Friday, July 07, 2006

Are Pro-Lifers Consistent?

I disagree with his conclusions concerning the moral status of embryos but Slate founding editor Michael Kinsley is right to point out that a consistent pro-life position would object as much to the destructive practices of fertility clinics as to embryonic stem cell research.

As Kinsley notes, the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF) frequently involves the production of more embryos than will be implanted with the excess being either discarded or indefinitely frozen. Kinsley's assessment of this practice is inescapable:

In short, if embryos are human beings with full human rights, fertility clinics are death camps —with a side order of cold-blooded eugenics. No one who truly believes in the humanity of embryos could possibly think otherwise.
I've often wondered about this inconsistency. Those who are most vocal about the evil of abortion are often less so when it comes to embryonic stem cell research and, as Kinsley notes, relatively silent when it comes to the destructive methods used by most fertility clinics. Perhaps because reproductive technology such as IVF is considered "pro-family," we're not as critical of its practices as we should be, turning a blind eye to its many casualties. But this is to adopt an "ends justifies the means" mentality antithetical to pro-life logic. Might Kinsley be right when he states that the majority of opponents to embryonic stem cell research have never thought about this inconsistency or have thought about it and don't care?

To his credit, Mr. Kinsley, who describes himself as a strong believer in abortion rights, identifies the flaw in the reasoning most often presented to justify the destruction of huma embryos for the purpose of medical research:

Proponents of stem-cell research like to emphasize that it doesn't cost the life of a single embryo. The embryos killed to extract their stem cells were doomed already. But this argument gives too much ground, and it misses the point. If embryos are human beings, it's not OK to kill them for their stem cells just because you were going to kill them, or knowingly let them die, anyway.
But then he says that a more devastating point is that if embryos are human beings, more of them are killed in fertility clinics than in stem cell research and no one objects very loudly. However, this is simply to point out an inconsistent application of the pro-life position, not to offer a sound argument in support of medical research that destroys human lives in the process.

Since we're on the subject of logical consistency, it should be noted that Mr. Kinsley commits a fallacy (or two) of his own. He claims that the fact that embryos are regularly created and destroyed in the course of nature makes it difficult for him to "make the necessary leap of faith to believe that an embryo and, say, Nelson Mandela, are equal in the eyes of God." This seems to be an implicit form of the naturalistic fallacy; reasoning from the way things are to the way things should be (or, as it is sometimes stated, arguing from the is to the ought). Since spontaneous abortions occur regularly, then it must be permissible for us to kill unborn children as well. But the consistent application of this way of thinking would also justify infanticide and other forms of murder since death at all stages of life is a natural phenomenon. Furthermore, I don't understand why Kinsley thinks that those who die earlier than others are somehow less valuable than those who survive them. Where's the logic in that?

Russell Moore - Nelson Mandela and the Frozen Embryo
JivinJ - Honesty-What Michael Kinsley is missing in the stem cell debate
Al Mohler - Has Kinsley Found Our Weak Spot? On the Logic of the Embryo

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I have thought about this and he's right. I believe that IVF is wrong is absolutely cut from the same cloth as all the other human embryonic research/technologies. The public policy issues are difficult for pro-lifers, but I would have nothing to do with it, nor would I recommend it for anyone who asked me.