Deadly Utility

Earlier this month, the National Institutes of Health approved 13 new lines of embryonic stem cells for use in federally funded experiments.

The approval put an end to an eight-year moratorium and is an example of how the manipulated and shortsighted desires of the powerful elite put the vulnerable most at risk.

Since August of 2001, researchers using federal money have been limited to 21 embryonic stem cell lines, stem cells derived from an original set of embryonic stem cells.

Even though these restrictions didn’t prevent researchers from using other stem cell lines, the failure of American taxpayers to pay for it was considered an intolerable restriction on science.

So in March, President Obama issued an executive order that ended the restrictions and told NIH to develop guidelines for the “ethical use” of embryonic stem cell lines.

Of course, if you are truly concerned about the “ethical use” of embryonic stem cells, your guidelines need only be three words long: “Don’t use them.” But, as if often the case in medical research, “ethical” is a synonym for “rationalization.”

Thus, the director of NIH, Francis Collins—a Christian and friend of mine—said that even if “you believe in the inherent sanctity of the human embryo,” there’s “an argument to be made” that this research is ethical.

I supported Collins nomination to be the head of NIH but, in this case, he is wrong. Embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of what Collins acknowledges possesses “inherent sanctity.” You can’t honor this sanctity and, at the very same time, kill the embryo.

Funding this kind of research is unwise as well as being immoral. Unlike adult stem cells, which have been often used successfully, there is not a single case of a disease cured or a life saved by embryonic stem cell research. function fbs_click() {u=location.href.substring(0,location.href.lastIndexOf(‘/’));t=document.title;window.open(‘http://www.facebook.com/sharer.php?u=’+encodeURIComponent(u)+’&t=’+encodeURIComponent(t),’sharer’,'toolbar=0,status=0,width=626,height=436′);return false;}

Yet this is justified on utilitarian grounds—that is, maximize human happiness. But how is human happiness being maximized by a process that doesn’t work? And even non-Christians see the weaknesses in what is called utilitarianism.

Karl Marx, for example, criticized it for failing to take into account how people’s ideas about happiness were unconsciously shaped by cultural and economic forces—what he called “ideology.”

Daniel Dennett, in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea , questions our ability to even know what increases the amount of happiness. Things that seem to decrease happiness now might, in the long run, actually increase happiness.

So when it comes to federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, the only people whose increased happiness we can be certain of are the medical researchers, who are getting what they want most—science for science’s sake. Collins has promised them that these new stem cell lines are only the “first wave.”

I pray he is wrong. Again.

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  • plowshare

    Colson is too kind to the medical and biological researchers: I would have said “what they want most” is money in return for some basic research that even Bill Gates didn’t want to fund; he merely spent a piddling (for him) $100,000 for advertising to convince Californians to vote for $3 billion for this speculative research out of their own tax money.

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