Sunday, March 14, 2010

Reader questions on abortion, stem-cell research

I received this email from a reader of the site (sorry it took me so long to respond):

"I have been a long time follower of your site, and certain grammatical subtleties in your writing (such as your spelling of centre, realise, and other words) have led me to believe that you are not a native American, or at the very least were not educated in America. Still, I would love to hear your your opinions on the issues of abortion, stem cell research, and how the fact that these two issues could even be considered as illegal clearly violates the separation of church and state. I have heard people say that the two violate basic ethical principles that go above and beyond and religion, and this I can sort of understand for the abortion argument (although I hold to the principle that if you have a problem with abortions don't get one) but I can see no ethical problems at all with stem cell research. I have always figured! that something that is already dead (i.e. an aborted fetus) may as well benefit the rest of us that are alive rather than being unceremoniously discarded. Am I missing some important center point in this argument that would justify these claims, or is the outlawing of stem cell research really just a blatant violation of the separation of church and state?"

That's right, I'm not American and I don't live in the US, either.  At least one ignorant American has accused me of not knowing how to spell, so I'm glad that you recognise it for what it is, the world's English.  However, I was educated in the US.  It's where I got my Master's.

I'm not a legal expert by any means, so I hesitate to write about the issue of church and state.  You'll have to settle for my personal opinion on the 2 topics.

1.  Abortion

I do have a problem with abortion.  More specifically, I have a problem with late abortions.  Babies can survive outside of the womb far earlier than 9 months into the pregnancy.  Premature babies regularly survive, although some of that might be due to our medical intervention.  I am not sure how early a baby can safely be born and kept alive using 'natural' care from the mother, but it's earlier than 9 months.  That, to me, makes a fetus a baby even before it is born.  When I was a high school student, the teacher showed us a very graphic, in-your-face video of an abortion in progress, pretty much from the doctor's view.  The baby had a head, it had arms, etc.  It looked pretty much like what everyone would define as a baby.  The body was being torn apart, and the head was crushed in metal tongs.  It was disgusting and disturbing.

I don't know where to draw the line about when the fetus becomes a human baby that deserves legal protection, so my philosophy on abortion is to make your decision quickly, and commit to the plan as soon as you make the decision.  This means if you are pregnant, and want an abortion, have it as soon as possible.

It is especially upsetting when such incidents can be drastically reduced if people weren't so stupid and ignorant.  I say stupid, because even people who know how pregnancy works, and know about birth control, regularly don't use it.  Then they get abortions.  That kind of stupidity and irresponsibility I find hard to overlook.  I say ignorant, because a lot of people are not made aware of how sex, pregnancy and birth control work.  That's where religious people interfere.  My parents didn't tell me anything about sex, preferring it to leave it to the schools.  Other, very vocal, groups are demanding that it be taken out of schools and left to the parents.  Well, if that were the case, guess what I'd have learned!  Nothing!  As it was, my teacher gave me bullshit statistics about how condoms were only 50% effective against pregnancy.  He might have been talking from personal experience or religious motivations, but that certainly isn't the true statistic.  The religious people trying to keep sex out of schools probably wouldn't teach their kids anything themselves, and that is not acceptable.  Teach it in schools, teach it at home, teach it early.  Then we can drastically reduce the number of abortions required.  This is where the religious need to be brushed aside by those who know better.  Unfortunately, the ones who have the power to brush the religious aside often are other religious people, so you're a bit screwed in the US until the voters decide they don't want religion in politics anymore, and vote accordingly.

I've never known anybody who needed an abortion, although I know people who have had them.  By that I mean that the people I know who have had abortions had them before I met them.  I understand it can be quite a traumatic experience, especially when the boyfriend won't show up to the clinic for support because he doesn't believe the baby is his.

2.  Stem-cell research

I see nothing wrong with this at all.  I said before that I don't know exactly where to draw the line between something being a human baby or not, but it's definitely not at the cellular embryo stage (I don't know exactly what to call this phase)!  An embryo at this stage of its development has none of the characteristics that I would consider to make up a human being.  No arms, legs, eyes, brain or internal organs.  If anybody is going to call this a human baby on religious grounds, then they'd have to accept the fact (fat chance of that) that their god is the most prolific baby-killer the world has ever seen, by far!

I know that progress has been made on getting stem cells from non-embryonic sources, so I can only hope that this work continues, then we can put an end to the debate completely.  When another viable option exists for obtaining the cells, then I think the embryonic thing could safely be outlawed, as it would be the (politically) less-desirable of the alternatives.


Magnamune said...

I'm fairly sure that at that cellular stage, it's still called a Zygote. As for the rest of the article, I couldn't have said it better myself. Although, if complications arise part-way into a pregnancy, and a termination is necessary to save the womans life, that would be an acceptable late abortion. That case however is the only one that comes to mind.

Stem cell reaserch uses embryonic stem cells because they are more effective. It is possible to get stems cells from a persons sinus (I think!), but it's not as mutable as the embryonic version.

This is coming from a micro-biologist in the making, so please forgive me if my facts are a little off.

Jim said...

I, myself, am pro-abortion. I know this may be an unpopular opinion, but it's the way I am. Now, I do agree that late-term abortions are wrong, and if the mother doesn't want the kid she should be forced to give it up to a family that does. There are plenty of couples willing to adopt. Why should the kid be forced to be raised in an environment where the mother doesn't want the kid? This tends to lead the child to grow up in a negative way, with negative influences.

sandiseattle said...

Regarding elsewhere, I cannot comment, but as a life long resident of the US (i've spent a grand total of 9 hours outside the country) I can comment:

Yes we need more education. Though I am a theist and do follow the dictates of Mother Church most of the time, I recognize that in the US we are becoming (to our detriment i believe) increasingly secular.

Parents need to take a hand in teaching their kids the facts of life. I think I blame the Nineties. My brother and I had both academic instruction (health class) and some parental instruction too.

The other thing needed to help combat abortion: better post pregnancy aid and better adoption systems. We need to get past this "oh your a poor unwed mother now, okay go get your welfare" mentality.

Regarding the stem cell side of things: I say do as much as possible with nonembryo sources, if for no other reason than to keep the protesters away from the labs.

Admin said...

"I recognize that in the US we are becoming (to our detriment i believe) increasingly secular."

This is funny. Sandi, have you ever done a comparison of where the US stands in terms of crime rates compares with countries which are much more secular (ie. Canada, Japan, UK, Scandinavia, etc.)? And then have you looked at the most religious areas of the world (ie. Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan, South America, etc.)?

I'll give you an idea. In Japan, which has virtually no Christians at all (1-2%), and not many others believe in any gods, the murder rate is 1/9th what it is in the good ol' Christian USA. That means you have a 9x higher chance of being murdered in the US then you do in ultra-secular Japan.

You can believe that increasing secularism is to your detriment all you like, but that's not the reality, and there are facts out there to demonstrate it. Theists are not known for basing their beliefs on reality, though. What you 'feel' is the truth is much more important.

Daniel said...

The first cell is the zygote, a group of undifferenciated cells is a blastocyte. We do have stem cells in our sinuses and stomach, but obviously are not as easy to extract, and they are not as good because they have been influenced by their original location.
Also, Jim, I think you're more pro-choice? As far as I'm aware pro-abortion wants people to have abortions a LOT (think China) to control the population.

Daniel said...

Adn yeah, my parents left the sex-ed to the school, who did a really bad job of it before, and are doing it now with videos of 'My Wife and Kids'(O_O), and our abortion talk was all negativity. No upside, total bias.

Jim said...

In response Daniel, you are correct that I am pro-choice. But I say pro-abortion because I think that there does need to be some sort of population control enforced in certain parts of the world.

In most civilized countries the population is able to sustain itself. Whereas the population growth in some third world countries is causing mass-starvation.

Now, I know this opinion is highly unpopular, but I do believe that if it were not through the influence of the church (i.e. Christians) in Africa, my opinion would be less valid.

When couples in Africa have sex to try and cure AIDS, or have sex without the proper birth control because the Christian missionaries refuse to teach them about condoms, or imply that condoms are evil, then you have an ignorant population who doesn't know that constantly having babies is going to ruin them.

While I am in favor of teaching the importance of birth control and condoms as a helpful tool against the spread of STD's, I also think it is important to stop the growth of the population. And these people need to know that they do not have to have these children that they cannot support.

Before you judge too harshly, I feel I must emphasize that I am not saying we should force abortion on these people. But they do need that option. AS sick as it may sound, abortion is a 100% effective way to control population growth.

But even more important is those commercials on TV where you have some Christian missionary trying to get you to support a child for eight cents a day or whatever. How about we petition their church to donate all their millions upon millions of dollars to these poor people? I really doubt the pope (who lives in one of the richest countrys in the world per capita) needs all that money. And I'm sure his God doesn't need it. AS Bono once said, "The god I believe in isn't short of cash, mister." And though I may not believe in that god, I know that he's right.

Daniel said...

I didn't mean to judge, I just wanted to check. I agree with most if not all of what you're saying. Population is our biggest problem, did you know for example that all humans breathing, combined with all the animals we are dependant on, is one of if not the biggest source of Carbon Dioxide in the world? We can only sustain 1.5 Billion people at the normal standard of living for the West. We have 7 billion people here. What are we going to do to save ourselves short of an 80% purge?

Magnamune said...

We could firstly create an ultra-efficient green energy source. Then use that energy source to create and power CO2 Scrubbers. And before anyone asks, I AM aware that they don't exist. And I suppose that within this fantasy we'd have the power to build spaceships, and because we have the knowledge of how to create oxygen from other compounds, we could then begin to terraform said planets. Then we create cities on these planeys and BOOM!, no more problems... until, you know, we evolve based on the planet we're on and wage war against the 'aliens' that are simply other colonies.

And Daniel, thank you for explaining about the zygote and blastocyst. I thought I was missing something.

Jim said...

Didn't think you were judging, but thought I should explain myself better.

Anonymous said...

There are some instances when abortion should be manditory. Heroin babies, major birth defects etc.

Jim said...

As for stem cell research, I am all for it. The benefits of this research have the potential to save thousands, if not millions of lives. Surely that alone is worth it? And it is not like we are harvesting living breathing children to get them.

Feki said...

Jim, I share your opinions on birth control and overpopulation. In fact, I've pondered the benefits of offering "voluntary sterilization" or long term birth-control systems such as hormone-releasing IUDs.

Now, I don't argue on behalf of a big brother-type of population control, but all I know is that keeping our numbers down might become essencial in the future.

Yes, sterilization sounds controversial but let's face it: abortion is required under a number of differente circumstances, mainly caused by a generalized lack of sex-ed and use of contraceptives due to outdated religious beliefs/superstitions. How are governments supposed to cope with that?

As for malformations in fetuses, there are medical tests to accurately detect the most severe of them. In fact, several of these conditions are a cause for inmediate abortion in our hospitals. For example, hydrocephalus and spina bifida.

Admin, back in my catholic highschool they also showed us that video of the late abortion with the fetus butchered up and vacuumed out of the womb. It is a disturbing and sad moment, but to me that helps make a case for making contraceptives, morning after-pills and early abortions available to all, particularly teenagers.

Admin said...

Sandi, you need to read this post I made a while back:

Spend some more time outside your country! I say that as a traveler, not just as an atheist website author.

Daniel said...

Just a sad note to tie in with the last message, totally OT:
When my class were given a map of Europe about half asked where the USA was...