Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney has infuriated Harvard scientists by declaring his opposition to stem cell research on embryos created for this purpose. "Some of the practices that Harvard and probably other institutions in Massachusetts are engaged in cross the line of ethical conduct," Romney told The New York Times.
In a telephone conversation, Romney told me he thinks the Harvard scientists have "pulled a bait and switch." At first, he says, they agreed that enough stem cells could be obtained from discarded embryos at fertilization clinics, which did not present an ethical problem to him because such embryos would be destroyed anyway. But the scientists are now lobbying for creating and cloning embryos simply for experimental purposes. This he opposes.
The radically "pro-choice" New York Times, which rarely credits any pro-lifer with standing on principle, suggests Romney may be taking this position to curry favor with social conservatives so he might pursue higher office.
It is difficult to take such cynicism seriously when one considers that Romney's wife, Ann, suffers from multiple sclerosis, a disease that backers of stem cell research claim might be cured if they are permitted to do whatever they wish to embryos. That the Romneys would put their principles ahead of self-interest is rare in politics.
Romney says he has been told by medical and scientific authorities that sufficient stem cells exist or can be obtained from fertility clinics and other sources to avoid therapeutic cloning and the destruction of embryos created specifically for this type of research. "Creating human life for research and human experimentation is ethically wrong," he told me.
The governor's problem - indeed, the greater problem - is that culture has moved beyond objective truth. Science has effectively declared itself god and scientists are its high priests. What scientists say science can achieve is all that matters. Anyone who refuses to bow down to their pronouncements is labeled a heretic and must suffer the kind of denunciation, ostracism and rejection once reserved for what the old horror movies called "mad scientists."
This is why the slippery slope analogy applies in cases such as stem cell research. Having abandoned an Author and definer of life, it quickly becomes possible and then probable that any value attached to a living thing - particularly a human being - is simply a matter of individual or societal whim. Such values, like a fluctuating stock market, may change at any moment and for any reason, or no reason.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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