Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson has a very good column in today’s paper about the recent stem cell breakthrough. After giving President Bush due credit for the part his policy played in the recent development, and recounting some of the past debate, he suggests that the pro-ESCR/human cloning impetus comes from a belief in raw utilitarianism. The whole thing is worth reading, but I’ll just focus on his conclusion:
Standing in opposition to utilitarianism is a different philosophy–that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights. This belief in human dignity has theological roots for some–but it is no less reasonable than the alternatives. And this commitment has informed medical ethics in the past. In 1964, the World Medical Association declared: “In medical research on human subjects, considerations related to the well-being of the human subject should take precedence over the interests of science and society.”
The human subject, in the case of embryonic research, is unrecognizable. But it is genetically distinct from other lives and undeniably human–a human at its earliest stage of development. It is not a superstition of the Dark Ages to believe that it should be valued, instead of discarded like cracked pottery.
In some quarters, advances such as this breakthrough will not be well received. A number of companies have a financial stake in embryonic research, and their stocks fell on the news. Others have an emotional investment in embryonic research because of a conviction that humanity should have unrestricted technological control over its reproductive and genetic future. “My own view,” says Sen. Arlen Specter, “is that science ought to be unfettered.”
But, as C.S. Lewis said, “Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument. . . . Each new power won by man is a power over man as well.”
Now, science has demonstrated an even greater power — the power of morally responsible technology to serve the cause of human dignity instead of undermining it.
Senator Specter’s comment is ignorant of history. Unfettered science, that is science unbounded by ethics and proper moral parameters, can grow monstrous. But science in the service of the intrinsic value of human life–now that can lift the whole human race.