Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Modern Human Experimentation [Clinton Wilcox]

Business Insider reports that scientists in Oregon have successfully edited the DNA of viable human embryos efficiently and apparently with few mistakes. The embryos in question were embryos with severe genetic defects that had no chance of developing into older human beings. And because these edits affect embryos at the genetic level, it will affect the genes that are produced in their sperm and ova, meaning that whatever changes are done to the embryo will also be done to any children that embryo eventually produces. This has led to fears that it may affect the course of human evolution. And of course, it has also spurred on fears that this will lead to “designer babies,” parents picking and choosing traits that they find desirable and eliminating traits that they don’t. Stanford University law professor and bioethicist Hank Greely, however, has tweeted that there’s a difference between embryos you implant and embryos that you edit which are “not to be transferred for possible transplantation.” Editing embryos you don’t intend to implant is not a big deal.

And showing us why calling someone a “bioethicist” does not mean they really are a reliable authority on ethics, legal scholar and “bioethicist” R. Alta Charo does not consider this to be unethical.

If you are a regular listener to our podcast, you heard my interview with Elijah Thompson of the Fetal Position podcast. We had a discussion about the ethics of genetic enhancement. You can listen to that if you’re interested on some of the discussion around genetic enhancement, itself. But this is tantamount to human experimentation. We rightly condemn the likes of Dr. Josef Mengele, who performed dangerous and painful experiments on Jews during the Holocaust, and we rightly condemn the United States Public Health Service for the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments on black people. This is no different. We are dealing here with human experimentation, except that doctors are allowed to get away with it, just as Mengele and the Public Health Service were, because embryos and fetuses today are not considered legal persons. R. Alta Charo is wrong when he says that this is not unethical. In fact, this might even be worse than Mengele or the Public Health Service because at least they didn’t create Jews or black people for the express purpose of experimenting on them.

If we’re talking about genetic therapy, in which we’re only trying to treat diseases, then genetic enhancement is not ethically problematic. If you’re talking about enhancing someone beyond the natural qualities of humanity, then there may be ethical concerns. But experimenting on human beings, even one you’ve dehumanized to make it easier to sleep at night, is always seriously wrong.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Down's Syndrome and What It Means To Be Human: A Response to CBS

There has been a recent headline from CBS regarding the "disappearance" of Down's Syndrome within Iceland has been making the rounds on social media as of late, and has provoked much justifiable outrage among those within the pro-life community. I will weigh in with some thoughts here.

Ironically, the title of the article happens to be "What kind of society do you want to live in?" The authors seem to imply that the virtual disappearance of Down's Syndrome within the country of Iceland is a good thing, and give a positive tone throughout the article.

The first line reads:
"With the rise of prenatal screening tests across Europe and the United States, the number of babies born with Down syndrome has significantly decreased, but few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.
It is here that we get a glimpse of what the authors are trying to hide within the piece while trying to shed this statistical outcome in a very positive light: The reason we are close to eradicating Down's Syndrome in Iceland is because we are "terminating" the individuals with the condition prior to birth.

Indeed, the article is one massive exercise in "begging the question"; that is, it assumes the unborn are not human, and can therefore be "terminated" prior to the full realization of the condition. To illustrate this concept, imagine what would happen if a story was run on the virtual disappearance of child abuse directed at disabled children within Iceland. Child abuse rates were at virtually zero. Then suppose we take a look at the reasons why the numbers were so low: Parents were being allowed to kill their children all the way up to age 8, as long as it was done quickly and quietly, with the advice of the family doctor. Would there be outrage? There'd better be. And yet, when it comes to these children prior to their births, CBS writes a piece discussing this idea as if it were good news.

In fact, one of the hospital staff members who helps counsel the women regarding the genetic test, Helga Sol Olafsdottir, makes this very point in the piece:

"We don't look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication... preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder -- that's so black and white. Life isn't black and white. Life is grey."
The "life is grey" assertion is absurd. Would anyone apply that to the idea of parents eliminating their toddlers in order to prevent "suffering" for the child or the family members? I think we would view such a person as a moral monster. And yet, we do it with the unborn human, simply because we assume that being unborn justifies killing them somehow.

There is no difference in kind between these children before birth and after birth. The only differences are the child's size, level of development(which can determine your currently exercisable abilities before birth, as well as far after), the environment that they currently reside in, and the degree to which they depend on those around them for their immediate needs. As Stephen Schwartz has highlighted, none of these differences really matter in the long run, as they all come in degrees, and can come or go through the course of our lifetimes. If these differences really do in fact matter, then human equality is a dangerous, repressive myth that needs to be abolished. That is absurd, and terrifying to think about.

How then should a civil society respond to something like Down's Syndrome? Probably by responding the same way we should for anyone else: With love, care, and respect for their shared humanity. Killing them before they are even aware of concepts like love and respect is never going to be the right answer.

In fact, a recent video titled "NOT SPECIAL NEEDS" illustrates this plainly. Advocates for those with Down's Syndrome pose a very important question to the audience: What "special needs" do these individuals really need? How about the same opportunities as the rest of us? And doesn't that include the right to live, just like everyone else? Anything less is not "pro-choice", but is instead the very bigotry that the West has worked tirelessly to eradicate, and has failed many times in doing so. Indeed, it asserts that we can know better what life with Down's Syndrome will be like than the individuals who have the condition do, and will impose our view of what it means to be human on them by killing them before they can even know what is happening.

"What kind of society do you want to live in?"

You'd better be darn sure you know the answer to that.

Professors Arguing Badly [Clinton Wilcox]

There’s a viral video going around of actor James Franco and philosophy professor Eliot Michaelson in a discussion about abortion with professor of philosophy at Princeton Elizabeth Harman. This is part of a new YouTube series by Franco, Philosophy Time.

Her argument is that if we abort the fetus before it is conscious and has experiences, then it is not morally bad to do so. How does she defend her argument for the permissibility of early abortions? She asserts that when it comes to the early fetus (and philosophers tend to use the catch-all term “fetus” to refer to the unborn organism at all stages of pregnancy, even though technically it’s not a fetus until about two months in utero), there are two different kinds of beings. Fetuses who have a future have moral status, and fetuses who don’t have a future, either because of miscarriage or because the mother kills the fetus in abortion, do not have moral status.

If you are perplexed by Harmon’s defense of her argument, you’re not alone. Franco’s expression tells it all. As Franco said, that’s something that you can only judge in hindsight. By Harmon’s criterion for personhood, that having a future as a person is what grants moral status, you can’t know whether or not any given fetus is a person because you can’t know whether or not that fetus has a future. And to argue that we know which fetuses are not persons because we know the mother is going to take her in and abort her, as Harmon does, is a clear case of ad hoc reasoning to justify her position on abortion. Her argument seems, prima facie, to be that whether or not a woman decides to abort is what determines whether or not she has moral status.

Harmon tries to save her view with a couple of caveats: 1) If you had been aborted while you were yet a fetus, then it wouldn’t have been wrong because you wouldn’t have had moral status, not being the kind of fetus that grows up into a person. So moral status is a contingent matter (i.e. contingent on whether or not your mother had aborted you). 2) It’s not looking at it correctly that each fetus has moral status which is taken away when the mother aborts him. There’s nothing about the present state of the fetus that grants it moral status. It’s not conscious and is not having any experiences. It’s derivative of its future that it gets to have moral status. Its future is what endows it with moral status. So when you abort him you’re not depriving him of something he independently has.

Neither one of these caveats save her view. It’s just as ad hoc as it was before. Caveat one, that if you had been aborted as a fetus it wouldn’t have been wrong is just another ad hoc explanation to justify her first ad hoc explanation. The only reason that fetus won’t grow up to be a person is because he is being prevented from doing so by his mother and the abortionist. If left alone, he will grow up into an infant and an adult. Even fetuses that miscarry have this same potential; it’s just being cut short by an external factor, just as an infant who dies of SIDS still has the potential to become an adult, it’s just being prevented by some unknown factor. Her second caveat, that it’s your future that grounds your moral status, abortion isn’t taking it away, again fails to take into consideration that all fetuses have that future, if not being prevented from doing so. These two caveats do not make her case any stronger.

Liz Harmon’s colleague, Robert P. George, stated on a Facebook status that Harmon’s view does have one redeeming quality: it does seem to explain the disconnect between a woman who aborts seeing her fetus as nothing but a “clump of cells” but a woman who wants the fetus seeing him as her baby, her child. But Harmon’s argument for abortion is so incoherent it’s a wonder why she doesn’t abandon it for another colleague, Peter Singer’s, better, albeit unsuccessful, argument for abortion. Ah, well. As has been well observed, there is no position so outlandish it has not been seriously defended by some philosophers.

That being said, another philosopher, Frank Beckwith, also on Facebook, pointed out that Elizabeth Harman has defended her argument in more detail in an article she's written and we should engage with the strongest version of her argument that she's put forth. So I will read Harman's article and respond to it in a future post. Stay tuned for that.

Have you seen this video? What did you think of it? Let us know below!

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Miscarriage Breakthrough [Clinton Wilcox]

A few months ago, Nathan, Aaron, and I started up a podcast called Pro-Life Thinking. If you haven't listened in yet, I'd like to encourage you to do so. You can listen to us at BlogTalkRadio, or you can find us on iTunes. We've also now got the podcast uploaded onto the website, so you can find us at the LTI homepage. Hover your mouse cursor over the "media" tag and then click "podcasts" in the drop-down menu. There's been some good news that's come out of Australia, as reported by the New Zealand Herald.

Scientists at Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney have made a breakthrough discovery that is expected to save thousands of lives by preventing miscarriages and multiple types of birth defects. Professor Sally Dunwoodie has discovered a cause not only of miscarriages but also of heart, spinal, kidney, and cleft palate problems. The researchers discovered that the lack of a vital molecule, NAD, prevents a child’s organs from developing properly while in the womb. After 12 years of research, these scientists have found that NAD deficiency can be cured by a dietary supplement of B3, also known as niacin. The next step is to develop a diagnostic test to measure NAD levels and see which women are at the greatest risk of having a baby with a birth defect to ensure they get a sufficient amount of B3. And while many women have already been treated, there is still work to do in studying the levels of niacin throughout pregnancy and when the organs are forming in the embryo. So the doctors do not recommend taking any more niacin than what is already present in a pregnancy multivitamin until further work is done.

It pretty much goes without saying that this is an exciting breakthrough. The New Zealand Article overstated its connection with vegemite, but we may be looking at a future in which miscarriages and certain types of birth defects are much less of a risk.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Katerine: Human Being or “Human Doing”? [Michael Spencer]

My daughter, Katerine, was born with Cerebral Palsy. As a result, she is unable to walk, has extremely limited use of her hands, and at 17, functions mentally at the level of a four year old.

When Barb and I take Katerine to a restaurant or anywhere in public, perfect strangers frequently open doors for her. At concerts and sporting events she is sometimes ushered to the front to take the best seat in the house. Why such preferential treatment for a child bereft of any political power or celebrity status? It is because God has placed in each of us a moral intuition that wells up when we see need, vulnerability or handicap. We naturally want to help. In fact, the greater the need, the greater our urge to offer assistance.

Unfortunately, not everyone responds to the voice of moral intuition. Katerine’s biological father didn’t. He abandoned her on the side of the road at 6:00am in Guatemala City (her birthplace) to fend for herself at 6 years of age. She was eventually discovered by a security guard and spent the entire day, until 10:00pm, in the police department before an orphanage was found to take her. This is where she spent the next 3 years of her life. Katerine’s father’s actions are revolting. In many wombs, however, she would be aborted for the very same reason strangers now open doors for her: she is handicapped. Cerebral Palsy has severely arrested Katerine’s level of development, rendering her disposable in the minds of many.

Today, many defend the abortion choice by drawing an artificial line between “humanness” and “personhood”, arguing that it is morally permissible to kill humans so long as they’re not actual “persons.” And when does a human become a “person”? According to many it is when he/she reaches a certain level of development. When does this happen? Good luck getting a straight answer from abortion supporters; they don’t agree on which “standard” confers personhood status. One says it occurs when measurable brain activity is detected. Another says it happens at viability – that moment when the embryo could survive outside of the mother. Still another insists the embryo must be free of any fetal abnormality before the honor of “personhood” is bestowed on her.

In short, these tiny womb-dwellers are only deemed worthy of life if they pass whatever arbitrary test the big and powerful establish for them. If they don’t, they’re crushed like vermin and disposed of like trash. Conveniently for the abortion industry, none of the above-mentioned milestones are compelling enough to build consensus among abortion supporters, which means none of these tests make any difference in the end. The only real “test” is whether or not mom wants her baby.

Although we undergo a myriad of developmental changes from the time we are conceived until the time we die, our nature never changes. We are the same person now as we were then. As Randy Alcorn says,  “Something nonhuman doesn’t become human by getting older and bigger. Whatever is human is human from the beginning.” He’s right. Katerine’s disabilities do not alter her human nature, nor do they diminish her value. She is intrinsically valuable and Barb and I are blessed to be her parents.

Clinton Wilcox, who serves on our staff at Life Training Institute recently wrote, “The question of when human life begins is not a difficult one. It only becomes difficult if you want to justify killing people.” How true. Katerine escaped the womb with her cerebral palsy undetected. Many others aren’t so lucky.

We’re not “human doings,” we are human beings. In other words, Katerine is valuable, not because of what she can do, but simply because of what she is: God’s image-bearer. This makes all the difference.

Let's apply our compassion consistently across the spectrum to all human beings.  Recognizing the worth of all humans as God's image bearers, may the same hands that would open a door for a young girl in a wheel chair hold back the door of death as it slams on her no-less-human neighbors in the womb.   

Monday, July 31, 2017

Surrender Is Not an Option

Many pro-lifers have recently begun to check out of the movement. Even worse, a small but growing handful of others have begun to buy the premises of "choice", "personal liberty", and "tolerance", in an effort to make the pro-life view much more appealing to a culture that has made personal autonomy into a religious ideology, and assigned sexual liberty as it's sacrament.

This is not an effective strategy. This amounts to a complete and utter surrender; a giving up of the fight, even when the goal of the pro-life movement for the last 44 years is now close to being recognized. Provided, much of the dismay over the current state of affairs seems to be resulting from the seeming inability of the US Congress to pass a bill to cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood(which doesn't automatically mean that women will begin getting pregnant on an minute by minute basis. There is nothing stopping scores of American Leftists from donating money to keep PP able to provide free birth control). There is also frustration over the apparent stagnation of the abortion debate in the United States, as many people have simply started to ignore the issue.

Even in the midst of ongoing political and cultural frustration, there is still much that needs to be done by the pro-life advocates engaged in various aspects of the culture, and the fight to create a cultural ideal the respects the lives of all innocent human beings is still being waged. To illustrate the urgency, one needs to look no further than the recent war movie, Dunkirk, and the story behind it.

The movie is an account of the disastrous defeat suffered by the Allied forces during World War II, and the subsequent withdrawal of British forces back across the English channel from France. The story of the Dunkirk evacuation would have ended with the UK losing it's primary fighting force to an overwhelming defeat by the Axis powers. Instead, the disaster turned into an example of what courage and perseverance looks like.

Hundreds of civilian British watercraft left their moorings in the English harbors and sailed quickly across the channel to rescue the tens of thousands of British and French troops stranded on the beaches of France before they could be annihilated by the coming onslaught of Nazi troops. Braving machine gun fire, torpedoes, and German dive bombers, the people of the UK simply stepped up to do the right thing. Risking life and limb, they knew the cost of simply sitting by and assuming that "someone else" would step up to the challenge. Thanks to their efforts, what would have been utter defeat turned into a fighting chance for the British.

Re-focusing on the current challenges that confront defenders of innocent human life across the political and religious spectrum(and the Christian church in particular as of late), the example of the heroes of the past should be considered. If someone can risk life and limb to "step-up" and simply do the right thing, how much more is it necessary for those of us who have the ability to get involved to do so?

With the very meaning of what it means to be human, what it means to have value, the meaning and intrinsic purpose of sexuality, and the very definition of justice are now up for grabs, the time is now to get involved. To reach out to those wounded and hurting, and to love them and respectfully share the truth with them about these key issues. To do otherwise would be disastrous.

Surrender is not an option.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

On Recent Viral Videos [Clinton Wilcox]

I'm going to try to write this and my next article without being too polemical. It will be difficult, but these two article are coming from a place of utter frustration. Frustration at the fact that so many people in our society can't think. This is evidenced by the number of videos by vloggers on YouTube that contain poor arguments (actually, that's too charitable; their arguments are downright pathetic), and further evidence by the number of people sharing these videos so that they go viral because the people sharing these videos can't think and don't realize how poor (read: pathetic) the arguments actually are. So I'm going to write two articles responding to two such videos. This first one will be responding to a video by vlogger jaimekid2 Ben Shapiro's arguments against abortion. Why am I responding to these videos if the thinkers are so unsophisticated? Because people are taking them seriously.

So what is jaimekid2's argument against abortion? He says, "Ben Shapiro is wrong on abortion. The reason why he is wrong is because he doesn't hold his values consistently."

The problem here is that it's a textbook case of the ad hominem fallacy. Who cares if Shapiro holds his views consistently? He can be inconsistent and still be right on abortion. Whether or not he's inconsistent holds no bearing on the validity or soundness of his argument. That's all that needs to be said. But what are his other claims?

He says that one cannot consistently hold to the position that the intentional removal of an unborn human from the womb is murder and to show why he brings an analogy into it: If you believe abortion is murder and it should be outlawed accordinly, you must support all women having miscarriages being investigated for a possible negligent homicide, the same way you would want a person involved in running over someone else with their car investigated for negligent homicide.

This, of course, is really just a false analogy. What should really do away with this argument is the simple fact that before abortion was legalized in the Roe v. Wade decision, post-miscarriage women were not investigated en masse for their miscarriages. This is because there is no reason to suspect that a woman who miscarries did so out of negligence. No police investigation would be warranted unless there was probable cause to suspect that it was because of negligence or foul play. If a homicide detective is investigating a potential crime scene and discovers evidence suggesting it was a suicide, not a homicide, the investigator would not, then, investigate it as a homicide "just in case." He would write it down as a suicide and close the case. By the same token, if a woman shows no signs of foul play or negligence, she would not be investigated, especially if she was making regular appointments with her OB/GYN.

Another claim is that many women are at increased risk for miscarriages, and he trots out a laundry list of women who are at a higher risk for miscarriage (and it's worth pointing out that he doesn't source any of his claims). His point here is asking if we would be comfortable allowing a woman at increased risk for miscarriage get pregnant. The answer, of course, is yes because everybody, every single human being who is conceived, has a 100% chance of dying. Some people just die sooner rather than later. But life is considered a good thing, meaning that even if we conceive someone who has a more limited lifespan than unusual, giving that person life, even for a short time, is seen as a good done to that person. This is all to say nothing of the fact that every human being has a right, a natural right, to procreate and the government would be wrong to take this right away from anyone. If a woman conceived and later miscarries through negligence, only then could the state step in and punish her for doing so (and only if there was probable cause to suspect it).

He poses a further question: would people be comfortable with a woman trying to get pregnant who has a high risk of miscarriage since they would not be comfortable with someone drunk getting behind the wheel of the car. He says that failing to take causation into consideration is intellectually weak, but his position is the one that is intellectually weak because he fails to make a basic distinction: the difference between agent causation and natural causation. A person who gets behind the wheel drunk is obviously doing something wrong and doing something wrong by their own doing. Driving a car is potentially dangerous so anyone who gets behind the wheel drunk is impairing their ability to drive a car. Having an increased risk of miscarriage is not impairing a woman's ability to conceive a child, nor, for the most part, is it of her own doing (especially if it is due to disease, which would obviously be beyond her control). Since all human beings eventually die and life is fundmentally a good thing, there is no harm done in conceiving a child, even knowing there is an increased risk of miscarriage.

One of his claims that he failed to source, just alluding to March of Dimes, is that as many as half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. I know why he failed to source it: because that's not what they actually claim if you read their statement in context. Here's what March of Dimes really says: "Among women who know they are pregnant, about 10 to 15 out of 100 pregnancies (10 to 15 percent) end in miscarriage. As many as half of all pregnancies may end in miscarriage -- we don't know the exact number because many may happen before a woman knows she's pregnant."

This makes it ironic that he speaks of wanting to be intellectually honest when he can't even be intellectually honest with the facts. He'll probably fall back on saying "but they do say as many as half." Yes, but they clearly say we know 10 to 15 percent do, and then they follow up their claim by saying "we don't know the actual number." So their "as many as half" statistic is pure speculation, and "jaimekid2" used the speculative number rather than the factual number in order to try and bolster his case.

Despite all of his claims to "intellectual honesty" and "intellectual weakness," it is clear that "jaimekid2"'s arguments are just not good at all. They amount to a false analogy. Drunk driving is not a comparable situation to a woman conceiving with a greater chance of miscarriage, and it is also not the case that every woman who miscarries must be investigated for negligent homicide. Only in those cases with probable cause would it need to be investigated. The pro-life position is safe and sound from "jaimekid2."