Monday, March 9, 2009

Zero for two on what we hold most dear

President Obama is now zero for two on issues of life. Any hope that he could be considered pro-life in any meaningful sense, at least for me, is now extinguished. First, he overturned the Mexico City policy and today he reversed the Bush policy on government funding for embryonic stem cell research. Both were done by Executive order. An Executive Order is kind of like a presidential motu proprio, or, something done on the president's own authority. So, these orders are the results of decisions he has personally made, judgments at which he has arrived. His decision today extinguished any residual hope I had primarily due to the objective wrongness of the order and secondarily because of the reasoning he used to arrive at it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but his reasoning is not only faulty, it is dangerous.

I was very disappointed that in announcing his decision he made an appeal to faith and conscience, especially in light of his directive to his chief science advisor to draft policies that insure that politics do not interfere with science: "It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda – and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology." Notice that this sentence is a conjunction. I have no problem with what comes before the "and," but I could not disagree more with what comes after it. In the first instance it implies that all politics is negative and ideological. Hence, it sees in science a kind of pristine moral objectivity that not only does not exist, but that is dangerous. Together, these two things amount to an inhumane way of looking at the matter. If politics does not guide government policies, like what kinds of research to fund as well as play a role in determining what kinds of research is not morally permissible, then how do ethics and morals factor in? I like very much what my friend Rebecca wrote about these words of President Obama: "May I point out, that there is an ideology behind not having an ideology. Science without morals has been proven, several times over, to be disastrous." Creating life only to destroy it for the purpose of improving the quality of life makes no sense whatsoever.

In order to further make my point, the President also said that "in recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe 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." Who has given us this "capacity and will"? He does not say, but I detect more than a pseudo-Lincolnesque appeal to Providence. The idea that scientific research is inherently moral, the belief that if we can do it, then we are justified, is just a way of saying that ends justify means, which they do not. We may never do evil that good may come of it. Besides, it is far from clear what actual therapies embryonic stem cells offer. We do know that currently the answer is zero. Another of my fellow parishioners, Dr. Maureen Condic, who is an Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah and who has also conducted research on the regeneration of embryonic and adult neurons following spinal cord injury, has written on the false hope generated by proponents of embryonic stem cell, who are writing checks, or, wanting us to write checks, that their research cannot now and may never be able to cash. While these links seem to be currently unavailable from the First Things webpage, I will provide the link to my previous post in the hope these valuable articles written by an expert for non-experts, such as me, will be available shortly.

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