Sunday, January 14, 2007
On this day:

Cramer, Davis vote to fund embryo-destroying stem cell research

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research - a type of research that involves the destruction of human embryos for the purpose of harvesting their stem cells. All five of Alabama's Republican Representatives voted against the legislation, whereas both Democrats - Reps. Bud Cramer and Artur Davis - voted for it.

A few points:

It goes without saying that embryonic stem cell research raises profound ethical questions: questions which become particularly relevant when such research is done in the name of "the people of the United States." One does not have to be either "pro-life" or a member of the religious right to understand the urgency both of asking these questions and of answering them correctly. Columnist Charles Krauthammer emphasized this point in a piece from National Review Online last week. He said:

I have long supported legal abortion. And I don’t believe that life — meaning the attributes and protections of personhood — begins at conception. Yet many secularly inclined people like me have great trepidation about the inherent dangers of wanton and unrestricted manipulation — to the point of dismemberment — of human embryos.

You don’t need religion to tremble at the thought of unrestricted embryo research. You simply have to have a healthy respect for the human capacity for doing evil in pursuit of the good. Once we have taken the position of many stem-cell advocates that embryos are discardable tissue with no more intrinsic value than a hangnail or an appendix, then all barriers are down. What is to prevent us from producing not just tissues and organs, but human-like organisms for preservation as a source of future body parts on demand? ...

The slope is very slippery. Which is why, even though I disagreed with where the president drew the line — I would have permitted the use of fertility-clinic embryos that are discarded and going to die anyway — I applauded his insistence that some line must be drawn, that human embryos are not nothing, and that societal values, not just the scientific imperative, should determine how they are treated.

It is beyond disingenuous to accuse opponents of publicly-funded embryonic stem cell research of conducting a "war on science." Federal funding is already available for other types of stem cell research that do not involve killing embryos, including those forms which use stem cells taken from adults or umbilical cords. Just last week, we learned that scientists have found yet another promising source of stem cells - amniotic fluid. These fields of research are supported (or in the very least, not opposed) by most conservatives for two simple reasons: 1) they hold great promise for developing cures to a myriad of human diseases, and 2) their success isn't contingent on taking human life or on treating human embryos as property that can be manipulated, traded, and destroyed at will.

Doubtless, a great deal of scientific progress could certainly be made if we would only remove all of the moral and ethical barriers that stand in the way. If we were to do that, though, what sort of world would we be creating? Is it a world we would want to live in? Is it one we would wish on our children and grandchildren?

From the dawn of human history, man has searched for the "fountain of youth" that would preserve him from the ravages of sickness and old age. Today, that fountain seems to lie just beyond our grasp, and the urge to reach out in desperation - by "temporarily" setting aside all of our knowledge about right and wrong - has become difficult to resist. When you think about it, that urge isn't too terribly different from the trials that each of us face in our day to day lives. So, what's to do when we're confronted with such difficult decisions? Well, just like our parents told us: we should take a breath and consider the consequences of our actions. Now would be a good time to read Brave New World, in case you haven't already, because the world it describes may not be too far off.