13 March 2009

Krauthammer on hESC

Charles Krauthammer, not a religious man by his own admission, but at least a thoughtful conservative wrote an article in the Washington Post today explaining why he declined Pres. Obama’s invitation to attend the signing ceremony overturning Pres. Bush’s limitations on federal funding for hESC. The article is not just thoughtful, it drives a truck through the phony rhetorics of Mr. Obama’s lecturing on science and ethics. Not only is it disingenuous to claim that until the Divine Revelation of Obama to the world, American scientific policy was shaped by politics and religious dogma. It is also logically inconsistent to claim that in forbidding human cloning one is not putting ethics—i.e. moral dogma, one might say, religion—over pure science.

But Mr Krauthammer’s column makes another thing clear when he says:

I am not religious. I do not believe that personhood is conferred upon conception. But I also do not believe that a human embryo is the moral equivalent of a hangnail and deserves no more respect than an appendix.

This thing is: without religion you have no moral anchor. While I agree with most of Mr Krauthammer’s practical decisions, he becomes completely inconsistent when he concludes, on the basis of the principles in the quote above, that it is morally justified to use “left-over embryos” from IVF treatments. Exactly equivalent to what a human embryo is, Mr Krauthammer is unable to explain and he adds nothing more enlightening to these comments. I suggest that he is wrong in his basic principle and that personhood is conferred upon conception. This is a conclusion not so much based on religious revelation even; rather, it is the safe logical conclusion drawn from the reliable observation that the vast majority of embryos, once implanted in a woman’s uterus, actually develop into persons. So even if one avoids the dilemma at the crossroads of science and faith—the question when personhood is conferred—it seems safer, and in line with actual reality, to simply declare as a matter of categorization that embryos are persons.

It is not up to the pro-life person to prove this statement true beyond reasonable doubt, but rather it is the responsibility of those demanding certain rights that these claims have a basis in reality and do not conflict with the rights of others. It is the scientists who would have to prove that their experiments are safe, not the public at large to prove the scientists’ experiments dangerous.

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