Jonah Goldberg

For example, everybody agrees that life-ending experimentation on a 5-year-old boy would be wrong. But what if such research could solve "all human maladies"? Would it be wrong then? More relevant, would it be "anti-science"?

Yes, yes, ESCR advocates reject comparing embryos to fully developed humans. But that misses the point on two scores. First, the determination that embryos have no moral worth is not a scientific conclusion but a moral one. Second, rejecting the comparison doesn't answer the question: Is it anti-science to bar certain procedures on moral grounds? Animal-rights activists don't believe they are anti-science when they oppose cruel testing on monkeys, even when it could lead to medical breakthroughs. Was it anti-science when doctors invented the "bloodless" heart bypass to accommodate the concerns of Jehovah's Witnesses who didn't want transfusions?

We need to grapple with these questions now because we are only entering the shallow rapids while the waterfalls lay ahead. But you can already hear the onrush of water.

Slate's William Saletan recently chronicled how the age of retail eugenics has arrived. Gender-selective abortion is commonplace in the developing world. In the developed West, we're more selective at the embryonic level. For example, a handful of deaf parents are deliberately selecting embryos that will become deaf - and doctors are helping. Meanwhile, researchers at Oregon State University recently revealed that hormone treatments can reverse homosexuality in sheep. Predictably, lesbian activist Martina Navratilova and others complained that the sheeps' "right" to be gay was being violated. While no one called Navratilova "anti-science," it's not hard to see the slippery slope she's concerned about.

Indeed, abortion-rights absolutism provides no defensible terrain to object to that slippery slope. Today's "pro-science" champions may soon see a world where homosexuality is eradicated in utero thanks to their hard work establishing the absolute moral sovereignty of individual choice and science.

This is the beauty and curse of science: It tends to undermine the cherished positions and assumptions of everyone, even those who claim to be its champions. Perhaps that's one reason we shouldn't derive our values from such a moving target in the first place.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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