Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lucia Stem cell research ban "superstitious" (updated)

Dear Stephen,

I agree with a great many things you write on your blog (when I read them that is), but this opinion of yours on stem cell research astounds me.

The embryonic stem cell research federal funding ban that has been lifted by President Obama in the US now means that unborn children can be experimented on with American tax-payer funds. These are tiny children, of course, but still human no matter how small. To equate the opposition to stem cell research with superstition is beyond ridiculous as it is a scientific fact that at least one unique human being is created from the moment of conception. Scientific fact, not superstition.

Our regard for human life on this planet is already very low, and funny that you should mention the superstition of the Greens, as many of them believe that human beings are a scourge and should be reduced. The Greens, like you, will be applauding the lifting of this ban.

Government's role ought to be the protection of human life - not funding the destruction of it.

Constable Lucyna Maria
NZ Conservative (Religious Police)

34 comment(s):

Andrei said...

the spin surrounding this issue is amazing

Point 1

Embryonic stem cell research was not
banned under Bush. Federal Funding of this type of research was if the cell lines used were new. In truth you could get Federal funding for this type of research if you used cell lines that pre-existed the Bush administration.

Point 2

If this is such a promising line of research why didn't others, such as drug companies, step up to the plate to fund this research when the so called ban was in effect? Hmmm

I guess only spending other peoples money when it contradicts their ethical positions will lead to progress.

Lucia Maria said...

Thanks, Andrei. I'll make my post a little more exact.

ZenTiger said...

What, a stern letter but no fine?

Seriously though, there seems to be a lot of promising work on using non-embyronic stem cells in any event.

Andrei said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrei said...

I am not saying you are at fault here for not realizing the so called ban was not a ban at all, rather a restriction on the use of federal money for certain types of research.

The waters have been deliberately muddied by those who think the unborn are not worthy of respect and consideration.

When all is said and done the world is full of scientists who have "promising lines of research" which will lead to all sorts of marvels and wonders if only they can get the funding to pursue their line of interest.

Alas in 99% of the cases no amount of money will bring their harebrained ideas to fruition.

It is a challenge to decide what is likely to be a fruitful line of inquiry and what isn't.

In my opinion this one isn't likely to one that will deliver but even if it where to do so, there are major ethical issues surrounding it, which is what makes it so attractive to some, I suppose.

David Winter said...

Should the government ban funding for IVF? It creates and destroys many more embryos than stem cell research...

Sb said...

I have to object about how you are putting yourself down lucyna

Sergeant Lucyna Maria would be more appropriate.

On a slightly more serious note, my understanding is that the embryos (not children) that will be used in this way are all surplus from IVF work and therefore if not used in this way will be allowed to thaw and flushed down the sewers.

Therefore it could be argued that no child will be prevented from being born by this research.

Does that change your argument?


ZenTiger said...

David and SB, your point presupposes the Catholic Church is in favour of ART such as IVF.

It isn't, precisely for the reason it requires the wholesale destruction of human life (embryos) to potentially create one life, denying the child the possibility of perfection through the conjugal act.

You might not like the answer, but it is consistent.

David Winter said...


I'm very happy for you and the church to think that the destruction of embryos is unethical. I, like Aquinas, Augustine and a number of popes, don't think that humanity begins at conception (and certainly don't think that's solely scientific question- Lucyna sounds more than a little like Richard Dawkins up there!) so I don't share that view.

I wasn't trying to claim that church's position was inconsistent, what I want to know is whether the church's distaste for these medical and scientific practices should be reflected in government funding - that is after all what this OP was about. I don't hear many religious conservatives getting up in arms about IVF being paid for by the government (maybe I miss them) but for some reason stem cell research is a hot button issue. I genuinely can't understand why.

Lucia Maria said...


if you are going to put yourself in the company of Augustine, Aquinas and a number of Popes, you should realise a couple of things.

1) Science has only recently confirmed that human life begins at conception. In ages past, the "when" was pretty much mysterious and open to speculation.

2) The Catholic Church, from the beginning, has always distinguished herself from her Pagan neighbours by condemning both contraception and abortion. There was never an arbitrary date set whereby it was permissible to terminate a pregnancy, or prevent one.

Therefore, your call to authority of placing yourself in the company of esteemed Catholics is fatally flawed.

I don't hear many religious conservatives getting up in arms about IVF being paid for by the government (maybe I miss them) but for some reason stem cell research is a hot button issue.

We're fighting a battle while in retreat. And the money involved in research is pushing embryonic stem cell research into the public spotlight far more. You've got to pick your battles, really.

Anonymous said...

I would give Stephen Franks kudos if he can name ONE embryonic stem cell clinical trial that has worked.

ZenTiger said...

@David: Fantastic news that you consider Aquinas an authority on moral teaching, and possibly biology.

This could make my life a lot easier in future debates with you :-)

He's my patron saint, one I chose after much consideration, and I am currently immersed in his Summa Theologica.

David Winter said...


I wasn't so much calling upon the authority of Augustine or Aquinas as trying to make it clear there is a very deep theological tradition that separates beginning of pregnancy from the beginning of humanity.

As for your first numbered point

Surely what it means to be human is a solely scientific question? Science can tell us at what point a cell becomes a new individual capable of life but it's not life per se that religious conservatives are out to protect or we wouldn't hear all the complaints we do about the movement to grant great apes more rights than they currently enjoy. To make an argument on solely scientific grounds you'd have to define humanity as a particular genetic code (even more Dawkins-ish than Dawkins, and would probably have to include adult stem cells!) or the potential for humanity. Neither of them seem a satisfactory way of approaching the ethical questions surrounding the beginning of life to me.

By the by, I also haven't heard much concern from people that the Nats have axed the Bioethics Council, which was set up to advice parliament on what NZers thought about controversial biological issues...

Sb said...

ZT: "David and SB, your point presupposes the Catholic Church is in favour of ART such as IVF."

I realised that the Catholic Church was against both of those, that was not what I was looking for comments on.

My point was that if you have "spare" embryos becoming available through IVF, even if you don't agree with IVF, and the only fate for those embryos is for research or down the drain then why not research.

With that question whether you approve of IVF is unimportant because you are already past that point that they are manufactured.

So if its choice a) down the drain or option b) used in research which one do you think is correct and why?

For my point of view I do not agree with embryos being created just for research but if they are spare and about to be destroyed why not use them?


Sb said...

"I would give Stephen Franks kudos if he can name ONE embryonic stem cell clinical trial that has worked."

What a strange approach to take, you sound like a man saying no more research is needed as everything that could be learnt has been learnt.

....name ONE embryonic stem cell clinical trial that has worked.

The next one. Or the one after that.... Or the one in six months time or next year.

We don't know, that's why its called research


ZenTiger said...


Actually, I don't have an opinion on your question, because I haven't thought about it properly. However, in the spirit of debate:

We have all these prisoners who are going to the gas chambers. Let's not waste them, let's run some medical experiments on them first (sedated, with pain killers).

ZenTiger said...

As for pointless research, I recall a guy who chopped the tails off a particular breed of Possum for a longer term goal of the study fat accumulation in humans.

It was pointless, cruel, barbaric and his excuse was the same: Just need to keep doing it until I find something. Didn't occur to him at the time that it might be better to pursue a new line of thinking.

Sb said...


We have all these prisoners who are going to the gas chambers. Let's not waste them

Thats a very poor analogy, a better one would be comparing it to the donor programs.

We have all these people that are dying without damaging their organs why not use them to replace failed livers, hearts etc.

Well we do. Livers have never been awake, hearts have never decided what to have for dinner, embryos which will be flushed down the sewer or use in a experiment wont either. Prisoners have been awake have decided what to have for dinner etc etc etc.


Sb said...

ZenTiger, how do you know that embryo stem cell research is pointless?

I seem to remember that the research that the guy that discovered penicillin(Fleming) turned out to be useless but a side effect resulted in the first antibiotic without which I would not be here to argue with you today.


ZenTiger said...

Re the prisoner analogy, yes perhaps your analogy is better.

If we could stick in a bit where they were born from the outset to be harvested or used in someway, it might get slightly closer.

The sentience thing is a valid point, but equally could philosophically be considered a red herring too. Can't be bothered explaining why right at this moment...it leads to killing babies before they gain self awareness, handling comatose patients etc. You get the drift.

Probably safer for me to think about the original proposition and reply with considered text, rather than just lob the ball back and forth. Just trying to be neighbourly.

Re my term pointless. I too agree with your point again. Pointless is the wrong word. I don't know if embryonic stem cell research is or isn't pointless, but there is a good chance the alternatives to using embryos is still just as *likely* to yield the same results, which was my actual point when talking about chopping off possum tails.

There are just as *likely* alternatives that require less hacking and animal cruelty. Maybe the fun value cannot be overstated though with such people? He must have got a lot of respect from fat people when he talked about his line of research.

"I'm doing this for you", he says. "Aren't they all" she replies.

Anonymous said...

You have missed the point.

ADULT stem cell research is already producing results, embryonic has not. In fact there have been horror stories after embryonic stem cell injections in patients (take Winnie Booma who went to China and after a period of apparent relief it all turned to custard horribly).

Why no further funding boost for adult stem cells? I'll tell you why: biotech in the states now has serious money and political capital riding on it, so they feel they HAVE to do it.

I will make a prediction here: there will be NO serious inroads into clinical disease therapy from embryonic stem cell research in the next 10-15 years. Adult stem cell therapies however will forge ahead, venture capitals will notice, and act accordingly.

Anonymous said...



Sb said...

Its you Mr.Tips who seem to have only a very elementary grip on the subject.

This is not a OR situation, its not Embryo Cell research OR Adult Stem Cell research its Adult AND Embryo research.

I have seen no indication that any research monies are being switched from Adult to Embryo research. Doing one seems to have no effect on doing the other.

Also you should read


As you seem not to understand what research is all about.......


ZenTiger said...

Heh. You might need to research both those statements a little more SB.

Anonymous said...

Yes, SB, you're right...

I have no idea about medical research at all....none whatsoever...

Madeleine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WAKE UP said...

I'm not sure we'll ever resolve the tension between knowledge and feeling. This topic sure crystalises that dichotomy.

Madeleine said...

I have deleted my previous criticism of Stephen as on re-reading what he wrote I realise that he did not slate all objection to stem cell research as "superstitious" and in fact his post was a criticism of those who do.

I suggest Lucyna, that you re-read Stephen's statements and adjust your criticism of it to be perhaps focussed on his support of the policy reversal and not on his use of the term "superstitious" or the treatment of those opposed to embryonic stem cell research.

Stephen starts by citing the moral superiority of others who slate all those opposed to embryonic stem cell research as superstitious - a term Stephen puts in scare quotes.

He then says he supports the reversal but he thought that Bush's position of restricting public funds was a sensible compromise and was not the example of religous policing that everyone said it was.

He also says that if anyone is guilty of superstition triumphing over science it is not those opposed to embryonic stem cell research but those who oppose GE or who support Green policy and Maori legend as to restrict privately funded activities.

When he uses the term supersitious applying to these people he does not use scare quotes.

Just as we object to being caricatured and having the nuances of our arguments missed, we must be careful to ensure we do not do this to others.

ZenTiger said...

Hi Madeline, not the impression I get.

One problem though is he doesn't between embryonic stem cell research and other types, so it isn't fully clear.

I’m glad the ban has been reversed,

and then follows up with though I think that not spending a fervent minority’s tax money on something they believe to be wicked can be a legitimate compromise, as long as the research itself is not banned.

He then condemns the "religious police" for wanting to ban private (embryonic?) stem cell research (his closing paragraph)

Lucia Maria said...


Quite honestly, I gave him the benefit of the doubt when I first read his post by reading it several times, going away and thinking about what was said, re-reading it, and then doing the post.

True, there is some ambiguity to the post (hence my rereading of it), but the closing paragraph really nails it.

Superstition’s interferences in New Zealand do not just stop at denying Government funding. Our religious police ban private conduct, which George Bush did not.

If Stephen would like to respond to all of this himself, that would be incredibly helpful.

In the meantime, my post stands.

MathewK said...

The way they carry on about embryonic stem cells is like no one anywhere has put one red cent into it. Like the cures are just around the corner, we just need to put a few million into it. And if only those bastard conservatives would just get out of the way.

2003 - The European Parliament has backed the public funding of research on stem cells extracted from human embryos. The proposal would also allow medical research on human cells cloned using the same technique by which Dolly the cloned sheep was created.

And it's cured exactly what again? Well, here's what it's actually doing.

2009 - The most sobering: a report from Israel published in PLoS Medicine in late February that shows embryonic stem cells injected into patients can cause disabling if not deadly tumors.

But no, the cure is just around the corner folks, we just don't know when, we must give it at least 500-700 years of constant failure, billions and billions of dollars wasted and damage like the above before one can finally decide that this crap just ain't working folks.

Madeleine said...

Stephen emailed the following and I offered to post it as he said he had encountered technical problems when he tried to post it himself.


I'm grateful to you for the comments in NZ Conservative.

You have articulated my position precisely.

Plainly when even you misread it at first I am guilty of muddy language and reliance on irony speaking for itself, when it did not.

I held (and advanced in Parliament, and to SPUC etc) the same view about state-funded abortion.

While I do not share the view that a foetus is necessarily a human (relevant to the slippery slope argument) I think the least those of us who are not outraged by abortion can do in respect to our fellow citizens who feel that abortion is murder, is not apply their tax money to it.

To make so many complicit (by paying taxes) in something they feel so intensely about is wrong.

I thought a Nuremburg type argument on those grounds should be tried in the courts some day.

Lucia Maria said...


I can see how that interpretation could be taken. Except, it is not clear to me, given that Stephen has allowed you to effectively give him an out, that that is the interpretation that the post should have.

And the statement that "While I do not share the view that a foetus is necessarily a human (relevant to the slippery slope argument) ... is very much on par with Bill Clinton thinking that human embryos are unfertilised and won't become babies until they are fertilised. It just doesn't match up with the fact that a fetus is human and this can be proven, categorically. It is not a view, it is a fact. And to refuse to recognise that fact due to the "slippery slope argument"?

Anyway, my comments are not so much directed to you as to him. Putting yourself in the middle is probably not a good idea.

Madeleine said...

You are surely not suggesting a post-modern reader-centric method of interpreting blog posts?

I know Stephen, he is no more likely to be dishonest about his original position, simply to avoid criticism, than you or I would be.

I share your view that his position on abortion is flawed and that there exist very good philosophical arguments to counter it that one need not be a theist to hold to, however, I do not believe that such flaws are justification for standing behind a strawman even if your original position was taken in good faith, which, knowing you, I am sure it was.

I'll say no more on it. Stephen is more than capable of fighting his own battles and hopefully he will be able to overcome his technical problems and respond himself.

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