There’s an interesting back-and-forth between Ross Douthat and Michael Kinsley about stem cell research. Douthat writes (in a somewhat “sneery” reply to an earlier Kinsley piece on the issue, as Kinsley puts it):
Weirdly, Douthat’s links are to an old article about snowflake babies, an old article about a law in Italy, and something William Saletan wrote about the woman who had octuplets. So that’s “clear from other examples”? The NYT should be able to do better (note: the point of this post is not to bash Douthat, since there’s more evidence to support his claim in the end).
In Bush’s original speech announcing his stem cell research restrictions eight years ago (now praised by conservatives as a masterpiece of moral reasoning the way liberals praise President Obama’s speech on race in Philadelphia) Bush actually praised the work of fertility clinics, claiming—correctly—that in-vitro fertilization (IVF) has brought happiness to many.
Furthermore, if you’re going to draw a line to facilitate compromise, the line between embryos used for research and embryos simply destroyed is an odd one to draw—at least if your intention is to ban the research but allow the pointless destruction to continue. Why not the other way around? Also, while stem cell research involves the destruction of embryos, IVF involves the purposeful creation of embryos with the certain knowledge that many or most of them will be destroyed. Once again, it’s an odd compromise that saves the former by preventing scientific research while allowing the latter much larger and pointless slaughter to continue unmolested.
My own suspicion is that this fertility clinic anomaly hasn’t even occurred to most pro-lifers. And I think, or hope, that when they realize that their logic in opposing stem cell research would condemn all IVF as well, it will give many reasonable pro-lifers pause—maybe even about their pro-life position in general, certainly about their opposition to stem cell research. That’s why I keep harping on this analogy. And that is why the leaders of the pro-life movement keep avoiding it.
Now, here’s where things get interesting. The state of Georgia has in fact decided to wade into the IVF issue with a law I don’t know how to interpret:
Last Thursday, the Georgia House passed a bill that declares embryos are children and therefore can be adopted. Meanwhile, the Georgia Senate passed a bill that defines a living human embryo as a person and prohibits the destruction of an embryo for any reason, such as scientific research.
This might also criminalize abortion. Thus, it is probably unconstitutional.
But here’s my question: if the embryos can’t be used for research (as they would be under new laws) or destroyed (as they currently are in many cases), then do they have to kept frozen forever? Isn’t that even stranger and more science-fictiony (one argument people seem to make against stem cell research is that it’s strange and science-fictiony)?
I think Kinsley is right about the politics of this, that screwing with IVF will just piss off people who are trying hard to get pregnant and thus will further ghettoize the conservatives who push for it. But Douthat may be right that conservatives will push for it anyway.