As far as I know, I don’t have anyone in my immediate family whose life or health could be helped by embryonic stem-cell research. Gratefully, my parents are as healthy as can be wished for people of their age, and as far as I know, my siblings do not suffer from any debilitating illness where such research holds the promise of a cure or a treatment. I lost a brother-in-law to cancer five years ago this week, though, and listening to the president as he vetoed — for the second time in his administration — legislation that could expand the research and the reach of science to treat or cure such destructive diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, and to hear him carry on about how he believes it is unethical to take human life when it is in the form of an embryo the size of a period — yet has no problem waging an unprovoked war against a country that never attacked us — fills me with a sadness and a disgust that is far out of proportion for someone whose life isn’t directly affected by the research the president sees fit to discard. It is the possibility and likelihood that at some point a life — either my own or someone I love — will be affected that makes me angry.
It is abundantly clear why the president feels compelled to veto this legislation. It isn’t based on science, regardless of what Tony Snow may say, and in his topsy-turvy world of spin, the president is putting “science before ideology.” (It is sadly ironic that Mr. Snow, who suffers from colon cancer, probably could benefit from embryonic stem-cell research.) It comes from a perverse point of view that there is a branch of science, conveniently merged with political and fundamentalist religious elements, that takes precedence over the majority of scientific thought, backed up by provable research, that says that embryonic stem-cells hold a greater hope than the “science” Mr. Bush aligns himself with; the “science” that also believes that the universe is 6,000 years old and that Adam and Eve shared the Garden of Eden with dinosaurs. The ideology that Mr. Snow is attacking is that science — provable, factual, and possible — takes precedence over a perverted sense of morality that elevates superstition and medieval alchemy above everything else.
What is even more maddening is that the president’s motives are clear. He knows that his political support is based on the hard-core right-wing nutsery that believes that every sperm is sacred and that a Petri dish of embryos is entitled to the same protection under the law as a fully-formed human being. In fact, they believe these test-tube zygotes are entitled to more protection than someone with Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, or a severed spinal cord. What they’re really saying is that an unborn life is worth more than someone whose life is near its end. Hey, you had your chance; now its this little speck’s turn. Sorry about that.
One of the principal dangers of vesting power in a leader who is convinced of his own righteousness — who believes that, by virtue of his ascension to political power, he has been called to a crusade against Evil — is that the moral imperative driving the mission will justify any and all means used to achieve it. Those who have become convinced that they are waging an epic and all-consuming existential war against Evil cannot, by the very premises of their belief system, accept any limitations — moral, pragmatic, or otherwise — on the methods adopted to triumph in this battle.
Efforts to impose limits on waging war against Evil will themselves be seen as impediments to Good, if not as an attempt to aid and abet Evil. In a Manichean worldview, there is no imperative that can compete with the mission of defeating Evil. The primacy of that mandate is unchallengeable. Hence, there are no valid reasons for declaring off-limits any weapons that can be deployed in service of the war against Evil.
Equally operative in the Manichean worldview is the principle that those who are warriors for a universal Good cannot recognize that the particular means they employ in service of their mission may be immoral or even misguided. The very fact that the instruments they embrace are employed in service of their Manichean mission renders any such objections incoherent. How can an act undertaken in order to strengthen the side of Good, and to weaken the forces of Evil, ever be anything other than Good in itself? Thus, any act undertaken by a warrior of Good in service of the war against Evil is inherently moral for that reason alone.
Mr. Bush sees embryonic stem-cell research, if not as an Evil, then as a slippery slope to Evil. Pure science, he believes, does not have an ethical contingent; all they seek are facts. Therefore he is the person chosen to stop it, and whatever the consequences of his actions — whether more people suffer from illnesses, whether they spend the rest of their lives in wheelchairs — is irrelevant to the goal of preventing the spread of Evil. And anyone who benefits from such immoral practices such as extracting stem-cells from embryos that were destined for destruction anyway are, by his definition, collaborators in the Evil and are therefore just as Evil themselves and do not deserve the benefits of a cure or treatment. They have been judged by the president and found wanting.
Forty years ago my grandmother died from what was then called “hardening of the arteries.” She showed all the symptoms of what we nowadays know is Alzheimer’s disease, but we’ll never really know. As her descendant, it occurs to me that the same fate could await me or my siblings — such diseases tend to run in families — and I’d like to know that sometime in the next thirty years or so, there will be hope that science can overcome not just the mysteries of the chemistry that cause such a dreaded fate, but also overcome the ignorance and idolatry that hinders it. If that makes me Evil in the eyes of the president, then I will have to live with that. But at least I will be living.
Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.