Saturday, March 14, 2009

Stem Cell Research - Answers for Tired Religious Arguments

Today I was surfing the AM dial and of course ran across a fair share of religious right maniacs, talking about Obama's efforts to begin the Clone Wars. The arguments they put forth are always the same, and they crumble under the least scrutiny. Working in biotech I think about the stem cell question a fair bit, so here are some of the most egregious problems in what the anti-stem cell mob is saying, and how to stop them in their tracks.

First and foremost, there's an increasing implication that stem cell research proponents are part of a big conspiracy, President Obama (of course) chiefly among them. The implication is not just that Obama and the scientific community are rejecting traditional religious pro-life arguments, but that they're actively trying to destroy embryos and in general degrade the sanctity of life. We can call them on it. When you see this in comment sections of online publications or hear this on campus, ask: do you really believe that Obama, and thousands of American men and women doing medical research, are interested in actively pushing forward a program to destroy human life? If so, exactly why would this be?

Second is the notion that there are equal or better options for conducting medical research than stem cell research. This recapitulates the first question: if that's really true, then why have scientists and doctors been rejoicing at Obama's reversal of Bush's restrictions? Because they're blood-thirsty embryo-eaters? This assertion is especially interesting to me as a drug research professional because it's exactly the same assertion that animal rights activists make: there are better options out there, but drug companies insist on testing on animals. Apparently, we only spend all this money and time on animal tests because we get a kick out of cruelty. So, you can tell the anti-stem cell folks that they're making the same arguments as animal rights activists (that'll piss'em off). Challenge them to differentiate the two arguments; ask them why, exactly, scientists insist on using this technology if it isn't useful.

Third - and this applies to religious arguments against abortion too - if the anti-stem cell mob really believes that a fertilized embryo is a human being, do they support the same penalties for scientists who destroy an embryo in the course of research as they do for someone who shoots a cashier in the course of an armed robbery? If not, why the heck not? For that matter, when a woman has a miscarriage (of a fertilized embryo) which is the outcome of over half of all pregnancies - should manslaughter charges be brought? If not, why the heck not? Don't fail to point out that hesitation on these points means they clearly don't really believe that a fertilized embryo is the same as a human being.

An embryo is a single cell - smaller than the mass of millions of cells that make up an insect's brain - and has no capacity to suffer. This is a fact. No doubt Christians would argue that the ability to suffer is irrelevant, and Scripture tells us human life is sacred. Again, exactly where does it say that? And if the question of suffering really is irrelevant, then wouldn't you also protect corpses from being desecrated as a result of their post-death handling? But it looks like someone beat me to the punch. Talk about a walking reductio ad absurdum.


Modusoperandi said...

Um...that link is clearly a Poe.

Michael Caton said...

Points for being the first to catch it. In all honesty it had me fooled at first. But it's a hilarious site and I'm all for more people reading it, especially religious conservatives.