Monday, March 16, 2009

Embryonic Stem Cell Decision: Morally Serious?

This is an excoriating critique of the position President Obama has taken regarding embryonic stem cell research. If you are not familiar with Dr. Charles Krauthammer, he is paralyzed from about the shoulders down, a Ph.D. psychiatrist, a columnist, and as far as I can tell a kind of agnostic. As a member of Bush’s Council on Bioethics, I didn’t always agree with his positions but I always appreciated his moral argumentation. He was invited to the signing ceremony where others in wheelchairs surrounded the President providing photo-ops. He declined, and he is glad he did.

President Bush had restricted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to cells derived from embryos that had already been destroyed (as of his speech of Aug. 9, 2001). While I favor moving that moral line to additionally permit the use of spare fertility clinic embryos, President Obama replaced it with no line at all. He pointedly left open the creation of cloned -- and noncloned sperm-and-egg-derived -- human embryos solely for the purpose of dismemberment and use for parts.

I am not religious. I do not believe that personhood is conferred upon conception. But I also do not believe that a human embryo is the moral equivalent of a hangnail and deserves no more respect than an appendix. Moreover, given the protean power of embryonic manipulation, the temptation it presents to science and the well-recorded human propensity for evil even in the pursuit of good, lines must be drawn.

Though I believe conception is that crucial moment of conferred personhood, I like what he has to say. To use embryos for this kind of destructive research is to treat them as fetal pigs purchased for junior high biology classes.

Krauthammer goes on to bemoan the kind of ignorance-based arrogance that often accompanies scientism.

That part of the ceremony, watched from the safe distance of my office, made me uneasy. The other part -- the ostentatious issuance of a memorandum on "restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making" -- would have made me walk out.

Restoring? The implication, of course, is that while Obama is guided solely by science, Bush was driven by dogma, ideology and politics.

What an outrage. Bush's nationally televised stem cell speech was the most morally serious address on medical ethics ever given by an American president. It was so scrupulous in presenting the best case for both his view and the contrary view that until the last few minutes, the listener had no idea where Bush would come out.

Obama's address was morally unserious in the extreme. It was populated, as his didactic discourses always are, with a forest of straw men. Such as his admonition that we must resist the "false choice between sound science and moral values." Yet, exactly 2 minutes and 12 seconds later he went on to declare that he would never open the door to the "use of cloning for human reproduction."

He notes later on that there needs to be moral, and I believe, religious reflection guiding scientific advancement.

Science has everything to say about what is possible. Science has nothing to say about what is permissible.

(The Washington Post article requires a free subscription, you can read it for free on Towhnall.)

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