The inspiration for this post comes from the multiplicity of blogtalk about Pres. Obama's EO. Certainly most conservatives are saying "oh, that's bad," but very few have articulated just what's so bad about it. Of all the chatter, Secondhand Smoke's Wesley J. Smith probably gives the best breakdown of just what Obama's EO really means in a column he wrote for the Weekly Standard. In a nutshell, ESCR is in, but alternatives that do not destroy an embryo in the process are out.
But wait, there's more. Now, the omnibus bill, also signed this week, contains the Dickey-Wicker Amendment that restricts any federal funding of the creation or destruction of embryos for research purposes (in place in every budget bill since 1996). There was some confusion on what this means on MoAC, but here is what I gather from it and the source article from CNSNews.com. From the CNS article, Michael Werner, a lobbyist in favor of federally funded ESCR, says
“Dickey-Wicker does not stand in the way of the NIH funding the use of embryonic stem cell research, but it does stand in the way of using federal funds to derive the cells from the embryos,” Werner told CNSNews.com. “If it were done away with, it would free up researchers more instead of having one set of dollars to derive the cells and one set of dollars for research.”
Which means, even though the EO frees up money for ESCR, Dickey-Wicker prohibits the stem-cells from being obtained from fetuses directly. Directly, because somewhere in the technicalities, I'm still feeling the breeze through a potential loophole in Dickey-Wicker. In the second point of the amendment, it prohibits
(2) research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death...[emphasis mine]
Theoretically, there is slight plausible deniability in using stem-cells unknowingly derived from embryos, especially cells which may either be purchased or donated from privately-run research labs. From the article, one White House official even stated, “These [stem-cells] come from, generally come from, embryos that are left over at fertilization labs and IVF clinics, and that can be created privately.” Aha. However minute the loophole is, the question is whether or not the Obama Administration can fit this hot car through it. The letter of Dickey-Wicker doesn't appear all that flexible, which is probably why Democrats in Congress are now trying to get rid of it. That's right, the chop-shop is open for ESCR and laws and to make nuance a way of life for the next four years (at least).In defense of his EO, Pres. Obama acknowledged the ethical objections of the conscientious, but said that the potential health benefits of ESCR outweigh such objections (chop-shop!). So, in this case, Obama's might makes ESCR right. As much as I find this attitude unjust all by itself, I find the underlying source the greater tragedy that threatens much more than what happens in a lab. The underpinning idea in play is that life itself is not valuable--chop-shop proponents don't value life--they value only what life has to offer in terms of experiences and sensations of the individual (arguably limited to the young and healthy). This is an attitude of temporality, not visionary of the future and not concerned with the benefit to humanity or civilization on the whole. If it does have a vision, it is to make certain that humans in the future share the same temporal attitudes that dominate the ethics scene nowadays.
Add to that the next logical question: just where are scientists going to get all these stem-cells, if not legally from embryos? Ah, they can enact legislation similar to Missouri's own Amendment 2, which redefined cloning to pass the public sniff test, or what I like to call the Gov. Matt "Curry-Favor" Blunt dance. The result? The public funding of cloning by not calling it cloning--presto!
American voters, specifically conscientious voters against ESCR and cloning, need to know the bioethics of these issues, even if they are difficult due to the technical language. The priniciples on what life is and how humans should treat each other are what is at stake, and you should care, because it will be either on your public officials' ballots and/or on yours.
I'll end this post with a reflection: I once read a short story about a society where organs (and lives) were routinely harvested from teens and young adults to implant into the elderly so that aging citizens could maintain active, independent lifestyles. Though the outward circumstances differ, we are experiencing just this Huxley-esque scenario described in the story. Be disturbed. Be very disturbed.