Responding to Criticism Over Pro-Life Concerns on American Cancer Society

Opinion   Josh Brahm   Apr 18, 2011   |   11:41AM    Washington, DC

I was recently asked by a pro-choice friend, “What is the worst thing you’ve been called by someone on the other side of the abortion issue?” I was able to respond that I really haven’t had too many people scream at me or write angry emails or comments. I ruffle some pro-life feathers every once in a while by talking about faulty pro-life arguments on my netcast, but I’m happy to say that I get along with most pro-choice people, and we’re able to have some great dialogues.

I now have some new words I can tell my pro-choice friend I’ve been called.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article, published by LifeNews.com, explaining why I don’t think pro-lifers should support the American Cancer Society.

“Rmuse” is an opinion columnist at PoliticusUSA. According to his bio, he’s a married audio engineer, previously a former minister, and a fellow musician. In an article entitled Christian Conservatives Declare War On The American Cancer Society,” Rmuse manages to call me a “religious fundamentalist,” a “hateful provocateur of death,” says I have a “pro-death agenda” and I’m a “killer.”

Some people misunderstood the analogy I made in the article, and thought I was comparing the ACS to Nazi’s. I wasn’t. I don’t think the ACS are Nazi’s or enjoy killing embryos. I compared them with a well meaning charitable foundation wanting to cure hypothermia, that unfortunately sends some of the money it raises to unethical research by a Nazi scientist. I’m very cautious about making analogies and not falling into Godwin’s Law territory, but I think that the analogy, given my argument that the unborn are human, is a fair one except for one caveat, which I made in the article. (Embryos don’t feel pain.)

Thankfully, Rmuse didn’t make that mistake in this piece. He was clear about the analogy I was actually making. However Rmuse did misunderstand (or obfuscate) some of my other arguments. I want to clear those up, as well as respond to Rmuse’s primary counter argument to my position on human embryonic stem cell research.

First of all, I don’t know anybody at Iowa Right to Life, nor do I know anything about their concerns about an HPV vaccine or anti-smoking program. I understand that Rmuse was pointing out another example of a pro-life group boycotting the ACS. I’m just offering the clarification that I don’t hold the same concern, because I don’t know anything about it. I’m open to hearing about it, but I highly doubt I would be nearly as concerned about those things as the embryonic stem cell link. If Iowa RTL’s issue with the HPV vaccine has to do with it being given to teens, who might supposedly get the shot and suddenly decide to have sex…I’m simply not convinced by that argument.

Rmuse says, “It seems that for the religious right, Right to Life only applies to cells and fetuses.” His view of the pro-life position takes the straw-man fallacy to remarkable new heights. Yes, I think human beings have the prima facie right not to be killed. I don’t hold the view that the right to not be killed (by cancer) can be extended to killing someone else, in order to treat your cancer.

Once again, we come down to this one question: are the unborn human beings? If they are not human beings, do whatever you want! Let them grow until they’re older before killing them if it will help more people. But if the unborn are human beings, than they ought not be killed for research.

Rmuse says, “It is fascinating the religious right opposes science and research until cancer or other life-threatening disease touches the fundamentalists or members of their families.” This is an odd statement, since it’s not connected to any evidence preceding that pro-lifers oppose research until their family member has cancer. I’m not sure if Rmuse knows somebody personally who fits this description, or if he’s just making stuff up as he goes. That certainly doesn’t describe my view nor the view of any pro-life person I know.

The implication is that pro-lifers would not consistently hold to our view if our loved one had cancer. The answer is, no, Rmuse is wrong. I would not advocate killing humans so that my loved one might have a better chance of surviving cancer. In the same way, if my wife was tragically raped and became pregnant, we wouldn’t suddenly become “mostly pro-life, except for our situation.” We would attempt to bring the rapist to justice, we would give birth to the child, and either raise her as our own, or gift her to a loving adoptive couple.

Rmuse says, “As Christian extremists are wont to do, they feel they have the right to decide for every human being the treatment options they can use.” Not at all. I don’t care what treatment option you want to use. In fact, I hope you choose the most effective treatment available, unless it kills an innocent human being. That’s my only exception.

I’m a small government guy. I don’t want the government picking their favorite cancer treatment and solely funding that. I only think we shouldn’t be allowed to go as far as killing other people to help ourselves.

Rmuse makes the claim that “Christ commanded his followers to abstain from passing judgment, but Christians are making judgments that are pro-death for all beings except cellular life.” I don’t know what religious training Rmuse had before becoming a minister, but his hermeneutics skills are lacking if he’s come to this conclusion about Jesus based on the Gospels. Jesus did command his followers to not make hypocritical judgements in Matthew 7, but nowhere does Jesus even imply that his followers should not make value judgements. Jesus himself makes justifiable judgemental statements and accusations throughout the Gospels. (“White washed tombs;” “brood of vipers,” etc.)

I don’t think Christians should attempt to hold non-Christians accountable to the same rules that we are supposed to follow. (Don’t get drunk, don’t have premarital sex, etc.) However, when we see a major human rights violation, we are supposed to petition our government to take action. Many Christians spoke out against slavery, and they were right to do that. I see abortion as a human rights violation, and I’m petitioning our society and government to protect all human life from being killed in elective abortions.

Luckily, Rmuse doesn’t only make strawman arguments or ad hominem attacks in his article. He does make an argument for his view. His argument is that we should support embryonic stem cell research because those embryos are non-sentient beings, and killing them could result in more lives being saved for sentient beings.

I don’t think we should grant basic rights to some humans but not other humans based on what they can do functionally.

There is much that could be said from both sides on that topic, and I don’t have enough to room to do a full treatment of it here. I’ll try to offer a summary, even though it’s a gross oversimplification of the work great philosophers like Francis Beckwith and Patrick Lee have done.

The pro-life view is not that humans become something new after they gain a certain level of sentience. Our view is that humans are moral agents that have the inherent capacity to perform basic functions, like think and talk. We don’t think you gain more rights once you acquire the present capacity to perform those functions.

My negative argument against Rmuse’s view is that the right to life is a categorical property. You either have it or you don’t. How can you have a categorical property if it’s tied to a property that comes in degrees, like sentience? You can have more or less of that property.

Also, the criteria that we only give basic rights to sentient humans doesn’t explain why we treat animals that have equal sentience unequally. For example, a cow probably has about the same level of sentience as a 6-month old human, but we don’t treat them the same. Most people don’t cry foul if we feed a human a cow burger, but everyone would cry foul if we fed a cow an infant burger.

For more on sentience and the substance view of persons, Francis Beckwith makes some powerful arguments that we should not treat humans differently based on sentience in his essay, “Defending Abortion Philosophically: A Review of David Boonin’s ‘A Defense of Abortion.’” (Available to read here.)

In conclusion, I am not pro-cancer nor pro-death. I was 16 years old when my grandmother lost her third battle with cancer. It was only three months ago that my wife’s aunt died of pancreatic cancer, leaving behind a husband and three children. I have personally been touched by the tragic consequences of cancer, and I can’t wait until it is finally eradicated. I hope those that are or have friends or family fighting cancer continue their fight and beat it. I’m so sorry for those of you that, like me, have lost loved ones to cancer.

Unfortunately, the ACS has not only been “linked” to other organizations that do embryo-destructive research. They have been proven to donate large sums of money to them. I did the research myself, and confirmed a link between ACS and embryonic stem cell research. Go to https://biomed.uga.edu and mouseover the “funding/grants” tab, and there is ACS. The BioMed group at UGA kills human embryos in stem cell research. I know that because I once met with Dr. Steve Stice, who told me that human embryonic stem cell research is done there, and he gives lectures to students defending it.

Thankfully, not every cancer research organization donates to the killing of embryos. I’m fine with supporting those! In fact I saw one internet commenter state that the money raised from some Relay for Life drives will go to local efforts, or there will be a list of places that money will be sent. If I was invited to a Relay for Life and I could see that none of the money raised will go to embryonic stem cell research, I would support it. In that case, it would be different from sending a check straight to the ACS, where that money may go to someone like Dr. Stice’s lab.

The supposed choice between killing embryos and curing cancer is a false dilemma. We can cure cancer without killing the youngest humans in the process. I hope that cure is found soon, before more people die from this tragic disease.

LifeNews.com Note: Josh Brahm is the Director of Education at Right to Life of Central California’s Fresno/Madera office, and host of the netcast “Life Report: Pro-Life Talk | Real World Answers.” Get more of Josh’s unique perspectives on pro-life topics at www.ProLifePodcast.net.