The day was short, with a panel discussion followed by 5 separate groups of submitted papers and the dinner lecture by Dr. Edmund Pelligrino.
First, we heard from a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Rabbi (Richard Doerflinger, William May and Gerald Wolpe) about where religion is in bioethics today. All agreed that the division of “left” and “right,” “conservative” and “liberal” along religious lines are not appropriate. Not all religious people believe it should be illegal to kill an embryo are religious and not all who believe that it’s okay to kill an embryo are without religion.
Wishing I could be in five places at once, I attended the session on “The States and Bioethics 1: Stem Cells.”
The first speaker, Susan Berke Fogel, J.D. of the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research, talked about her group’s efforts to protect women and ensure transparency and responsibility after the passage of the $3 Billion embryonic stem cell research initiative in California. She noted that the public discussions about embryonic stem cell research, including IVF and cloning, begin with the oocyte, not with the woman. Her group wants to put the woman back in stem cell research policy. She pointed out a fact that I’d never thought of: when recruiting women to donate eggs for in vitro fertilization to treat infertility, the recruiters want the women’s DNA, so they appeal to women (usually white, educated, attractive women) who have proven that they have been successful in some way. But in cloning, the DNA will not matter, so there is more risk of a focus on paying less to women who need the money because they are in a weaker socio-economic situation.
The second speaker, also a woman, Patricia M. Alt, Ph.D., discussed the history of embryonic stem cell research in Maryland as “The Legislative Politics of Medical and Bioethical Language.” She has discovered how vital the words and terms used in debate are to the influence on legislation. Maryland’s embryonic stem cell research bill, HB1/SB144, refers to the embryos in question as “certain material” and “unused material” in IVF clinics. Also, the oversight has been moved from the State’s Health Department to the Maryland Technology Development Corporation — as a business, rather than healthcare matter.
The third speaker was also a woman (the moderator was a man). Myra J. Christopher of the Center for Practical Bioethics, spoke of the difficulties in Missouri that the pro-abortion and pro-destructive embryo research forces have had, largely due to religious opposition. She spent quite a bit of time detailing the religious actions of former Attorney General John Ashcroft, and listing words and phrases in Missouri law and ethics debates that she indicated were religious, such as “human life begins at conception.” And, she invariably called embryonic stem cell research “early” stem cell research.
I wasn’t too popular when I pointed out that the International Society for Stem Cell Research had just published a good glossary of terms that could be used in these debates.