Friday, August 05, 2005

Krauthammer's at it again

This article essentially repeats what he said in an earlier one that I so presumptuously criticized. Either the man cannot be reasoned with, or he did not read my earlier post. Which do you think is the more likely?

In this latest effort - a disussion of the "Castle-DeGette stem cell bill that passed the House and will soon roar through the Senate" - he still favors funding research that will make use of frozen IVF embryos, but criticizes the bill for failing to prohibit research that would create embryos destined for destruction. He fears that oft-referred-to "slippery slope," though he thinks the slope begins about halfway down the mountain.

In defending his position, he makes the following observation: It simply will not do for opponents of this expanded research to say that the federal government should not force those Americans who find this research abhorrent to support it with their taxes. By that logic, we should never go to war, or impose the death penalty, except by unanimous consent of the entire population.

I love the phrase "by that logic," which is a snitty way of saying "I'm going to use some and you didn't." What say we examine Mr. Krauthammer's logic. Three questions and it shall be dispensed with: (1) - Is it always and everywhere immoral to go to war? (2) - Is it always and everywhere immoral to impose the death penalty? (3) - Is it always and everywhere immoral to kill a human embryo? The answers are no, no, and yes. And we're done.

To soften the blow for those of us who might have chosen "yes" to number 3, he makes a further observation: The moral problem for that majority of Americans who, like me, don't believe that a zygote or blastocyst has all the attributes and therefore merits all the rights of personhood, is this: Does that mean that everything is permissible with a human embryo? Don't they understand the real threat? It is not so much the destruction of existing human embryos...The real threat to our humanity is the creation of new human life willfully for the sole purpose of making it the means to someone else's end -- dissecting it for its parts the way we would dissect something with no more moral standing than a mollusk or paramecium.

What say we look at his logic one more time? (His use of "majority" is not a logical problem, just a little oneupmanship reminding us members of that, in his gracious wording, "sincere and substantial" minority, of who really has the votes.) Now, he seems to think that an embryo created for the purpose of being gutted for its parts has a higher moral standing than a mollusk or a paramecium. So he must think that an already "existing" embryo, of the unused IVF sort, does not, since he would allow the gutting of the latter. (Some among you, of a sincere but insubstantial number, will already see a problem.) But if, as his "majority" maintains, a zygote or blastotcyst (of whatever origin) does not possess all the attributes and therefore does not merit all the rights of personhood, how is he to save those in the former category? Would he have them declared persons, as opposed to mollusks or parameciums? It would seem that only personhood will save you. Babies in the womb, for example, are not, under American law, persons. They are - to approximate Justice Blackmun's wording - potentialities.

Mr. Krauthammer is not bothered by the method of manufacture of these entities, but by what we intend when we do the manufacturing. But intention is only one facet of a moral act, which really has two necessary components: the end we have in sight, and the means of getting there. The end is usually good, in this case cures for human afflictions. The means are almost always problematic, in this case the destruction of embryonic human life. Whether suspended in frozen inanimation or thriving at room temperature and ripe for research, they await our judgement. The means to our end will be the same in both cases.

Unfortunately for Mr. Krauthammer, a thing is what it is, not what we want it to be. If he wants embryos created for stem cell research to have a "higher moral standing than a mollusk or a paramecium," then he will have to give them a name that would protect them under law. What will he call them, I wonder. This is always a problem for people who try to have one thing both ways.

He is right to fear the slippery slope. You'd just think he'd have been smart enough to see that it starts in the "logical" place, at the mountaintop - at conception.

Cross-posted at RedState, but I saw too late that someone else had already jumped on the subject. Oh well.


alicia said...

the slippery slope for ESCR began in the 1930s, actually. And not with Hitler, either. I've been doing a little historical research working on a long post. The enemy picked his agents carefully and planted them in the heart of the church, with an odor of sanctity and a veneer of altruism.
I think that we need to make a careful distinction between being pro-life and being pro-natalist - because many of the pro-natalist positions involve assisted reporductive technologies that are in the end, major contributors to the culture of death.

William Luse said...

Interesting. Let me know when that post is ready.

alicia said...

I managed to get some of what I was grappling with into the post of August 8, "Paved with good intentions". As usual, it went a slightly different direction than I had envisioned. How do professional writers manage to beat their ideas into submission? I haven't quite mastered the knack, I fear. I start writing and often end up far from where I thought I would.

William Luse said...

I don't remember who first said it, but my writing teacher (of fiction) used to call this process "murdering your darlings." I think it applies to nonfiction too. If it's not moving the story, or the essay, forward, get rid of it. Easy to say, I know. I'll read your post soon. Things are a little hectic around here right now.

Also, when you comment, click on other and enter your name and website. Right now the link to your name goes nowhere.