In Vitro Fertilization and Ethics

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The Nobel Prize in Medicine has been awarded to British physiologist Robert Geoffrey Edwards, who helped develop the method of in vitro fertilization (IVF) through which the first “test tube baby,” Louise Brown, was born in July 25, 1978. Aside from issues that arose from later applications of IVF, such as embryonic stem cell research, I believe that IVF, as it is usually practiced, is morally wrong. Normally during IVF, several fertilized eggs are produced. Some are set aside and frozen, and if they are not used due a failure of the first attempt at implantation, they usually are destroyed. If human personhood begins, as I believe it does, at the point of conception, of the new genetic code that forms when sperm and egg join to form a new person, then the current practice of IVF results in the murder of human persons. Now a woman may request that that no more than one fertilized egg should be produced. This costs a great deal more money, but it would avoid the major ethical problem with IVF. But this is not the method used in the vast majority of cases.

America, and to a large extent Western Europe, are obsessed with “rights.” So a woman who is infertile is said to have a “right” to bear a child no matter what the moral costs might be. If that means that frozen embryos are destroyed, so be it–the woman has fulfilled her wish to bear a child. Now people who defend IVF obviously do not believe that the embryo is a human person. The difficulty is, at what point does one deny human personhood, once the unique genetic code in the fertilized egg is formed, that is not arbitrary? Viability varies with technology. There is a continuity of human development from conception to death that makes it clear that the same organism is living from conception to death. Conceptions of personhood based on mental capacity would deny personhood to senile old people or to the severely mentally retarded. The safest course is to hold that human personhood is present as long as a human organism with a unique identity is present, and this is the case with a fertilized egg, whose unique individuality is guaranteed by its unique genetic code that is neither the genetic code of the sperm nor of the egg. Thus a woman does not have a right to bear a child at the cost of murdering other human persons.

Scientists often mean well, but there is a certain arrogance in their approach to nature. The ethicist Leon Kass has noted that contemporary technology has invaded natural human bonds such as marriage, childbirth, and the family, holding that such processes can be manipulated at will. While there may be some situations in which this is justified, it should not be at the cost of human lives.

Advice to the Tea Party Movement–Don’t Let the Warmongers Win

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There are a growing number of individuals in the Tea Party movement who are moving toward the traditional conservative position of American staying out of foreign entanglements unless such are clearly in the national interest of the United States. But there are two groups who aim to stop this trend.

The first group is a subset of the Tea Party movement–Evangelical Christians who, influenced by Biblical apocalyptic imagery, support every American intervention in the Near East as bringing about a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. As I have argued elsewhere in this blog, their position is based on a flawed interpretation of the Book of Revelation and other apocalyptic Biblical literature. Sarah Palin may have been influenced by this line of thought, as evidenced by her tendency to blindly support Israel. Let’s hope that her common sense kicks in and that she does not move the Tea Party movement into a warmongering direction.

The other group threatens the Tea Party from the outside–the Neoconservatives. These individuals are the ideological descendants of a group of former Trotskyte Marxists who later defected from Marxism to the Democratic Party. These virulent anticommunists teamed up with Hubert Humphrey and Henry “Scoop” Jackson during the 1960s. But in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, culmulating with the Democratic nomination going to George McGovern in 1972, these anticommunist liberals turned against the Democratic Party. They joined the Republican Party in droves and, over time, gained influence in the National Review and other conservative publications. They retained their basic liberal orientation on domestic economic issues, supporting the post-Roosevelt, post-Lyndon Johnson welfare state, although some of them tend to be more conservative on social issues such as abortion. Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard is a neoconservative, as are Charles Krauthammer, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Bennett, and to some extent Newt Gingrich. These individuals have supported the free spending of the welfare state, and have also supported the notion of the United States as an empire. They have accepted the Wilsonian view that the United States should spread democracy to the world. Iraq is an example of the disaster that can occur when neoconservative doctrine becomes U.S. policy.

The neoconservatives almost destroyed President Reagan during the Iran-Contra scandal, and they succeeded in destroying the administration of George W. Bush. Their destructive doctrine of the “noble lie,” borrowed from Leo Strauss who in turn borrowed it from Plato, states that the ruling elite can lie to the general public so the public will support their “wise” policies. Does this make the lies about “weapons of mass destruction” more understandable?

The neoconservatives have recently attacked the tendency in the Tea Party movement that backs off from the “American Empire” model of U. S. foreign policy. The neocons sharply disagree with the notion that U. S. involvement in foreign wars endanger freedom (witness the “Patriot Act,” a term of doublespeak if there ever was one). Tea Party members are waking up to realize that the biggest threat to their freedom is not the terrorists, but the welfare-warfare state. The Tea Party should, with all its might, resist the attacks of the neoconservatives, who are accusing the Tea Party of “abandoning conservatism.” But the Neoconservatives are the ones who have abandoned conservatism. If the Tea Party truly becomes a party that frowns on unnecessary U. S. military interventions, it will provide a refreshing alternative to neoconservatives in the Republican Party and to Evangelicals who are misled by a faulty theory of Biblical interpretation. But if the Tea Party gives into pressure and supports a warmongering stance, it will not ultimately succeed in transforming the political landscape of the United States, and that would be tragic. The Tea Party may be the last opportunity to forge a genuine conservative, noninterventionist movement in the United States, and I pray it goes that direction.