Glenn Reynolds notes a post by Joe Gandelman (aka The Moderate Voice) in which TMV takes issue with a piece on the American Family Association’s website. TMV makes the claim that Matt Friedman (author of the piece in question) is “mak[ing] fun of [Arlen Specter’s] illness and the way he looks to try to score a political point”. He’s right, in a sense, or at least he would be if he weren’t guilty of what I see as a significant misinterpretation of Friedman’s article.
Gandelman sees Friedman’s invocation of Specter’s physical appearance as “making fun” of the good Senator. Here are the sections of Friedman’s piece that I’m assuming TMV is referring to:
Pick your poster child: Arlen Specter, bald from chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin’s disease, saying that he is Exhibit A for embryonic stem-cell research … or those cute little kids in the AP photo with this caption: “President Bush appeared at the White House with babies and toddlers born of test-tube embryos, some wearing shirts that read ‘former embryo.'”
“I look in the mirror every day,” says Specter, “barely recognize myself. And not to have the availability of the best of medical care is simply atrocious.”
[…] So, again, pick your poster child. The man with a disease who thinks there is vast medical potential in destroying babies described as embryos, or the children who developed from their embryonic state to roll around on White House carpet.
[…] If uncertain, one would assume that the compassionate among us would err on the side of life. And a real man who has long touted himself as a courageous senator wouldn’t countenance the destruction of young ones to protect his own life.
Instinctively, in our heart of hearts, we are far more sure than Ms. Clinton and not as self-aggrandizing as Mr. Specter. Such surety and requisite humility ought to prompt cheers for the man in the Oval Office who, unlike some of his “pro-life” friends, has the courage of his convictions on this one.
While Friedman’s piece is not exactly well-written, I have to disagree with Gandelman: it looks to me as if Friedman was trying to give “color” to his comparison between the pro-destruction-of-IVF-“leftover”-fetuses side and the pro-life (some might call it “anti-research”) side. However, and this is critical, Gandelman refuses to acknowledge that Senator Specter himself is the one guilty of bringing his illness into the discussion. Specter is all too willing to metaphorically throw out potential human beings for his own selfish ends – his quote about “availability of the best of medical care” reveals that he’s not on a selfless quest, as Gandelman maintains, but is striking out for some hope and looking to score political points with those who agree with him. We can all disagree on whether the frozen blastocysts in the posession of fertility clinics constitute human lives (I side with Friedman and the AFA on this point), but in order to have any rational discussion on this issue, there has to be a concession on the part of the “pro-research” crowd that we pro-lifers actually have a viable ethical case worth discussing at length.
If Gandelman, Specter and crew are taking the position that groping about for a cure using methods that are 1) uncertain to actually obtain said cure and 2) certain to destroy viable human lives in the process, and it seems they are, then they need to up front and honest about it. They should make the claim, and back it up with reasoning, as to why their lives are more valuable than those of the children who they are willing to sacrifice.
I think it all comes down to this: one cannot bring one’s condition into a political discussion and then act offended when others specifically address that condition in their counter argument. To do so is dirty intellectual pool, old boy.
Related: Brian Carnell makes the case that Glenn Reynolds’ complicity in this matter is far worse than Newsweek‘s in the Koran-flushing incident, while the reliably libertarian duo of Cox & Forkum weigh in with what I’d call a very childish take on this issue.
UPDATE: I’m beginning to side with Carnell and commenters on Gandelman’s site that Gandelman didn’t even read the original story, instead basing his conclusions upon a wildly inaccurate post over at Crooks & Liars.
UPDATE 2: Just One Minute points out a moving take on the issue by Andrew Sullivan:
The only logical justification is an entirely utilitarian one, in which the use of “lesser” humans for the benefit of more developed ones is justified. But this begs an important question: in our society, there is no fundamental moral consensus any more, especially on contentious issues like these. Under those circumstances, it seems to me that the government should remain as neutral as possible between moral claims. The NYT interprets neutrality as funding embryonic stem cell research. That’s a funny form of neutrality.
and an exploration of the slippery slope issues represented by Eugene Volokh:
Now of course one can distinguish infanticide from embryocide. I do. There are lots of arguments for drawing such distinctions. (Ms. Jong’s third and fourth paragraphs may be read as offering some, but if so they strike me as quite unpersuasive: That embryos often naturally die is no justification for killing them, just as the historically very high natural infant mortality rates were no justification for deliberate infanticide.)