On Common Ground (part two)

What has been most surprising to you in these new relationships and collaborations with the Left and the Right? Any side benefits? Or pitfalls?

Beeson: Frankly, I have been very disappointed in how frightened pro-choice feminists are that any challenge to corporate manipulation of human fetuses will undermine abortion rights. To some extent this is understandable given how tenuous abortion rights now are. I fear that Alito’s appointment to the Supreme Court and further threats to abortion rights will destroy any hope of getting many feminists to be critical of big biotech and human cloning. They just don’t want to risk that this will be misunderstood as conferring some bit of sanctity on the embryo. For this reason, Tina and I have had our pro-choice credentials constantly called into question. Many feminists who agree with us about the dangers ahead won’t publicly challenge embryonic stem cell research because they fear that this will make them appear to be associated with pro-lifers, and they fear this could hurt their reputations, their careers, or their organization’s funding streams.

I have enjoyed the personal relationships I’ve had with pro-lifers. I understand some think they are successfully using us to promote their agenda. I like interacting with people who have different perspectives on things. I usually learn something from those encounters.

Stevens: It surprised me how difficult it is for actors on the Left to come forward publicly about their concerns over Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT). Associating too closely with the religious right in a political atmosphere of sharply divided left-right “culture wars” can cause a loss of what could be called “credibility capital”. During the Prop 71 campaign in California, news people asking for interviews were incredulous that we were “really” pro-choice – implying that we were fronting for the religious right. Hopefully, we are pushing past this.

Lahl: What other issues in bioethics are ripe for these continued collaborative efforts? i.e. transhumanism, genetic ethics.

Stevens: Transhumanism, inheritable genetic modification, sex selection, human reproductive cloning, etc., — these are all areas where the Right and Left can collaborate. All the concerns mentioned above apply to these areas as well. The concerns of compromising fairness, justice and equality apply to these areas as well. Safety for women’s health remains a real concern. And the conflicts of interest in biotech we’ve seen, such as motivational distortions caused by bio-patenting issues and the desire to capitalize on human biology.

Beeson: I think eugenics is a big one, as I have already suggested. I don’t see transhumanism as a separate issue. This is the logical extension of the direction we are moving in. Fortunately, the technology has a long way to go. Other things like bird flu may do us in before these techno-utopian dreams get too far along. I wish we could work together to get universal health care. That would create a context in which people could think more rationally about where big biotech wants to take us.

Author Profile

Jennifer Lahl, CBC Founder
Jennifer Lahl, CBC Founder
Jennifer Lahl, MA, BSN, RN, is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.