What do you say to someone who prefers that real children die so that stem cells can live? Notes on Proposed Missouri Amendment 2
An evangelical acquaintance recently wrote me a letter arguing that the pro-stem cell research proposal (Missouri Amendment 2) A) is geared to financially enrich its sponsors, B) that it will invite reproductive cloning and C) that poor women will result in poor women selling their eggs. She urged me to oppose the Amendment and oppose various promising forms of stem cell research.
For information on the proposed amendment, see here.
Even before receiving this letter, I knew that my acquaintance believed that a one-minute old fertilized human egg in a Petri dish is a baby that deserved full legal protection and priority over the children with horrible illnesses who occupy hospital beds. My acquaintance indicated that she was part of an organized effort to defeat Missouri Amendment 2.
I am not thrilled with my response (see below), but I couldn’t think of anything better. If anyone has any ideas as to a more effective way to deal with those who oppose stem cell research on religious grounds, I’m all ears.
I realize that you feel hurt and attacked by my previous email. In this e-mail, I will attempt to put our recent exchange of e-mail in perspective.
The technology for making insulin is currently based on recombinant DNA techniques; the human gene which codes for the insulin protein is cloned and then inserted in bacteria. I want you to assume for a moment, though, that my religion holds that both the cloning of genes and recombinant DNA techniques are morally and spiritually repugnant.
Let’s assume further that one of your daughters has diabetes and she needs insulin in order to live (assume that insulin obtained through older methods—derived from pigs and cows–causes a dangerous reaction in your daughter and is the thus un-usable).
Assume further that one fine day I proudly send you an e-mail announcing that I am sponsoring legislation across the entire state, legislation that will make artificial insulin illegal. The legislation I am pushing will put your daughter’s health at great risk, but I have nonetheless inserted myself into your family’s most personal medical decision-making process. The legislation I am pushing will deny you medical treatment that has been saving your daughter’s life. I forge ahead, though, because I am certain that God has sent me on this mission. In other words, I am doing the equivalent of forcing my way into your house, raiding your medicine cabinet and throwing away your daughter’s insulin. How would you feel if I did that under those circumstances?
Assume some additional background. Assume that I have long claimed to be absolutely certain that I am correct regarding numerous aspects of morality based on my reading of my version of the Bible, which I repeatedly declare to be inerrant (that is, absolutely literally true), despite the fact that my Bible contains hundreds of statements that conflict with common sense and reality (for instance, the Bible claims that the mustard seed is the smallest seed when it is actually not the smallest seed). Assume further that you know from talking with me that I refuse to question the highly-questionable origins of the Bible. Further assume that I refuse to consider overwhelming evidence that several key stories in my English translation Bible conflict with the earliest known reliable manuscripts.
Assume further that my e-mail contains an attachment that disparages the lifetime dedication of medical professionals who have done laudable work developing new sources of insulin using medical techniques that, several decades earlier, were severely criticized by many religious conservatives.
The above closely resembles what you have done to me by sending me an e-mail that proudly announces that you are attempting to fight the passage of Missouri Proposed Amendment 2, thereby narrowing the range of medical treatments available to people close to me, including my daughters. I would ask you: what kind of parent would you think I was if I did not severely question your knowledge and motives? Now, I am extremely fortunate that my daughters are not stricken with a horrible disease. But someday they might. It that ever happens, I insist on having available every possible means of restoring their health.
I have a hard time believing that you have made the alleged financial greed of the Stowers family a centerpiece of your argument. I would dare you to stand up in front of the world-class researchers of the Stowers Institute (see their photos here) and announce to them that they are a bunch of money-grubbing self-centered lackeys. Same point for John Danforth and William Danforth. Take a look at what these people have done for our community and the self-sacrifice involved in doing it, then ask your God and your self whether you are really sufficiently informed to cast the aspersions that you are casting.
Yes, I was angry when I read the baseless indictments in the attachment to your letter. You know, I have often dealt with people who put their own hopes for Heaven ahead of the lives of real live human beings. That was not the main reason I was angry this time. What angered me was your blithe willingness to propagate slander toward venerable community leaders. Just because my tone was not “more gentle and respectful” does not mean that I wasn’t correct. I would highly recommend that you do serious research into the characters and accomplishments of the people you have slandered before further impugning them.
You have attempted to further impugn William Danforth by referring to one of his letters that was published in Science. The full text of his letter can be found here. That letter recognizes the following undeniable facts:
Before implantation, [stem] cells can become any type of cell. If separated into two parts, they can yield two embryos; if cells from two different blastocysts are merged, they can result in a single embryo; if cells from two different blastocysts are merged, they can result in a single embryo.
You will not find a single early stem cell in a real baby. Human embryonic stem cells are derived from fertilized embryos less than a week old. Early stem cells (sometimes called “embryonic stem cells”) are thus long gone by the time any organs develop. The clumps of early stem cells that can be used to research medical cures have no brain–not even a single neuron. That is why I disagree with you that microscopic clumps of stem cells in Petri dishes are “babies.” The belief that unimplanted stem cells constitute “a baby” can only be a religious belief.
You’ve repeatedly asserted that I just don’t “understand” many things. I think I do understand the issues raised by your email. If I sound “insulting” or “demeaning” or overconfident, it is because I base my entire worldview on periodically attacking my own most cherished beliefs. I embrace the naturalistic method. I work hard to frame my beliefs as testable working assumptions; they are always prone to being disapproved. My beliefs that have survived have been repeatedly tested.
On the other hand, I know that your most cherished beliefs are never questioned. You’ve told me this. The Bible is the word of God and that is that. When we had lunch last year, you were surprised to hear that there were two versions of creation contained in Genesis. You were surprised to learn that the New Testament contains two contradictory genealogies leading from David to Joseph. You urged me not to “dwell” on the genocidal God of the Old Testament despite your claim that the entire Bible was absolutely true. This is the context of my frustration with the religious foundation for your political positions. Can you blame me?
I attended two church services at your evangelical church in order to better understand why you and I see the things so differently. Your spiritual leader told everyone in the church to trust only him. He told the church-goers to read no books about Christianity but only to return for more lectures by him. They were repeatedly told to not think for themselves. [see here ] He threatened them with eternal torture of hell if they fell out of line. In threatening them to self-censor, he thus restricted the flock’s access to neutral sources of information regarding Bible interpretation. This is a tried and true method of brainwashing. If you think my tone could be more gentle or respectful, I challenge you to go back to your church and pay particular attention to the condescending tone of your spiritual leader. I urge you to then get enough distance from your church to see it from a neutral perspective.
Ideas have consequences. Your participation in the organized resistance to Amendment 2, if successful, will put horribly sick people at risk, many of them children. But somehow, out of all of this, you characterize me as the ignorant and arrogant one. I am the arrogant one even though I am the one who refuses to give up on developing all possible medical cures for all severely sick people.
You have argued, contrary to all medical evidence, that a microscopic clump of undifferentiated cells in a Petri dish (without a single brain cell or heart cell) is more deserving of protection under the law than a 6-year-old girl stricken with leukemia, a walking, talking little girl fighting for her life. You are the one that is arguing that a microscopic clump of undifferentiated stem cells is more deserving of our care than a nine-year-old boy with third-degree burns over 60% of his body. Or that that an acquaintance of mine must forever remain a quadriplegic, unable to lift a cracker to his own lips for the rest of his life. Or that my friend [I’ll call him George here] must be denied any chance to regain some of the tissue he lost in a quadruple amputation resulting from meningitis that nearly killed him five years ago.
All of this must simply be so, in your view, so that a microscopic clump of un-implanted cells entirely lacking in neurons can live. Or even worse, it must be so, in your view, that each of these victims must simply suffer and die so that a frozen embryo at a fertility clinic will be thrown away rather than donated to research to give hope to these tragic victims.
Love is sometimes not about communicating with a gentle tone. Sometimes love is about shooting straight and letting other people know that you are concerned about them and their views. If you find my method of communicating too difficult, I sincerely recommend that you don’t write e-mails to me about your political positions. I promise that I will not torment you in writing if don’t promulgate your political or religious views to me in writing. If you do write to me, I will answer directly and honestly. I might not always be correct, but I take every serious issue seriously.
If I didn’t care about what you wrote or thought, I would not have taken the time to write my previous e-mail, or this one.