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Its the Morality Stupid March 12, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics.
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The Bush Administration’s 8-year ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research was finally overturned by Obama on Monday.

Stem-cell research has the potential to cure a variety of diseases including, especially Alzheimer’s Disease. We do not yet know whether stem-cell research will pan out, but if it does, countless lives will be saved and much suffering avoided.

But if this research is successful, we will have wasted 8 years. As Juan Cole argues, in that case, George Bush will have been responsible for the death and/or suffering of millions.

In fact, by 2010 there will be nearly 500,000 new cases a year, and in the foreseeable future there will be a million new cases a year. That is, if Bush delayed the research 8 years, and if a cure really does come from that quarter, Bush will have condemned at least 4 million persons to the debilitating disease.

There is no good argument for the claim that life begins at conception or that embryos are persons. Even if one’s sympathies or intuitions lead one to care for embryos, there is no excuse for ignoring the fate of millions of genuine persons. The people who supported this ban are incapable of moral judgment.

Thus, it is disappointing that Obama’s remarks announcing the removal of the ban, as well as the executive order he signed, made no mention of the moral consequences. He argued that the ban was a rejection of the “promise of science” and that his administration would “make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology,” as if the only issue was whether the research was worth supporting with federal dollars or not. (See Yuval Levin in the Washington Post for a similar point.)

I have no idea why Obama chose to leave out any discussion of the moral issue. But the tendency to push ethical matters under the rug, and talk instead about science or the economy,  is a liberal “tic” that has done great harm to liberalism. It sends the message that liberals don’t care about ethical matters, and it has, over the years, allowed the right wing to claim the mantle of “values voters”.

This decision to overturn the ban was ideological and profoundly moral and we ought not run away from that fact. Ignoring the ethical dimension doesn’t fool the people who supported the ban, and it leaves the impression that our ethical position is weak when it is, in fact, anything but weak.

If the opposition doesn’t have a leg to stand on, why give them a stool?

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