Saturday, March 14, 2009


One Man's Meat

Dr. Richard Land, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is at The Christian Post "Lamenting the Reversal of Pro-Life Stem Cell Policy."

Monday was a sad day for the sanctity of all human life in America. President Obama, in rescinding President Bush's order of August 2001, which banned federal funding of research that causes the destruction of human embryos, declared open season on unborn babies, allowing them to be destroyed for the sole purpose of harvesting their embryonic cells and tissue in the hopes of discovering treatments for maladies and diseases affecting older and bigger human beings.

He trots out the same tired arguments: using days old embryos is killing "babies;" it requires millions of Americans who find such research morally reprehensible to subsidize it through their tax dollars; of the "several hundred thousand" embryos currently awaiting disposal in fertility clinics, a few hundred "have been adopted and successfully born as healthy children;" and it is a slippery slope to allowing embryos to be created by cloning for the sole purpose of harvesting their cells before they reach 14 days' gestation.

The clump of cells that is an embryo after a few days is hardly fairly described as a "baby." I thought that the war in Iraq was morally reprehensible but I still had to pay taxes going to it -- that's how it works in a democracy, I get to have a voice in the process, which the Righteous Right has certainly had over stem cell research, but in the end, we still have to pay the taxes. Sure, the embryos can be brought to term -- that's why they were created in the first place, after all -- but that says nothing about their present legal or moral state. And what would be wrong with cloning, per se? ... especially when it would reduce the number of original embryos used, which were slated for destruction anyway? It's all a muddle of sloppy "thinking" dressed up as moral claims to shield them from intellectual criticism.

But what such screed would be complete without a reductio ad Hitlerum?

Many supporters of the President's decision have erroneously hailed this as removing politics and ideology from science. In fact, it is an attempt to remove morality from scientific research. History, from the Third Reich and elsewhere, teaches us that such a shift is a steep and slippery slope to a dark, depraved and dangerous destination.

If true, you'd think that the Jewish faith and the state of Israel would be particularly sensitive to such issues.

There are, however, no Jewish prohibitions to hobble stem cell research in Israel. Jewish tradition, says Rabbi Elliott Dorff, a professor at the University of Judaism in California, regards the human fetus as being 'like water' for the first 40 days. Only from the 41st day is it regarded as a human being. "The Jewish religion would consider it far better to use (embryonic stem cells) for cures than to simply throw them away," he said.

In point of fact, there was no such elevation of embryos to the status of human beings (a legal term of art in the US) prior to the decision in Roe v. Wade, except among Catholics. No state in the US ever treated abortion or the killing of a fetus as a homicide, which they would have had to do if it was widely believed that embryos were the same as babies after birth. Protestant moral outrage is ad hoc, arising only as a tactic in the fight against abortion after they became legally available ... ironically adopted from the "Whore of Babylon."

All this points to the fact that this is, as far as the moral claim goes, an issue mostly of sectarian beliefs. The attempt to turn some religious beliefs into official government policy is, of course, the stuff of theocracy. If they have a case as to why a secular state should not let scientists pursue what they see as the most promising avenue of medical and scientific research, the Righteous Right has failed to present it so far.

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