As the Texas legislature works through their biggest item of business this spring, the budget, a pesky little moral issue threatens to trouble their water. Two views of the world are squaring off over whether our state should provide state funding for embryo-destructive stem cell research.
First, let’s look at the level of dialog the debate has engendered. For The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, whose editorial board regularly operates under the delusion that people in Forth Worth think like people in New York City, the question is between “demagoguery” and the alleviation of human suffering. So simple, yes? Also note their distinction between the Obama White House which will “make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology,” and the Bush White House which tended to “politicize science on this [embryonic stem cell research] and other matters.” Ah, so we have people who are both right and sincere on one side and both wrong and deceitful on the other. It’s a simpler debate when both sides agree in their hearts but one side is too dishonest to admit it. And to some, every debate appears that way.
Rick Perry, Warren Chisum, John Carona, and other pro-life politicians are simply posturing, then. Although one amateur debater threw in, via a comment stream, that pro-lifers were also uneducated and stupid. Wow, who’d want to be a pro-lifer then? Maybe it’s because of the financial rewards.
When we disagree with someone, it’s not necessary that they be evil. It is sufficient to say that we believe them to be wrong. It is also needlessly nasty (and also foolish) to assume that those who hold views different from our own are merely ignorant or incompetent. That leads to the silly assumption that anyone who knows as much as we ourselves will certainly agree with us. Disagreements are rarely between the evil and the righteous or between the smart and the stupid.
The facts, again, with apologies to those of you who pay attention:
Human embryos are human life. They would be of no use if they were not alive and they would be of little use if they were not human. Perhaps we can argue about personhood or ensoulment or other speculative matters but they are human life. For some of us, this matters. The casual use and destruction of human life has moral consequences even if it pays off someday.
Embryonic stem cell research has not yet paid off. Successful treatments have already been developed using adult stem cells. Although embryonic stem cell research is already underway, using public funds from other states and some private funding, nothing but hope has yet resulted. One reader comment declared on this subject that it is appropriate for one life to be given to save thousands. The truth is more like thousands will be destroyed for no yet-imaginable benefit. There is also a difference between you taking my life to save you and me giving it for that purpose.
Some of us, even conservatives, do believe what we say. I know, it’s a radical thought, but some of us also graduated high school and have a college-level grasp of biology. For either side to suggest that his counterpart in an argument is, by definition, insincere in his viewpoints is a schoolyard bully’s tactic. It’s an ad hominem (ooh, Latin!) attack that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. Some political advocates should be embarrassed that they keep forgetting this simple point. By the way, I’m not clear on what we pro-life poseurs (and French!) are getting out of pretending to believe something that is mere “politics and demagoguery.”
Science is “politicized” when public money pays for research. Nothing wrong with politics and nothing wrong with publicly funded research. But if you want to gripe when the unwashed masses elect the representatives of their choice, and when this unworthy rube has the temerity to disagree with you, you’re hating the game, not the player. It’s an immature instinct to expect the public to give you money with no guidance or strings. That’s politics and you signed up for it. In a similar way, it is unrealistic (not to mention condescending) to expect laymen, be they politicians or voters, to shut up and trust the scientists.
There is a big issue here that some of us despise. A lot of things “work” in some limited way but are simply wrong?we can’t generally live with their implications. Bad ideas like child labor, poor safety standards, no speed limits, polygamy, animal cruelty, and open borders worked for a few of us for a little while. In some cases there was a moral issue that made the idea bad regardless of who benefited. Americans fought their bloodiest war behind the banner of doing the right thing because it was right. It was the most impractical thing in the world but morality trumped practicality in the mind of President Lincoln.
We all benefit from the professional study of the natural order. Biology, chemistry, physics, and so on, have improved life and health for nearly everyone. That said, “science” is not, or shouldn’t be, a holy word that, once invoked, ends all debate. The philosophy and theology of a discovery and its use matter very much. All human endeavors have theological underpinnings; denying their existence is simply foolish.
Those who argue that the science of a decision is thoroughly distinct from and superior to the ideology of it are favoring an ideology nonetheless. They are also ignoring an integral part of the science.
Does a human embryo have any inherent worth? How much? Should we destroy one if we can net $1 from the exchange? Maybe that sounds crass. Perhaps $100 profit makes it worthwhile. Still offensive? One embryonic stem cell research advocate guesses that we might gain $30 billion in grants and research help if we commit ourselves to profligate use and destruction of human embryos. Any limits at all would jinx the whole thing. Maybe that’s enough money. Maybe that money will buy enough respect and prestige to insulate us from the awareness that we have crossed a moral line and will face consequences none of us yet know. Those of us who