Mrs. Q’s Corner: Fetal Tissue Research And The Slippery Slope

by Frances Quaempts

[This, the latest installment of Mrs. Q’s Corner, responds to the discussion of the Trump Administration’s ban on fetal tissue research, and the issues raised in this post particularly.]

I know slippery slope arguments can be annoying, however we have seen, for example, how the years of race-baiting rhetoric that “all cops hate blacks” has led to the current madness. In that spirit I wonder, regarding this issue, just how far the commodification of unborn baby parts could go.

Once upon a time, child sacrifice in some societies was acceptable and even the rule. It would be nice to think we have evolved behaviorally to never entertain such horror, yet after seeing the way recently groups of teens and wild-eyed adults have chased and surrounded those they presume guilty of wrong-think, like jackels, could such barbarism make a comeback?

Could we justify using women to become “tissue-makers” if only they are compensated? Could we justify using the unborn for things like soda flavoring or hair products? Is that already happening? Could we jump from using the unborn to born but with defects or some other issue? Can we justify cannibalism as a means to “save the planet?” Is utilitarianism sometimes an excuse to rationalize the dehumanization of people in order to push through some grand and supposed ideal of humanity that isn’t even possible in a Star Trek episode? Will sacrificing a child or adult make the harvest plentiful when it has in the past?

The “downstream” issues that come up after supposed good ideas are well implemented can be the cause for even greater problems that generations have to deal with later. We have seen the good idea that women are equal turned into women degrading themselves in the name of a sexual revolution that mainly has benefited immature men.

We have seen how the good idea of fighting racism has led crowds to burn down the businesses of those most affected by racism. We have said the Red Scare was utterly without merit while Marxism has slowly poisoned our county using the arts, education, and media as a means for indoctrination.

Of course women should be equal, people of all races should thrive, and if someone wants to believe in some secular utopia where the proletariat magically rules the world, in this country they can. The downstream of it all is not simply the what of something or even the why, but the how. How do we avoid justifying dehumanization in the name of helping humanity? How do we use materials of any kind wisely and with respect? How do we check our unethical rationalizations so we don’t do more harm than good, no matter how utilitarian or beneficial the item or action is? Continue reading

A Response To “Comment Of The Day: ‘Ethics Escape, 8/24/2020: The Not Watching The GOP Convention Edition. Item #3, Fetal Research Ban'”

I promised a response to Chris Marschner’s provocative Comment Of The Day on Item #3 in the post, “Ethics Escape. 8/24/2020: The “Not Watching The GOP Convention” Edition. Here it is…

Chris begins,“Before I go any farther, I believe that fetal tissue is crucial to research.” That’s an excellent stipulation; I concur. Thus we agree that obtaining fetal tissue is beneficial, and an objective with positive value for society.

That leaves as the sole issue for ethical debate as whether using the source of such tissue creates such a counterbalancing negative effect that the positive effect, which has been conceded, is overcome and rendered moot.

Chris says he “can see an argument in favor of the Board’s decision to deny access to such tissues.” I can see the arguments; I wouldn’t make the arguments. I’m assuming Chris not only sees them but agrees with them to some extent. Chris goes on,

I may agree with Turley that such research use of fetal tissue does not incentivize women to have abortions. However ,I do believe it incentivizes sellers of such tissues. Such sales make a commodity of aborted fetal tissues and the of other human tissue donations; this is not some far-fetched fear. Do we want to be like China, which forcibly removes kidneys so that others can have a transplant?

I don’t think “may” is reasonable here. Professor Turley states unequivocally that women do not have abortions to harvest fetal tissue, and while it is impossible to prove a negative, there is literally no evidence that indicates this is a problem. Hospitals sell medical waste, including organs for transplant. Chris’s logict applies with equal force to all things removed from patients, who have a right to deny the medical institution from selling it or using them themselves. The patients, by law, cannot sell their tissues and organs themselves, however, and few choose to take the items home as souvenirs. Almost all the time, patients let health care providers dispose of such things as they see fit, and why wouldn’t they?

The “Coma” scenario, where doctors intentionally kill patients to harvest and profit from their organs, has been around for decades, (The Robin Cook novel was written in 1973.) It just hasn’t materialized, and in the case of fetal tissue, nobody would be killed, in the eyes of the law, if medical professionals were selling it as profit center. The argument is a straw man, a separate theoretical problem related to the issue being discussed, but not strictly relevant. In this it is like the anti-cloning debate. Opponents of cloning worry about how the technology might be abused, but that’s a downstream issue. There is nothing inherently unethical about cloning, just as there is nothing inherently unethical about using fetal tissue for research. If unethical practices emerge, you deal with them directly, not by eliminating the otherwise neutral or beneficial process that creates the opportunity for abuse.

Chris:

Imagine a society that becomes insensitive to the concept of the sanctity of life. It is not outside the realm of possibility that we could begin to allow doctors to withhold life saving but costly treatments in order hasten the demise of a potential donor.

The first sentence is irrelevant in the context of this discussion  because, via Roe v. Wade, the law of the land does not acknowledge fetuses as human life. I think Roe was and is a terrible decision; I am certain that the pro-abortion position that unborn children are like warts or parasites is intellectually dishonest and a belief made necessary by the political objective of abortion access rather than justified by reality, but that doesn’t matter. The U.S. position isn’t insensitive to the sanctity of human life because society and the culture, through the courts, have absorbed the legal fiction that fetuses are not human life. If and when that fiction is rejected—personally, I don’t foresee it happening—then the sanctity of life issue becomes relevant. As for the rest of Chris’s statement: that is happening already, thanks in part to the costs of treatment and the limits of insurance.

I won’t say that doctors pressuring a family to take a brain-dead loved one off of life support because a 17-year old woman needs a heart and lung transplant stat is unethical. It theoretically violates Kant’s Categorical Imperative, but Kant wasn’t considering brain dead patients before such patients could be kept alive. This is when Utilitarian balancing is called for. “Are we willing to let doctors or insurers make that call to take the patient off the vent so he can become a heart donor? I certainly hope not, ” Chris asks. Well, we don’t, and shouldn’t, but the input of those not emotionally involved in the decision is valuable.

Chris continues, Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Escape, 8/24/2020: The “Not Watching The GOP Convention” Edition.” Item #3, Fetal Research Ban

Bioethics is perhaps the most murky area of ethics of all.  I am grateful for Chris Marschner’s Comment of the Day taking on the task of making the counter-argument to yesterday’s post highlighting Professor Turley’s objections (and mine) to the Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board, appointed by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, voting to block 13 out of 14 applications for fetal tissue research. Chris makes as good a case as can be made in defense of the decisions, but I don’t think he has much to work with; as I suggested in the post, this is an uncharacteristically easy call. I’ll return at the end to explain why; in the meantime, here is Chris Marschner’s Comment Of The Day on Item #3 in the post, “Ethics Escape. 8/24/2020: The “Not Watching The GOP Convention” Edition:

Before I go any farther, I believe that fetal tissue is crucial to research. With that said, I can see an argument in favor of the Board’s decision to deny access to such tissues. [Commenter Ryan Harkins] and I may agree with Turley that such reasearch use of fetal tissue does not incentivize women to have abortions. However ,I do believe it incentivizes sellers of such tissues. Such sales make a commodity of aborted fetal tissues and the of other human tissue donations; this is not some far-fetched fear. Do we want to be like China, which forcibly removes kidneys so that others can have a transplant?

Imagine a society that becomes insensitive to the concept of the sanctity of life. It is not outside the realm of possibility that we could begin to allow doctors to withhold life saving but costly treatments in order hasten the demise of a potential donor. For example: assume we have a 28 year old MVA victim with severe head trauma. His intercranial pressure has exceeded 30 for weeks and doctors have told the family that it is unlikely that he will ever recover significantly. After 3 weeks in the ICU the medical costs have risen to about $275,000. Are we at the point that we are going to say, “Let’s stop throwing good money after bad. The guy is an organ donor and he is a match for a person in need.”  Are we willing to let doctors or insurers make that call to take the patient off the vent so he can become a heart donor? I certainly hope not. Continue reading

The SCOTUS Decision In June Medical Services v. Russo

This post just leapt over several others because the case was just announced.

The Louisiana Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, enacted in 2014, requires physicians performing abortions in Louisiana to have the right to admit patients to a hospital within thirty miles of the place where the abortion is performed. The law is virtually identical (as today’s opinion points out) to a Texas law that the Court held in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was unconstitutional four years ago by a vote of 5-3. In a vote that will have conservative bloggers’ heads exploding  like fireworks, Chief Justice John Roberts, who had been among the dissenters in the Texas case, joined the four liberals in ruling that the Louisiana law is also unconstitutional, while saying that he still believes that the Texas case was wrongly decided.

The decision is here. SCOTUS Blog’s coverage is here.

I won’t comment on the dissents—-there are several—because I haven’t read them yet.  (But I would bet my head that Justices Alito and Thomas essentially recycled their previous objections to Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. ) However, I wrote at length about the Texas case in 2016, and upon reviewing it, I see nothing substantially different from what I would conclude about today’s decision. in both cases, it seems clear that the state was using a pretextual safety measure to restrict abortions as much as possible.  Then I wrote, Continue reading

The Pandemic, Medical Ethics, And Baseball: What Exactly ARE “Essential Surgery And Medical Procedures”?

One of the policy and medical ethics issues that is looming larger as the pandemic continues is the requirement that hospitals not be burdened by  “non-essential surgery and medical procedures.”

I agree: it would have been better if  Ethics Alarms has more precisely defined “essential surgery and medical procedures”  in the previous post on the issue, when I examined the question of whether abortion can be ethically put in that category as Texas and Ohio have decreed. Abortion, as that post noted, is a particularly poor  choice for such analysis, given that our society cannot agree on what it is, other than the Supreme Court’s ruling that whatever it is, a woman has a Constitutionally right to do it.

Incidentally: can we agree that there is also a constitutional right to have any surgery or medical procedure? It hasn’t been specifically stated by the Court, but I assume that the abortion precedent applies to everything else as well, from having a kidney transplant to getting a wart removed to acquiring breast implants. These would all fall under the right of privacy and inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Forbidding any surgery, non-essential or otherwise, is a big deal, and my guess is that a judicial challenge to the whole concept would stand a substantial chance of success. What is essential surgery to me might not be such to you, but frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn, and unlike an abortion, my procedure isn’t killing anyone. Continue reading

Should Abortions Be Ruled “Non-Essential” Medical Procedures In The Pandemic Crisis? An Ethics Decision-Making Exercise

News Item:

Texas and Ohio have included abortions among the nonessential surgeries and medical procedures that they are requiring to be delayed, setting off a new front in the fight over abortion rights in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

Both states said they were trying to preserve extremely precious protective equipment for health care workers and to make space for a potential flood of coronavirus patients.

But abortion rights activists said that abortions should be counted as essential and that people could not wait for the procedure until the pandemic was over.

On Monday, Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, clarified that the postponement of surgeries and medical procedures announced by Gov. Greg Abbott over the weekend included “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.” Failure to do so, he said, could result in penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time.

Oh-oh.

Is abortion truly a non-essential medical procedure? Is it ethical to treat it as one? This is a perfect storm of an ethics conflict colliding with an ethical dilemma, with so many of the factors that confound ethical analysis present. For example, is the shortage of beds and the stresses on medical services really the only factors being considered by those in making the policy decisions in Texas and Ohio? Is the pandemic really a cover, in whole or in part, for other motives, like a desire to limit abortions generally for as long as possible? Is the ethical response by a pregnant woman to comply with the policy, even to the point of giving birth. There are many ethics decisions involved here.

Let’s just focus on one of them, the decision to call abortions non-essential procedures, and run it through one of the ethics decision-making systems. I’m going to use Professor Laura Nash’s 12 Questions, from her Harvard Business Review article, “Ethics without the Sermon” (1981)]

1. Have you defined the problem accurately?

In other words, “What’s going on here?” Continue reading

What’s Going On Here? A Hallmark Mystery And A Confederacy of Ethics Dunces

The anti-abortion film “Unplanned” was honored with three nominations for the 28th Annual MovieGuide awards that aired on February 24 on the Hallmark Drama cable channel.  “Unplanned,” written and directed by Chuck Kozelman and Carey Solomon, tells the true story of  Abby Johnson’s transformation  from director of a Planned Parenthood abortion facility to a full-time pro-life advocate.The film’s star Ashley Bratcher was nominated for the Grace Award for Most Inspiring performance; “Unplanned” was up for the Faith & Freedom Award, and had a nomination in the “Best Movies for Mature Audiences” category. Nevertheless, every mention of the movie  was cut from the pre-recorded televised show. The nominees from “Unplanned” were the only nominees eliminated from the broadcast.

Dr. Ted Baehr, the founder and publisher of MovieGuide, which hosted the awards, admitted that it was his organization that edited the movie out of the nominees listing, not Hallmark, which, he said, only broadcast the show. His asinine excuse was that “some” in his organization felt “Unplanned” should not have been nominated for awards. Does that make any sense at all? If the Oscars left an entire film and its nominees out of the awards broadcast, would anyone accept the excuse that it was done because “some people” didn’t agree with the nominations? Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Senator Chuck Schumer [CORRECTED]

“I want to tell you [Justice] Kavanaugh, I want to tell you [Justice] Gorsuch: You have unleashed a whirlwind, and you will pay the price.You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions!”

—–Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer, sounding like Sonny Corleone, in front of the Supreme Court.

How many ways was this demagoguery wrong, as in spectacularly unethical? Let’s see:

  • Schumer  threatened Supreme Court justices, by name. What does “pay the price” mean, if not, “Just you wait, you’re gonna regret this!”

There is no possible justification for such ominous rhetoric

  • It is an attempt at intimidation as well as  encouragement to others to follow through on Schumer’s threat. This prompted Chief Justice Roberts into a making an unprecedented protest, as he wrote, “Statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous. All members of the Court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”

Perfect.

Even addled Larry Tribe, the former Harvard Law School icon turned mad anti-Trump tweeter and conspiracy-monger, called Schumer’s outburst intolerable, tweeting,

These remarks by @SenSchumer were inexcusable. Chief Justice Roberts was right to call him on his comments. I hope the Senator, whom I’ve long admired and consider a friend, apologizes and takes back his implicit threat. It’s beneath him and his office.

Prof. Jonathan Turley joined the chorus and wrote, Continue reading

Evening Ethics Catch-Up, 2/26/2020: Goodbye Baby Peggy And Baby “Whoops!”

Sorry, this is later that I intended…

I’ve been working on accounting ethics, which always slows down my metabolism to Galapagos tortoise levels…

1.Worst lie of the year (so far)…In Winter Park, Florida, Jorge Torres was found dead , zipped into a suitcase. Suspect Sarah Boone insisted that it was all a tragic mistake. They  were playing hide and seek, she said, and he just hid too well. A cellphone video, however, caught his cries for help from inside the suitcase, as she said, “That’s what I feel like when you cheat on me!” Boone, however, told police that the wacky couple thought it would be funny if he got inside the suitcase. They were drinking at the time and who hasn’t zipped up a loved one in a suitcase when spirits run high? Unfortunately, Sarah passed out on her bed, and when she woke up hours later, poor Jorge was dead.

That’s her story, and she’s sticking with it.

2. Remember “Baby Peggy”? Probably not, but she was probably the last living link to the silent movie era, and she died this week at 101. She was also one of the earliest examples of the child abuse that became routine in Hollywood. Baby Peggy, real name Peggy-Jean Montgomery, had made about 150 movies by the time she was five-years-old, and was a multi-millionaire at four. As has been the norm with child stars from Peggy through Jackie Coogan to Gary Coleman, Peggy’s parents stole her money and spent it all. They also let her risk life and limb in pursuit of her “art” that she was too young to understand. During her silent-film career, “Baby Peggy”  was thrown from a speeding pickup truck, narrowly escaped a horse trampling and survived near-drownings and incineration. Continue reading

Ethics Alarms To “The Ethicist”: It’s Called “The Golden Rule”—Why Is That So Hard?

I hadn’t checked in for a while on Kwame Anthony Appiah, the N.Y.U philosophy teacher and author who finally brought ethical consistency to the New York Times magazine’s advice column, “The Ethicist.” I was surprised to find him struggling to answer two family related queries that I would have assumed he could and should have answered  easily with three words: “The Golden Rule.”

The first inquirer asked in part,

Recently a mutual acquaintance who knows my friend’s husband well told me that he has been cheating on my friend on and off for years with someone who once worked with him.I know that if I reveal this information, my friend will take their child and leave her husband. Do I sit on this information and pretend the affair isn’t happening, or do I tell her?

Isn’t that an easy call? Of course she should tell her friend. The Golden Rule applies: would she want to be told if the positions were reversed? Sure she would; anyone would. Not telling her would be a betrayal of the worst kind.

Yet Appiah uses 608 words to reach that conclusion. 608! This makes a slam dunk of an ethics decision appear to be a difficult one. Oh, it’s difficult in the sense that the inquirer has to take sides in a crisis affecting a couple she and her husband are close to, and thus the repercussions as well as the process will be unpleasant, but that’s life. One of the Ethics Alarms rules is that if you can fix a problem, fix it. The Ethicist’s rabbinical musings about the decision just supplies a dangerous volume of rationalizations to temp the questioner into keeping the husband’s secret, and abetting the harm. Continue reading