Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Sacred Archway: Embryonic Stem Cell Research

There are more than 60 people trapped in a large burning building, and there are two possible exits. One exit requires walking through The Sacred Archway. The archway has been built on sacred ground and, according to The Sacred Text of the church; no person may go through the archway.

Those who walk through The Sacred Archway are showing affront to God and are to be executed. This is what it says in The Sacred Text. Actually, the Sacred Text does not say that all who walk through The Sacred Archway are to be executed. It does not mention The Sacred Archway one way or the other. However, those who interpret The Sacred Text have been saying for years now that those who walk through The Sacred Archway must die.

There is a second way out of the burning building.

The Priest stands outside the building will a cell phone that he is using to talk to the people inside the building. They will soon burn up. The Priest has two options. He can direct those inside through The Sacred Archway, or he can direct them to the second exit.

Only, the Priest knows that, to get to the exist, the people inside will need to fit into an elevator that can only hold nine people. This is not certain. More might be able to fit. However, the best information that the Priest has available says that nine can fit.

Many of those who are in the building do not belong to his church. They belong to other religions that do not accept the idea of a “Sacred Archway” or a God that commands the execution of those who walk through it. Some even think that if the way to The Sacred Archway is open, that this is a gift from God providing them with a way out – a sign of God’s goodness. They seek to go to the Sacred Archway to get out.

However, the Priest gets on the cell phone and tells the group that they can all use the second exit. Even though there is no reason to believe that no more than nine can survive going that route, he assures them that it is safe. “There is no need to try for The Sacred Archway. Go this way instead. You will be alright.”

They listen to the Priest.

Nine people make it out of the fire unharmed. The rest die or suffer such horrible and painful burns. The Priest, however, is a charitable person. He collects donations. The members of his church raise money that they donate to the victims, or the survivors of the victims. They look around at the burned people being cared for their hospitals and the families of those who died being given clothing and shelter to help them get by. The Priest congratulates himself for being such a good person.

The Priest conveniently ignores the fact that if they had gone for The Sacred Archway all of them might have left the building alive and healthy. The evidence suggests that this would have been the outcome. However, the Priest does not like that evidence, and does not care whether it is true anyway. Nothing is more important than preventing people from using The Sacred Archway. Besides, this option gives the Church an ability to practice its charity and show the world how moral and superior they are.

The Priest in my story has a name. Actually, the Priest represents three people. One is David Prentice from the Family Research Council. Another is is Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas. The third is Representative Dave Weldon of Florida.

All three of these people have lied to those who are trapped in a moral equivalent of a burning building, directing them to an exit that few can use -- lying to them – potentially costing them their lives and their health -- so that those who are trapped would not be tempted to use The Sacred Archway.

The “Sacred Archway” in this story represents the medical breakthroughs that we might obtain through embryonic stem cell research. The lie is represented by a list of disorders that some opponents of pending legislation has given as disorders that adult stem cell research can be used to treat or cure.

The Priests in this case thinks that there is more at stake than simply walking through a sacred archway. They hold that this act will destroy an innocent life. It is as if the Priest in this story believes that if anybody walks through The Sacred Archway that an angel will die and be forever lost. The case against stem cell research is no better than this. There is no substantive argument that a clump of cells that makes up an embryo that will die anyway represents an “innocent life.” The argument comes entirely from a religious interpretation – one that has no more merit than the belief that if anybody walks through their Sacred Archway an angel will be forever destroyed.

Yet, my case here is more immediate than the question of whether an embryo represents an innocent person. My case here is that David Prentice, Senator Sam Browback, and Representative Dave Weldon lied to people who have over sixty medical conditions, telling them that they can find a way out of their situation if they go for the second exit – adult stem cell research.

These people were not content to tell those who are trapped with these medical disorders – and those who love and care for them – “we do not want you to use The Sacred Archway because our religion tells us that an angel will be forever lost.” Perhaps they were afraid that those who are trapped and their families would not find this a good enough reason to choose to suffer death or the other ill effects of their condition.

So, they decided to lie.

An article that appears in Science Express, three scientists show that adult stem cell research has only shown success in nine of these cases. These are the nine represented by those who make it out of the burning building alive. The remaining 56 people who die or suffer burns represent the victims of the lies that Prentice, Browback, and Weldon have decided to tell.

In the realm of medical ethics – and in the realm of personal ethics – there is a principle whereby people with a tough decision to make are given the facts so that they can make a fully informed decision. Prentice, Browback, and Weldon have decided to ignore this standard. They have decided to fill peoples’ heads with medical lies in order to manipulate them into making misinformed decisions desired by those who are doing the manipulating.

We can debate whether embryos that will otherwise be destroyed represent an entity that cannot morally be used to bring health and life to others. We can debate whether walking through The Sacred Archway to escape a fire will result in the permanent destruction of an angel.

However, there is not much room to debate the immorality of lying to people about the possibility of hope where none has been found. These people do not even have the moral decency to discuss the topic honestly. Instead, they decide to engage in a cruel deception. They give the victims of disease, injuries, and disorders a false hope so that they can take away real hope.


Anonymous said...

I like to use the story of the burning IVF clinic to prove that people place different values on life, even those that *claim* that embryo's and fetuses are "life"

You are in a burning IVF clinic and you have 2 options

1) Save one infant
2) Save thousands of frozen fertilized embroys

Number 2 can be any number of embroys if it makes the person feel better. So far I have not found 1 person to take option #2 despite the fact that "all life is sacred and equal" in thier eyes, they can't see that we all weigh the life of a born inidiviual far more than thousands of unborn.

I would also like to hear the rational of anyone that would choose #2. Specifically how they could let the infant die.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Sorry, Eric.

I find the structure of that argument flawed. It begs the question.

I can easily imagine a person asking, "You are in a burning building and you have two options.

1) Save one arian.
2) Save thousands of Jews

Number 2 can be any number of Jews.

It is quite easy to imagine somebody who would argue that clearly the arian should be saved. Yet, the fact that this is the option that they would choose, and the fact that it "feels right" to them, does not prove that it is the right choice.

This argument confirms a prejudice, it does not justify that prejudice.

Now, I do not disagree with the conclusion of the embryo version of this argument. All value depends on desire. A thing that has no desires cannot be harmed. I cannot harm my computer (in a morally relevant sense) by bashing it with a bat because the computer does not care about whether I bash it with a bat.

If somebody else bashes my computer with a bat they would harm me, because I use this computer to fulfill several desires. However, the morally relevant harm is not done to the computer. It is done to the owner.

Similarly, a mother may have an interest in the unborn fetus whereby damage to the fetus does harm to the mother. However, the morally relevant harm here is not being done to the fetus, but the mother.

So, as I said, I agree with the conclusion you seek to defend. However, I don't think that the fire story used in your comment actually defends that conclusion.

Anonymous said...


The excersize, no matter what the outcome, is proper. If the anti-stemcell people decide on #1 how do they then say that they value all life equally since they are willing to forgoe hundreds or thousands of unborn lives for 1 infant. If they choose #2 it allows us to explore the reasons, which may be valid but are more likley to show a reasoning to an absurd conclusion.

I am willing to admit that #2 might be the right answer, but I have not seen any logical reason for that in today's society. #1 on the otherhand is saving a life, and preventing harm to a human being. This outcome can be objectivly measured in Utilitanarism terms.

You also have to remeber under that kind of scrutiny your own "story" since the priest honestly does not know if the "sacred archway" will save anyone ( no thereputic use of embryonic stem cells ), but he does know that the other exit will save 9 ( in the making thereputic uses ). While it's a difficult position you too might save 9 rather than risk all 56 at the other exit.

Personally I believe that embronic stem cell research must go forward if only to prove that there are better ways to do it with adult stem cells. If science had be stoped for every possible religious objection we, as a race, would still be in the dark ages.