13 March 2009

Stem cells: getting it exactly wrong

I do disagree with President Obama's decision on stem cells... but then I also disagree with President Bush's decision on the matter, also.  Yet they took exactly opposite views, how could I disagree with both of them?

Is it a matter of detail?  You know, what was and was not in the decisions?


Let me take a bit from Yuval Levin's post on 09 MAR 2009 from the Ethics and Public Policy Center, I will bold parts of interest:

Almost eight years ago, on the evening of Aug. 9, 2001, a new president addressed the nation about the complex challenge he confronted in deciding whether and how the federal government should support embryonic-stem-cell research. Rather than just announce the decision he had reached, George W. Bush took his national television audience through the process he had followed over the preceding months as he wrestled with that "complex and difficult issue."


Listening that night, one could tell that Bush sought a way to champion science and ethics together, rather than force an impossible choice between them. And the policy he proposed carved out such common ground.

The federal government had never before provided funding to research that relied on the destruction of embryos, but some human embryos had been destroyed using private funds. The lines of cells derived from those embryos already existed, and the "life or death" decision, as Bush put it, had already been made and could not be undone. He decided to permit federal support for projects using those existing lines, but not for work that relied on the destruction of embryos in the future. "This allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem-cell research without crossing a fundamental moral line, by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos," he said.

Ok, this also dovetails with my abortion position which no one likes, but that is key to my disagreement with both Presidents:

In looking at Freedoms, Rights and the People I started looking at the actual framework of the issues involved and then a whole lot more in When do your rights start? Now in this I do *not* try to figure out when someone is or is not a human but *when* there is a passing point *into* Citizenship. Now why did I do that? Because it is imperfect, of course! Far, far less than ideal but... it does head towards the common ideal of Citizenship and upholding all rights and all responsibilities. Citizenship is a damned important thing in this Nation and the Supreme Court has created a two-tier system of 'Due Process' that actually violates the outlook of the Constitution for one form of justice for All of the People. Here is what it boils down to:

1) The SCOTUS has put a 'viability test' on when an abortion may be performed,
2) What does 'viability' measure? It measures the ability to be sustained outside of the mother or host.
3) What happens when an Individual is outside the mother or host and sustainable? They are 'born'.
4) Being born of Citizens of the United States within a State of the United States or within limits set externally by Congress for such things under its Immigration and Naturalization powers makes one a Citizen.
Short, sweet and to the point: viability is a measure of Citizenship.

Yes, very reductio ad absurdum and all of that, but it does point out the thing about working with imperfect law: one can use its imperfection to achieve things that locking horns forevermore will not do. And in this extremely imperfect ruling the SCOTUS has now set up a 'two tier' system upon fetuses based on positional sustainability outside the mother or host. If a fetus is born prematurely, it gets full Citizenship Rights and coverage. At that exact same gestation point for another fetus going through normal gestation that is NOT the case. Say, that just can't be right, can it? Imperfect law, imperfect ruling leading to a non-Due Process procedure for Equal Protection. Pure idiocy, when you come right down to it. If a 'viability' test is put in place then the requirement, since it is viability to become a Citizen is being measured, then ALL such fetuses at that same point in gestation should get Equal Coverage and Due Process under the Law.

Painful, isn't it?

Enacting State-based legislation on that would *then* require *proof* that a fetus was not in the viability stage and appropriate developmental buffer zone to afford protections to unequal development due to circumstances beyond control of mother or fetus. Under this regime one can, indeed, get an abortion, but only with *proof* that the fetus was not in the gestational viability period. What that then requires is *record keeping* of sexual activity! Yes, more Red Tape! Sworn affidavits, medical exam and post-abortion exam to determine status would then be *required* so that anyone that LIES about their history in this regard can be prosecuted for murder. On the other side society, at that point in time, must afford full minor citizenship rights to such children who are gestating normally and ensure that these new Citizens are properly tracked and accounted for until their full 'birth date' or emergence from the mother or host. This infringes upon no existing set of Rights and applies responsibility to sexual activity because of its paramount importance to Citizenship. And various doctors can be appointed by the State to perform dual exams upon an individual that did NOT keep such records, and then they would attest to gestational period and abortion made available for the non-viable fetus.

This provides full rights to the unborn at the point of viability. Anything *else* then gets one looking at 'when does life begin' which really isn't a question society is set up to deal with. What society *is* set up to deal with is when an individual becomes a Citizen, so using that is not only perfectly reasonable, but then sets new standards of conduct and accountability for sexually mature individuals. That knife cuts across *both sides* of the debate as it is neutral to the debate and looks to uphold society and *not* find some sort of perfect solution. Totalitarian governments are very good at perfect solutions and their eponymous 'Final Solution'. Really, if life 'begins at conception' then it is not the abortion clinics that are mass murder facilities but In Vitro Fertilization clinics that have large numbers of fertilized eggs from generally infertile couples that need to destroy such after a period of time as they become non-viable for *anything* after a couple of years in the deep freeze. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of fertilized eggs are destroyed via that route and yet I see very little protesting around those places for doing so. Somehow that 'perfect' viewpoint needs to be adjusted to the actual, real world of a common society held by the overwhelming majority of Citizens.

Do you notice where I place this decision?

Do I place it at the federal level?


This is an area not given to the federal government, but to the States and the people, as seen in Art. I, Sec. 8:

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

When you get a birth certificate is it from the federal government or the State government?  You will find that the decision of citizenship is determined by the States with equality of decision to be applied to all States.  That does not mean that the States are to be lock-step, but to afford basic provisions that are equivalent in that of other States for its citizens.

Further, Mr. Levin then goes on to abrogate the rights of the States in asserting the following:

As he did so, Obama also chose to repeat the familiar cliché that the Bush policy was a betrayal of science. In his administration, he argued, "we make scientific decisions based on facts and not ideology." The facts of the Bush administration's funding of the research, its support for science funding more generally, and the emergence of alternatives to embryo destruction seem not to count. And the fact that every human embryo is a living human being seemed unworthy of mention.

If embryos are, indeed, human beings, then if the federal government decides *that* then they are, automatically by being human beings in the United States, citizens.  The ancient concept of 'birthright', of the necessity of being born to become a citizen is obviated in extending protection to embryos.  The subject of morality in what can and cannot be done is not one that is suited to the federal level, but one that is well suited to the diversity of cultures in the States.  When the States decide that embryos are human beings, they will then have taken the step to extend full citizenship rights (as minor and dependent status) to embryos.  And yet the status of birthright remains: it is an extremely conservative part of our culture that puts forth that surviving birth is an important junction in one's life.

That cultural value pre-dates the Christian religion by quite some centuries, and is a touchstone for determining citizenship.  This is not something that can be danced around as it is a moral-based decision that is, indeed, not left up to science, but is left up to society.  Society expresses itself through these organs known as 'government' and in a federalist system the lowest level is given the widest leeway in making decisions and the highest has very little input into the matter.  Congress is given the immigration and naturalization power for citizenship, but it is NOT given the birthright determination power: that continues to rest with the States as witness the birth certificate.

In his article of 10 MAR 2009 Mr. Levin would then touch upon one of the primary reasons we don't hand this stuff to the federal government, if he would only realize that:

This is a dangerous misunderstanding. Science policy questions do often require a grasp of complex details, which scientists can help to clarify. But at their core they are questions of priorities and worldviews, just like other difficult policy judgments.

Modern science offers tremendously powerful means of knowing and doing. It is the role of elected policymakers to consider the knowledge that science offers and the power it gives us, and to balance these with other priorities -- be they economic as in the case of environmental policy, strategic as in the case of nonproliferation or moral as in the case of embryonic stem cells. In all these areas, politics ought to govern, with science merely its handmaiden. Science is a glorious thing, but it is no substitute for wisdom, prudence or democracy.

The reason you don't want the federal level to decide these things is that it is the LEAST representative of all governments: it can offer, at best, sweeping generalities and is NOT well suited to fine scale details.  Indeed, it is the people who make this decision in society and it is for policy makers to examine society and NOT set their own agendas.  Public policy should follow the will of the people at the most local level and the federal government should not interfere in things not given to them  to decide.  That is the negative construction of powers in the Constitution where very little is given to the federal government and all other decisions are held by the States and the  people.

When society has come to no set decision, when the States have not put down a set of laws that are generally equivalent, it is NOT up to the federal government to do that for the States and the people as that reverses the role of our representative system to have the least representative tell society what to do, when it should be the other way around.  Mr. Levin even gives further evidence of this, even though he is trying to make it into something else:

What you think of his policy depends on what you think of the moral status of embryos. If (as modern biology informs us) conception initiates a human life, and if (as the Declaration of Independence asserts) every human life is equally deserving of some minimal protections, government support for the destruction of human embryos for research raises profound moral problems. But if you think an embryo is not quite a person, or that its immaturity or inability to suffer pain or its other qualities mean that destroying an embryo does not amount to taking a life, the promise of stem cell science might well outweigh any doubts.

And now from the Declaration of independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

That political decision was wisely later put by the Constitution into the capable hands of the people.  We do and must respect that humans of that era were granted that status at birth as Nature's God had put a dividing line between the ability to occupy a position in society by being separated from the intimate physical contact necessary for gestation by the Laws of Nature.  Now further:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Yes we do get equal rights at creation and we then judge that via this institution known as Government which is created from society and it is to have the consent of the governed to make its decisions.

From the ancient birthright basis and our concept of restricted government powers, the reason I disagree with both Mr. Obama, Mr. Bush and the SCOTUS Roe v. Wade decision is that these questions are not ones fit for the federal level as the meaning of these things must be worked out at the lowest level amongst the States and the people.  When this is kicked into the realm of the federal level, we are left with the most general formulation of government that is the least representative of all classes of government from local to State to National.

One should never quote the Declaration without understanding the context of the rights we all get and how to ensure them, and then examine the guiding principles of the Constitution to ensure that the proper questions are going to the proper levels of government.  And I do agree with Jefferson and Franklin that when we abrogate the principles and organizing powers of the government we have instituted the government, itself, must be changed or abolished.  For everyone who wants representative democracy in a republic to be fast, neat and easy, the system itself is set up to be the exact opposite as it reflects all of society in detail starting at the lowest level and working upwards.  It was made to be an inefficient system so as to keep sweeping powers out of the hands of the President, Congress and Supreme Court and deal with it at the level of the people and the States.  These grand moral and ethical decisions are the exact ones we don't hand to the federal government as it isn't set up to deal with them.  That is by design of our Constitution to safeguard our rights... the very thing that Mr. Levin is railing about.

Making a moral decision is not something we elect National politicians to do without our guidance from our more local levels, and when the people have come to no firm decision, the role of the federal government is to be quiet and to the other work necessary to safeguard the Nation so that the people in the States can make this decision.

This is an extremely conservative and federalist viewpoint: that the ways that we set up to restrict power flowing upwards means that we, the people, have to take on the heavy share of the load in figuring things out and let them slide if we can't come to a good decision.  By investing truly life or death decision making in the federal government, we hand away our very liberty and freedom that is ours to start with and always rests with us.  In attempting to shift that burden we become subjects of government, not the guiding force to government.

Plus I don't think there is a 'conservative' decision once the very liberty we have sequestered to ourselves is assumed by the federal level, save to HAND IT BACK and say that this is not where the decision MUST be made.  That is a false question when government assumes a power it should not have: that a 'conservative' or 'liberal' position is best for using it.  Neither is 'best' for using it as it resides with the people, and it is tyrannical and despotic to seek to take away the decisions of the people and vest those in the least representative form of government that isn't given this work to do.

As you may guess I disagree with a lot that the federal government does.

That is because it is no longer adhering to principles and organizing power that gives it strength and is trying to usurp powers that rest only with the people.

Until 'conservatives' can learn that there is no 'conservative' use of usurped power save to GIVE IT BACK, they will wander in the wilderness wondering why it is, exactly, that people don't like having their lives dictated to by them any more than they do by 'liberals'.  But then I find that the self-evident truth of the power residing in the people to be just that: self-evident.

And on stuff like this, we just can't shrug off our responsibility unless we enjoy the chains we will soon be fettered with by ever so efficient, neat and tidy government.  I am sure that the gulags of the Soviet Union and death camps in Nazi Germany were ever so well run... very efficient. Extremely lethal to society and the rights of the individual.

That is what you are asking for when you want representative democracy to be 'efficient'.

It will enslave you if not kill you.


wayne said...

While you are debating about what is and is not life, my wife died last year of cancer. She was in perfect health. 59 years old. Cures and treatments have been held up by people like you who talk about principle but in fact are killing real live people with your elite, intellectual BS. I only hope that they find cures so you or your child or wife doesn't die of some disease that is still killing because of the Whacko religious intellectuals who have shut down medical science. If your arguments are what God wants to happen then that is a God I cannot respect. Walk through Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NYC or a childrens cancer center near you and explain yourself to a 9 year old living human being - and then say your sorry.

A Jacksonian said...

Wayne - I am a Type I diabetic who has heard more about 'cures just around the corner' than I can stomach. I do not need to walk through Sloan Kettering or any other hospital as I have been in the NIH for a trial on medication for my condition: when you are part of a community with people losing kidney function, eyesight, and limbs to the long-term ravages of the disorder, you do gain some perspective on it.

What I am talking about is not BS, but the fundamental principle that these decisions cannot be made at that level of government: it vests the power of life and death in the wrong hands. Turning this into a 'national' political football effectively stymies the more local based decision making that belongs with the people, not the federal government. The strength of our Nation was to be the multiplicity of States working with their people to find better ways to do things, which means that when it is mandated from the top we lose the flexibility of research at those lower levels.

Even with that I have heard the promises since I first came down with my disorder in 1983, so do not believe that I am in perfect health nor have any idea of what I'm talking about. I have heard multiple routes of technology, cloning, and stem cells all touted as being a 'cure' when each has only demonstrated that the disorder is far more subtle than any simplistic way forward and that humans are not modeled well in primates, dogs, pigs or cats for the disorder. Please do talk to me about the statistics faced of losing 1/3 of your life due to complications, losing nerve sensation, losing eyesight, losing kidney function, gangrene... and yet even with my vested interest in getting a cure, doing it from the TOP is the exact, wrong way to go. This is not a problem of money but innovation and freedom from the very top to try many ways forward: some good, some ill, and none that will effect the entire Nation with singular top-down bias.

I, like you, want research to go forward, but in a way that is inherently accountable directly to the States and the people. This going through the least accountable end has, as you have noted, put a bias into what does and does not get funded that is *not* handed to the federal government. Ever since the federal government first started subsidizing health care during WWII we have seen the predictable results of those subsidies: increased cost, over utilization and dwindling supply. That is from the 'good' bias of the federal government which now needs to be 'fixed' by subsidizing *everyone*. And how many people will this impoverish or kill as the supply of doctors, technicians and lab time dwindles over time? Unlike European Nations we have an increasing population, so that even the German model is not a good fit here, and we are more likely to wind up with rationing than abundant health care. This is where the ill-theory of being 'nice' or 'good' kills people and impoverishes us as a people. You may not like that, and want instant solutions. Unfortunately that requires a totalitarian government and little to no freedom for individuals. That is far too high a price to pay for the *good* that is provided.

So no apologies from me, tyvm. I do understand your pain. Understand the lies told to promote these things and their lack of credibility to something that has good and effective means of treatment, but that do not cure the disease... ways that have sat on shelves in labs for nearly 50 years because a few researches got results that were not tested for to assure that they were correct. I prefer good science with second studies performed to ensure accuracy of findings. Because I have had it with the overblown sales pitches and some of the basic and fundamental research not being done correctly. I shudder to think what a federally 'guided' system will do, as I've been a bureaucrat in the federal government, also, and I wish that on NO industry and certainly NOT the health care industry.