10 March 2009

ethics of stem cells

Today we wake up with a new political and scientific reality before us: the use of public funds to support embryonic stem cell research. This is disappointing news to say the least, but an expected move by this administration. Further, I remain unsurprised by the reality that unethical people will act unethically - this is simple in-step harmonization to that tune.

What are the facts of this situation and what are the real factors in the decision-making? First, the facts remain that embryonic stem cells have produced absolutely nothing in regards to medical or scientific advancement. There is no promise of a legitimate breakthrough, only the possible promise of a future breakthrough at some point in time. Meanwhile it is the cord blood which accompanies every birth which is far richer in these cells, and it is from adult cells which any shred of medical advancement is being found. The fact that the science on this matter is so clear, yet so ignored and unreported should lead us to consider alternative reasons for the push toward embryonic stem cell research.

The real issue, then, is ethics.

As a whole, we as a people want nothing more than the freedom to do whatever we want to do with as little responsibility for our actions as possible. This - in my estimation - is why socially liberal positions appeal to so many people, for they often promise the greatest benefit with the least risk and responsibility (though they very seldom are able to deliver on even the most minor guarantee).

The appeal is to 'science' as an ideal. But science cannot be the reason in and of itself. Without ethics and morality, science is nothing more than a random firing into the wind of personal desire and intuition. When we remove the parameters of principle from the academic exercise then we are stripping the endeavor of its truth and beauty. That is to say, without a moral law to guide us we are aimlessly wandering through - is this not the same concept of Torah? Are we not built with specific boundaries and parameters in mind? I think of the Mosaic covenant as summed in Deuteronomy 30: that there is life and death, blessing and curse - and that we have the pleading of Moses echoing over us, "Now choose life, that you and your children may live!" This is not simple bumper-sticker cultural theology (though it may have been reduced to such in many circles); this is the appeal to seek out a greater moral, intellectual and spiritual truth as the foundation of being truly human.

The irony is that in order for science to seek 'treatment' for the plagues of humanity via this particular course, it must dehumanize the human embryo to a mass of tissue. And in order to accomplish this it must strip us of our humanity (de-humanizing ourselves in order to de-humanize others), all with the rubric of making us more fully human. This is certainly the blind leading the blind, the broken trying to fix the broken with no objective standard of non-broken.

So it is no shock that this course of events should look so bleak and fruitless. Aside from having no medical support for the premise of physical salvation, it robs us of the inherent characteristics of our humanity and steals away our only hope for salvation - a hope that is from outside of ourselves. Yes, it is way bigger than throwing around money; it is the condition of the human heart in a culture bent on its own self-gratification and aggrandizement.

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