If you weren't sickened by President Barack Obama's March 9 executive order to lift limitations on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, you need to step away from the shrewdly heartbreaking advertising campaign behind it and take a closer look at the facts.
It puts our nation on a path that threatens not just faceless human embryos, but you, too.
We are not outraged (simply) that he did it -- after all, it was a campaign promise (as it was of his presidential race opponent, Republican Sen. John McCain).
Nor are we outraged (simply) because science itself doesn't support the move. Despite billions of dollars of private and state investment in the United States alone, this research has not yielded a single positive result, while "adult" stem-cell research that does not involve the destruction of human life has already proven successful in treating 70 diseases including autoimmune and degenerative joint diseases, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spinal injury and Type 2 diabetes.
Even a member of the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a former director of the National Institutes of Health and president and CEO of the American Red Cross, recently penned a column questioning the move on scientific grounds. Writing in U.S. News and World Report, Dr. Bernadine Healy said, "Embryonic stem cells, once thought to hold the cure for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes, are obsolete."
All that is deeply troubling, but what bothers us most is the claim of the administration that this decision restores "scientific integrity," somehow free from the influence of politics or ideology.
That is not only patently untrue -- it simply substitutes a different politics and ideology -- it seems dangerously unaware that science must be subject to ethical controls dedicated to protecting the dignity of all humans.
This may seem hyperbolic, but hear us out: The president's same rationale infused the work of those nefarious Nazi doctors who performed eugenic experiments in the name of science -- and justly so, if "scientific integrity" requires no reference to the demands of authentic human development. Without any sense that science should serve the good of all members of society, we return return to a Darwinian ethic that allows the powerful to dictate the rules, and subjects the weakest to be evaluated according to their "usefulness." Ultimately, and with very little stretch, that extends not just to faceless embryos, but to the aged, the infirm and the disabled. In each case the powerful are allowed to dictate which human life has value and which does not.
The president fails to understand that "scientific integrity" does not exist in a vacuum; it must always answer to the demands of ethics. Science is not free to pursue what it is able to do; it must be limited by what it should do in an ethical world that seeks to protect every individual as well as benefit the whole of humanity. .
The cold calculus behind embryonic stem-cell research frankly frightens us. If it is OK to "derive" stem cells from the living bodies of human embryos, causing the destruction of those innocent human lives, what does that say but that some lives have more value than others? That we may sacrifice some human lives for the benefit of others?
Don't fool yourself. Someday you'll be sick and weak, aged and infirm. A society that places no value on intrinsic human value is no place you'll want to live -- or eventually be allowed to.