Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Brave New World:

And so it begins:
The scientist who attracted the world's attention by cloning Dolly the Sheep is about to take another major step for medical research: cloning human embryos . . . .
Read the whole thing. As you consider all that this research promises, consider as well the position taken by Amy Laura Hall, an ordained Methodist minister and professor at Duke University who specializes in bioethics.

Hall--who is neither a fundamentalist nor a rightwinger--brilliantly exposes the lie behind the argument that embryonic stem cell research is simply a matter of personal ethics and private choice. She predicts that, within five or ten years, we will see courts forcing parents to provide their children with therapies derived from the research.

Hall also observes how the media have caricatured the debate as a simple contest between "the broadminded, rational pursuit of science versus the myopic, irrational protection of human embryos." But these are not our only choices even from a scientific standpoint. After all, embryos are not the only or even the most promising source of human stem cells.

And if everyone has suddenly become so concerned about saving sick children--the goal which advocates of this research inevitably tout in their propaganda--why do we let millions of children in the developing world die each year when we already possess relatively inexpensive medical therapies that could save the vast majority of them? To cite just one example, the UN has noted:
Despite the availability of a safe, effective and relatively inexpensive vaccine for over 40 years, measles remains a major cause of childhood mortality affecting nearly 30 million children and killing an estimated 610 000 children in 2002.
That's a lot of dead children we could save without destroying a single human embryo. But, as Amy Laura Hall observes, things really aren't that simple--a fact that has not been lost on the "medical-industrial complex":

Those of us who listen to NPR and watch The West Wing expend considerable effort earnestly avoiding twists of fate that would bring us into contact with suffering. We have ways to avoid and distance the plight of “other” people’s children who suffer from lead paint exposure or emission-induced asthma.

But this dying child [featured in an article touting the promise of stem cell research], with his blue eyes and light brown hair, taps into my deepest fear that I am not in control and cannot ultimately protect my daughters from the anguish of finite, fragile, human existence.

For all of our care and attention, our private-schools, gated communities, and combat-style vehicles, the children of the upper classes may still end up with a life-altering or even fatal disease. Disease still creeps through the fortress, and that child on the cover of the magazine could just as easily be my own. His face thus compels not only my mercy, but my reconsideration of the status of incipient life.

No comments: