Friday, February 20, 2009

Ethics and Biology

From the National Catholic Reporter an article by John Allen discussing a symposium about eugenics. Allen precedes his discussion with an assessment of the Vatican's PR missteps and their impact on getting the message out regarding eugenics. The issues he raises are real, sobering, and must be thought through. Something in particular that he points out, and local progressives should take note of;

Edwin Black's massive 2003 book War Against the Weak demonstrates that the pioneers of the eugenic movement in the early 20th century were not Nazis, but rather socially progressive Americans. Prominent backers included Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Alexander Graham Bell, John Maynard Keynes, Margaret Sanger, Leland Stanford, and many others. Research was funded by the Rockefeller and the Carnegie foundations, and had the support of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Medical Association. Involuntary sterilization laws were adopted all across the country, with the first in Indiana in 1907 -- decades ahead of the Third Reich. Mental patients, prisoners and the poor were all subject to vasectomies and tubal ligations so their "bad genes" would be arrested. In the notorious 1920 case Buck v. Bell, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld these procedures; Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote for the majority, "Three generations of imbeciles is enough."

I think the message here is that progressives, like their conservatives cousins, cannot assume possession of the moral high ground just because something sounds like it will do some good for society. A great deal of thought, discussion, debate and discernment are needed before we go about making decisions that impact human dignity, even if the motivation is meant to be helpful.

For example; I believe women have the right to choose whether or not to be pregnant, but that right is limited since at some point in a pregnancy there is inescapably another human being whose rights must be addressed. At what point that occurs, the circumstances that give primacy to the mother, and to what extent we permit parents the right to manipulate the genetic makeup of their offspring are valid points of discussion, with grave moral consequences, regardless of the ultimate decision. However, as Allen points out, these issues may get lost in the cacaphony surrounding the Vatican's limited ability to spot PR "train wrecks" that destroy its credibility.

And one more point for the local pols and would-be replacements; the Vatican is not the only outfit with a credibility problem. One need look no further than Roland Burris to confirm it.

No comments: