And After Stem Cells, What?
7/9/2001 12:00:00 AM - Cal Thomas
President Bush will soon make one of those decisions that make his job difficult. The president is expected to announce federal rules for funding research on human embryos. These include rules for the use of embryonic stem cells, which some believe could aid in research to alleviate pain and suffering and preserve the lives of people with Parkinson's disease and other maladies.
The debate is over whether it is moral to kill a just-begun human life in order to improve the lives of older humans.
Since Roe vs. Wade in 1973, there has been a concerted and effective effort to devalue and dehumanize human life. In our pursuit of personal peace and affluence, new categories of sub-humanity have been created. There is no sense of where we are headed.
Perhaps those who support stem-cell research might tell us their bottom line. Is there a limit to human experimentation? What standard should be used to tell government and science "this far and no farther"?
It's crucial to look at how language is being used to distort the debate. Having already compromised the sanctity of human life with abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, on what moral basis can anyone then say other experiments on humans are immoral and unjustified? In fact, who gets to define "moral" and "immoral"?
It isn't that we do not have history as a teacher. Now, as before, we hear of lives that are "defective" or "inferior." Some speak of life before birth as "potential life" and those who might impose a burden as having lives "not worth living." According to whom?
At various times in history, Native Americans, African Americans and Jews have been thought of as subhuman. Henry Clay, secretary of state in the administration of John Quincy Adams, told a Cabinet meeting in 1825, "Indians are rapidly disappearing" and "destined to extinction," because they are "essentially inferior to the Anglo-Saxons."
In its 1857 Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court found that when the Constitution was ratified, "Negroes" were "considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings ... and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held power and the Government might choose to grant them."
The Nazis removed Jews from the lawfully protected status of legal personhood by defining them as "non-Aryans," thus supplying the semantic foundation for the passage of more than 400 laws, ordinances and decrees against Jews, which ultimately lead to the Holocaust.
More on how language has corrupted our moral sense can be found in "Dehumanizing the Vulnerable: When Word Games Take Lives" (Loyola Press), by Saint Louis University Professor William Brennan.
Family Research Council President Ken Connor is right when he says, "Once a utilitarian approach to human life becomes widely accepted, it will be impossible to preserve any meaningful moral restraint on medical research." Regarding stem-cell research, Connor says, "Size or age does not define a human being."
What defines us is the question of the ages. Are we, in the words of the late philosopher-theologian Francis Schaeffer, merely material and energy shaped by pure chance in a random universe with no Author of life, no purpose for living and no destination after we die; a little more complex, perhaps, than a cabbage, but of no greater moral significance? Or, are we "fearfully and wonderfully made" and known by God even when we were being "knit together in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139)?
In an article on stem-cell research in the July 9 Newsweek, writer Sharon Begley labels opponents "pro-life purists," but a little purity about human life would be good in an age when humanity suffers from so many impurities that if life were water or air, the Environmental Protection Agency would do something about it.
Science must not be given permission to do whatever it can. Science should serve humanity, not the reverse, and must be restrained by an immutable moral code.
We have seen what happens to unrestrained science. While one longs to eliminate as much suffering as possible, it is never right to do wrong in order to do right. Other ways can be found, short of destroying newly begun humans, to enhance living further along life's timeline and without cutting off those who have just begun the journey.