Goodenough Gismo

  • Gismo39
    This is the classic children's book, Goodenough Gismo, by Richmond I. Kelsey, published in 1948. Nearly unavailable in libraries and the collector's market, it is posted here with love as an "orphan work" so that it may be seen and appreciated -- and perhaps even republished, as it deserves to be. After you read this book, it won't surprise you to learn that Richmond Irwin Kelsey (1905-1987) was an accomplished artist, or that as Dick Kelsey, he was one of the great Disney art directors, breaking your heart with "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," and "Bambi."

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My position, I realize, is politically untenable. But here it is.

I agree that it is hypocritical to oppose stem cell research without opposing the creation of embryos that will never be used.

But I also believe that we should not be the ones to decide whether there is room in the inn.

The only with-integrity position for someone like me is that in-vitro can only be pursued if no more eggs are fertilized than can be safely implanted and carried to term. That's how some friends of ours handled it, knowing that if it didn't work out, there was a very expensive road ahead.

Yes, that means more people would have to resign themselves to infertility.

Politically, where does that leave me?

Well, if there were a referendum and my position were one of the options, I would vote for it.

But if there were a candidate with my position on embryonic life who also started preemptive wars, wanted to gut Social Security, refused to raise the minimum wage, and wouldn't do a thing about the cost of health care, I would vote--even campaign--against that candidate.

I will be surprised if there is ever a candidate who agrees with me on all of these issues. If there ever is, that candidate has my vote.

Here's another question before I sign off--why is there so much will to spend billions on stem cell research but not on, say, making sure that immunizations are available to infants around the world? There's a health-care innovation for you! Do we only want to put billions behind health initiatives that a very few the world over will ever be able to afford--that is, us?

What about those 500,000? Dang blasted ethics. There's no feasible answer, I suppose, that fits my position.


Tom Strong

amba -- While I agree with you, I think that to most of the devout, Catholic or not, yours is basically an atheistic position. If one believes in God, the embryo's relationship with God must preceed its relationship with the mother.

Meg -- I think there's a political will to spend on stem cell research because there's also money to be made on the results of said research. The same cannot be said for universal immunization -- at least, not until at-risk children are seen as valuable, economically or otherwise.


My position might seem atheistic to the devout (btw I'm not an atheist), but how do the devout understand God's relationship to the frozen embryos created and stored in fertility clinics? When we are playing god and creating bodies, does God obligingly furnish each with a soul in waiting till the little being thaws out? If we were to create an embryo that was a clone of a donor for strictly therapeutic purposes, as the South Koreans just did, does that embryo have a soul -- because it has 46 chromosomes inserted into a denucleated egg? See, as soon as we start playing god, it becomes confusing just how God enters into the picture. But where does playing God start? God surely never meant us to fly -- or did He? He didn't give us wings, but he gave us brains. There are fundamentalists who believe it's playing God to shave off your beard. Where do you draw the line?

I don't know if we should be creating frozen embryos. If you are infertile, isn't that God's will, to be accepted and suffered? Is there perhaps some parentless child that you're meant to adopt and love? And at the other end of life, I'll accept that we shouldn't be performing euthanasia, but if we don't artificially hasten death, why should we artificially prolong it? Shouldn't God be allowed to determine our time of death? Is using a ventilator God's will? Is removing a tumor? Did God send the tumor, or was it caused by our sinful chemical pollution of the Creation, or . . .

Hey, I'm going nuts here!

Rick Jones

As someone who is thinking of becoming a member of the Roman Catholic church I am also struggling with this issue. It seems to me that the idea of life beginning at conception can’t be supported by reason since a high proportion (I’ve heard as high as 80%) of these “lives” are washed away during menses because they don’t implant. If a zygote is really a person then it makes God, or the nature that God designed and controls, the biggest abortionist of all. In the U.S. alone, assuming a 50% implantation rate, this means there are nearly 7 million “lives” are lost this way each year. Think of how vast the number is globally. This doctrine of conception seems to make killing of innocent “life” an intrinsic part of natural law, which is abhorrent to me.
The doctrine also doesn’t seem to be supported by Holy Scripture (the authors had no knowledge of the biological details of conception) and even the tradition is less than 200 years old, relatively recent in the life of the church. A much more reasonable position is that life begins at implantation, where in the normal course of natural law there will be a person there. This still makes abortion a mortal sin but changes our understanding of contraception and stem cell research. I would love to hear from a catholic scholar more on the rationale behind the doctrine of life staring with conception.


The people who are fighting stem cell research aren't being hypocritical about IVF. They're fully opposed to it. They just aren't gonna tell anybody that IVF will be outlawed until AFTER they get a law passed to protect Embryo-Americans.

It's not hypocrisy, it's dishonesty.


When looking at this issue I find myself siding with the "slippery slope" crowd- we need to be very careful about opening an ethical "pandora's box" (case in point-South Korea). And if South Korea produces the first breakthrough before we do, that would be bad because....? (You weren't going to answer with something having to do with MONEY, were you??
I was not of a politically aware age when the great debate about in-vitro fertilization was raging. When did the economics of multiple egg fertilizations trump the ethical issues of unused embryos? Did anyone imagine back then that there might be an alternative (non-baby) use for all those frozen embryos?
Amba- you make a great stab at defining the start of viable life. We should all be struggling with this issue. Pro-choicers are NOT going to like it, though. Do we really deserve all the great cures that stem cell research promises just because we are already born and holding the test-tubes? It must be God's plan that we create embryos for curing infertility and then use them for medical research. Why not use early aborted fetus material too- it's just going to be discarded anyway, right? I for one still have questions...

Fr. Bill

Meg is correct that the logically consistent pro-life position here seems truly bizarre to most people; their argument begins with the "self-evident" goodness of IVF (which once seemed bizarre to everyone, and ethically controversial, but once we get used to vice and like it it starts to seem good to us, cf. Alexander Pope) and the argument is finished there.

How can you be opposed to curing disease? How can you tell people they might have to be satisfied with adoption as a consequence of infertility. How, in short, can you ever tell somebody no when science tells them "yes"?

Nevertheless, even the argument for implantation is a post-hoc rationalization. The natural deaths that occur from spontaneous abortion do not alter our obligation not destroy life anymore than regular flooding in Bangladesh diminishes the dignity of the citizens of Dhaka. For most of human history, there were very high infant mortality rates--did that make infanticide any less morally problematic, since, after all, nature itself seemed to take a lot of young life?

Tsunamis do not diminish the value of life, and neither do miscarriages, even at the earliest stages.

And it is quite proper to point out that all of the handwringing about the lack of compassion of pro-lifers is totally undermined by the indifference to much cheaper, totally feasible, non-speculative life saving measures like immunization and clean drinking water that for some reason don't amount to a burning issue, while the speculative (coincidentally, potentially very lucrative) research into stem-cells is somehow of the highest urgency as a public priority.


This *slippery slope* argument bothers me - are we really such monsters-in-waiting as they like to constantly proclaim? Who really that so poorly of themselves, their loved ones, their neighbors?

If we are that bad - life is not worth living. Living by antiquated, cherry-picked selections from literature (bible, koran, etc.,) will make us nothing but creatures who proliferate - all greatness would be strangled, all human progress halted.

A beehive or an ant farm is what such views would have us be doomed to. Warring beehives.


Tom Strong: Believing in God does not mean you must see an embryo's relationship is to god first, or to god at all for that matter.
You are stating opinion.


To follow-up on the "slippery slope"- my mind can come up with all sorts of evil directions this could end up (in this country or others) if money becomes a motivator. If you see no ethical dilemma at all, that would be very convenient, but I would suggest you are being disingenuous with yourself. Are you REALLY that sure we are not messing with fundamental human life? And by what means did you come by this revelation? I'm just asking the tough questions...P.S. I'm a non-atheist but that is as far as my religious association goes.


The more I think about it, the more I think we started "messing with fundamental human life" when we started creating and freezing embryos. But we're not going to stop because people (people who can afford it) want children so badly. And of COURSE money is involved. I'd wager that the wealthy will be having designer babies within a decade. Who said I saw no ethical dilemma? I don't like athletes taking steroids either. Do you? But human desires are limitless, and wherever there's a desire with cash in hand, there's an innovator and an entrepreneur.

It's more that I think the discovery that we CAN (not necessarily SHOULD) freeze these embryos at this stage, and then thaw and implant them, reveals something about when actual life, not potential life, in fact begins. The "waste" of many frozen embryos is analogous to the "waste" of unknown numbers of naturally conceived embryos: not every seed gets planted, whether it's God or us doing the planting. The question is whether it makes a moral difference who decides, and how. I don't have the answer. I'm interested in the discussion.


Rick Jones (see comment above) e-mailed that he still wants to hear the Catholic argument for life beginning at conception. Fr. Bill is certainly providing part of it -- or anyway, reiterating the Catholic assumption that life begins at conception and following through with what that morally demands of us, regardless of what nature does.

I wrote back to Rick:

My uninformed guess is that the religious argument is that it's not for us to decide which seeds get planted and which don't. That's God's mysterious will. God chooses and sends the people He intends to send. Ours is to accept. Our fallen wish and will are not to play a part in it at all.

I wonder about this because of the "where do you draw the line" question. With something like Plan B, which may sometimes make the uterus unreceptive, doesn't our will just become one more of the many complex, unknown factors that affect which lives get here and which don't? (The objection to abortion is that that life is ALREADY here!) Why is our will (our judgment of our own readiness or unreadiness) the single evil factor? Because it is unsurrendered? We take more and more control of our lives in other ways that are not considered evil. (Medical treatment, prolonging life. Seventh Day Adventists refuse it even for their own children, saying God decides ALL issues of life and death.) If we were meant to be completely surrendered we'd still be living in caves. Because it will encourage us to put on airs and start playing god in other ways? But we already do. Those embryos created and frozen in fertility clinics -- do they exist because WE created them against God's will, or because God created them through us? God meant them to be here? All of them? (I understand the strict Catholic position is against IVF, and I think that at least is morally consistent.) It does give you a headache.


Ambi has basically framed a version of the Orthodox Jewish perspective (so all you people who called him an atheist can get a clue).

According to the Talmud, an embryo is not considered a "human life" until the 40th day after conception. This basically covers successful implantation. I do not know if this corresponds to a point at which spontaneous natural abortions taper off or not, but...

This has allowed Jewish medical ethicists to accommodate in-vitro fertilization and use of morning-after pills in cases of rape, while holding a clear line against cavalier practice of abortion later in the pregnancy.

IMO, this view would probably appeal to the vast majority of Americans - there is a window during which abortion can be practiced when necessary, but at some point the moral obligation that comes with creating a new life becomes the dominant consideration.

Matt Evans


I think it's a mistake to draw moral conclusions from the fact that many embryos fail to implant naturally. If there were a culture where 75% of children died of natural causes before their fifth birthday (which has certainly been the case sometime in history), it would be wrong for that culture to decide that this means children younger than five aren't human beings, or that they can be dissected for research to save "real" human beings -- those that live past some survivability-threshhold.

Similarly, when artificial wombs are created, I don't believe many people will accept your argument that the baby isn't a human being until it has a physical relationship with another human being. Most people, I suspect, would think a child developed and nurtured by machines on a remote island would still be fully-human, no matter the cruelty of someone's decision to have her nurtured outside society. Our relationship to something does not define the thing.

I agree with your proposal on IVF. We should adopt Germany's law, which requires that parents only produce as many embryos (usually three) that they will implant at one time, and prohibits freezing.


This dodges the issue: what changes at implantation that actually makes the embryo more or less worthy of legal protection or moral right. Nothing at all that I can see.

Face it: when to declare that an embryo is of moral worth is a totally arbitrary call unless you are willing to root the claim in some account of the physical makeup of the embryo itself: and that leads at the very least to the idea that it can't possibly be wrong to kill it until it at least has some sort of nervous system. If you don't go in for the physical account, then you are adrift in arbitrarily making up whatever fanciful, almost aesthetic, story you can think of.

Fr. Bill


How about the argument that "anything I once was has human rights, because I am and always have been a human being"? As a believer in human rights, I'm in favor of giving them to human beings, all human beings. I don't want to root it in more "physical" facts than are necessary, because that way lies much moral evil, history shows. To wit, historically, the search for relevant properties to gain rights has limited rights to one gender, to one race, to people with sufficient property, and so forth. In our own society, children shown to have Down's Syndrome are extraordinarily likely to be aborted in utero, and Princeton Bioethicist (sic) Peter Singer things parents should have a 6 month return policy in case a child with mental retardation should somehow escape the womb unscathed.

Notice that my proposal is just for human beings--a physical fact. I was never a sperm, and I was never an egg, but from the moment of conception I was--as a totipotent, genetically distinct individual. Even the recombination that sometimes occurs (which can lead to twinning in come cases, but in any event finishes by the formation of the primitive streak) does not require any outside input of new genetic information. Thus, after conception I was, and have been. I was a being, and I wasn't a salamander or a ladybug, but a human being. Deserving of human rights. Those rights were not awaiting my skin color, nor my possession of property, nor my demonstration of sufficient intellectual capabilities.

They were also not awaiting the formation of a rudimentary nervous system. Rather, they were attendant upon my indisputable humanity. A merely aesthetic point? Only if one has the view that all rights talk is aesthetic--but then a preference for nervous systems over fancy plumage is aesthetic, too.


Regarding my last post, the question about seeing an ethical dilemma was not directed at you, but to those who point to all current disease sufferers as justification enough for proceding with the research...
As to natural conception and when life begins- There is SOME point in the natural process where the woman becomes technically pregnant, and by her doing nothing more than eating and surviving, will almost certainly bear a baby. After this point (pregnancy) outside human intervention is almost always required to stop the process. Please accept the previous 2 statements as GENERALLY true for this argument. Prior to this pregnany point one might be convinced that a VIABLE human life did not yet exist- in other words a human life with the mechanisms to survive firmly established, but if fertilization has occured, a human life nonetheless. Of course the evidence either way will probably never come, so it becomes a matter of faith, really.



In regards to the when human life begins, I would agree that the life starts at conception and perhaps becomes probably viable some time soon after that. I think maybe the larger issue has to do with the fact that societies have always treated different states of human life with different sets of ethics.

Many feel a person in a vegetative state can be killed without moral dilemma, that the death is more ethical than prolonging life. Many feel that the innocents killed during Iraq airstrikes are not murdered because the effort is in service toward some greater good. Many feel convicted murderers' lives are forfeit because of their actions. Many feel that a embryo's life doesn't take precedence of a woman's right to control her life and body, especially if that embryo was the result of rape or incest.

Trying to draw some exact line of where human life must be considered sacrosanct ignores that we have always had grey area and, I think, we always will. The trick is to allow for disagreement and a multitude of ethics in our plural society. America especially has many conflicting ethical camps. One of our historical strengths is having a government that allows these camps to find a compromise that, may not please most, makes for a civil, plural society


Matt Evans said: Our relationship to something does not define the thing.

But even that is a human idea. We decide to assign an obective value to something outside of our awareness and concepts -- but even "outside of our awareness and concepts" is a human concept. We have no way of knowing what lies outside our concepts. We cannot get outside our concepts. So even to say we don't define the thing is to define the thing.

What's more, if we have always had this "power" (and limitation) conceptually, we increasingly have it physically, thanks to the extension of our will into technology. Let's say a tree is not defined by our relationship to the tree. We don't know the tree outside our relationship to it. Once we know or even postulate that it exists, we already have a relationship to it. And whether we regard it as a fellow being, an embodied god, a source of pleasant shade, or a unit of profitable timber production, we are not only defining that tree, as far as we know (and we don't know anything beyond that), we may well also be determining its actual fate.

We can't shed or shirk this power to define things, so we have to decide HOW we're going to define them. But know that it is we who are defining them. Suppose God exists (also a human concept for something we cannot perceive directly). Then God created us with this power to define things, and God introduced new concepts though certain human beings (prophets, redeemers, avatars) to guide us in better defining them. But we are still the ones interpreting the ambiguous human-transmitted messages of "God," and we need to debate and decide which definition, which interpretation, is better for our souls and our society. Let's admit that that's what the disagreement's about.

Health at Work

Hello very interesting information I like this paragraph "Bottom line: Those who oppose embryonic stem cell research on moral grounds must either oppose in vitro fertilization, or stand convicted of hypocrisy" thanks for add this information

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