"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," said Confucius. But a journey of whatever length presumes one has a destination in mind. With President Obama's executive order authorizing expanded federal funding for research using stem cells, produced from the destruction of human embryos, the destination will be left up to scientists, as will any "speed controls." The sky, or in this case the depths, will be the limit.
In the classical style of a brilliant politician, President Obama sought to invoke an ethical standard for his decision, while simultaneously denying a standard that might restrain scientists from going too far. He said that as a "person of faith," he believes "we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research-and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly."
The president didn't say who gives such a calling or who gave us such a capacity. In his carefully crafted language, we are supposed to believe God is behind this. Yet, David wrote of God in Psalm 139, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. . . . I am fearfully and wonderfully made." And again in Jeremiah 1:5, the prophet quotes God, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you." Those and other verses would seem to trump not only science, but whatever "faith" the president has in such matters.
President Obama wants a "faith" unconnected to anything outside of himself to advance his policy on stem cell research, but he appears agnostic when it comes to abortion. Apparently, Obama's "faith" serves his politics, not the reverse. This places science in the place of God, or ethics. Whatever can be done, should be done. Shifting moral sands will allow almost anything as soon as the public can be conditioned with images of a trembling Michael J. Fox, or an average American in a wheelchair pleading for the chance to walk again. The unborn have no voice except for those that cry out on their behalf.
If science is to be supreme, why didn't Obama advocate for the advances made with adult stem cells that do not require the destruction of a human life? At first, some scientists expressed doubt that adult stem cells would be able to achieve the goals they sought through embryonic stem cells, but now many of them think differently. My wife faced a rare ailment that was shut down after her own stem cells were harvested and re-introduced into her bone marrow following treatment. No life was destroyed and one life has been saved and enhanced.
What will constrain science? The president says it will be up to the National Institutes of Health to come up with "guidelines" for the use of embryonic stem cells. He specifically came out against creating embryos for the purpose of human cloning. But the question is this, if there are to be no moral, ethical, or religious restraints on the initial experiments, why should anyone expect them to be invoked later? One can only be a virgin once. After a moral or ethical line has been erased, it is nearly impossible to re-draw it.
At the extreme, unrestrained science has the capacity to produce a Josef Mengele. The Third Reich "scientist" and doctor was given the green light to do whatever he wished with Jews, twins, the physically deformed, the mentally challenged, all in the name of "science" and progress. We are repulsed by the horrors he created in his "scientific" laboratory, to which many of the German people turned a blind eye, mostly because they had been conditioned to do so by nonstop propaganda, which convinced them that some lives were less valuable than others.We have been warned by history, in novels like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and on TV news, of what can happen when government operates outside a moral code established to protect us from its penchant to be excessive. Unfortunately, government in recent years has sometimes engaged in a type of moral freelancing, embracing a mushy morality in order to serve purposes that are sometimes immoral.
Removing restraints on stem cell research is another step on a journey leading us to a distant somewhere. Does anyone know the destination? Do enough people care that it might just be leading us not only to the destruction of more pre-born human life, but also ultimately to our own end?
© 2009 Tribune Media Services Inc.