Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

From: Jim Armstrong <>
Date: Thu Mar 12 2009 - 01:12:07 EDT
Troubling? Well perhaps, but it seems to me that "ownership" might just be a legal-ish term in place of a softer "responsibility" or "custody". The discomfort you voice is probably the reason that some have settled on adoption language instead. JimA [Friend of ASA]

David Opderbeck wrote:
I agree, with this qualification:  if IVF technology were such that every embryo would be created with the intention of trying to implant it, but some embryos would inevitably be lost in the course of trying to implant them, it seems to me that would not be significantly morally problematic.  It would be analogous to ordinary sexual reproduction in which many fertilized eggs / embryos are lost naturally.  But, since current IVF methods inevitably result in more embryos than there is any intention to implant, IMHO, the current methods are ethically highly problematic.  Therefore, the industry should at least be regulated to eliminate or minimize excess embryos that are never intended to be implanted.

Another interesting and troubling side effect of the current methods is the legal propertization of embryos.  A number of court cases have wrestled with which parent has property-like rights over frozen embryos after a divorce.  Whatever your take on the "personhood" of an embryo, or on its "potentiality," there's just something inherently troubling, isn't there, about conceiving of human embryos as a type of personal property?

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

On Wed, Mar 11, 2009 at 6:44 PM, D. F. Siemens, Jr. <> wrote:
Let me go back to a point I tried to make earlier, but too briefly. Anyone who opposes abortion because the zygote is a human being must oppose IVF because IVF produces more embryos than can be implanted or, as noted by Randy, can be adopted. Octomom is not a rational response for the crowding is known to produce injury to the developing embryos and fetuses. This is different from the defects produced inadvertently by genetic problems in normal procreation, diseases like rubella during pregnancy, etc.
What I have noted is that most people consider only the premises and consequences that support a foregone position. They do not consider non sequiturs and those that conflict.
Dave (ASA)
On Wed, 11 Mar 2009 17:19:23 -0400 David Opderbeck <> writes:
Good point Randy.  I agree that the embryo adoption thing is weird.  The Christian Legal Society, a very conservative evangelical lawyers' group, did a feature on embryo adoption in their magazine (presenting it in a positive light) and it freaked me out.  I recognize some inconsistency here with my views about embryo research perhaps, but there it is.

The lack of regulation of the IVF industry is also scary, IMHO, because of eugenics.  There is virtually no legal regulation of  the sorts of characteristics that can be selected for during pre-implantation screening.  Screening is routinely done today for gender, and embryos are culled simply because they are the wrong gender.  Screening techniques are not currently so precise as to allow for designer babies, but the law is not prepared for advances in screening technology that seem inevitable.

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

Regarding David's comment:
Having looked at adoption because of our own infertility issues (I had radiation for childhood leukemia at age 7), we found the presentation of Embryo Adoption positively weird.  The staff at the Christian agency where we sought adoption were also visibly uncomfortable with the presentation.  This and a recent disturbing claiming the absolute benefits of Embryo Adoption lead me to conclude that the whole idea of IVF is problematci and is the point at which to address the issue:  David's "rogue industry in need of regulation."  I believe that Christians need to address the familiotary or childolatry which has led us, along with others, to this point over the past 30 years.   Our churches need to celebrate adoption where couples embrace it, recognize a special place for childless couples (like ourselves for the time being), and provide holistic ministry and direction for those struggling. As with so much in Christianity, I believe we need to get our own house in order before we go accusing others of immoral or unethical behavior.

Randy Gabrielse

On Tue, Mar 10, 2009 at 1:59 PM, D. F. Siemens, Jr. <> wrote:
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 <> writes:
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 <> wrote:
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 ESCR?

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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