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Calling Charlton Heston…

27 Jan, 12 | by Iain Brassington

It’s been a while since the last post, and there’s a couple of serious entries on the way – but they’ve been displaced by a bit of silliness from Oklahoma.  State Senator Ralph Shortey (or SHortey, if you follow his Facebook style) has introduced a Bill demanding that

[n]o person or entity shall manufacture or knowingly sell food or any other product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human fetuses in the ingredients or which used aborted human fetuses in the research or development of any of the ingredients.

Robin Marty elaborates:

The Republican has proposed a bill that will ban the use of “aborted human fetuses in food,” despite his admission that he doesn’t know of any companies that actually…well..use them.

So where did Sen. Shortey get this idea?  According to him, from the internet.

The “internet research” Shortey is referring to likely is an ongoing anti-choice crusade that began months ago, when an activist group began demanding a boycott of PepsiCo, which works with a research and development company that uses a line of embryonic kidney stem cells created in the 1970′s to test “flavor enhancers.” The boycotters, led by a group called Children of God for Life, say that’s the same as using aborted fetuses.

Ah: teh interwebz.  I see.  (For the record, the LA Times reports that “[a] U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the agency has never gotten any reports of fetuses being used in food production.”)

Since there’s never likely to be a better excuse to link to [SPOILER ALERT] the final scene of Soylent Green on this blog, that’s precisely what I’ll do; I only wish I could get the clip to embed.

But there’s more to this than lampooning a typographically-challenged Senator, because the Bill, in its brutal simplicity, is brutally simplistic.

Note the phrasing: though the Bill ostensibly applies to food, it actually has a wider reach – it refers to “food or any other product intended for human consumption”.  Nor does it specify what it means by “consumption”.  So it’s not wholly implausible that it could be used to apply to medical products that contain aborted foetus in the ingredients.  Well, OK: there’s not likely to be many of those – if any – outside the realms of paranoid fantasy.  But the Bill goes on to talk about how the ban would apply also to products that “used aborted human fetuses in the research or development of any of the ingredients”.

And that almost certainly does extend to medicines.  In effect, the Bill could be construed as making it illegal to manufactire or sell medicines the development of which involved foetal tissue.  And even if there’s not a huge number of them… well, there’ll be at least some – and, as research into regenerative medicine continues, an increasing number.  And that’s not to mention embryology research, or research into drugs that could plausibly be important for the health of pregnant women and the babies they carry.  My intuition is that, if we’re going to be giving drugs to the pregnant, it’d be quite a good idea if we knew whether they’d have any detrimental effects on the unborn; and that’d quite plausibly give us a reason to do research on foetal tissue.

There’s another question, too – one that was raised by Katrien Devolder, and that I’ve mentioned before: how far back do you go before you can escape the “dirty hands” problem?

For example: imagine that there’s an established process – a process that’s known to be reliable, safe, and all the rest of it – that uses aborted foetuses.  But someone has developed another process that means they will no longer have to be used.  This innovation, though, is based on foeticidal research, and could not have been formulated without standing on the shoulders of that established method.  Moreover, testing its reliability involved testing it against the best established method – that is, the foeticidal process.

Inescapably, the new process looks as though it relies on the foeticidal one: as such, it’s hard to see how it could do other than to “[use] aborted human fetuses in [its] research or development”.  And so under the Shortey Bill, it’d be banned as well.

That is: not only does a Bill like his forbid foeticidal research: it also plausibly forbids research that aims to avoid future foeticide.  Which is as much as to say as that there’re areas of research that it could be taken to forbid entirely.

Oooops.

(Thanks to Danny Brown for the pointer.)

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  • Randall

    Luckily, it only applies to Oklahoma. The law will probably never go anywhere, but if Oklahomans are denied a useful treatment because of this law, I suspect they will demand its repeal.

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