Americans United for Life President Rebuts Octo-Mom as Poster Girl Charge

But Charmaine Yoest says I "might have a point" about the risks of embracing Nadya Suleman.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest E-mails to contest my observation that Christian conservatives are embracing the octo-mom to make the case against embryonic stem cell research—and that that might not be the smartest strategy:

It's a serious mischaracterization of my comments to suggest that I was using Nadya Suleman as a "poster girl."

Your response to my comments focuses exclusively on Nadya and completely misses the point. I've added emphasis below to the section of my comments you cited, highlighting my central point: embryos in their natural environment, without outside interference, become babies.

Charmaine Yoest:... There are other alternatives to experimenting and destroying and killing these embryos. The last time Art and I debated just a few weeks ago we were talking about the Octo-mom, where embryos were given the opportunity and they bec ome babies. You have two options here: allow them to develop [to] become babies, or experiment and destroy them.

The issue at hand now is experimentation on embryos that results in their death, and my comments were intended to emphasize the embryos themselves. Focusing on the brief reference to Nadya completely avoids my central point about embryos.

Here's your response to my comments:

Do conservative Christians opposed to using excess embryos from IVF clinics for stem cell research really want to be citing the octo-mom as a poster girl for their cause? With 14 children and no husband, Nadya Suleman hardly appears to have created the healthful home life that the pro-family movement advocates.

First, Americans United for Life had among its founders, and number among our supporters, many different faith perspectives—fortunately, valuing life is not solely the province of "conservative Christians."

Perhaps using Nadya's situation was too much of a distraction, but it provided an easy example currently in the news for people to visualize a relatively abstract concept: the natural development of the embryo. It's a pretty stark contrast to think that one set of embryos end up destined to become babies . . . and another otherwise indistinguishable set becomes laboratory fodder for human experimentation.

That's really an astonishing contrast and I was hoping to challenge people to think about the dramatic difference between the two outcomes. Life. . . or death.

As a question of messaging, you might have a point. Maybe Nadya's case is too controversial to use as an example. But what about the substance of my point? It is the case that her octuplets are better off alive and at home with a loving (if troubled) mother than if they were about to be dissected in a laboratory. I believe that we need to cherish the growing number of "snowflake babies" in the ranks of adopted children. Embryos can be adopted. And each embryo that is adopted and allowed to be born proves the great wrong advocated by embryonic stem-cell researchers.

As an aside, many advocates of abortion, as well as embryonic stem-cell research, have a "better-off-dead" mentality: children that are sick, or disabled, or underprivileged, are snidely considered to be so badly off that they might as well have died or never come into existence at all. We reject that mentality. We believe that every child deserves to be welcomed in life and protected in law.

Yoest's response ends up bolstering my point. Because antiabortion/anti-embryonic stem cell advocates think human embryos should be permitted to develop into human beings at any cost, they support the octo-mom's decision. As Yoest says of Suleman: "Her octuplets are better off alive and at home with a loving (if troubled) mother than if they were about to be dissected in a laboratory." Wouldn't many in the Planned Parenthood crowd and many supporters of embryonic stem cell research disagree?

I'm not saying one side is right or wrong here. I'm saying that the octo-mom illustrates the moral dilemma presented by issues like embryonic stem cell research and abortion rights. Support Suleman, and you're supporting someone who has brought 14 kids into the world whom she's apparently ill-equipped to look after and whose life choices fly in the face of the "pro family" movement's vision for sound child rearing.

Oppose her, and you're saying that some of the octo-mom's 14 kids would have been better off had they never made it past their embryonic state (though it's rare that you see her critics come right out and say that).

Both positions have moral baggage. Yoest says that Suleman "provided an easy example currently in the news for people to visualize a relatively abstract concept." Rather than providing moral clarity on reproductive controversies, though, the octo-mom shows how morally messy they really are.