short and sweet

(PR) Or annoyingly detailed? I'm torn on which way to go. Hence the boldface, for you skimmers.

For startes, if you haven't read the initiative or what people who support it actually say, read it! This is one of those cases where it is so straightforward, that if you just read it you'll immediately see the fear mongering and manipulation for what it is.

Primarily, my response is one of passion and directness. I feel very strongly that in a pluralistic society, there are naturally going to be core issues about which people will disagree. But I also feel that when positions are presented less than genuinely, it is important to point that out. Misinformation and deception are poisonous. And that's exactly what this letter looks like to me. Basically, it's either one believes that a professor at the med school is so ignorant and naive about doing background research and constructing an argument (and so careless about making unsubstantiated statements) that he didn't realize how deceptive his lengthy email is, or it was constructed that way on purpose. If it really is the former, then I am sorry. You have my apologies, and my urging to perhaps sit in on an English class or two. The reason Wash U attaches the legal disclaimer is because that email account is for work related correspondence. Students who use wustl accounts for both school and personal use, in contrast, have no such disclaimer. I also never said Professor Harbour was misusing his Wash U resources; I pointed out he was using them. There's a big difference; I was pointing out how ridiculous it is to talk about voices being muted.

If, as I suspect, it's the latter, then it is most appropriate to respond strongly. The first paragraph couldn't be better crafted to lead into this. This letter is hard to write, I'm not political, I don't believe in imposing my views on others, but the proponents are just so inaccurate my unique scientific and medical expertise compels me to speak out. If that's the case, then why don't you answer the actual arguments made by supporters of the amendment? Why are you writing such a long and fearmongering letter with surprisingly little scientific or medical insight? Why do you ignore the central component of human cloning, namely, the fact that the embryo has to be implanted in the womb in order to become a person, and the central component of in vitro fertilization, namely, the making of a blastocyst outside of the womb (and many, many more than are actually used by the couple trying to get pregnant)?

The energy analogy is quite flawed. Petroleum is used in a myriad of products. My goodness, petroleum is used in order to make photovoltaic cells. But you don't claim to be an expert on that, even though you talk about it. Nuclear weapons are very serious things. But you don't claim to be an expert there. Funding of election issues is very interesting, but you don't claim any special expertise there, nor do you even explain anything (The Stowers donated virtually all the money. What a time for some outrage about the role of billionaires in the political arena; when they do something that doesn't benefit the radical right. Care to suggest that we should limit the influence of money on politics? How much more money does Senator Talent have in the campaign for the Senate seat?). The integrity and academic freedom of our medical institutions is very important, but nothing at all to substantiate a rather disturbing claim about violations of free speech. Rather, the email is loaded with emotional appeals to fears of what might happen. And of course, to add that final human touch, it's signed Bill (and Tonya) Harbour.

I am convinced this is not an issue for experts. There's nothing hard to understand, no convoluted language, no fine print. There are no taxes or anything; it's just a constitutional amendment to prevent Missouri lawmakers from passing restrictions in the future. Either you think it's wrong to make human blastocysts, or you think it's wrong to prevent research that might lead to better understanding of diseases and ways to cure them. The whole thing is like 2,000 words long (as the actress from Everybody Loves Raymond has been pointing out, except making it sound like 2,000 is a lot of words. Oh my goodness, that's, like, four pages. Seriously, Ms. Heaton, have you ever read legislation that can fit on four pages? I would love to see how long a 2,000 word script would last.) But I particularly enjoy the irony that Professor Harbour presents his qualifications as a doctor to argue that doctors shouldn't make these decisions. Rather, lawmakers in Jefferson City should ban these practices, even if they're legal in other states or allowed by the federal government. Yet, what exactly that proposal would look like goes unmentioned. Should we ban the process of making a human blastocyst? After all, that's what Professor Harbour is indicting. Fertility clinics have for decades been doing precisely what he and others are saying will bring detrimental harm to women; the harm that is cited is from fertility clinics. There are embryos just lying around frozen, not being used. The only ones that can be used are ones given with explicit voluntary consent of the donor; eggs can't be donated solely for the use of research. There is a review board for people doing embryonic stem cell research. But nevermind those pesky details. Surely if this passes, people will just ignore the law and exploit women to clone human beings.

S has covered the scientific end of my thoughts better than I could, so just read the comment left there for detail about that.

Finally, lest you think I am singling out Professor Harbour, know that I have the same dislike for similar messages from others. For example, I have already written an extensive post regarding the ads run by the Vitae Foundation. And then this evening, while I'm typing this watching Suppan struggle a little bit in Game 4 of the World Series, I see a most interesting ad. An ad that surely can end the debate, at least about the silencing of critics (as if that was ever a legitimate argument). It had famous Missouri athletes and even an actor and an actress in it, and it was most definitely against amendment 2. Let me preface this by saying two of them are some of my favorite athletes. The other athlete and the actress and actor I'm sort of ambivalent about. But all five are wrong, and misleadingly wrong in the ad. It involved Mike Sweeney (Royals), Jeff Suppan (Cardinals), Kurt Warner (former Rams QB), Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond), and Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ). It was run by the Life Communications Fund. The repeated message is to not be tricked or deceived by the Missouri initiative. What is so incredible, though, is the way they play fast and loose with the facts; the script is what is being tricky and deceiptful. Where does the $6 billion California has spent come in? Why are we implying that the complications that have happened at fertility clinics are the fault of embryonic stem cell research? It's a blatant lie to make it sound like women now have a right to be paid for their eggs. In fact, the initiative specifically prohibits women receiving valuable compensation. What she literally means is that women can be reimbursed for certain costs involved, but that's sure not how they've scripted it to sound. You really have to see this ad for yourself. They're attacking everything from the California initiative to in vitro fertilization, all while making it sound like all the problems are because of the Missouri amendment.

Interestingly, I can find articles and blog posts about the Life Communications Fund, but I can't seem to find a website. The KC Star seems like they're wanting to get input from Sweeney and the Royals about the ad, so maybe there will be more to read about over the weekend.

Addendum: This is another video that is just breathtakingly deceptive.

Addendum 2: Found a website. Interesting. I wonder how they feel about in vitro fertilization. What does happen to all those fertilized eggs that aren't implanted? And what about the ones that are implanted and die anyway? Those mass murdering wannabe moms...


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