Wednesday, July 16, 2008

This is the call that never ends, it just goes... [Jay]

So my wife, who is now 7 months pregnant and enjoying no end to the brutal list of pregnancy induced irritations that have plagued her on the third time around, has made it clear she wants Mexican food for dinner. After we have finally corralled our two children in the usual battle royale that is leaving the house and as I am walking out the door the phone rings. Being the idiotic man that I am, I pick it up and a frightened young woman starts nervously asking me if I can participate in a survey that she promises me is not selling anything.

“How long will it take?” I ask.

“I promise to ask the questions as quickly as I can,” she answers.

“But I assume that you have done this before, about how long do you think it will take?” I ask again.

“I promise to ask the questions as quickly as I can,” she answers again and so eerily identical in tone to the first time that I wonder for a moment if this actually already happened.

In an attempt to break this weird pattern I try a new approach. “I am about to walk out the door, so if it is going to take too long I cannot do it, but if it is a couple of minutes I probably be willing to help you out here.”

“I promise to ask the questions as quickly as I can,” she reassures me and simultaneously breaks my will to resist. As I hear the words “alright, I’ll do it,” coming out of my mouth the back of my head catches fire from the gaze of my stunned wife and I see the children run off for further mayhem.

Why am I sharing all of this with you? Well it did not take long to parse through some of the questions and realize that this survey was being done on behalf of none other than Planned Parenthood. Suddenly this had become a work call! As I relish in every opportunity to let any and all people know how much I just love (read “despise with an enduring and endless passion”) Planned Parenthood, I participated in the survey in the hopes that perhaps my negative feelings could somehow be translated into a statistic that I could one day pull out and site on a future post. My mind reeled at the possibilities.

The questions were pretty routine fare asking about the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the NRA (I assume that the pollsters see that organization as the ideological opposite in some sense at it was clearly a question meant to tell them more about the opinion holder than the opinions themselves) and more than a few questions about abortion and Planned Parenthood.

Now here is why I hate surveys. I was asked what view adequately expresses my own opinions about abortion (Obnoxiousness mine):

1 – The constitutional rights of women to have access to reproductive medicine must remain unfettered by restrictive laws passed by moral majority misogynists.

2 – There ought to be some “reasonable but limited” restrictions on abortion.

3 – Abortion should be restricted except in the extreme cases of life of the mother, rape and incest.

4 – Abortion should always be outlawed under every circumstance.

5 – I don’t know.

I then asked, “How do you note that I refuse to answer based on the grounds that my view is not accurately represented on your list?” She responds that I have to choose from the list. I ask her if option #3 is meant to be inclusive of those people that do not believe that the life of the mother ought to be sacrificed without consent but would not support the abortion of children of rape or incest.

She asked me, “So you want me to put you down for #3?”

“Not if it does not include the view that I just asked you about.”

“Then you want me to put you down for #4?”

“No I do not think that based on the way you phrased that option it accurately represents my beliefs. You could just note that I refused to answer this one over an objection to the question.”

She paused for a moment and then to my surprise she said, “Do you want me to put you down for #5, then?”

I collected myself and explained this was not a case where I did not know how I felt, it was a case where the question was flawed and their categories did not clearly represent my views. Another moment quietly passed and she finally said, “So do you want me to put you down for #3?”

Lets avoid the silly game of trying to figure out how this girl is processing the information I am giving so that she keeps changing the number that she wants to put down for me in an effort to move onto the next question. After a few more passes at trying to illustrate how my views are not represented in her options where by she responds with repeated suggestions on the appealing and intriguing possibilities of numbers 3, 4, or 5, I finally tell her, “You can either note that I do not want to answer this question, or we can quit this survey altogether, how about that? Does that clarify my position enough for you?”

“Please hold,” she says and leaves me waiting for about one minute while she confers with the great council on stupid surveys and someone anoints her with the necessary wisdom that she needed to either just fill in a number for me or move on to the next question. I know this because the very next thing I hear is a click and her voice saying, “The next question is how certain are you about your views on abortion: Not at all certain, somewhat certain, or very certain?”

“I would say I am very certain wouldn’t you?” But being the good little survey professional she was she pushed right through my attitude to ask me to grade Planned Parenthood on a scale 1- 10.

Let me think about that for a minute.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sorry, No Hat Tip Here [Serge]

Compassion towards those who are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy is essential and an important aspect of our strategy. It also happens to be the correct Christ-like response to any woman in that situation. Furthermore, since no one is responsible for the circumstances of their own conception, and every child is an intrinsically valuable human being made in the image of God, we need to welcome each child into the world with loving and open arms. We need to help in any way we can to families in need. We also have to humbly recognize sin in our own lives to avoid the self-righteous judging of others. We should celebrate a decision made for life. These things are all true.


In our efforts at compassion, we have to resist the urge to cloud over sinfulness and glorify wrong behavior. This can be challenging, for as we celebrate a woman's decision not to intentionally kill her child, we must not celebrate her choices that placed her in that situation. If we cannot resist this urge, we stand to perpetuate the culture's view that about reproduction that has created the abortion minded culture in the first place. This would be terribly unfortunate.

Here is an example. At Jill Stanek's website, she gives a tip of the hat to war correspondent Lara Logan for her decision not to intentionally kill her child. Both her and the father of her child are in the middle of divorces, and he has a three year old child form his marriage. Logan stated that her pregnancy was an unplanned one, and Stanek praises her for her "heroic" choice.

I understand the sentiment, and am very glad that Logan is not going to kill her child. However, I prefer to tip my hat to the many, many other women in a similar situation that choose not to place themselves at the risk of an unplanned pregnancy. A heroic decision is one made every day by so many individuals who decide to go against the culture's notion that extra-marital sexual activity is inevitable and unavoidable. Those are the real heroes, and their actions go unnoticed by the same media outlets that Logan works for.

I can celebrate the fact that a woman in a tough situation made a life-affirming choice. However, not killing your child is not exactly a high standard for heroism.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Defending Life [SK]

One of the best radio shows is back on the air! Issues Etc features hard-hitting discussions designed to help Christians defend a biblical worldview.

The show's host, Todd Wilken, interviewed me on pro-life apologetics earlier today. The focus was defending the right to life in secular environments, particularly with friends and coworkers who reject the Bible as a source of authority.

How to Write a Professional Editorial for the Detroit Free Press [Serge]

I must admit a large amount of frustration when I read misleading and wrong writing from so-called professionals in the mainstream media. Lets take a deep breath and try to get through this editorial in the Detroit Free Press. Since it was written by the editorial board, maybe the inclusion of more than one individual will help its accuracy. These guys are professionals, after all:

End the stem cell ban
Wow, that didn't take long. There is no "stem cell ban". There is no ban on ESCR in Michigan. There is no law on the books that mentions ESCR at all. ESCR is being performed right now at the University of Michigan. The title itself has already included a huge falsehood.

It will be a good thing if Michiganders can vote in November to end the state's troglodytic ban on stem cell research.
I've never been to journalism school, but I'm pretty sure that claiming your opponents come from caves does nothing to increase the likelihood of your false claim becoming true.

The ban puts Michigan at a decisive competitive disadvantage with states that permit embryonic stem cell research; firms that want to do stem cell research just have another reason to stay away from here, and our universities have a harder time attracting and retaining top researchers.
Oh yeah, all those researchers presently flocking to California to get a piece of that 2 billion dollar pie will gladly buy some winter gear and flock to Ann Arbor because they can now kill their own embryos. Good plan.

And it doesn't save "life,' as some of its proponents have long argued. The embryos subject to research are generally extras leftover from couples involved in artificial insemination; clinics usually discard them anyway.
The fact that some human organisms are unwanted does not give us license to cut them apart for their cells.

But the biggest reason the ban makes no sense is more principled than practical.
Great. I love principles.

The ban is about allowing moral and religious objections to restrict public and scientific policy about an area of exciting and promising discovery, rather than letting science take the lead in figuring out what works, and why.
OK, I think I get it. Your point is that we should always allow science to take the lead over any moral or religious objections. I have much to say about this (see Tuskegee Syphilis study), but I'll let you complete your argument.

The danger there is manifest. No one's saying morality ought not guide scientific exploration, or set important guardrails against abuse or, in rare cases, evil.
Oh, I guess that's... not your point. Now morality should guide us and set important guardrails against abuse or evil. Now I'm confused.

But in this case, the moralizing has gone much further. It has taken a minority view.
Uh, now I guess morality should provide guiderails against abuse and evil as long as it is a majority view.

one that equates embryos with viable human life
By all definitions, human embryos cut apart for research are living, human organisms. Its not that we believe embryos are equivalent with "viable human life", its that embryos are "viable human life".

and used it to preclude an entire realm of research that could yield far-reaching benefits for humanity.
The present laws don't preclude researching embryonic stem cells. It only means you cannot destroy human embryos in order to do so. The "far-reaching benefits" are faith-based beliefs, not any based in science.

That's just awful policy-making.
Nope, just awful writing by these "professionals".

Last year, another scientific breakthrough with mature cells, rather than stem cells, suggested that they might be used as readily to cure disease as stem cells, giving new voice to those who oppose stem cell research in Michigan.
How about "giving a new voice for those who believe we should not be killing human embryos when we can get the same cells without killing them." See, this writing thing isn't so difficult!

But Dr. Robert Kelch, executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Michigan and CEO of U-M Health System, wrote in the Free Press that “several problems need to be overcome” before such cells become useful for new disease treatments.

“Scientists need to show that the cells are stable over time," he said. "

They need to learn whether the new type of stem cell really possesses the powerful traits of embryonic stem cells, which can become any type of cell in the body. Scientists also need to find different ways to reprogram the human skin cells to become stem cells … At this early stage in stem cell exploration, it makes no sense to abandon any avenue of research, especially if that would delay the life-changing therapies for which people are waiting.
Oh, well if Bob, the CEO of the organization which stands to financially benefit from a "kill our own" embryo program says so, we should simply be quiet and trust him. The problems that
IPS cells have to overcome pale in comparison to those that ESCRs have to overcome.

Specifically, the Michigan proposal doesn't mention SCNT or human cloning unlike other past proposals in the legislature. How does Bob plan on creating cell based therapies that will get around that old immune rejection problem? This is a problem that IPS cells do not have, because they come from the host.

Here again, the debate ought to be shaped by science - to fully explore both paths to see which is superios [sic] - rather than solely by the moral view that stem cell research is somehow unacceptable.
As Jay well knows, I am not beyond making some spelling errors. Of course, this blog isn't exactly a major newspaper. Now I guess were back to science being the sole arbiter of what should be done. I'm getting dizzy.

Michigan should join the scientific 21st century, and leave the stem cell ban behind.
Hey, I'm getting this "journalism" thing. When you begin an editorial by calling your opponents cave dwellers and making a grossly false statement - you should end it in a similar way!

In all seriousness, if my home-schooled son or daughter submitted this paper to me as an example of an argumentative essay, I'm not sure that I would pass them. Basing your main argument on a falsehood, using ad hominem descriptions of your opponents arguments, and not being logically consistent would preclude a good grade.

Then again I probably would give them a C-. After all, they are only 8. I should expect a few more years before they are more skilled than the folks at the Freep.

Monday, July 7, 2008

New Information on the Effect of OCs on Endometrial Thickness [Serge]

I've appreciated the discussion between Lydia McGrew and Jason Dulle in the comments here regarding the effect of the follicular phase hormonal changes on endometrial thickness and potential for embryo implantation. There is an article in the latest issue of Contraception which may shed some light on these issues. I describe the study and comment in the end.

The study was done to compare two different regimens of OCs (24/4 cycle or a 21/7 cycle). They first took hormonal and ultrasound data from women not taking OCs (which are labeled "pre-treatment or cycle 1" on the graphs). They then took all of the women who ovulated and began one of the two treatment regimens (cycle 2). During the third cycle of treatment, they substituted a placebo for the first three pills in the cycle (attempting to simulate missed pills.) Lastly, they tested the women during their following cycle to see if any changes persisted. During cycle two, where the pills were taken correctly, one out of 100 women ovulated, but it was noted that she took antibiotics for scarlet fever during the study period. 4 additional women ovulated during cycle three, so the vast majority of women looked at had no luteal phase of their cycle.

Here is the data for the amount of E2 (estrogen) for the 3 groups:

As you can see, the E2 was significantly suppressed during all of cycle two. I was surprised that the E2 levels rose so quickly after 3 missed pills in cycle 3. Clearly, missing OCs greatly increases the chances of ovulation.

Here is the effect of the OCs on endometrial thickness:

First, the baseline max. endometrial thickness was at least 5mm for all women in this study. This differs from the data offered by Jason which claimed that the thickness of the endometrium was 1.1mm throughout the cycle for women on OCs. I can't claim that know which data is correct, but it seems clear they both can't be.

There was a slight increase in endometrial thickness for cycle three, where they missed the first three pills. Unfortunately, they were using mean values for the group, so the effect of those who ovulated were mixed in with the majority that did not. In other words, it is impossible to see if the luteal function of those who ovulated had significant impact on the endometrial lining. This would have been nice to see. Maybe I'll E-mail the authors and see whether they still have the information.

Lastly, the endometrial thickness rebounded to almost baseline very quickly after the pills were stopped. The post-treatment cycle was very close to the pre-treatment one - and the difference can be attributed to the fact that not all of the women ovulated in the post-treatment cycle.

Bottom Line: we still don't know for sure. This study only looked at one particular combination OC. It seems the max. endometrial lining for those on OCs is greater than 5mm and bounces back to its baseline level the following month after OCs are stopped. I believe this is indirect evidence against a post-fertilization effect, but I can't be definitive.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Abortion for Sex Selection? No Problem [Serge]

In his excellent book Common Ground Without Compromise, Steve Wagner suggests that we ask whether sex selection abortions are acceptable. It seems the vast majority of pro-abortion choicers, when confronted with this question, feel quite uncomfortable with abortion for that reason. Although commonplace in India and China, sex selection abortions do occur here. According to a new study in Contraception, they may become more commonplace.

This study attempted to see how a medical school internship focusing on abortion would effect the attitude of the students in providing abortion. I was very surprised that 48.4% of the students who choose to take this internship stated they would provide abortion services for a woman who sought one for no other reason than fetal sex determination. After the indoctrination internship, this number climbed to 59.4%. Wow. 60% of medical students who are preparing to provide abortions would do so even if the woman seeking one merely wanted a boy and conceived a girl.

The study sought to see what the impact of an internship on abortion would have on the students. Clearly, the continued journey to remove any functioning conscience has begun.