[From 2009]

If you have access to the internet, you easily may access the full text of the U.S. President’s remarks at the signing on March 9th of his executive order lifting ‘the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research’.  The previous administration permitted such research, but limited federal funding for it to the study of existing embryonic stem cell lines so that federal funds would not encourage further killing of embryos.  Now federal funding will be available for human experimentation and the killing of young life.  That is the bottom line, as they say, despite the qualifications that the president proposes: ‘responsibly’, ‘worthy’, ‘strict guidelines’, ‘rigorously’.

The Anglican Catholic Church is officially and clearly a pro-life Church.  In taking this public position, which flows directly from our understanding of the Faith, we do not take a partisan position.  Politicians and officials in the United States, and in other nations where the ACC works, hold a variety of positions on the sanctity of life.  In the United States both of the major parties contain prominent members holding pro-life positions.

Unfortunately the March 9th statement exhibits radically defective principles and moral vision.  The statement includes a formal acknowledgement that many ‘thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about or strongly oppose, this research’ (that is, embryonic stem cell research).  The president says that he understands our concerns and respects our point of view.  He does not, however, address our concerns or answer our objections.  In fact he implicitly dismisses the carefully reasoned and calmly stated concerns of the pro-life community as based on ‘politics or ideology’ rather than ‘scientific integrity’, ‘credentials’, or ‘experience’.

Scientific expertise, scholarly credentials, and professional experience alone cannot generate moral wisdom or sound decisions.  A great and inventive scientist can be a moral monster.  A saint may be a scientific incompetent.  These matters are quite different.  But every scientific decision flows from and implies moral choices.  Science depends on and cannot replace moral reasoning.

Perhaps this is why the president does, although briefly, state the goals to which the power of science should be harnessed:  ‘to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.’  Insofar as we can discern the moral reasoning that guides the statement in question, it seems that the argument is this:  embryonic stem cell research holds the promise, though not the certainty, of contributing positively to the environment, national security, employment, and longer, healthier lives.  These are the profits hoped for from this killing.

Well, it is self-evident that some lives will not be longer and healthier because of such research. The statement begins with an Elephant in the Living Room assumption:  the new lives that are to be ended at taxpayer expense don’t count.  How much those dead, unborn children might have contributed positively to the environment, the nation’s security, or the economy we cannot say:  but then the president admits that he too ‘cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek’ from this research.  So on the one hand we have certain death for some; on the other hand we have merely possible, uncertain benefits of some sorts for others.

Beyond the certain, though ignored, deaths, there is a deeper problem with the calculus of benefit that apparently lies behind embryonic stem cell research.  At work is pure consequentialism, which says that desired, good consequences (better environment; national security; jobs) justify evil means (killing the unborn).  Immanuel Kant proposed a ‘categorical imperative’, which was that we must always treat other people as ends, not as means.  Stem cell research, like the legalized abortion that preceded it, reduces other human being to mere means, to be used – and discounted, discarded, ignored, and even killed – by persons with more power on the way to their goals.  This is evil.  Period.

I simply do not understand the claim that, ‘We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse’.  Killing a genetically distinct, unique human being for research purposes is misuse and abuse in pure form.  We are going rigorously to guard the barn door after the horses have been shot.

On one issue the president abandons consequentialism with a clearly stated moral limit:  ‘And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction.  It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.’  I agree strongly with the president here and congratulate him on his moral clarity, though I am profoundly skeptical about his ‘never’.  But why on earth is merely cloning a human being wrong, while killing a human being isn’t?  Why does he draw a bright, clear line of prohibition around one evil and not the other?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s