Drooling on the Pillow

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Stem Cells 

I'm a moderate on most social issues. Which is to say my views are rather conventional and reflect, often, the views of most Americans. Which is also to say that in the context of the Democratic Party I am a full bull goose looney. I don't believe the government has any role in restricting abortion in the first trimester and I don't believe they should be permitted in the third trimester at all. I believe the government needs a reason specific to me to restrict my access to firearms. I'm all for the death penalty, but I'd be interested in a couple of reforms.

As for the wedge issue du jour, stem cells, my opinion is a little less certain, but just as conventional.

First, there is an ethical dimension to the controversy. (I'm talking only about embryonic stem cells, of course.) The "material" used and destroyed in this research is, at the least, proto-human. However, the point at which the "proto" is dropped is not, I believe, a bright line, or perfectly self-evident. And I also believe that the line is affected, if not moved, by the results contemplated by the research. That doesn't diminish the ethical issues in the least, only that if there are miraculous goods to be got, you may make the decision to cross a line you know is there. (You've got a gun in your hand. There's Hitler. But it is murder.) Those results have been absurdly oversold by the proponents and the ethical issues have been dismissed out of hand. So you have to take all this into account. And taking all this into account, I could be sold on this.

My problem is more political. There is a large minority in this country that are dead set against this. They cannot be sold. For the most part, these people are not zealots, they're not anti-science, they're not selfish and cruel. They simply are unable to reconcile embryonic stem cell research with their beliefs. That doesn't mean their opinions should prevail, even though the government would be using their money for the research. But why don't we get a little more engaged in questions regarding the time frame for progress, the real or merely intuitive difference between adult and embryonic stem cell prospects and those basic ethical concerns before we label opponents fanatical, ignorant, knuckle dragging buffoons who want to keep my cousin Katie in her wheelchair.

This issue, like all wedge issues, is being driven and framed from the edges. Those of us in the middle may wind up jumping one way or the other not by the merits of the issue, but because one side or the other pisses us off.
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