Friday, July 21, 2006


The Ethics of Snowflakes

Ryan Sager, posting on the RCP Blog, notes a report from ABC's Jake Tapper on the "Snowflake" adoption program referenced by the President when he vetoed the embryonic stem cell bill.

Tapper’s report included an interview with Ron Stoddart, Executive Director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions. Sager posted this clip from that report:

Stoddart says that 110 babies have been born in total, with "20 more on the way." There have been 273 donor families, he says, donating anywhere from one to 10 embryos per couple. They have been matched with 178 adopting parents. My math was correct - that means 143 embryos did not survive the process.

"Typically when we transfer or thaw the embryos, about half of them survive thawing," Stoddart reports. "Of those that survive, about a third result in a birth." Two-thirds of the embryos that survive thawing don't become a baby either because of miscarriage or failure to implant in the adoptive mother's uterus.

Sager offers the following summary of what that means:

Even in the creation of the snowflake children being used as the face of opposition to stem-cell research, other embryos were destroyed. What's more, simply as a byproduct of in vitro fertilization treatment in general, thousands of embryos are discarded/destroyed every year. I just can't get my head around any logic that says it's OK to destroy those embryos, but not to use them for research that might vastly improve the quality of life for thousands (and eventually millions) of living, breathing human beings.

And concludes with this:

It seems to me you either have to support banning any process that willfully leads to the destruction of embryos -- including IVF -- or you have to accept stem-cell research and fund it like any other type of basic science.

I support the President’s veto, and think that Sager has it exactly right. I am greatly disturbed that nowhere do I see this argument (and controversy) so precisely captured, and even more upset that I find it embedded within a criticism of the President’s decision.

What has created this controversy is exactly the (at best) amoral line of thinking that has created the huge Pandora’s box of medically assisted procreation.

Ends, in and of themselves, never justify the means. Our hearts can go out to childless couples, frustrated with their attempts at parenthood and the often Byzantine world of modern adoption. Nevertheless, look at the harm such well-intentioned medical manipulation has done.

Human beings have been created based on the hope of a miracle pregnancy, and several multiples of those beings are routinely sacrificed to fulfill the desires of a few.

Having seen some of the debris and detritus of broken families first and second hand over many years, I would argue that Parenthood, in and of itself, is not an unadulterated good. I mean no insult or hurt to those who struggle to become parents, but not everyone who wants to have children should have them.

Maybe those who want them so desperately might make the best of parents, when children are a long-hoped-for gift from God. Perhaps. But for many, it’s a gift that takes the place of a possibly greater gift -- that of adopting already existing children who much more desperately need parents – and arguably have a greater claim to our compassion than a childless couple who doesn’t want them.

The ends don’t justify the means. Or to put it another way, just because we have the technology to do certain things, doesn’t mean we should do them. Which is why I think the entire field of medical ethics is bankrupt. If people logically get themselves this convinced that human life can be a commodity, justified on the basis of some greater good, that same form of ethics can begin to value one human life over another.

That kind of ethics is no kind of ethics at all.

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