Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Hiding Behind Science

Prompted by today's Beyond the News commentary by Al Mohler and Melinda Penner's post on two bills before the House of Representatives, I called my state representative's office today to voice my opposition to H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. This bill would extend federal funding for research using embryos created by in vitro fertilization but no longer wanted by their parents. Congressman Kirk backs the bill.

A press release at Representative Kirk's website quotes him as saying: “We need to pass legislation opening more opportunities for federal stem cell research to accelerate cures for these diseases. With stem cell research now happening overseas, we have a moral obligation to find cures here at home.” Sounds to me like Rep. Kirk is relying on foreign countries as the moral compass for United States policy: "Since they're doing it, we have a moral obligation to do it too!" Never mind that what they're doing is immoral. I seriously doubt that if foreign countries were killing the homeless and using their body parts for medical research that promised great potential, Congressman Kirk would argue that the U.S. has a moral obligation to follow suit. Before we jump on the international bandwagon, we should make sure it's heading in the right direction. No one doubts the obligation to relieve and prevent suffering where possible. The dispute is over the lengths to which we should be willing to go in order to accomplish that. Like many others, I believe that we should pursue those means which do not sacrifice the lives of some for the sake of others.

The above-mentioned press release also quotes Representative Judy Biggert (also from Illinois), a senior member of the House Science Committee, as saying, "It’s time we allow researchers to go where the science leads and not where the politicians dictate." Proof positive that one need not understand science in order to be a member of the Science Committee. Congresswoman Biggert would have us believe that we are so at the whim of technology that we blindly follow wherever it leads. There are at least two problems with this. First, I doubt that if pressed, Ms. Biggert would argue that we should make use of whatever technological abilities we possess. All sorts of devastation could be justified using that reasoning. The greater problem, however, is that science doesn't lead anyone anywhere in the sense that Ms. Biggert suggests. We lead science. It does not have a life of its own. Our interests, desires, values, and goals determine the direction of our inquiry. Science does not, nor can it, tell us what we must do. Let's not fool ourselves. If we end up sacrificing the most vulnerable members of our species for the sake of others, it will not be because "science has led us." It will be because we chose the course.


Carl Gobelman said...

All points well taken. Let's not also forget that in this mad rush to destroy human life to save it we have NOTHING to show for it. Embryonic Stem Cell Research is so far batting .000!

Anonymous said...

Great post. I would add only that many, many cures have already been achieved using non-embryonic (AKA adult) stem cells. See http://www.stemcellresearch.org/