Thursday, March 31, 2005

Pro Life Stem Cellers 

In my post below on Danforth's op-ed about the Republican Party being the political arm of the conservative Christian movement, I lauded him (while maintaining my disagreement) for his take on the nexus of the abortion debate and the stem cell research debate.

Matt Yglesias disagrees.

To recap, Danforth says:
In my state, Missouri, Republicans in the General Assembly have advanced legislation to criminalize even stem cell research in which the cells are artificially produced in petri dishes and will never be transplanted into the human uterus. They argue that such cells are human life that must be protected, by threat of criminal prosecution, from promising research on diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and juvenile diabetes.

It is not evident to many of us that cells in a petri dish are equivalent to identifiable people suffering from terrible diseases. I am and have always been pro-life. But the only explanation for legislators comparing cells in a petri dish to babies in the womb is the extension of religious doctrine into statutory law.
Yglesias argues cogently that this position is rooted firmly in sexism on the part of its advocates, citing Danforth and Orrin Hatch as examples of those who hold the view. His point is summed up fairly well at the end of the post:
[T]he view seems to be that the moral standing of embryonic life is somehow large enough to override a woman's interest in her autonomy, but small enough to be overridden by our interest in maybe developing a treatment for Parkinson's Disease. This seems like one of those things you sort of have to be a man to believe.
I agree that the view is a little inconsistent, making the distinction between two otherwise biologically identical things because one is in a lab and the other in a woman. I don't know if I pin the blame on any overt sexism, but I get his point. As he puts it:
Whether or not a fertilized egg and the resulting embryo should have the moral status of a person can't possibly depend on whether or not the egg is located "in the womb."
In other words, if killing an embryo is killing a person, then why does it matter where the killing occurs? It would be silly to think of a law prohibiting murder in one zip code but permitting it in another.

On the other hand, as an advocate of stem cell research, I still laud both Danforth and Hatch (and others who hold this view) for the simple reason of expediency. I'm not going to get them to agree with me that first trimester abortions should be permissible, but if they can draw a line that permits them to support stem cell research despite our disagreement on the abortion issue, then draw away - sexist or not.


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