President Obama wants us to believe that science has won out over politics and opened a wonderful new world in which science will be unfettered by out-of-step ideologies. A good introduction appears on the bioethics.com site:
Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have asked on more than one occasion, “How many legs does a sheep have if you call its tail a leg?” When the respondent replied, “Five,” Honest Abe had a ready correction, something along the line of, “No, calling a tail a leg does not make it so.”
Abraham Lincoln has had many admirers throughout the years, including President Obama. Now it appears that the nation’s interest in our 16th President has been rekindled. Perhaps we can all learn something anew from this hero: straight talk. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that President Obama has declared human cloning to be “‘dangerous, profoundly wrong’” and has no place in society.” Further, the report stated that Mr. Obama “would ensure that the government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction.”
I would like to agree with President Obama in calling cloning “dangerous” and “profoundly wrong,” but I don’t think I can for a very basic reason. When one agrees with another, both need to mean the same thing. That is, the words used need to mean the same thing. When President Obama uses the term “cloning” he uses it in an artificially limited way. He apparently uses the term, “cloning” only to indicate the birth of human clones (or at least, the implantation in a uterus of a cloned embryo). This particular example of obfuscation has been around for a while, but that doesn’t mean it should continue to be used. Reproducing embryos asexually for either research or for implantation is cloning. The technology employed is the same; it is simply the dispositions of the embryos that are different. To call one cloning, and the other “not cloning” is either misunderstanding or misrepresenting the science involved. Either is not good where our nation’s policies are concerned.
Here is a test. A scientist uses somatic cell nuclear transfer to produce (asexually) embryos in the lab: four are used for research, and one is implanted in a woman’s uterus. How many embryos have been cloned? President Lincoln, in my estimation, would say “five”.
Yet there is another issue that concerns me as well:
What is it about embryonic stem cell research that makes it “science”, and therefore seemingly self-evidentially above politics or morals, yet makes cloning “profoundly wrong?”
It is apparent that Mr. Obama is a product of his postmodern times and our misguided teaching in the science classroom. We as a society have been raising up several generations of children who have been indoctrinated into the postmodern way if “thinking” about life. Part of this culture is an inability to discern where science stops and something else – call it religion, philosophy, metaphysics, or whatever – begins. More accurately stated, Mr. Obama, like many in his generation, is unable to see that his view of right and wrong is inconsistent and incoherent. And, it is apparently ‘above his pay grade’ as well, to be able to locate the line between actual science and the worldview assumptions behind it.
In their opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal, Robert George and Eric Cohen put it this way:
“Moderate” Mr. Obama’s policy is not. It will promote a whole new industry of embryo creation and destruction, including the creation of human embryos by cloning for research in which they are destroyed. It forces American taxpayers, including those who see the deliberate taking of human life in the embryonic stage as profoundly unjust, to be complicit in this practice.
Mr. Obama made a big point in his speech of claiming to bring integrity back to science policy, and his desire to remove the previous administration’s ideological agenda from scientific decision-making. This claim of taking science out of politics is false and misguided on two counts.
First, the Obama policy is itself blatantly political. It is red meat to his Bush-hating base, yet pays no more than lip service to recent scientific breakthroughs that make possible the production of cells that are biologically equivalent to embryonic stem cells without the need to create or kill human embryos. Inexplicably — apart from political motivations — Mr. Obama revoked not only the Bush restrictions on embryo destructive research funding, but also the 2007 executive order that encourages the National Institutes of Health to explore non-embryo-destructive sources of stem cells.
Second and more fundamentally, the claim about taking politics out of science is in the deepest sense antidemocratic. The question of whether to destroy human embryos for research purposes is not fundamentally a scientific question; it is a moral and civic question about the proper uses, ambitions and limits of science. It is a question about how we will treat members of the human family at the very dawn of life; about our willingness to seek alternative paths to medical progress that respect human dignity.
For those who believe in the highest ideals of deliberative democracy, and those who believe we mistreat the most vulnerable human lives at our own moral peril, Mr. Obama’s claim of “taking politics out of science” should be lamented, not celebrated.
So Mr. Obama has exercised his power to put my money where his mouth – and his ideology – is! Mr. President, I dissent. I do not agree that this is a non-political issue. And your statement that you are a man of faith notwithstanding, I would submit that this is a profoundly non-scientific issue, and that your attempt to characterize it as something else is disingenuous. The God you worship may look the other way as humans are destroyed for the sake of other humans, but the God I worship most definitely does not.