Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. <>
Date: Tue Mar 10 2009 - 13:59:23 EDT

Your responses would be acceptable if you and other evangelicals opposed
IVF with the same vigor as ESCR and abortion.
Dave (ASA)

On Tue, 10 Mar 2009 13:34:13 -0400 David Opderbeck <>
Responses below.

David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Director, Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology

On Tue, Mar 10, 2009 at 12:58 PM, George Murphy <>

1) Why should a "precautionary principle" invoke precautions against the
possibility that a human person is being destroyed & not be concerned
with precautions against the possibility that people will continue to
suffer from illnesses & injuries that might be healed as a result of

I never said that shouldn't also be a concern. As with the precautionary
principle in environmental ethics, the question is whether there is some
probability, even if small, that an action taken will have effects
significantly more deleterious than the harm the action is seeking to
prevent. Just about everyone will agree that it is immoral to conduct
medical research on human subjects involving the subject's certain death,
even with informed consent; and just about everyone will agree that it
is immoral to conduct medical research involving any significant risk of
death on infants, regardless of the parent's informed consent.

If the moral status of a human embryo is uncertain, there is some
probability that embryonic stem cell research will result in the great
harm of taking human lives for research purposes. Under the
precautionary principle, proponents of the research would have to show a
near certainty that the proposed research would succeed in producing an
even more substantially beneficial result -- something that cannot under
any estimation presently be shown.

2) Of course an embryo is a potential person. A seperated ovum & sperm
is also a potential person. The stirring of desire in a husband & wife
is a potential person. How far do we take this?

No, a separated ovum and sperm is not a potential person. The
potentiality for personhood only exists when a zygote is formed. Neither
an ovum nor a sperm can individually mature into a person. There is a
morally significant, qualitative difference between a zygote and an
individual ovum or individual sperm.


Now David said previously, "I personally find destructive human embryonic
stem cell research morally horrifying, particularly when cell lines are
harvested from embryos cast off by the IVF industry." This seems strange
to me, suggesting as it does that research on embryos produced for IVF is
worse than that on embryos produced solely to be destroyed for research.
It makes sense only if "the IVF industry" is immoral, which may well be
what David means.

The problem here, as I see it, is that this research reinforces an
industry that is essentially unregulated and, in my judgment, highly
morally problematic.

But let's reflect on that a bit. One of the criticisms of IVF - & at the
same time the reason why it can supply ESCR, is that "spare" embryos that
will not be allowed to develop fully, are always produced in the
procedure. But the same thing in fact happens when babies are conceived
in the old fashioned way. We know now that a high percentage of
conceptions are spontaneously aborted very early in pregnancy. (I've
seen estimates of something like 80% but someone more knowledgeable may
have a better number.) So traditional conception & IVF are not wholly
different in this regard.

I don't agree. Natural miscarriages result in the context of an intent
to carry the baby to term. (Let's set aside for the moment the question
of unplanned pregnancies, which gets into additional issues about the
ends of sexuality, marriage, and the family). With IVF, the intent at
the outset is to produce embryos that will have to be destroyed. Intent
is critical to moral and ethical assessment of the conduct.

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Received on Tue Mar 10 14:04:43 2009

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