A pro-choice Catholic and a Rabbi walk into a bar

Two columns in the Post.  One from the newly reborn Kathleen Parker, who argues, not that fallaciously, that perhaps lifting the stem cell ban was otiose, as researchers had already found a way around the central moral problem (for some), i.e., the creation of embryonic stem cells from embryos.  Or is it the destruction?  I'm not sure, because she unfortunately characterizes the moral problem in these two distinct ways.  This seems important because some people object to using (therefore destroying) stem cells, others object to creating embryos solely for the purposes of research, which seems, in some sense, much worse.  Nonetheless, other cells, she alleges, work just as well, so lifting the ban on whatever it was that was happening doesn't amount to much.  I have a feeling something in there is false or confused, but this doesn't strike me as a fallacious argument.  So good for Parker, at least we stayed on topic.

Same topic, different writer.  Michael Gerson makes the following very puzzling assertion:

It is probably not a coincidence that Obama has chosen a Roman Catholic — Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius — to implement many of these policies as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Obama has every right to a pro-choice Cabinet. But this appointment seems designed to provide religious cover. It also smacks of religious humiliation — like asking a rabbi to serve the pork roast or an atheist to bless the meal.

Sebelius, though strongly pro-choice, was capable of occasional compromise. But she consistently fought against the serious enforcement of Kansas's late-term abortion restrictions. Kansas became a magnet for late-term abortions.

Still, Sebelius insists that "my Catholic faith teaches me that all life is sacred." This puts her in the same category as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Biden — Catholics who assert the sanctity of life while defending legal abortion. It has also earned Sebelius a firm rebuke from her archbishop.

No, it's not like the Rabbi thing at all: Sebelius is strongly pro-choice, one might presume the rabbi in the joke or the atheist is not "pro pork" or "pro God."  There is much else about this column that would warrant criticism, such as the claim that pro life people's rights are being trampled upon when they lose arguments:

There is a common thread running through President Obama's pro-choice agenda: the coercion of those who disagree with it.

Indeed, laws are coercive.  Elections, someone said, have consequences.  Pointing that out doesn't mean those consequences (i.e., laws which are "coercive"!) are wrong.

8 thoughts on “A pro-choice Catholic and a Rabbi walk into a bar”

  1. I think he had the right analogy in mind; he just misused it.
    A Catholic that is strongly pro-choice is the same as a rabbi that serves pork roast or an atheist that blesses the meal.

    Also, the above analogy would’ve worked some time ago, but now being Catholic could mean a lot of things. I still remember your joke about Catholic “diversity”, jcasey. 🙂

  2. Parker is repeating a bad talking point though, that adult stem cells are just as good or better than embryonic ones (thus implying that anyone who would want to work on the embryonic variety is stupid or perverse).

    It is far too early in the development of stem-cell-based therapies to say whether one kind can completely replace the other. No one with any scientific background would make the kind of argument Parker is repeating. No one knows, for example, how to cure Parkinsons disease, so why would anyone make pronouncements as to which emerging technology will eventually cure it?
    Wishful thinking blends well with scientific illiteracy…

  3. Chris, she does state that: ” every single one of the successes in treating patients with stem cells thus far — for spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis, for example — have involved adult or umbilical cord blood stem cells, not embryonic stem cells”
    If that’s accurate, then you can make a case that adult stem cells are just as good or better than embryonic ones. At least based on what we know now.

    However, the whole issue at hand, as she points out is that “though federal dollars still won’t directly fund embryo destruction, federally funded researchers can obtain embryos privately created only for experimentation. Thus, taxpayers now are incentivizing a market for embryo creation and destruction.”

    In other words, one man (Obama) with one simple act (removing the ban) made a us all contribute indirectly to “embryo creation and destruction”.

  4. BN, the conditions she mentions have not been successfully cured–the research she cites constitutes progress in my view but not “success”.
    You cannot predict what kind of research will cure spinal cord injuries or MS.
    Think of medical research as a portfolio that needs to be diversified–it is foolish to put all your eggs in one basket, no matter how finely decorated the basket.

    A side note: everyone, everyone would love to see adult stem cells work out–we’d love to be able to grow a new liver from our own skin cells, or cure a degenerative condition. Mastering adult stem cells will probably require lots and lots of experimentation on embryonic stem cells (given that you are tricking/reprogramming adult cells to act like embryonic ones).

  5. I think Chris means to claim that Parker has misrepresented the realities and possibilities of stem cell research. My claim was that she fudged on the creation/destruction question, which seems to be the basis of your claim.

  6. Hi jcasey, you’re right that I’m just objecting to anyone prejudging the outcomes of different lines of biomedical research.
    I have heard Parker’s argument from others on television this week–the general form seems to be something like “Use of embryonic stem cells is immoral, but we don’t need them anyway, so no worries.” It seems like a conflation of at least two separate arguments, designed to sway even those who have no ethical qualms about destroying embryos left over from IVF…

  7. You might be interested in this, which just appeared over at PhilPapers. (http://philpapers.org/rec/BROMCI).

    Mark T. Brown (2009). Moral Complicity in Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Research. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 19 (1):pp. 1-22.

    Direct reprogramming of human skin cells makes available a source of pluripotent stem cells without the perceived evil of embryo destruction, but the advent of such a powerful biotechnology entangles stem cell research in other forms of moral complicity. Induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) research had its origins in human embryonic stem cell research and the projected biomedical applications of iPS cells almost certainly will require more embryonic stem cell research. Policies that inhibit iPSC research in order to avoid moral complicity are themselves complicit in preventable harms to patients. Moral complicity may be unavoidable, but a Blue Ribbon Panel charged with assessing the need for additional embryonic stem cell lines may ease a transition from embryonic stem cell research to clinical applications of iPS cells.
  8. Chris, you’re right. That statement embodies 2 separate arguments:
    1) Destroying the embryos is immoral.
    2) We shouldn’t do it, because the consequences are not good (either because it’s useless or because it can lead to something worst … cloning … and so on)

    They all try to make more of the type 2) argument because they feel this could appeal to people that don’t agree with type 1) argument.

    Also, Kathleen adds: “If people “know” anything, it is that embryonic stem cells can cure diseases and that all stem cells come from fertility clinic embryos that will be discarded anyway. Neither belief is entirely true. ”

    jcasey, I think it’s creation for destruction of the embryos. This is Kathleen’s central moral problem.

    jcasey, I think her argument is that the removing of the ban

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