O Solo Veto

The world is going to the crapper in the Middle East right now, so in a way part of me wonders why I’m obsessing over this issue, but it’s important. Like everybody else I’m wondering how President Bush has managed never to veto a single thing in all his years in office.

I mean, if you’d hired a quality control officer in your company and, unlike every q.c. officer before him, he’d not found a single bit of quality to control and said “well I got the factory to change everything to my specifications before it got to the point where it had to be sent back” would you be suspicious? I would. Either the guy is a genius who just reinvented your quality capabilities or he’s slacking. And there aren’t that many geniuses in the world.

Anyway, this stem cell thing … there are many reasoned arguments on both sides. I’ve heard some very decent and rational people explain how, if you define life as beginning at conception, an embryo is a human being and therefore should be protected under the law. Fair enough. But if that’s the case, why do we dispose of so many of them?

According to the legislation that was vetoed, there are thousands of them disposed of every year. The legislation only sets boundaries saying we can use the ones that would’ve been disposed of for research, and only if the donors agree to it. These would never be implanted in a woman. If they’re all human life, why are they being disposed of to begin with?

Part of U.S. Congressman Mike Castle’s letter to Bush:

* The stem cells were derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment. Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded.
* The individuals seeking fertility treatment donated the embryos with written informed consent and without receiving any financial or other inducements to make the donation.

This logic goes unmentioned in the administration’s denouncements.

What we’re really witnessing is a calculated pandering to ignorance. I don’t think Bush is pandering, though — I think he really believes each blastocyst is a human child crying out for a uterus. He’s swallowing whole the dogma spoon fed to him by Rove, especially. (Rove, who has been distorting the science to begin with — and we know Bush won’t actually read anything for himself, so whatever Rove says, Bush takes as gospel.)

This is frightening to me because of the implications — that even with a Republican majority in Congress passing this bill, the President still sees it as his responsibility to be the voice of his version of God for our nation. I can’t find the link right now, but it’s on record that at least four senators who spoke against the bill invoked God’s name saying the Creator would be very displeased and would do bad things to America if we passed it.

Ben Franklin and the rest of them are rolling in their graves.

The pandering is possible because of the semantics involved. What do we mean by “life” and “child”? Who gets to decide if a blastocyst is a child or not? Obviously, in reality, it’s more complicated than “cell a plus cell b equals Junior.” Nature doesn’t treat it that way; even the Bible doesn’t treat it that way (it refers to life as “breath” not blastocysts; so much of scripture is misquoted, mistranslated and misinterpreted to support all kinds of views that I’ve given up trying to even discuss it in those terms with anyone). And evidently our own laws don’t treat it that way either, because the law allows the discarding of these blastocysts in fertility clinics.

This is a way for an administration that has championed so much death to doubletalk their way into being all about life, to hold onto their shredding political base by pandering to the ignorant, superstitious and misguided who keep putting them in office.

I don’t necessarily mean “ignorant” as an insult, either. Everybody can’t be an expert on everything. People are busy with their regular lives. In an information saturated world, we depend on sound bites to navigate the terrain. I confess that, listening to the bits and pieces coming over the airwaves, I too figured using embryos for research sounded creepy to me. But being informed about it with an open mind goes a long way toward understanding it’s not so simple, especially when you weigh the benefits.

The NIH has an excellent overview here.

Over four hundred thousand blastocysts are out there, frozen, and a tiny fraction of them are ever “adopted” for attempted impregnation. Plus, if I understand Castle’s letter quoted above, only cell groups that are flagged by donors as ok for research would ever be used.

It’s a slippery ontological question: who decides a group of cells is a human person and who doesn’t? If someone is brain-dead, and the family insists the person is alive enough to still be the person they knew, should the government be allowed to pull the plug anyway? Probably not. Then why would the government be allowed to decide the converse — that a microscpopic blastocyst is a person when the people who created it say it isn’t? It’s uncomfortable to discuss, but necessary.

However, rational discussion is impossible with the rampant disinformation and ignorance being spread (by both sides, in some instances, but the *science* and logic are on the pro-research side, it seems to me). The most ridiculous stuff is coming from the silly portion of the right wing, such as Limbaugh claiming that you have to have abortions to get stem cells.

Why am I angry about this? Because of the same reasons that most of the country should be up in arms about it. Because I have people I love who could be helped by this research — the brightest light in the dark tunnel of medicine for so many people with diseases that don’t respond to anything as simple as a miracle vaccine. It’s the same reason Arlen Specter breaks with his more extreme Republican brethren on the issue on the Senate floor. Because for him it’s a matter of life and death, but not in the sense of superstition and theory:

There are some 400k frozen embryos, and the choice is discarding them or using them to save lives; Sen. Brownback and I had a debate where he challenged me on when life began, and I retorted, suffering from Hodgkins cancer myself, the question on my mind was when life ended, and life will never begin for these embroys because there are 400 thousand and notwithstanding millions of dollars appropriated to encourage adoption, only 128 have been adopted; so those [potential] lives [of the remaining embryos] will not begin, but many other lives will end if we do not use all the scientific resources available.”

This is real-world thinking. The kind of thinking that stands up and makes adult, difficult choices about the reality of the world around us. My stepfather (with Alzheimer’s disease) and others close to me with things like immunological disorders could be helped by this research. My daughter and I just sent flowers to a funeral of a loved one who died from complications after a stem-cell procedure that could’ve been improved if the research hadn’t been stymied for the last five years.

But any such morally responsible thinking is precluded by the insidious manipulative drivel piped into the conversation by dogmatic fundamentalists who believe the cells from our bodies belong to the government, not us. And they’re so effective at this twisting of logic, that even my own mother (my ailing stepfather’s wife, who has to face their last years together under the weight of Alzheimer’s) is convinced that her President is a saint who would never do her wrong.

Yeah, that’s why I’m angry.

Author: Andrew Hinton

I use information to architect better places for humans. More at andrewhinton.com.

4 thoughts on “O Solo Veto”

  1. As always I find myself impressed by your ability to break through the bluster and nail the essentials.

    Even though I personally believe that a soul is created at the moment of conception I find the argument that if a life is going to be ended that it is somehow breaking God’s law to use the biological remains for the purpose of saving lives and ending suffering. If the tiny frozen embryo is going to be thawed and discarded then isn’t the harvesting of stem cells the same as signing up to be an organ donor? Isn’t that a virtuous thing to do?

    I think everyone in Government who claims to be acting for God should read Matthew 25:31-46 and ask themselves if they are a sheep or a goat.

    On the logical/scientific side of the equation is one facet that you and many others have not mentioned – economics. We will lag behind if we do not allow our scientists to study medicine on the cutting edge. We are hobbling ourselves over a false sense of righteousness.

  2. I couldn’t have said better (really, I could not have).

    You have captured the mix of rationality, emotions, ethical questions, and straight dogmatic manipulations around the issue.
    I have an additional reason to be mad when it comes to such discussions: I always feel that all this defense of life (only embrio life, as you hinted: full formed children or adults seem to be outside of any “pro-life” considerations, given that many of the same people who are horrified by stem cell research don’t have any problem with capital punishment or war) is a reaction to the disconfort with the femaie power of generating and nurishing new lives.

  3. I too was was disappointed with the veto, but one clarification is in order:


    The legislation is about *federal funding* of such research, not about allowing the research itself. Even with the veto, researchers are still free to use those embryos that would have been discarded, if the donor agrees – and if their research programs are not backed by federal funding. Whether this is a theoretical distinction I have no idea – are there many (any?) stem cell research programs out there that don’t receive federal funding?

    I don’t think Bush acted out of fear from divine retribution. (The wingnut senators you cited are another story!) He just felt that using human material in this way was crossing a line, and that the ends, however promising, do not justify the means. And like it or not, a lot of Americans agree with him. Withholding tax dollars was an unfortunate, but defensible, stand for him to take.

    PS: You may have been thinking of 4 representatives who invoked God’s name in defending their votes recently – but it was about gay marriage, not stem cells:

    Chilling stuff.

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