United Vampires of America

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If there were any doubt that the political class contains a significant number of blood suckers, the debate over stem cell research should resolve such lingering doubts.

Human life begins at conception. Sperm meets egg, and a new human life — with its own DNA — comes into existence. Left undisturbed, to grow naturally, this human being will eventually go from two cells in size to perhaps 5’2″ and 110 pounds. It may grow up to be a beautiful girl (I only write “it” because, at the size of two cells, the sex of the child is not yet known). Perhaps this girl will grow to be a woman, and cure cancer, raise children of her own, or play the violin. Perhaps she will do nothing of the kind, and simply live her life as a good human being. Perhaps she will be destitute and poor.

Whatever might become of her life, of course, is irrelevant to the question of whether she ought to be killed before she has physically matured to the point where she is able to survive outside the womb on her own.

Predictably, in debating this question — whether people should be killed before they are physically able to survive outside the womb on their own — the politicians and the media are asking the wrong question.

What they’re asking is “how can we benefit from stem cell research?” and “should we use tax dollars to pay for stem cell research?” In other words, “how can we harvest human beings like crops?” And you thought that the Northern victory in the Civil War stood for the proposition that a human being is not property.

As the Washington Post reports, the Congress regards the issue of stem cell research as — what else! — an opportunity to make political gains. Forget doing what’s right, forget that myth about “the common good,” these guys are here to be quoted in the paper and get a leg up on their opponents:

As President Bush struggles over whether to spend federal money on embryonic stem cell research, lawmakers on each side are attempting this week to seize upon what could be a pivotal moment in the impassioned debate.

Sensing an opening during Bush’s period of indecision, several members of Congress have written bills, scheduled hearings, demanded White House meetings and taken to the airwaves to reassert themselves in the battle over cells smaller than the head of a pin.

You see, it’s not immoral, because you can’t really see the beginnings of human life. Stem cell research isn’t wrong if the cells are smaller than the head of a pin, is it? Yes, yes it is. The end does not justify the means.

Once we start down the road with stem cell research, there is no logical reason not to kill many other people on grounds of expedience. Perhaps we could save millions of dollars, and have a more productive economy, if all the persons in nursing homes were simply shot, execution-style, their bodies dumped into the ocean to feed fish, or burned up for fertilizer. Think of all the money this would free up for the economy? No more money “wasted” on medicines, nursing, etc., etc.

And why not kill everyone with a life sentence — and harvest their organs for medical research? Sure beats spending scarce tax dollars to keep alive persons who are such a danger to society that they are only allowed to live in cages.

Clearly, there are persons with no moral opposition to such killing. As the Post reports,

“If he [Bush] limits federal funding, the Senate will take it up,” Specter said. “I believe there are more than 70 votes in the Senate to authorize federal funding for the research and possibly to extract the cells” for experimentation.

Hey, isn’t Arlen Specter a Republican? And he is in favor of using human life for “experimentation.” Obscenely, that does not make Specter unique. According to one ghoul who will not be denied,

“It is very important stem cell research be able to go forward in the future,” said Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), who opposes any compromises on funding. “I would be concerned about any limitation placed on this research.”

Perhaps there will be an upcoming Anne Rice novel on this modern American vampire wanna-be. Concerned about “any” limitation? Is nothing sacred — aside from the federal union and the American flag?

As the Post continues,

Others were not as confident, but noted that Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) has promised to bring the issue to the floor if Bush rejects a request allowing the National Institutes of Health to use part of its $24.6 billion budget on stem cell experiments.

That courageous Daschle! Fight for tax-funded human medical experiments, Tom! Just like those courageous experiments in Tuskegee, and the sterilization of prisoners and “mental deficients” in America’s past, this is no time to back away from a plan that some “religious nuts” might consider “immoral.”

To be fair, as already noted, the politicians are not the only ones with moral blinders on. The Post, for example, writes that

Supporters of the research argue that the cells, which may have the ability to grow into any type of tissue, could lead to treatments for many diseases. Opponents object to the work because to obtain the cells, researchers destroy embryos, mostly surplus embryos from fertility clinics.

“Surplus” embryos? Next we will hear that orphanages are filled with “surplus” children. Hey, throw them out or chop them up for parts — they’re surplus!

In that regard, why not buy “surplus” Chinese babies — and experiment on them? After all, they’re surplus!

We are supposed to applaud this latest venture into territory seemingly inspired by the late — visionary! — Dr Mengele (you know, the Nazi), because stem cells “may have the ability to grow into any type of tissue.” That does not change the case. Merely because immoral research might be really useful does not make it morally justified. It is still immoral.

It might be really useful to own slaves. They get a place to live, they get food, and you get cheap labor. Slavery is still immoral.

If Western civilization is willing to cross the line of killing, why not simply experiment on human beings as if they were mice? Unsurprisingly, the same politicians that treat human beings like cattle — viewing their constituents as little more than a herd which produces tax dollars for political expenditures — are now willing to treat human beings completely like cattle, with life and death a matter of mere utility. To the political class, life is cheap when it may be traded for the promise of “public health”:

Prominent antiabortion Republicans such as Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Gordon Smith (Ore.) and Strom Thurmond (S.C.) support the work, saying the cells hold such promise it would be anti-life not to pursue it. A contingent of moderate Republicans, many of whom support abortion rights, is also lobbying for money to continue the research.

To cut off funding “is so profoundly hostile to the concept of intellectual freedom on which our humanity, as well as our prosperity and democracy rests, it would be a significant mistake to ban the use of embryonic tissue in stem cell research,” said Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.).

Memo to Senators Hatch, Smith and Thurmond: killing is always anti-life, by definition. To kill human embryos cannot be justified by any alleged research benefits, nor can it be regarded as “pro-life.”

Also, a question for Nancy Johnson: is it “profoundly hostile to the concept of intellectual freedom” to oppose genital mutilation in Africa? Is it similarly hostile to oppose any other experimentation that can be imagined?

As the Post continues,

Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), have made intensely personal appeals to Bush.

“With my mother totally debilitated by Alzheimer’s disease, a first cousin who died from diabetes and several close friends suffering from Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries, I plead with you to give hope to my loved ones who are suffering,” he wrote in a July 6 letter.

As Aristotle noted, it is possible for human moral deliberation to be tainted by self-interest. Such appeals as that of Rep. Ramstad — and Nancy Reagan — miss the forest for the trees. It is unfortunate and sad that people suffer from diseases. It is, however, an unavoidable feature of the human condition. It is, furthermore, a feature which ought to encourage us to value human life all the more, rather than harvesting human lives in search of a cure (to say nothing of the salvific value of suffering recognized by Christianity).

Merely because some research might be useful does not make it right. To make such an argument is the crudest version of utilitarianism.

America must face down this plague of drooling vampires. Your tax dollars, from your sweat and labor, used to kill human embryos in medical experiments. God bless America.

Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2001 David Dieteman

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