Jonathan Ichikawa defends the non-personhood of embryos at Fake Barn Country. I don't have time to look at his argument in detail right now, and I don't know if I want to think about reading the 63-comment discussion that follows, but I did notice that Jonathan agrees with me that his argument for the non-personhood of embryos is question-begging. I think all arguments for the non-personhood of any stage of human life are circular. The debate is over the meaning of the term 'person'. If you define 'person' in a way that guarantees the non-personhood of whatever you want to kill, that's question-begging. Yet that seems to be exactly what the original pro-choice arguments in the early 1970s did. The issue is over whether a fetus (or embryo) has moral rights, and their answer was to tie moral rights to personhood and then to tie personhood to features like self-awareness, the ability to look forward to one's future, etc. Yet that begs the question against those who don't think such conditions are necessary for something to have moral rights. That account of personhood has now become standard in philosophy, but I still haven't seen an argument for it that doesn't assume what it's trying to prove. Since he admits his argument is question-begging, I don't expect that it will be what I haven't yet seen.
That's not why I'm writing this post, however. I just consider his admission noteworthy. I'm writing this to respond to Jonathan's discussion (on his own blog) of whether Bush is inconsistent on these issues, along with his suggestion that most pro-life activists are similarly inconsistent. I don't think Bush is inconsistent on this, and I think he's just plain wrong on the empirical question of what most pro-life groups believe.
Consider the following Google search: pro-life embryos in vitro. The first item makes the claim that Jonathan is making, that pro-life people don't care about the discarded embryos in standard in vitro cases. The next eight state quite clearly the view that he says pro-lifers don't care about. The tenth item on the first page is another example of someone claiming pro-life people don't care about discarded embryos from in vitro fertilization. There's a similar enough pattern on the second page. Some of them say pro-lifers don't care about this issue, and the others are pro-lifers expressing deep concern about what the others are saying pro-lifers don't care about. The empirical claim Jonathan makes is a common meme among those who take his general view, but it's simply false. Pro-life people care tremendously about in vitro cases that lead to discarded embryos. I realize that this will mean he will think even lower of them than he already does because he thinks this view is even nuttier than the inconsistent one, but it relieves them of the charge of inconsistency, which is what I care more about.
Bush himself responded to the current issue by bringing forward people who exist only because people were willing to adopt embryos that otherwise would have become discarded. He's also made it quite clear that his practical decisions on abortion policy will be to support changes only if he thinks the American people are ready to implement them, which is why he doesn't favor attempts to make all abortion illegal overnight but is willing to pursue smaller goals that might have some possibility of happening. I'm not sure why he didn't take a similar approach to the FMA, but I think in he's consistent in applying this criterion to pro-life issues.
Also, the policy Bush was willing to implement about stem cell research involved using the cells derived from already killed embryos where the stem cell lines were already in existence and not still part of dead embryos. What he's opposing now is taking stem cells from dead embryos. He thinks it's ok to do the former but not the latter. I don't seen an inconsistency here. An analogy will help. You might think it's wrong to take bone marrow stem cells from a corpse if the person didn't consent to it before dying. If you hold such a view, then you might also think that it's wrong to use such stem cells that someone else had already taken from someone without their permission. You might. Then again, you might not. You might insist that it's wrong to take them, but it's not wrong to use ones someone else took.
This is similar to the issue raised when immoral Nazi experimentation became known. The international consensus was that the immorality of the research somehow magically infected the results of the research, as if the truth that such research made available was itself wrong merely because the method of attaining it was wrong. I find such a view thoroughly unmotivated. The international consensus was simply wrong. They shouldn't have destroyed the results of that research. I'd go far enough even to say that it was immoral to destroy the results of the research, because even though it was wrong to do the research at least something good might have come of it, and these people were set on making sure that even that couldn't happen. I realize this is a controversial position, but all it takes to show consistency is that there's a possible view that doesn't lead to contradiction. I think this sort of view would explain that for Bush.
Stem cells themselves have no rights, on anyone's views. Embryos do have rights, on some people's views, and dead embryos might even deserve respect of some sort the same way corpses do. But already-removed stem cells of an adult corpse or a destroyed embryo simply have no rights on any view, and the view that using such stem cells disrespects the corpse or embryo in the same way taking the stem cells does seems to me to be like saying we should destroy mere information that was obtained immorally when all parties agree that the method of obtaining the information was immoral. The only difference here is that it's cells and not information, but cells don't have rights any more than information does.
It doesn't follow from the view that the research was immoral that using the research is immoral. You need a further moral premise that I won't grant. It's similarly consistent to say that taking stem cells from corpses without prior consent is immoral, while thinking it's ok to use already-taken stem cells from corpses without consent. It's also not an inconsistent position, therefore, to say that using stem cells that were previously removed from embryos is ok, while removing them yourself is immoral.