I was absent from the blogging yesterday because I spent most of my day at Worldviews Collide event put on by the Thomas Cooley Law School. The event featured two forums/debates, one on embryonic stem cell research and one on assisted suicide with a presentation about brain chip technology in between. I thought the event was well put together and was disappointed that more people didn't attend.
The first forum on embryonic stem cell research featured Louis Guenin and Bernard Siegel on the pro-embryonic stem cell side and William Hurlbut and Richard Doerflinger on the other side, though Hurlbut didn't really discuss any opposition to embryonic stem cell research but rather focused on discussing and defending altered nuclear transfer. Each speaker was given 15-20 minutes of opening, 5-10 minutes of rebuttal and then there was a Q and A with audience.
Guenin accepted that human embryos are organisms and they have a moral weight so his speech attempted to provide an argument for why killing human embryos for research would be justified. The main premise was that the developmental potential of these embryos was bounded (since parents have no duty to transplant) and therefore we have a moral obligation to use these embryos which could help those who are suffering. I felt his argument fell apart when he discussed embryo adoption/donation and he put the desires of the biological parents above the moral weight of the embryos (without really providing an argument to why) and didn't seem to understand that the biological parents are already parents and one could certainly argue that as biological parents to these embryos, the parents have certain obligations to their embryonic children.
He then talked about whether embryos are persons, claimed the Catholic Church provided the best arguments for the position that embryos are persons, went after different positions held by various theologians (usually based on a lack of knowledge of embryo development), concluded this position was untenable and then asserted that therefore there are no good arguments that an embryo is a person.
While I appreciated Guenin attempt at making a logical argument in favor of embryonic stem cell research I think he failed and during the question and answer I think he ultimately lost the audience when he asserted that his "finger was a human being."
Hurlbut then discussed human embryology and his hope of being able to create an entity which isn't a human organism yet still produces pluripotent stem cells. Even though I felt his speech was at times halting, he certainly came off as a thoughtful man who really wants to bridge the divide between those who favor and oppose embryonic stem cell research.
The presentation by Bernard Siegel made me visualize a junior high pitcher trying to strike out a major league slugger. He just kept throwing out these really poor assertions and arguments and Richard Doerflinger kept knocking them out of the park. Siegel's background is as a personal-injury lawyer (and as a co-owner of Florida Championship Wrestling) and he only has 3 years of experience with this issue and it showed. He actually admitted somatic cell nuclear transfer was cloning but typically referred to it as "nuclear transfer," he called Michigan's law banning human cloning "draconian," said opposition to embryonic stem cell research was basically fueled by a desire to attack Roe v. Wade (yeah, I know, really stupid), brought up the Science strawman attack on David Prentice, waxed about how much money opponents of embryonic stem cell research had (basically adding up the total income of a variety of Christian organizations (Focus, FRC, Catholic Bishops, etc.) and acting like all that money went to combat cloning and ESCR (never mentioned how much money proponents of cloning have poured into a variety of public persuasion campaigns), claimed human reproductive cloning was "unethical human experimentation" but never talked about why this was so much worse than human cloning for research. During the rebuttals, he never really responded when Doerflinger pointed out how silly some of his arguments were and during the question and answer time kept mostly quiet, especially when a woman in the audience asked where all these eggs necessary for human cloning are going to come from. Siegel is one of those guys that might sound smart to people who are entirely uninformed or completely on his side but when placed in a forum like this with people who are more experienced and knowledgeable he didn't come out looking very good.
Doerflinger's presentation and rebuttals showed him to be an experienced debater who knows this issue inside and out (even though he arrived late due to the cancellation of his original flight). The way he rebutted Siegel's points (often making the crowd laugh) made you wonder if he hired Siegel as a pawn to dismantle. Besides laying out the basics of the prolife position on this issue, he discussed how the RAND survey showed scientists would be able to create at most 275 cell lines from the available embryos at IVF clinics and pointed out these cell lines would have a great deal of genetic diversity (something Guenin wanted) and that scientists would have to create embryos to obtain genetic diversity.
I think one of his best lines was during the rebuttals after Siegel and Guenin moaned about the federal "restrictions" (aka not getting the federal funding exactly how they want it) on embryonic stem cell research was something like: "Just because the federal government won't buy me a car doesn't mean I can't drive." Or when rebutting Siegel's claims about money: "while the Catholic Bishops may have some moneys, you're looking at their stem cell department and that's only a part of my job."