The Church “has not taken a position on the issue of embryonic stem cell research”

June 2, 2005 | 109 comments
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The church has corrected a newspaper that had written, “Mormons, for example, oppose abortion, but find some embryonic stem cell research morally acceptable,” with the clarification that, “the Church has not taken a position on the issue of embryonic stem cell research.” They also note that the church has no official position on the moment human life begins.

Additionally, the church’s August 2001 “Apostles have not taken a position” statement about stem cell research, which many interpreted as providing tentative support for embryonic stem cell research, has been removed from the church’s website.

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109 Responses to The Church “has not taken a position on the issue of embryonic stem cell research”

  1. Bob Caswell on June 3, 2005 at 12:44 am

    So the Church doesn’t necessarily support NOT performing embryonic stem cell research, right? I better do just a little, so as to not be accused of not doing any at all, though I don’t want to do too much, as I’m afraid of being accused of doing it.

  2. Russell Arben Fox on June 3, 2005 at 8:36 am

    I haven’t come to any clear decision one way or another regarding how I feel about stem-cell research, but it does seem to me that this article is pretty much correct at least in its overall implications: if one opposes embryonic stem-cell research because it involves, as Rep. Tom DeLay recently put it, “the dismemberment of living, distinct human beings for the purposes of medical experimentation,” then presumably you should also oppose the production of superfluous “living, distinct human beings”–frozen embryos soon to be discarded in any case–for the purpose of one’s own fertility. As the author puts it: “Surely if it’s wrong to appropriate an existing, soon-to-be-discarded embryo for use in medical research…then it is an exponentially greater abomination for a couple to actively create and then discard a dozen or so new embryos just to carry on the family blood line.”

    Should the church ever come out firmly opposed to embryonic stem-cell research, then I hope it avoids the route taken by a large number of American conservatives, and takes the Italian route instead: work to condemn and regulate in vitrio fertilization entirely, preventing the creation of such embryos in the first place. Anything less than that (and President Bush’s decision is, in fact, much less than that) seems to me to be more about grandstanding than serious moral thought.

  3. Matt Evans on June 3, 2005 at 8:55 am

    Russell, I like Germany’s law, which requires that parents only produce as many embryos (usually three) that they will implant at one time, and prohibits freezing.

    That said, I don’t think Bush’s position is without merit. Permitting the freezing of embryos, with the chance of implantation by the parents or adoption, is not the same as dismembering them for research, and there’s another moral line between allowing embryos to die and killing them with hopes of bettering ourselves.

  4. Adam S. on June 3, 2005 at 9:24 am

    To begin with, I think it is important that we also clarify that the church is not exclusively anti-abortion. By allowing it in rare cases, we can take morally take the stance that abortion should remain a legal, safe option. That being said it is strongly discouraged as a means of “family planning”. Mitt Romney is in a mess right now because he is selective about which angle he uses depending on the crowd he is speaking to. Stem cell research has the same problem. Few people would advocate the wholesale raising and slaughtering of human embryos at the whim of medical researchers. However, in a careful and controlled environment, stem cell reasearch can lead to medical breakthroughs that would otherwise be impossible. I am no expert in stem cell research. I just think we should avoid condeming the science based on some arbitratrary moral line drawn by whatever politicians are in power.

  5. Russell Arben Fox on June 3, 2005 at 10:09 am

    Matt, you’re correct that Bush’s position has merit–but accepting that requires changing one’s framing of the problem. If we think in terms of, as you put it, a “moral line between allowing embryos to die and killing them with hopes of bettering ourselves,” then we are thinking about the significance to our actions in regards to the embryos. In other words, it’s a relational ethic; a question of technology, the self, and the other. I think that’s a very important argument, but it’s not the same as Bush’s; he, by contrast, frames the debate in reference to the embryos themselves: in terms of the inviolability of life, the idea that all these embryos have a soul and therefore an inherent dignity before the eyes of God (and the law). The former, relational argument makes possible the sort of compromises and qualifications which Adam S. proposes; the latter doesn’t. And while Bush’s actions may imply he approaches the issue from the former perspective, his rhetoric (indiscriminatingly borrowed from Catholicism) clearly trumpets the latter. There’s a disconnect there, one which Bush benefits from, since the latter position (which he probably has no intention of actually pursuing electorally) lends itself a lot easier to baby-killing rhetoric.

    I agree that Germany, like Italy, has been able to address this issue more coherently than the U.S. has. (The same goes for abortion, where more restrictions and mandatory counseling has long characterized most European abortion laws.)

  6. annegb on June 3, 2005 at 10:17 am

    Where do you find these things that state the church’s official position? I’ve looked before, but been unable to find them.

    Could you tell me? There are other things I’d like to know about. gardnera@netutah.com

  7. Bob Caswell on June 3, 2005 at 10:18 am

    “…abortion is cause for a church disciplinary council.”

    Not always, Matt. And I’m not too comfortable with your representation of the Church in this case. I’m not sure what your basing this on other than your personal convictions perhaps, but the Church has not ranked illicit drugs, pornography, and abortion anywhere that I know of only to have abortion be somehow “the worst” of the three. I think it’s safe to say that they are all strongly discouraged. Any more of a description and/or ranking is speculation.

    Oh, and for the record, I’ve seen drugs and/or pornography as the cause for church disciplinary council.

  8. Matt Evans on June 3, 2005 at 10:23 am

    Russell, I don’t grasp the distinction you’re drawing between the relational ethic and Bush’s basing the decision on the “embryos themselves.” It seems to me that even if Bush believes that embryos have a soul (I’ve never heard Bush say this, but I’ll assume it arguendo) and that life is inviolable, one can believe that those facts make it immoral to kill embryos (deontological) but do not obligate the use of extraordinary means to preserve their lives (relational).

  9. Bob Caswell on June 3, 2005 at 10:23 am

    In fact, it could almost be argued the other way. Last time I checked, illegal drugs and/or pornography don’t have exceptions whereas abortion does (within the Church). So it would follow that illegal drugs and pornography are potentially more discouraged (if using this logic as a measurement).

  10. lyle stamps on June 3, 2005 at 10:33 am

    Bob: Yes, doesn’t that “exception” require it to be exercised _within_ a disciplinary counsel called to judge the issue? Whereas drugs/p*rn*, it is at the leaders discretion whether a council needs to be convened or not…

  11. Marc Bohn on June 3, 2005 at 10:35 am

    The retraction of the somewhat confusing August 2001 statement and the re-emphasis of the Church’s non-position on the issue in no way infers that the Church is supportive of the drastic limits embryonic stem-cell research. Yet oddly you seem emboldened by it Matt (I refer to this line of posts as well as to posts you made on Common Consent). You say that there is “a moral line between allowing embryos to die and killing them with hopes of bettering ourselves” … yet that is just the issue isn’t it? Whether there is such a moral line there. Employing emotionally charged words like “killing” when framing the issue doesn’t strengthen your argument at all. I’ve researched the issue prayerfully and don’t believe that it is “killing.” There are legitimate differences of opinion here and rhetoric like this only proves devisive and unproductive.

  12. Matt Evans on June 3, 2005 at 10:39 am

    Bob, the Handbook of Instructions says a disciplinary council may be necessary for “members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for abortions,” except in the circumstances allowed by the church (rape, health of mother in jeopardy, fatal fetal defect). There is also a list of serious transgressions that may require a disciplinary council. Because the list includes “adultery, fornication, homosexual relations,” and “sale of illegal drugs,” but does not include pornography or use of illegal drugs, I interpret that to mean that pornography and drug use are not serious transgressions for purposes of church disciplinary councils. Pornography and drug use are sufficiently common that it’s unlikely their omission from the list of transgressions was an oversight.

  13. Matt Evans on June 3, 2005 at 10:51 am

    Marc,

    I didn’t mean to suggest that the church was supporting my views on embryos; I was simply happy for them to clarify that they had never supported embryonic stem cell research because many people had interpreted the August 2001 non-statement otherwise.

    I don’t see any escaping the word “killing.” Arguing that they’re not full human beings is one thing, but regardless of what embryos are ontologically, no one disputes that they are living, growing organisms that are killed when researchers harvest their stem cells. As far as I know, everyone admits that mice are “killed” for scientific research. If they use a different generic verb to describe what scientists do to mice that makes them die, I don’t know what it is.

  14. Bob Caswell on June 3, 2005 at 10:51 am

    ” it’s unlikely that their omission from the list of transgressions was an oversight.”

    I see what you’re getting at, but it still looks like further speculation to support your original speculation. Seinfeld disclaimer: Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that I want it to be clear that we’re reading between the lines and not necessarily the lines themselves. Venturing into “this sin is worse than that one” can be a dangerous business.

  15. Mark B. on June 3, 2005 at 10:58 am

    The list of transgressions where a disciplinary council is required is short, and does not include either performing of submitting to an abortion, use of illegal drugs or use of (or production of) pornography.

    Lyle, a disciplinary council is not required to determine whether a person is within the exceptions on the abortion issue–the Church’s statement puts that decision squarely on the persons involved, counseling with their priesthood leaders and the Lord. Frankly, I can’t imagine a worse setting for that counseling to take place than in a disciplinary council, where there exists at least a presumption that a sin may have been committed by somebody. A woman considering an abortion for the reasons that the Church’s statement sets forth has not committed a sin, nor will she if the appropriate confirmation of her decision is received.

    On the other hand, I can’t think of an example where recreational use of controlled substances or use of pornography would not be sin.

  16. Matt Evans on June 3, 2005 at 11:05 am

    Bob,

    I don’t know how dangerous it is, but the Church implicitly ranks the seriousness of offenses when it categorizes them under these headings: When a Disciplinary Council is Mandatory, When a Disciplinary Council May Be Necessary, and When a Disciplinary Council is Not Necessary. I didn’t make this connection earlier, but the Word of Wisdom is listed under Not Necessary.

  17. Matt Evans on June 3, 2005 at 10:10 am

    Adam, I think “strongly discourages” is too light a description for the church’s position on elective abortion. “Strongly discourages” more accurately describes the church’s stance towards the use of illegal drugs or pornography. Unlike drugs or pornography, elective abortion is cause for a church disciplinary council.

  18. Melissa on June 3, 2005 at 11:12 am

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned (maybe I missed it?) Orrin Hatch’s role as one of the leading proponents of expanding stem cell research. Senator’s Hatch’s strong support in the Senate on this issue and his many public statements on the benefits of moving forward with this research may make it hard for the Church to take a strong contrary position. The quote from the Lincoln Journal Star that the Church calls a “misstatement” is actually Senator Hatch’s position. Although it represents lazy and careless research for an article, it is not completely unreasonable for some journalist to have assumed that Hatch’s position on this issue was also the Church’s position.

  19. Matt Evans on June 3, 2005 at 11:17 am

    Oh Melissa, we’ve been all over Hatch’s role on this issue. Just not on this thread. Hatch conveniently claims it’s a priceless human being only if it’s burdening a woman. ; )

  20. sarah on June 3, 2005 at 11:43 am

    Out of curiousity, and not to threadjack, but what is the list of sins for which a disciplinary council is mandatory?

  21. Russell Arben Fox on June 3, 2005 at 11:46 am

    “It seems to me that even if Bush believes that embryos have a soul (I’ve never heard Bush say this, but I’ll assume it arguendo) and that life is inviolable, one can believe that those facts make it immoral to kill embryos (deontological) but do not obligate the use of extraordinary means to preserve their lives (relational).”

    You’re conflating two different categories of action here. The matter of linking in vitro fertilization with stem-cell experimentation comes from the common fact that both depend upon the creation and availability of human empryos that will not, in fact, be given the opportunity to develop into a baby. It is not so straightforward as though stem-cell researches are destroying embryos whereas people seeking fertility treatments are merely not doing anything “extraordinary” to preserve them; in vitro fertilization in the U.S. (and some places elsewhere) requires the creation and freezing of numerous “lives,” the overwhelming majority of which for all intents and purposes will never be allowed to “live.” So yes, I think that if you believe there is a deontological demand to treat human embryos as persons who ought not be killed, then there must be, or at least should be, a similar demand to not create embryos that will be frozen and left to die.

    Again, this is not to say that stem-cell research is okay and ought to be allowed. I think it is just as reasonable to assume that in vitro fertilization is an abomination and should not be allowed. More reasonably, I think it is likely that deontological arguments are of limited use here (as I think there are of limited use generally in moral philosophy), and one is better off looking in a relational or teleological direction at the way in which too-great a reliance upon technology (either to cure diseases or to have babies) may have horrendous, hidden costs.

  22. Paul Mortensen on June 3, 2005 at 11:52 am

    Ranking sins or, to use a better term, establishing a moral hierarchy was one of the first lessons taught to immortal man. God gave Adam and Eve two distinct yet conflicting commandments and they had to choose which was the more important law to obey. Failure to uderstand this basic priciple is intellectually and spiritually lazy.

  23. lyle stamps on June 3, 2005 at 11:58 am

    Mark: Thanks for the clarification. :)

    Marc: There is plenty of scientific evidence to support the use of factual terms, such as, killing. Then again, reasonable scientists tend to disagree.

  24. Russell Arben Fox on June 3, 2005 at 12:49 pm

    Here is William Saletan, making essentially my same point:

    Last week at the White House, President Bush showcased embryo adoption as an alternative to embryonic stem-cell research. The event alarmed the in vitro fertilization industry. Proponents of embryo adoption “have an explicit political agenda to actually take away choices from infertility patients,” an industry spokesman told the New York Times.

    Actually, an explicit agenda is what pro-lifers don’t yet have. Already overwhelmed by patient advocates in the fight over stem cells, they have no death wish to confront the millions of Americans whose families have tried IVF. Promoting embryo adoption—finding somebody to rescue surplus embryos so IVF couples can go on making them and leaving them behind—is an attempt to avoid that confrontation. But last week’s House debate over stem cells signaled that the confrontation is coming. Pro-lifers don’t think anyone, including a parent, has the right to doom an embryo to death. They’re on a collision course with IVF.

  25. Matt Evans on June 3, 2005 at 1:55 pm

    Sarah,

    The offenses for which a disciplinary council are mandatory: murder, incest between a child and a parent or grandparent, sexual or serious physical child abuse, apostasy, transgressions which show person to be a predator, pattern of serious transgressions, or serious transgression while holding a prominent church position (stake, mission, or temple president; bishop). Serious transgression is defined as: “a deliberate and major offense against morality. It includes (but is not limited to) attempted murder, rape, forcible sexual abuse, spouse abuse, intentional serious physical injury of others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, robbery, burglary, embezzlement, sale of illegal drugs, fraud, perjury, and false swearing.”

    A church disciplinary council “may be necessary” for cases of serious transgression by a non-prominent church member; encouraging or submitting to an elective abortion; or transexual operations.

  26. Matt Evans on June 3, 2005 at 2:17 pm

    Russell, but from the deontological perspective (Bush’s) there is nothing inherently problematic with creating embryos for IVF. It’s only because couples undergoing IVF fertility treatments create excess embryos — because it’s less expensive to produce and freeze extra embryos for possible later implantation attempts than to create new embryos each time — that there’s an ethical problem. If we adopt a law like Germany’s or Kentucky’s, the price of IVF would increase for some couples, but the deontological problem goes away. For that reason I don’t think it’s right for Saletan to say pro-lifers are on a “collision course” with IVF — “collision course” suggests something more dramatic than “making IVF 20% more expensive for 30% of patients.” (I made up those percentages, I don’t know the actual numbers.)

  27. Nate Oman on June 3, 2005 at 2:27 pm

    ” I think it is likely that deontological arguments are of limited use here (as I think there are of limited use generally in moral philosophy), and one is better off looking in a relational or teleological direction at the way in which too-great a reliance upon technology (either to cure diseases or to have babies) may have horrendous, hidden costs.”

    Russell, the lone voice of communitarian neo-Luddism crying in the wilderness!

  28. Russell Arben Fox on June 3, 2005 at 2:42 pm

    Nate,

    “From the deontological perspective (Bush’s) there is nothing inherently problematic with creating embryos for IVF. It’s only because couples undergoing IVF fertility treatments create excess embryos – because it’s less expensive to produce and freeze extra embryos for possible later implantation attempts than to create new embryos each time – that there’s an ethical problem. If we adopt a law like Germany’s or Kentucky’s, the price of IVF would increase for some couples, but the deontological problem goes away.”

    True; as I said to Matt, I kind of admire the position that Germany, Italy, and now some states have taken towards IVF. I don’t know if I agree with it–my feelings about stem-cell research are far from settled–but at least it accepts the implications of the deontological position increasingly taken by Bush and some others. As for Saletan, I think he’s assuming (wrongly? perhaps…) that the IVF crowd are going to be approaching this issue in a somewhat deontological way also, in the sense that they might, perhaps on the basis of some “privacy” right, insist that any interference with or restriction of IVF procedures would be a violation of their reproductive freedom. Hence, a collision.

  29. Bob Caswell on June 3, 2005 at 3:43 pm

    “Failure to uderstand this basic priciple is intellectually and spiritually lazy.”

    As for ranking sins, perhaps we can do it within the context of our own sins. But making blanket statements as to which sin is worse than other sins is simply ignoring any of the complexities unique to invididual circumstances surrounding each sin. Not all sins are created equally and the more we categorize, label, and predetermine what punishment is associated with what sin, the more we ignore the variables within each circumstance. And THAT is lazy.

  30. danithew on June 3, 2005 at 3:48 pm

    Ok. I admit it. I had to look it up. deontology

  31. Jim F on June 3, 2005 at 3:59 pm

    Don’t feel too bad, danithew, I have to stop and try to remember what it means every time someone uses it.

  32. Paul Mortensen on June 3, 2005 at 4:00 pm

    Re #29:

    Bob:

    What “complexities unique to invididual circumstances” would ever cause one to classify cold-blooded murder as a lesser sin to sabbath-breaking (i.e. ordering up Domino’s while watching a ball game). If your analysis cannot apply in extreme cases then it cannot apply in more morally ambiguous ones. Alas, what you’re advocating is moral relativism– a philosophy hostile to any concept of supreme diety.

  33. Bob Caswell on June 3, 2005 at 4:00 pm

    I should further clarify by giving the original example, which might explain why I brought this up in the first place. Matt had a few thoughts suggesting that abortion is more serious a sin than pornography and/or illegal drug use. While that could potentially be the case in many circumstances, I’m sure there are individual cases where pornography and/or drug use could be worse sins than abortion. I just don’t think it fair to those going through the struggling process of repentance to have the rest of us rank their actions in some hypothetical list.

    These sins are “bad” and have consequences. Ranking them doesn’t necessarily help us understand any further the consequences associated with each sin. And consequences vary even within the context of a particular type of sin making it nearly impossible to rank sins in a way that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

  34. Bob Caswell on June 3, 2005 at 4:06 pm

    “If your analysis cannot apply in extreme cases then it cannot apply in more morally ambiguous ones.”

    I don’t follow. Because your extreme example makes the ranking obvious means that we have the right to rank sins even when not obvious? I let God deal with it when it gets gray and muddy rather than assume – based on my knowledge of extreme examples – that I know what ranks where in every case.

  35. Jim F on June 3, 2005 at 4:11 pm

    With Bob Caswell (I think), I fail to see what the point of ranking sins is. There are obvious cases–it is worse to commit adultery than to tell a lie with few consequences–for which there’s no point making a ranking. And there are non-obvious cases where we must depend on the judgment of priesthood leaders and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, in which case there is also no point in ranking them. In either case, there’s no point in making a ranking of sins.

  36. Steve Evans on June 3, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    Jim: “In either case, there’s no point in making a ranking of sins. ”

    …unless you’re keeping score, like I am.

  37. Mark B. on June 3, 2005 at 4:31 pm

    Jim’s point about “judgment of priesthood leaders and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost” is what church discipline comes down to. The guidelines in the handbook usually reach only far enough to leave all the tough decision-making to that judgment and inspiration.

  38. Paul Mortensen on June 3, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    Jim/Bob:

    Realizing that a moral hierarchy exists is important. Adam and Eve in the Garden. Nephi acquiring the brass plates. Ammon defending Lamoni’s herds. Personally, my only concern with “ranking sin” is how it assists our understanding of the moral hierarchy of God’s laws and I think that is the context in which the subject of “ranking sins” first appeared. Sin and virture are opposite sides of the same coin called morality. We are taught that there are certain acts that are more virtuous than others (i.e. sacrificing one’s life for the Kingdom versus giving up one’s seat on a crowded bus to a pregnant woman). Is it unreasonable or unprofitable to examine the other side of the coin?

    Bob:

    You have still failed to escape the trap of moral relativism. What you are trying to do is selectively apply moral relativism in the “hard” cases while at the same time apply moral absolutism in the “easy” cases. You’re comingling your paradigms– a methodoligy that produces sloppy results.

  39. Paul H on June 3, 2005 at 5:03 pm

    I’d just like to echo what Mark B. (37) and Jim F. (36) said, perhaps beating a dead horse with a wet noodle in the process… The reason why church discipline is meted out by Judges in Israel is precisely because it’s impossible to completely rank sins. The church handbook’s instruction on when a disciplinary council is necessary makes this point clearly: if you’re in a prominent position and do something wrong, then things can cause you to be excommunicated that normally wouldn’t cause somebody to be excommunicated. In other words, how “bad” a particular sin is becomes incredibly context dependent. While a normal member wouldn’t be disciplined for drinking beer, a bishop might be. You can’t write a set of rules or establish a ranking which handles all the cases. Thus, you have to have a human being, inspired by the Holy Ghost to figure out exactly what the “badness” of a particular sin truly is. To be perfectly honest, I think one of the reasons that the church has no official opinion on the stem cell issue is that the context isn’t clear. Since the church (quite historically) has no official opinion on when the spirit enters the body (which is at least partially why abortion is such a spiritually tricky issue Bob Caswell and Matt Evans) it’s sort of impossible to determine whether or not destroying an embryo for research is destroying a soul, or just a body. Since the context isn’t clear, there’s no official position. It’s nice that they’re so consistent, don’t you think?

  40. danithew on June 3, 2005 at 5:03 pm

    [LOL. I write out a response to some comments, came back to review where the comments have gone -- and found that Jim F. is now questioning the value of ranking sins (which is what my comment is largely about). I think his criticism is apt to a certain extent ... but I think ranking sins sometimes does help to provide a proper overall perspective of things. Having said that, now I'll post my comment ... ]

    Consequent to some of the comments above I couldn’t help but ponder a little bit the respective evils and consequences of abortion, pornography and recreational drug use. Due to the dynamic of addiction, I would surmise that the use of illegal drugs and pornography are even more serious than the problem of abortion — at least from a sense of how often the sin is potentially committed by the individual, the number of people engaged in the behavior and its cumulative injurious effects on those people, their families and society in general.

    During a lifetime the individual addict might use drugs or pornography hundreds or thousands of times — finding it difficult or impossible to stop when he/she would prefer to repent. One also can ponder the heinous crimes and sins often associated with drugs and pornography. I’m not trying to downplay the problem of abortion at all — but I don’t think it is in the same league as pornography or drug use.

    It would be interesting to have some statistics on abortion — how often a woman who has one abortion decides to undergo an abortion again. Even in the oddest of scenarios, where a woman is utterly determined to conceive constantly and have as many abortions as possible — eventually her biology (menopause) will prevent her from continuing to commit the sin.

  41. emily on June 3, 2005 at 5:11 pm

    It is not obvious to me that giving up one’s life for the Kingdom is “more” virtuous than giving up one’s seat to a pregnant woman. Especially since it is much more likely that one would have more opportunity to do the latter, and since we are told that doing service to the least of our brethren/sistern (heh), is giving unto the Lord. The giving of life rather than the giving up of it. Not that this is particularly relevant to the discussion at hand.

  42. Randy on June 3, 2005 at 5:16 pm

    Dannithew, your reasoning only potentially holds if the aborted fetus is not considered a soul. If the aborted fetus is considered a soul (and I am not opining whether it is or is not) then serial porn/drug use does not approach elective abortion in gravity of sin.

    For those who have argued that ranking sin is useless, re-read the BoM. There has to be a reason that the concept of ordinal sin is discussed so frequently therein.

  43. Bob Caswell on June 3, 2005 at 5:36 pm

    So far, all the comments associated with the “promotion,” if you will, of ranking sin still seem to hinge on guess work, speculation, and reading between the lines. If we come to terms with the fact that most of this ranking of sins isn’t very authoritative, then I suppose it could be a fun little exercise. But as Paul Moretensen thinks I’m falling into the trap of moral relativism, let’s not forget that the same trap exists for moral absolutism. If Paul M.’s moral absolutism can’t be applied to muddied, ambiguous cases (which it really can’t, who am I (or who is Paul) to say that such as such information written must implicitly mean this sin ranks higher or lower than that sin), then why bother.

    If ranking sins is so beneficial, then why don’t we have an official list somewhere within the Church? “Sins in Order of Seriousness” could come right after the Articles of Faith, if needed. But again, as each instance of support for ranking of sins relies on interpretation and/or extrapolation, how can it be much more than something we’ve made up?

  44. Bob Caswell on June 3, 2005 at 5:41 pm

    By the way, Emily, it wasn’t that obvious to me either. Thanks for your comment.

  45. Bob Caswell on June 3, 2005 at 5:42 pm

    Steve,

    Why are you keeping score? Doesn’t that just make it more painful for you? :-)

  46. Randy on June 3, 2005 at 5:52 pm

    As to the amenability of the sin of abortion to the laws of repentance and forgiveness, I quote the following statement made by President David O. McKay and his counselors, Stephen L Richards and J. Reuben Clark, Jr., which continues to represent the attitude and position of the Church:

    “As the matter stands today, no definite statement has been made by the Lord one way or another regarding the crime of abortion. So far as is known, he has not listed it alongside the crime of the unpardonable sin and shedding of innocent human blood. That he has not done so would suggest that it is not in that class of crime and therefore that it will be amenable to the laws of repentance and forgiveness.”

    This quoted statement, however, should not, in any sense, be construed to minimize the seriousness of this revolting sin.

    The First Presidency
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  47. Bob Caswell on June 3, 2005 at 5:56 pm

    I feel the need to point out that what I take seven comments and several paragraphs to explain, Jim F. can state much more eloquently in a couple sentences. I guess that comes with being wise and all that. Thanks, Jim.

  48. Randy on June 3, 2005 at 6:00 pm

    “Know ye not, my son,” he said, “that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?” (Alma 39:5).

  49. lyle stamps on June 3, 2005 at 6:08 pm

    Whether ‘abominable’ or just plain ‘revolting,’ LDS citizens should avoid both and advocate the prohibition of both. Legislation is morality, writ large.

  50. Anonymous on June 3, 2005 at 9:52 pm

    Lyle, how can I consistently advocate the prohibition of abortion at the same time that, with the Church, I recognize that there are some, limited circumstances in which it is justifiable?

  51. Anonymous on June 3, 2005 at 9:54 pm

    Lyle, how can I consistently advocate the prohibition of abortion while, at the same time, I agree with the Church’s position that there are some, limited circumstances in which an abortion may be justified?

  52. Jeremy on June 3, 2005 at 10:56 pm

    “As the matter stands today, no definite statement has been made by the Lord one way or another regarding the crime of abortion. So far as is known, he has not listed it alongside the crime of the unpardonable sin and shedding of innocent human blood. That he has not done so would suggest that it is not in that class of crime and therefore that it will be amenable to the laws of repentance and forgiveness.”

    This statement also speaks to the timbre of the rhetoric. Sure, we (i.e. Matt and others) can say “Well, when you kill a mouse in a lab, you’re killing it, so why not use the same word when you’re talking about a frozen embryo, even if you don’t think it’s human?” That seems to me a a disingenuous resignation to terminological whim. It so happens that one definition of “killing” renders it synonymous with “putting down,” as one does to an animal; another definition of “killing” renders it synonymous with “murder,” a word that imposes all sorts of contextual circumstances (malice against humanity) upon the generic act of ending an organism’s life. This deliberate conflation on the part of stem-cell-research opponents hinders honest dialogue, because even though “killing” can mean “putting down,” the parties using it in reference to frozen embryos clearly don’t mean “putting down,” they mean “murdering” (or something closer to it). Thus, right off the bat the rhetoric is slanted; and coyly claiming the word’s innocuousness further polarizes the dialogue, because it pretends a measure of technically objective terminology while at the same time relying on the term’s more potent and contextually subjective implication (“murder”).

  53. Matt Evans on June 4, 2005 at 12:32 am

    Jeremy,

    I’m a full-throated supporter of using animals for scientific research, believing they are currently the most viable testing model, yet I still have the capacity to admit that the animals are frequently killed. So count me at least one person who doesn’t shrink behind euphemism.

    Also, do you find the logic of the statement you cited compelling? What can we infer from God’s silence? Was slavery not a heinous evil until God condemned it in the 19th century?

  54. Jeremy on June 4, 2005 at 7:09 am

    I’m a full-throated supporter of using animals for scientific research, yet I still have the capacity to admit that the animals are being killed. So count me at least one person who doesn’t shrink behind euphemism.

    You missed my point entirely; “killed” in that context does not carry all the baggage that stem-cell-research opponents want to smuggle into the dialogue. I don’t “shrink from euphemism” either, and few people do–but neither do they say “200 rats were murdered in a lab experiment,” unless perhaps they are members of PETA (which I most certainly am not!). “Killing” has two separate meanings in this discussion, one that is morally neutral and one that implies a moral breach; stem-cell-research opponents jump to the one when they want to claim terminological objectivity, and to the other when they want to infuse the rhetoric with more emotion.

    Also, do you find the logic of the statement you cited compelling? What can we infer from God’s silence?

    Yes I find it compelling, but I don’t see why it should compel me in your direction. We can infer nothing from God’s silence, and proceed according to the best of our knowledge, the best science, and any personal spiritual guidance we might receive.

    Was slavery not a heinous evil until God condemned it in the 19th century?

    Again, Matt, this syllogistic comparison adds nothing to the debate because, like the oscillating meaning behind your use of “killing,” it approaches the subject from from a presupposition of stem-cell research’s immorality: God was slow to say that that bad thing was bad, so we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s similarly slow to condemn this similarly bad thing. But many of us don’t buy the similarity, and the ham-fistedness of the comparison makes us suspicious that its intent is rhetorical/emotional rather than argumentative. You’re saying (rightly) that stem-cell research could be bad, even though God hasn’t said so, but then extrapolating from that that God’s silence on stem-cells is somehow behaviorally predictive of what He eventually will say on the subject (assuming he ever says anything).

  55. Matt Evans on June 4, 2005 at 8:07 am

    Jeremy,

    It is not possible for me to use distinct meanings for the word ‘killed’. Whether or not a reader understands the word ‘killed’ as murder turns on their belief of what human embryos are. But the entire debate about embryonic stem cell research turns on what human embryos are! The meaning of the word ‘killed’ is just one of a thousand implications that rest on the ontological status of the human embryo (what they are). The word ‘killed’ can’t, and doesn’t, effect the argument at all, because saying that embryos are killed says nothing about what is being killed except that they’re alive, a fact no one disputes. The word ‘killed’ has no rhetorical weight in the question, “What kind of entity is killed in embryonic research?,” which is a legitimate way of framing the embryonic stem cell debate. If proponents of research attempt to avoid admitting that anything is being killed at all, then they’re avoiding the controversy, not addressing it.

    You say you find the logic of the statement you cited compelling but then turn around and say “we can infer nothing from God’s silence” (emphasis yours). Given that the logic of the statement rests on an inference of God’s silence, this is a contradiction. You must either reject the logic of the statement (statement’s logic: because God is silent on abortion, we can infer abortion isn’t unpardonable murder) or accept that we can infer things from God’s silence. It’s not possible to simultaneously believe we can infer something and nothing from silence.

    (BTW, I don’t believe abortion is murder, but not by inferring anything from God’s silence. Most abortions should be viewed as a failure to perform an affirmative parental duty, not a deliberate killing, because the child’s death is *incidental* to the mother ending her pregnancy. The crime it most closely parallels is “child abandonment resulting in death.” This view is of course complicated by the fact that many people view the purpose of abortion not only to end the pregnancy but to kill the baby. For example, if an abortionist said, “I’m done, your pregnancy’s over. Congratulations, here’s your healthy little girl!,” most people would think he hadn’t done his job.)

    I’ll delay responding to your complaint about my use of slavery until you clarify whether you accept the statement’s logic about making inferrences from God’s silence in the first place.

  56. Jon on June 4, 2005 at 9:16 am

    Oh Melissa, we’ve been all over Hatch’s role on this issue. Just not on this thread. Hatch conveniently claims it’s a priceless human being only if it’s burdening a woman. ; )

    Matt, I find it lamentable that you are misrepresenting Hatch’s position and, furthermore, attributing bad faith to the position that he holds. Please attempt to be fair and charitable, no matter how much you disagree with him.

  57. danithew on June 4, 2005 at 10:13 am

    I was mulling this morning about how easy it is for many of us as LDS people to unconditionally oppose abortion. Perhaps it is even easier for LDS men to unconditionally oppose abortion. After all, many of us grow up in fairly well-to-do families that welcome children. How many of us have ever even been tempted to have an abortion performed or to pay for an abortion? Even once? I’m guessing that most of us are 100% “perfect” on the issue of abortion — if not ideologically (from the strictest point of view), then in practice. For those who haven’t even felt the pressure or temptation of choosing whether or not to have an abortion, total unmitigated opposition to the procedure is rather effortless and painless. In fact, taking a completely uncompromising posture on the issue might be a way to subconsciously pat oneself on the back.

  58. Jeremy on June 4, 2005 at 10:14 am

    Matt, I quite simply don’t understand what you’re getting at. I’m not inferring divine endorsement of my position; what I’m saying is that no one should frame their argument or rhetoric as if they had that endorsement.

    The word ‘killed’ can’t, and doesn’t, effect the argument at all, because saying that embryos are killed says nothing about what is being killed except that they’re alive, a fact no one disputes.

    Perhaps you genuinely mean to use the word “killed” in a neutral way, but many of your colleagues who oppose stem cell research exploit the term’s potential emotionalistic impact.

  59. danithew on June 4, 2005 at 11:39 am

    Can a fix can be made so that the comments after #51 are not all completely italicized?

  60. CarrieH on June 4, 2005 at 1:02 pm

    Danithew,

    I think your question and your point are excellent: one of the main reasons Mormons can be so unconditionally opposed to abortion is their lack of firsthand experience with it.

    In addition, people who have abortions usually don’t go and tell the entire world about it. So while most of us know that we’re acquainted with outstanding people who also happen(ed) to drink, swear, or have sex outside of marriage, we may not be aware that we’re acquainted with outstanding people who’ve also gone through abortions. This makes it easy to view abortion as an abstract concept that only “bad” people consider and to therefore condemn it and people who have them unconditionally.

    On the stem cell research issue, “no position” has to mean that the general authorities disagree. I wonder who takes each side.

  61. danithew on June 4, 2005 at 1:33 pm

    Yes Carrie, I think abortion has to be categorized as one of the “secret sins” so to speak. Which leads me to wonder sometimes if there is a small percentage of people sitting in our own congregations (converts or not) who have undergone the abortion procedure but say nothing — because they know that abortion is completely demonized by so many in the Church. This is one of the dangers I think of equating abortion with murder — that we are harshly condemning a silent person sitting in the same room with us. We simply cannot know all the life circumstances and experiences of those who are around us. Some want to err on the side of caution when it comes to stem-cell research. There is clearly another area, in our rhetoric regarding abortion, in which we could err on the side of caution as well.

  62. Marc Bohn on June 4, 2005 at 2:00 pm

    I had the opportunity to teach and baptize a woman on my mission who had had an abortion. This is a wonderful woman who has grown immeasurably over the years. I’ve never looked at the abortion debate in the same way since. Every time I hear harsh rhetoric on the topic of abortion I cringe.

  63. Matt Evans on June 4, 2005 at 2:09 pm

    Jon, here’s Hatch’s position in his own words, from May 2005:

    “. . . human life does not begin in a Petri dish. While I respect those with different views, I believe that human life requires and begins in a mother’s nurturing womb.”

    I’ll leave it to each reader to decide if that position is “convenient” for an aging man.

  64. Matt Evans on June 4, 2005 at 2:30 pm

    Danithew, I don’t believe one needs to be exposed to evil in order to condemn it. For example, I don’t have any personal experience with child abuse, yet that hasn’t prevented me from condemning it or even from working as an analyst for a state agency determined to eradicate it. I’ve had even less exposure to slavery, but condemn it freely, too. Southerners frequently reminded the Northern and English abolitionists that they had no personal knowledge of slavery, and should therefore stop agitating people about it, but I never found that argument persuasive.

  65. Matt Evans on June 4, 2005 at 2:51 pm

    Jeremy,

    I’ve never claimed that God is on my side, nor rested any claims on personal revelation. The only Mormons claiming divine endorsement for their position are on *your* side. Take up your beef with Orrin Hatch:

    “Hatch says that after study and prayer, he concluded that clones are not actually human beings unless they are implanted into a mother’s womb. Instead, he says, they are merely cultured cells and ethically could be used in research.”

    Do a Google search for “orrin hatch prayer womb” for countless other examples. I’ve never seen Hatch explain his position without claiming God’s on his side.

    As for the word “kill”, I don’t see how any opponents of stem cell research could misuse the word “kill.” To my knowledge no one disputes that the embryo is killed when the scientists take it apart to harvest its stem cells. The whole issue turns on *what* is being killed — there’s agreement that *something* is being “killed.”

  66. Marc Bohn on June 4, 2005 at 2:51 pm

    While I disagree with Hatch on many things, I support him whole-heartedly on stem cell research. I’ve read his position and have heard him speak on it Matt, and I in no way find it “convenient.” I feel it to be right. Remember that it’s not only Hatch that has taken what you term to be the “convenient” position… it’s all five Mormon Senators in Congress.

  67. Matt Evans on June 4, 2005 at 2:52 pm

    Marc, guess how many of the five Mormon Senators are aging men. ; )

  68. Justin Hart on June 4, 2005 at 2:56 pm

    From the evangelical point of view many have questioned the stance of Mormons. For years Mormons have put forth a decent opposition to abortion but not necessarily an “explicit” opposition. However, it has been my experience that many members are quick to highlight explicit exceptions to abortion (“rape, incest and threatened health to the mother”). Through the traditional pro-life viewpoint these exceptions are reasonable but to call them out as ehs of abortion opponents (picketing with obscene signs, kneeling in prayer in front of abortion clinics). “We are just not comfortable wearing our faith in an explicit political demonstration.” I said.

    I should note that there are several groups that are ramping up (non-profit organizations) that will give Mormons a voice for many of these efforts but in a spirit that Mormons will feel safe and encouraged to do so.

    That being said, it’s always a positive venture to review “what” we say about sensitive issues like abortion and “why” we say it. From where I stand my friend has a point.

  69. Marc Bohn on June 4, 2005 at 2:59 pm

    Gordon Smith is 53 and Mike Crapo is 54… not exactly over-the-hill… especially in Congressional life-spans. And since when is age a bad thing?

  70. Russell Arben Fox on June 4, 2005 at 3:00 pm

    “Hatch never explains his position without claiming God’s on his side.”

    Do you absolutely refuse to do anything remotely similar, Matt? It seems to me that your own position to a significant degree depends upon at least a few religious presumptions, specifically about the validity of certain prophetic and scriptural statements. Perhaps there is an important difference in kind between that and saying that a decision had been reached after both “study and prayer,” but I am only seeing a difference in degree, at best.

  71. Marc Bohn on June 4, 2005 at 3:03 pm

    I’ll refer to Gordon B. Hinckley on the virtues of age… in answer to Mike Wallace’s question about the church being a gerontocracy, Hinckley said:

    “Isn’t it wonderful? To have a man of maturity at the head, a man of judgment, who isn’t blown about by every wind of doctrine? ”

    (And to answer your inevitable follow-up… I don’t think any of the Senators are “dotty” : )

  72. Matt Evans on June 4, 2005 at 3:06 pm

    Marc and Jeremy,

    Do you think Hatch really believes human life requires a mother’s nurturing womb? Does he believe that an embryo that is never implanted in a woman, but is allowed to develop in an artifical environment, completely isolated from all human contact, would not be — nor ever become — a human being?

    Do either of *you* believe that?

  73. CarrieH on June 4, 2005 at 3:09 pm

    Marc,
    I can’t be sure, but I think Matt was insinuating that these “aging men” are being self-interested (i.e., hoping that stem cell research will help them and their friends and family to live longer, more productive, less burdensome lives) and that this is a questionable thing.

  74. Scott on June 4, 2005 at 3:31 pm

    #71- yes, I do believe that a human life requires a womb. Do you have an example otherwise? Are there any children running around that developed in artificial environment that you know about?

  75. Matt Evans on June 4, 2005 at 3:37 pm

    Hi Scott,

    No, there are no children running around who developed in artificial wombs. Artificial womb technology is nascent, but researchers are confident they will someday be able to nourish organisms artificially. According to Hatch’s definition, the resulting organisms will not be human beings, despite their having a human mother and father, and looking and acting in every way like any other human being. It’s hard for me to believe that Hatch, when asked if a particular kid at the playground is a human being, would ask, “Well, that depends. Was she ever inside her mother’s womb?”

  76. danithew on June 4, 2005 at 3:43 pm

    Matt, I’m just saying that those who unconditionally oppose abortion are often doing so at no personal cost to themselves. It’s the easiest principle for them to abide and that means instant hardcore activism. Comparing the abortion issue to slavery or Naziism is frosting on the cake … more gravy on the potatoes … the ultimate free ride on the train of heroism. Using dramatic analogies like that suggests unconditional opponents to abortion are in the same camp as abolitionists, civil rights workers, resistance fighters, etc. The difference being that these people were often at the risk of their own lives and many became martyrs.

  77. Matt Evans on June 4, 2005 at 4:00 pm

    Danithew, I think you’ll agree that opponents of of evils like child abuse, domestic violence, drunk driving, African slavery, or the Southeast Asian child sex trade; who expose the evils, raise public awareness, lobby their governments, volunteer for advocacy organizations, or simply donate money to assist the fight, are engaged in a worthy cause even if they’ve never been personally exposed to the particular evil and even if they’ve never risked their life for the sake of the cause.

  78. Scott on June 4, 2005 at 4:11 pm

    You’re worried about artificial wombs yet don’t think (or that it is unlikely) that there are cures to be had from stem cells? Why the disconnect, if not to serve a political agenda? I think people should be careful with thier dogmatic positions. Isn’t there a temple recommend question about affiliating with groups whose practices and teachings are contrary to what the church teaches or accepts? I don’t think that is limited to apostate groups. ( I am speaking in generalities, I have no knowlwege of any individual’s group membership)

  79. Matt Evans on June 4, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    Scott, I’ve never said that stem cells won’t lead to any cures, I hope and expect they will. Until we know that human embryos aren’t human beings, however, we should only harvest stem cells from unproblematic sources, like bone marrow and umbilical chord blood.

  80. Matt Evans on June 4, 2005 at 3:18 pm

    Russell, there may be examples of me doing otherwise, but I doubt I’ve ever claimed to know that God was on my side precisely because don’t know that God’s on my side. My thinking and debating experience on this topic were shaped in secular environments where appeals to God were worthless, and I’ve basically used those same arguments here. And even if I’ve used religious assumptions, my arguments don’t appeal to revelation. I’ve never claimed to know God’s will — just made arguments about what I think it is.

  81. danithew on June 4, 2005 at 4:37 pm

    Matt, except for the fact that they are worthy causes, none of the issues you have raised is really analogous to abortion. The abortion issue is a serious and worthy cause in its own right. But it is a unique issue that requires moderation and sensitivity — a sensitivity which is reflected in the official LDS Church position on the matter. One of the major objections I’m trying to make is the way the arguments are framed and the improper overreaching analogies that are used so often to buttress the unconditionalness of the stance that so many anti-abortionists take. If abortion activists will stop reaching for the tired analogies of slavery and Naziism and deal with the abortion issue regarding its true characteristics and merits, I’ll stop mocking their so-called heroic stance.

  82. danithew on June 4, 2005 at 4:46 pm

    Matt, I’m going to bow out of the argument now. Mainly because my wife wants me to go jogging with her. You can blame me for trying to have the last word. Whatever you say hereafter I’ll try to read it. But I want to stop arguing with you. I hope I get to meet you at some point and that we can be friends despite the fact that we disagree on this particular issue.

    Take care and good wishes.

  83. Matt Evans on June 4, 2005 at 5:07 pm

    Danithew, the other issues aren’t really any simpler than abortion. It’s just that we speak about them differently. It is child abuse to have your child’s leg removed, unless, of course, there’s a medical necessity. And it could even be moral to knock a child out cold: if the child wouldn’t be quiet, the family were Jewish, and snooping Nazis were downstairs. (There’s a tragic story along this line at the Holocaust museum). There are many other acts that are decent or evil depending on the circumstances. Abortion is no different. When I say I oppose abortion, I mean I oppose abortion in those circumstances it is evil, and no more.

    And of course I’d love to meet you, too. I’m much less combative in person!

  84. Bob Caswell on June 4, 2005 at 11:20 pm

    “I had the opportunity to teach and baptize a woman on my mission who had had an abortion.”

    Marc Bohn,

    I had this opportunity too with a very similar change of thought afterward. Good to hear your voice in the Bloggernacle!

  85. Marc Bohn on June 6, 2005 at 2:10 am

    #72 – CarrieH – I disagree. You claim it is a “questionable thing” whether these men are being self-interested. I would argue strongly for quite the opposite conclusion. They ARE thinking of others. Not only friends and family… but for the good of the country as a whole. I think imputing self-interested motives is simply a way of avoiding the issues here – an attempt at attacking Hatch and others themselves rather than their very legitimate (and in my view correct) position. Moreover, there seems to be a certain amount of moral callousness in dismissing the suffering, disability and even death that stem-cell research could cure as simpley self-interested, irrelevant or of small consideration, especially in view of rather abstract and hypothetical issues that have been raised in opposition – far removed from the real issues of life that we are facing.

  86. Marc Bohn on June 6, 2005 at 2:17 am

    #71 – Matt – While your sincerity cannot be questioned, I feel that you are misconstruing the issue. You appear to be reducing difference here to the same. The embryos in question, as you know, already exist. We are not talking about creating embryos to destroy them, but rather what should be done with embryos that are sitting in freezers in fertility clinics. While I think these sorts of issues should be approached cautiously, I see nothing wrong with destroying some of these embryos to create stem cells lines which have the potential to cure countless diseases and human ailments and drastically relieve human suffering. Your concerns seem to revolve around whether these embryos have souls, thereby constituting human life. If you truly believe that these embryos do have souls, are all human lives, and should not be destroyed, then I think it is just as morally repugnant to do nothing, and let them sit frozen and/or die, as it would be to destroy them to aid in this beneficial research. While I would always advocate being sensitive with regards to these sorts of questions, I simply cannot accept the logic behind your position. Regardless of what one’s views on what exactly embryos constitute, I think using the embryos to help end human suffering and disease is far better than letting them end up in some medical garbage can.

    In the end, I don’t think these embryos by themselves constitute human life any more than an acorn constitutes a tree. Embryos certainly have the potential for human life, but without the right environment they will never achieve that life. I don’t think Hatch’s position is indefensible at all. To the contrary, your arguments are trapped in the consequences of highly abstract hypotheticals which seem oddly unrelated to our lived experience. Senator Hatch is dealing with real issues which have to do with the life and death of living persons. How is his concern for their suffering and premature death ethically indefensible? Furthermore, your hypothetical of placing an embryo in an artificial environment and nourishing it to develop is simply not a helpful analogy. It involves a completely different set of ethical questions that having nothing to do with the issue at hand. Those questions would involve the appropriateness of taking the active steps you propose to create human life (an embryo by itself will never develop into human life without those active steps, and, as we’ve said, these embryos are already created and sitting on freezer shelves).

    While I’m sure I haven’t convinced you on this issue, I would ask that you avoid the habit of questioning people’s integrity or mental fitness in these discussions. It is disconcerting that, because their positions are different than yours, somehow Hatch’s definitions become “convenient” and all five Mormon Senators become “aging men.” Oddly, if they were younger it would seem likely that you might attack their youth as the cause of their “erroneous” position. Your arguments seem to suggest that if others don’t agree with your position, something must be wrong with them. By questioning the mental fitness of others and imputing their moral character rather than dealing with the actual issues, it gives the impression that you are trying to elevate your own ethical height and moral righteousness in the eyes of the reader. It also leaves me curious as to what you think of other notable supporters of stem cell research. Is Jon Huntsman Jr. “aging” as well? Is Nancy Reagan’s opinion somehow invalidated since she saw her husband waste away over the course of ten years? It truly does no good to psychologize about the motivations and/or mental inferiority of one’s opponents since it distracts from the actual issues being discussed. Regardless of your own position, I think it incumbent upon you to give others the motivational benefit of the doubt.

    Ultimately, I think it is clear that you and I are bound to agree to disagree on this issue just as you did with Danithew. I hope my post has not come across as too combative. I do view your intentions as honest Matt, and I respect your earnestness, I just don’t see things the way you do.

  87. Marc Bohn on June 6, 2005 at 2:18 am

    Matt…
    Another question for you. Given the views I’ve heard you express, I’m curious as to what your
    views are on the related topic of birth control Matt. It would seem to me that your position would obligate you to oppose any form of chemical birth control, which can sometimes work retroactively and terminate very early pregnancies (“Breakthrough ovulation” is how some term it I
    think).

  88. Matt Evans on June 6, 2005 at 8:14 am

    Hi Marc, thanks for your sincere questions.

    Before addressing your question about the morality of using embryos that are currently frozen, I want to point out that Hatch and many other supporters of embryonic stem-cell research support creating new embryos for research. Hatch is a sponsor of one of the cloning bills that would allow federal funding of human cloning so long as none of them are allowed to live beyond day 14.

    For embryos that are frozen, to me the issue is still whether they are full human beings or not, as I don’t believe a human being (child of God) may be killed for research even if it’s frozen or otherwise ‘not doing anything.’ It is unethical to harvest organs from comatose patients, for example, who we know would recover were we to provide them a suitable environment. As you recognized, people who believe human embryos are full human beings, as I do, think it immoral to freeze human embryos, or create them for a purpose other than an end in themselves, and would like to reform IVF rules.

    The purpose of my using the hypothetical of the artificial womb was to show that Hatch’s definition of human being doesn’t work. He does not actually believe that a mother’s womb is necessary for personhood unless he’s willing to answer my hypothetical, “Yes, because being in a mother’s womb is necessary for personhood, the girl at the playground in Matt’s hypothetical would not be a person, despite the tricks people’s minds are playing on them that might make them think otherwise.”

    Embryos *are* human lives, embryologists are unified on that point. Our biological lives begin at fertilization, when part of our mother (egg) and part of our father (sperm) unite to become a distinct organism (basically, organisms are life forms capable of reproduction). It doesn’t matter that an embryo fail to develop without the right environment — that fact is true at every stage of development. A six-year-old will die if they’re removed from a sustaining environment (put in the ocean, for example), but that doesn’t mean six-year-olds aren’t human beings just because they’re not adult human beings.

    In the same way, acorns are oaks as much as oak trees are oaks. Oak trees are mature oaks, acorns are immature oaks, but neither is more an “oak” or an “organism” than the other. They’re just “oak organisms” at different stages of development. Saying an acorn (or sprout or sapling) isn’t an oak tree is correct in the same way as saying an embryo (or fetus or child) isn’t an adult.

    Another way to put it: a caterpillar is a butterfly, albeit a less developed one. When we distinguish butterflies from caterpillars we aren’t noting distinct ontological categories, but a single ontological class at different stages of development.

    The reason I question Hatch’s motives is because feminists have always said that men are pro-life only because they can’t get pregnant. To that response pro-lifers have said it has nothing to do with my being male — it’s because human life is inherently precious, regardless of its location or degree of dependence. Now Hatch is undermining that position, saying that location and degree of dependence do matter after all. What is suspicious is his coming to that conclusion only after it was alleged that *he* might benefit from defining personhood by location or dependence.

  89. lyle stamps on June 6, 2005 at 9:13 am

    If you like stem cell research and embryo destruction; then I suggest that you donate the embryos yourself. If you aren’t willing to do so yourself; perhaps you should reconsider whether it is proper to allow at all.

    My child may only be weeks old; but it is a living being and deserves full legal rights. I sure as heaven am not about to say my child can be destroyed for scientific research.

    Analogize all you want; but this is what the issue boils down to. If you are willing to canabilize your own children, then go ahead and promote stem cell research. Otherwise…

  90. Jeremy on June 6, 2005 at 9:24 am

    Okay, I thought Matt’s invocations of slavery were distasteful, but cannibalism?!

  91. lyle stamps on June 6, 2005 at 10:11 am

    Jeremy: Murder is distasteful; you are correct. I’m referring to a fiction article which Adam G. linked to, where the author wrote something like “Screwtape Revisited,” where Screwtape is the same as of C.S. Lewis fame; except this time, Screwtape is newly promoted because he got the humans to “eat” their own by engaging in stem cell research.

  92. danithew on June 6, 2005 at 10:21 am

    Until reading Marc Bohn’s comment, I had never considered the possibility that freezing an embryo might be considered a form of cruelty. After all, if an embryo is a human being and should be treated like a human being, it is wrong to damn that human being to stasis when it has the potential to be fully developed. I don’t mean to pretend that this is Marc Bohn’s point of view at all … nor is it mine. But I think it was a good point he was making. For those who argue that an embryo is a human being and has the rights of a human being, the perpetual freezing of the embryo should be almost as problematic as destroying the embryo.

  93. lyle stamps on June 6, 2005 at 10:28 am

    Marc/Danithew:

    So, if embryo’s are alive, and then frozen:

    1. Have we become like Satan, and “damned,” i.e. stopped their eternal progression?

    2. If an embryo can be unfrozen, does that make them like Han Solo?

    3. Were are the PETA people, who dislike cruelty to animals, unless they are ‘human’ animals?

  94. Jonathan Green on June 6, 2005 at 10:39 am

    Lyle, my impression is that parental donation is exactly the source of embryos used in research. Thanks, though, for the reminder not to click on Adam’s links!

    Matt, thanks for the acorn-caterpillar comparison, as it clarifies exactly where our views differ. I think oaks and butterflies and babies are beautiful, but I have no attachment to acorns and caterpillars and even embryos composed of 2^n cells (where n is a reasonably small number), as wondrous as each is in its own way. I won’t try to convince you, or even say that you’re wrong, but I think you’ve identified the point where we part ways on this one issue.

  95. lyle stamps on June 6, 2005 at 10:44 am

    Jonathan: Do you donate?

  96. lyle stamps on June 6, 2005 at 10:48 am

    So no one has to look; or click on Adam’s long since gone link: (to quote the B-52s) “here it is, here ’tis”:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/gurdon200503220755.asp

  97. danithew on June 6, 2005 at 10:58 am

    If an embryo is ensouled and the embryo is frozen, it might seem logical to believe that the spirit is trapped or in stasis until the embryo is allowed to develop further or is destroyed.

    Again, that is not my perspective. I don’t really equate the embryo with a human being. I’m simply saying that this appears to be one conclusion that could be drawn or should be drawn from what others are arguing. If someone says that frozen embryos should not be destroyed or that the destruction of frozen embryos is like unto murder, then I think they should also be arguing that these embryos must placed in conditions where they can rightfully develop.

    It is hard to say exactly how the case of Han Solo should impact this matter. It would be interesting to know scientifically if he physically aged at all during the time that he was encased in carbonite. Whatever science discovers to be true should of course be applied to embryos. It might be demonstrable that the embryo experiences aging in some way. If so, then it wouldn’t be fair not to account for all those years in stasis. So if an embryo has been frozen for five years and is then implanted and allowed to develop, then at birth the baby should be immediately enrolled into the kindergarten with his/her peers.

  98. Matt Evans on June 6, 2005 at 11:01 am

    Danithew, those of us who believe embryos are human beings oppose freezing embryos. That is what Russell and I were discussing in the thread’s early comments.

    Jonathan, if you deny something’s inherent worth because of it’s small size or immature development, you simultaneously reject appeals to equality. Rejecting equality is fine for acorns and oaks — big healthy oak trees are useful to us, smaller oak trees less, acorns not at all; and for butterflies — which we value for their beauty but little else.

    But if you believe in human equality — that no human being has more moral dignity than any other, we’re all children of God — that equality must be based on some characteristic that all humans have in equal degree and other entities, such as animals, do not. I imagine that for most Mormons, that characteristic is a Spirit. Size and development can’t give human beings their equal moral value because size and development aren’t binary metrics, as equality is. This is intuitive to most people: 200 pound men don’t have twice the moral dignity as a 100 pound woman, and 6-year-olds don’t aren’t twice as precious as 3-year-olds, precisely because we reject the idea that moral dignity depend on size or development. Philosophers have attempted to make lots of other distinctions along these lines (our dignity stems from our intelligence, personality, consciousness) but they all fail for the same reason. The only thing human beings have in equal degree is their membership in the human race. That’s why pro-lifers think all members of the human race — regardless of their size or age — are morally equal.

  99. Russell Arben Fox on June 6, 2005 at 11:44 am

    “I imagine that for most Mormons, that characteristic is a Spirit….Philosophers have attempted to make lots of other distinctions along these lines (our dignity stems from our intelligence, personality, consciousness) but they all fail for the same reason. The only thing human beings have in equal degree is their membership in the human race.”

    This is an impassioned argument for viewing every step of human development as equal in worth to every other step, Matt. Plainly, you want to assert that if the value of a baby is in its membership in the human race, then every step in the process towards babyhood which involves an ontological continuity with that end logically means we are dealing with an entity which is equally a member of that same human race, and thus deserves the same amount of protection as the baby would.

    One possible objection/clarification. You’re eliding the possibility that “the Spirit” and “the human race” might not be absolutely, scientifically identitical. What happens when Orrin Hatch argues that ensoulment doesn’t occur until an embryo is in a womb? Or until the fetus undergoes a “quickening,” to use Brigham Young’s old phrase? Seems to me that if you’re commited to this language, you’ve got to show Mormons that “the Spirit” means, I don’t know, cellular multiplication, or whatever else is happening at the moment of conception. Make us more Catholic in our theology, in other words.

  100. lyle stamps on June 6, 2005 at 11:56 am

    Russell: one quibble (ok, two).

    first, at least for one side of the discussion, we aren’ t talking about “every step in the process towards babyhood” but _the_ “process of babyhood,” where the embryo _is_ the baby.

    second, while just a theory/speculation, what if the spirit is in the newly combined x/y DNA, or they are coterminous to some otherdegree? Then, cellular multiplication would be the actual moment of ensoulment. Just a thought.

  101. Matt Evans on June 6, 2005 at 12:00 pm

    Russell, I didn’t mean to suggest that every member of the human race has a spirit. The Handbook raises this possibility when it says it’s “a fact” that children are “alive” before birth, but that there is no direct revelation saying when the spirit enters the body. As for me and my house, we’ll assume that all members of the human race are children of God until He tells us otherwise. Looking at history, it’s a safe assumption — and one I wish had been universally accepted.

  102. Marc Bohn on June 7, 2005 at 3:23 am

    Matt…

    Sorry for the length of this response. I don’t check the blog as often as others and, in this particular instance, I feel there is an enormous amount to respond to.

    In reading your arguments, I feel that you have continued to simply reduce all difference here to the same. I’d like to make several points in response:

    1) You are technically right in that the legislation currently being considered in the Senate would allow for research on embryos which have not yet been created, BUT the legislation would NOT result in scientists creating embryos simply to destroy during research. A companion bill in the Senate specifically limits the embryos which can be used to the excess which will result from future in vitro fertilization treatments, and the couple receiving the treatment must consent to the donation (see Senate Bill S 471 IS). These are still embryos which would frozen and likely destroyed. I think this distinction is key and does not result in anything analogous to “farming” embryos. (Having said this, I do realize you support new laws regulating IVF – But I felt that others may not have been clear on the real issues here – which involve IVF).

    2) You try to draw strict lines on issues which are not clear at all. You claim the embryologists are unified in proclaiming embryos to be human life. This is simply false. In addition to the “genetic view” you espouse (that human life begins as soon as the sperm fertilizes the egg), there are several other widely held scientific views on when human life begins.
    Many scientists adopt the “embryonic view” and do not believe that human life begins until the embryo has become an individual. The Senate legislation prohibits research on embryos that are older than 14 days. The distinction here is important because up until that point the embryo is not an individual because the embryo, if it survives, can split and produce twins or triplets. (Religiously this key fact may hold insight as to when exactly the soul enters the body). Scientifically this view is accepted by many. In Britain, for instance, the embryonic view has been accepted by basically the entire biomedical research community. There are also other views which are more controversial. These include defining human life as when the developing embryo/fetus acquires a unique EEG at around 25 weeks. One reason this belief is held by some is society commonly defines death as the loss of this EEG pattern (as opposed to heart stopping or cells dying), so they reason this should also mark the beginning of life.
    Lyle’s inflammatory analogy to “cannibalizing” one’s own children, while playing to human pathos, does nothing to aid either religiously or ethically understanding. The issue for us really revolves around the differing ideas of when the soul enters the body – Since this is what separates a biologically understood living organism from a religiously understood human being.
    Your comment (Matt) about embryologists being “unified” fails because it understands the issue only in biological terms where human beings are nothing more that biological devices. Extending such materialist explanations into the ethical and religious fails not only because it does not take into account that the condition of the possibility of our humanity is our being a living soul, but also because it does not take into account Hume’s critic of teleological appeals. Developmental arguments from Aristotle to Aquinas predicate their ethical view on teleological grounds (what “is” becoming an “ought”) because they cannot overcome Hume’s contention that you cannot derive an “ought from an is.” These arguments are only convincing to those who have accepted apriori a teleological stance. With some differences Whitehead’s “naturalistic fallacy” provides the same ground for criticism. It does not allow (except in the face of new compelling justifications) simply jumping from developmental observations to ethical assertions. The totality of the first argument advanced in response to my views is predicated on just such a fallacy.

    3) You try to show that Hatch’s definition does not work, but in the final analysis it is your hypothetical that fails. You are quick to tell Hatch what he “really” believes, but on the basis of what? Your argument on this point is still trapped in the consequences of your highly abstract hypothetical, which, to repeat myself, seems oddly unrelated to our lived experience. Acorns are NOT oaks (the caterpillar/butterfly analogy is simply too different to be useful in this discussion). An acorn is a seed which has the potential to become an oak. Simply likening an acorn to a child doesn’t make it a tree. You are reducing difference to the same. Some examples may illustrate my point better and do more to tie these ideas together.
    In the next couple of years it is highly likely that scientists will be able to turn any cell into a totipotent stem cell capable of generating a new embryo. Thus, when you bleed or sneeze or have an operation that removes tissue, you will, by your own definition, be destroying human life that is simply in a “different stage of development.” Given the right environment, that cell, just like an embryo, can become human life. To quote you: “it doesn’t matter that an embryo will fail to develop without the right environment – that fact is true at every stage of development.” To accept this strict definition challenges the imagination. Every day billions upon trillions of cells which could become fully developed organisms would be destroyed… wouldn’t it be incumbent upon us to save them all?!
    This hypothetical illustrates well exactly why abstract hypothetical arguments fail – they
    look for mathematical consistency, rather than dealing with the reality of the world we live in. Moral life cannot be reduced to math, even Aristotle developed the golden mean to take into account the variability of moral determinations. To the contrary, moral life requires judgment that, while not eschewing abstract reasoning, grounds itself more directly in the gestalt of
    human experience.

    4) I am still very disconcerted with how you treat those who view this issue differently than you. To begin with, you consistently use a more general term like “pro-life” to describe yourself and your position without making clear the specialized definition you are attaching to the term. Pro-life is generally understood to describe those who oppose abortion. Many who would consider themselves “pro-lifers” fully support stem-cell research. In particular, all five Mormon senators, as well as thousands of other Mormons, define themselves as “pro-life” while supporting stem-cell research. If you are to use to term, you need to make it clear that you are defining the term differently than they are.
    Secondly, in justifying your (in my view) unfair treatment depiction of Hatch, you argued that ideologically driven feminists assert that men are against abortion because they can’t get pregnant. This is merely an assertion – not an argument – and it runs counter the fact that many women oppose abortion, while many men conversely are pro-choice. There is no perfect correlation here (adherence to religious beliefs would seem to much more accurately determine a person’s position on abortion than sex alone). Moreover, most of the surveys are so poorly designed that they sort everyone in “either/or” camps rather than showing the ambiguity
    most people experience when asked this question, much to the glee of ideologues. What possibly does this have to do with Hatch’s position on stem-cell research? Your inference that Hatch came to his conclusion only after it was alleged that he might benefit from this conclusion is wholly unsupported. Moreover, it completely avoids the issue. Even IF he changed his conclusion because of some selfish motive, the argument still stands. Or are the other Mormon senators “self-interested” too? What about the rest of the Senate? What about me? Am I? Is the only reason I support stem cell research because I might benefit? Is everyone who disagrees with you on this? How do your arguments possibly relate to Hatch’s concern that limiting stem-cell research might unduly burden the sick and suffering?
    In responding to my earlier posts, you and others completely neglected the issue of relieving suffering, loss and premature death in millions of cases through careful medical research involving stem-cells. This is not hypothetical or abstract – it is real and substantive and to turn a deaf ear to such needs seems to wholly miss the point of the moral imperatives required by an ethical life. This willingness to sacrifice the real for the hypothetical always involves a cost, and in this case, an unacceptable one.

  103. Marc Bohn on June 7, 2005 at 3:29 am

    Lyle and Matt, I have two follow-up thoughts (I know, I know… enough already)…

    1) Suppose one of your children developed MS. Would you allow them to be treated with cures that were developed through the use of stem-cell research? What if your wife developed Alzheimer’s?
    2) You never addressed my question on birth control, so I will repeat it. Given the views I’ve heard you express, I’m curious as to what your views are on the related topic of birth control Matt. It would seem to me that your position would obligate you to oppose any form of chemical birth control, because it can sometimes work retroactively and terminate very early pregnancies (“Breakthrough ovulation” is how some term it I
    think).

  104. Marc Bohn on June 7, 2005 at 3:35 am

    After looking over my response, I want to make it clear that I am not trying to attack anyone here. I am simply trying to unearth issues that I think have been buried at times by rhetoric. I respect your views Matt, but disagree. This issue is not clear-cut and there are defensible arguments on each side. Assertions like the one that Lyle made (Me and others somehow support “cannabalizing our own children”) destroy the opportunity for any meaningful discussion to take place.

  105. lyle stamps on June 7, 2005 at 10:28 am

    Marc: I’m sorry if you took my statement to be an attack and/or “poisoning the well.” It wasn’t meant in that way. I think you are doing a good job of unearthing issues; however you might want to make allowances for others to do the same. You point out as much, i.e. that there are defensible arguments on each side. If so, I simply took my stand to its logical conclusion. You don’t have to interpret that as an attack, or even as my personal opinion on the subject for that matter. I don’t see how that destroys the opportunity for meaningful discussion unless only one side is being taken seriously. One mans rhetoric is anothers logic; and the argument made in the Screwtape piece seems to qualify as reasonable. Do you disagree? Might it be that its “inflamatory”/prejducial nature is only such because evidence of guilt/a conclusion you don’t like is sui generis also going to be “prejudicial” (to use a FRE 403 analogy)?

    For my part, your clarification in point #1 I think is very helpful in understanding what the bills would actually do. Thanks. :)

  106. A. Greenwood on June 7, 2005 at 12:29 pm

    That is a hard question.

    Here’s one for you:

    Suppose your child was hypothermic. Would you allow them to be treated using the knowledge that came from Mengele’s evil experiments on the Jews?

    And if you did, would you feel that were condoning Mengele?

  107. Matt Evans on June 7, 2005 at 8:55 pm

    Marc, I don’t have time to answer your questions now, but hopefully I’ll have a spare half-hour before too long. If you’re anxious to know the answers now, you could look through the archived T&S threads on abortion and stem-cell research. I’ve addressed these issues before.

  108. lyle stamps on June 8, 2005 at 7:15 am

    Marc, re: your questions:

    1. As to my wife; she would make the decision, not I. Also, your question needs to clarify what “type” of stem cell research. Some is seen as unobjectionable by many. So, that answer might depend on how the research was derived. However, you should note that so far, research on baby stem cells has produce ZERO therapies. Research on adult stem cells has produced several therapies currently in use.

    2. I don’t support retroactive birth control in any form; whether a pill or a boyfriend killing his own baby.

  109. Marc Bohn on June 8, 2005 at 11:35 am

    #106 – I don’t know enough about what scientific advances we can necessarily credit to Mengele. I googled it but didn’t find much. But you do raise an interesting point. I can’t see myself denying one of my children treatment if they were hypothermic though. I would obviously distinguish embryonic stem cell research from any of that kind, but I think if you view this type of research as Matt does it raises similarly interesting ethical questions.

    #108
    1) In context it should be clear that I was referring to embryonic stem cell research, which most of the scientific community agrees holds much more potential for curing diseases like MS or Alzheimer’s. I am still curious as to whether you would deny your child treatments developed from this type of research? This seems to be an issue that people understand differently when it hits close to home.

    2) I’m talking about regular birth control, oral contraceptives usually made from a combination of estrogen and progestin. Almost every Mormon couple I know uses it or has used it at some point. The handbook of instruction specifically leaves the choice of whether to use this up to each couple. Your answer completely side-stepped my question. This type of birth control typically works before conception but CAN work retroactively and terminate very early pregnancies. It would seem to me that your position obligates you to oppose this form of birth control.

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