezer burnt embryos.

But, on one count I agree: it would be encouraging to see private businesses and universities pick up the slack, in consideration of Bush's stance. Strangely, both the state of CA and UW-Madison have such programs!