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To what do you attribute opposition to embryonic stem cell research?


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For years, I've been angry at religion over its opposition to ESCR (embryonic stem cell research). So angry at it, I threw leftism under the bus just to see of that'd help prop up anti-theism's reputation. So angry at it, I used to blame religion for everything from homophobia to the election of Donald Trump, without actually stopping to ask myself if religion's even at fault for the aspect of it that got me angry at it in the first place.


See, one of its detractors' favourite talking points is "if it were really about cures, they'd tell us specifically what disease they're going to cure, how they're going to cure it, and channel the money straight into that and not into studying something else." But I had also from time to time seen it disputed whether or not it's practical to do science so narrowly.

 

And then I found this.

Listening to this video yesterday brought back all those debates from way back. Imagine if these researchers were told to stick only to cancer research, and never look into how the same methods they intend to use against cancer could be used against coronavirus. We might have denied ourselves a coronavirus vaccine.

 

Traditionally, highly-religious-but-otherwise-progressive types; the types most likely to be offended over my "religion gave us Trump" remarks (the religious right was more likely to take it as a compliment) were never overtly against ESCR, and by the fact that Obama was re-elected after resuming government funding for it, probably not secretly against it either. These people would always blame opposition to it not on religion, but on opposition to abortion, and opposition to abortion on wanting to deter anything short of abstinence until marriage.

 

This leaves behind a few questions.

 

1: Who are they trying to impress? If the vast majority of them really did only want to enforce monogamy; and plenty of people who support abortion rights are ALSO sentimental about marriage; why wouldn't a legal right for married couples to abort be expressly written into law?

 

2: Why, if they wanted to deter extramarital sex, would they not come up with some excuse to tax promiscuous wealthy people who can afford children, and offer the resulting revenue to lower-income married couples that can't?

 

3: Why, if they're looking for excuses to oppose abortion, do they not come up with a new one that doesn't involve as much collateral damage? The ones who claimed it's about "life begins at conception" could silently disappear into the night (which they should be doing anyway) after passing the torch to a new generation of anti-abortion crusaders who could say "well... zygotes aren't babies, but fetuses... vaguely look like babies I guess" and still appear, however superficially, to be meaningfully distinct from the "life beings at conception" crowd, giving them no need to defend the "life begins at conception" crap at all, and freeing them up to carve out an exception for ESCR just like they do with IVF.

 

4: If anyone on the right was against extramarital sex, why the hell did they let Donald Trump get away with it?

 

The other option, of course, is to assume these anti-ESCR types are ignorant enough to think embryonic stem cells come from fetuses and not from IVF zygotes. However, I don't know how to prove that. I know a lot of these same people are also against fetal tissue research, but that doesn't prove they actually get it mixed up with ESCR. How if at all would one go about proving or disproving that?

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53 minutes ago, Prometheus said:

Are you sure 'religion' opposes stem cell research. Or by religion do you mean certain subsets of some religions - particularly those vocal in America?

You have nailed it. While this does not alter the significance of the opposition it substantially alters how it should be addressed.

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I wanted to use as broad a term as possible, because although Christianity seems to contribute to the most noticeable share of the opposition, I wouldn't want to diminish the role of other religions either. Islam in particular originates from the same Old Testament, is comparably popular on a global scale with potential for future influx on a local one, and has a track record of opposing some of the same things Christianity has historically opposed, like homosexuality, extramarital sex, etc. (Well, the latter until recently, as the Trump era has exposed.)

 

Now, to whatever extent different religions, or different denominations of Christianity, have differing roles in this, that's a conversation worth having, but there's also the question of whether the "root causes" to that opposition are still shared by those other denominations, which can still cause harm on other issues. Which is why the emphasis, in the OP, was whether that "root cause" was some aspect of religion itself or some aspect of something else. I can see how a religion that says we're all born sinners, that their holy book is the only way out, that tries to make us too afraid of the devil to doubt the increasingly-discredited claims it has made, etc... could contribute to people's willingness to a form of medical research that has potential to benefit all of us, with the possible exception of big pharma which could lose a lot of money if people no longer need to purchase their treatments.

 

Otherwise you'll get something akin to the way libertarians support capitalism while trying to downplay its role in the rise of people like Trump.

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The fundamental question is rather simple: "when does human life begin?". The issue is that answers are a tad more complicated. While most proponents of fertilization as the starting point are likely religious, it is not always the case. Also, it is not really an US-specific issue. It pretty much is aligned with the issue of abortion rights and the connected ethical dilemma, where you will find polarized views across the globe.

The concept that one might start defining something as human and therefore worthy of protection later in the development cycle (though precise boundaries are not really forthcoming) has higher acceptance (I think) now than it was in 90s or early 2000s, so we may be seeing a shift in attitude. But as a whole it is one of the questions that operates in an ethical grey zone as biology escapes simple binary classifications.

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