(tothesource.org) Back in the distant pre-9/11 days of August 2001 I wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune. I wanted to draw people’s attention to one of the great moments of political theater of our generation. The drama took place before the usually staid and often tedious audience of a congressional committee. The actors were Richard M. Doerflinger, one of the sharpest brains in DC and spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and Judy Norsigian, noted or (depending on your point of view) notorious feminist and long-time editor of the best-selling women’s healthcare manual Our Bodies, Ourselves. As I said in the op-ed, which I wrote together with liberal feminist law professor Lori Andrews, to describe Ms. Norsigian as pro-choice would be like calling the Pope a Roman Catholic.
The subject of the hearing was human cloning, and the drama lay here: on point after point, Mr. Doerflinger and Ms. Norsigian kept agreeing. They did not want a cosmetic ban on so-called “reproductive” cloning. They did not want protection for so-called “therapeutic” mass cloning to produce embryo stem cells for experiments. They did not want women’s eggs to be harvested for research and to manufacture medications. They agreed so much that, at one point, Congresswoman DeGette (D-CO) asked Ms. Norsigian how she could possibly be agreeing with pro-lifers against science and reproductive choices.
Judy Norsigian’s response should have been framed in the headline of the next day’s Washington Post. With an expansive gesture, she shot back “but the embryo isn’t nothing, and the pro-choice position does not require it to be.”
So what’s going on?
The press likes to make it easy. Public policy for dummies. The good guys in one corner, the bad guys in the other. And, wherever they can, abortion as the dominant factor in every discussion. President Bush, they tell us, is against cloning because the pro-life movement is against it. Everyone else, they tell us, is in favor. Any evidence to the contrary is suppressed. The Doerflinger-Norsigian hearing was big news. But it spoiled the stereotype. So it was not reported.
So what’s happening on what we tend to call “the progressive left”? There is a fascinating and disturbing gap opening up between people like Senator Kerry, who has emerged as the leading American champion of mass-production experimental cloning and who represent a political and cultural mainstream, and people like Judy Norsigian. He is pro-choice, even if in the anguished, disingenuous way that has been followed by some Catholic politicians. But he is also pro-trust-the scientists, and pro-please-the-biotech-companies. Judy Norsigian is none of these things. We may disagree with her pro-choice abortion views profoundly, but like many on the (other) radical end of the culture she is a person of principle. She thinks ideas are important. She is skeptical of scientists and the biotech business leaders. She is worried about the rise of a new eugenics. And she believes that human nature is something worth fighting for. The dominance of the abortion question in much of our public culture could lead us to lump her together with pro-cloning progressives. Such blind trust in all things science would be misguided.
Listen to these ringing paragraphs:
These technologies are being developed at a frenzied pace. The general public has had little real opportunity to understand and consider their full implications. There are few significant controls over their use.
These conditions leave us vulnerable to being pushed into a new era of eugenic engineering, one in which people quite literally become manufactured artifacts. The implications for individual integrity and autonomy, for family and community life, for social and economic justice and indeed for world peace are chilling. Once humans begin cloning and genetically engineering their children for desired traits we will have crossed a threshold of no return.
I could have written them. C.S. Lewis could have written them. Any thinking conservative Christian could endorse their message and grasp its profound significance. Yet they form the key section of a letter signed by Judy Norsigian and 100 leaders of the pro-choice, “progressive,” community. Some of them wanted a complete cloning ban. They compromised with a demand in the letter for an effective ban on so-called “therapeutic” cloning for five years.
Some in the “progressive” community have been opposed to any research on the embryo. This has long been the position of the Council for Responsible Genetics, a key network of scientists (though they have recently been reconsidering their view). That is not of course because they hold the embryo to be made in the divine image, or to have personhood. They generally see the embryo as deserving of some degree of special respect. They are alarmed by the fact that embryo research will be the bridge to changes in human nature itself, through so-called “germline” changes. And they wish to protect women from having their eggs “harvested” for research and to help the biotech companies in their drug manufacture. Some have no problem with using “spare” in vitro embryos, but oppose making embryos just for research.
We need to see that this glass is at least half full. The conscience of the left has preserved much of the concern for the dignity of the individual (and our stewardship of creation) that less conscientious elements on the right have let slip. It is helping to provoke us into a deep discussion of the meaning of technology, and a haunting review of the sad story of eugenics. For this we thank our feminist and environmentalist friends.
In Francis Schaeffer’s terms, this may not be “exhaustive truth,” but it is certainly “true truth.” We embrace our co-belligerents for the truth that we share with them.
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