Monday, March 16, 2009

Michael Kinsley still doesn't get it

Hopefully, Ross Douthat will respond to Michael Kinsley’s response regarding Douthat comments on Kinsley’s reaction to Obama’s stem cell decision. I thought I’d highlight something rather telling. In his reaction to Obama’s stem cell decision, Kinsley basically attacked prolifers as being not serious in their opposition to the destruction of embryos because they weren’t doing anything to regulate or oppose IVF. At the time, he wrote,
The anti-abortion forces who have delayed stem-cell research by a decade are not morally serious. If they were, they would be trying to get laws making the work of fertility clinics illegal, not concentrating on the tiny fraction of surplus embryos from those clinics that are going to a worthwhile purpose. They would still be severely mistaken, in my view, but at least that could legitimately be described as an “ethical quandary.” But there is no political pressure against fertility clinics.
In response, Douthat noted that in fact some individuals concerned about embryos had and are working to regulate fertility clinics both in the United States and aboard. He also notes where battle is typically being fought (to use a war analogy, Kinsley is claiming prolifers aren’t serious about protecting human life because we’re currently struggling to hold our fort instead of conquering our opposition’s territory).
As should be clear from other examples, at home and abroad, most pro-lifers would like to heavily regulate fertility clinics, and would support efforts to give every embryo a chance at life. (I will pass over his line about miscarriages, which seems to imply that a "serious" pro-life movement would be trying to pass laws against accidental deaths.) But that's not where the national debate is at the moment, to put it mildly, so instead pro-lifers have done what you're supposed to do in a democracy, which is to meet the general public where they are. This doesn't make them insincere; it makes them sensible.

In response to Douthat pointing out his error, Kinsley fails to admit his mistake (he also claimed prolifers were "doing absolutely nothing" regarding frozen embryos) and instead responds by writing,
In this case, though, Douthat can only point to a couple of columns by Will Saletan in Slate—one about the octuplets controversy and the other about some law in Italy—to support his contention that pro-lifers “would like to heavily regulate fertility clinics.” Maybe they would, but this has played absolutely no part in the stem cell debate. In Bush’s original speech announcing his stem cell research restrictions eight years ago (now praised by conservatives as a masterpiece of moral reasoning the way liberals praise President Obama’s speech on race in Philadelphia) Bush actually praised the work of fertility clinics, claiming—correctly—that in-vitro fertilization (IVF) has brought happiness to many.
Besides the underhanded “can only” as if Douthat was trying to create a complete list prolifers opposed to or looking to regulate IVF, Kinsley then quickly changes the subject to make it not about the supposed “not morally serious” prolifers but about President Bush.

Kinsley concludes by writing,
My own suspicion is that this fertility clinic anomaly hasn’t even occurred to most pro-lifers. And I think, or hope, that when they realize that their logic in opposing stem cell research would condemn all IVF as well, it will give many reasonable pro-lifers pause—maybe even about their pro-life position in general, certainly about their opposition to stem cell research.
Maybe the problem regarding the numerous frozen embryos is something that hasn’t occurred to most prolifers because most of them aren’t aware of it. My guess is that the average person on the street has no clue how many embryos are currently stored in fertility clinics. It’s just not something which is typically bantered about at the dinner table or the water cooler. So are all prolifers “not morally serious” because some of them are unaware of how many embryos are stored at fertility clinics?

But going back to Kinsley’s original argument, how does that make prolifers who are opposed to killing embryos for their cells and having our tax dollars fund it, “not morally serious.” It clearly doesn’t. Nor does it do anything to show that there is “no real quandary” to killing human embryos for their stem cells.

Instead of making any kind of reasoned argument for why it should be legal to kill human embryos for their cells and that federal tax dollars should pay for the research on these cells, Kinsley merely attacks those making the argument instead of attacking their argument. I guess that’s what you’re left with when you think that the search for agreement regarding “when humanity is conferred” is hopeless.

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