I’ve not commented on the whole stem cell controversy. Though I follow the literature (and the news), others are much better-versed in the science (and the politics) than I am, so I’ve left it to them to comment on both aspects of the unfolding story. However, I saw this comment over at Framing Science, and thought it was worthy of a post itself:
I’m one of the people who believes strongly in supporting science, ESCR [embryonic stem cell research] in particular, but is opposed to public funding for ESCR. Why? Because that’s what’s required to consistently hold to the traditional liberal principle of freedom of conscience. If we are really to respect the freedom of conscience of those with whom we disagree, we should not be trying to extract support from them in the form of tax revenues to finance research that they believe is immoral. Individual conscience can be trumped, of course, but only on a demonstration that this is necessary to maintain a well-ordered society. I’ll change my position and start to support public funding of ESCR when that demonstration is made. Until then, I’ll try to persuade anti-ESCR people that it is ethically sound science, and support private initiatives to develop the science.
And, uh, because someone has to speak for the people of America who pay their taxes and don’t want to see those tax dollars used for morally objectionable things. And again, no one is stopping them from doing this type of activity. All we are suggesting is that those, like this woman here, should not be forced to pay for it through the federal dollar, with federal dollars.
Is this a valid objection? My thoughts after the jump…
Now, it’s tough to argue against something that sounds as good as respecting everyone’s freedom of conscience. I mean, we shouldn’t force people to pay for something that they find morally reprehensible, right? And even with an exception for the “necessary to maintain a well-ordered society” clause, the problem comes when one realizes that what one person considers mundane and ordinary, another considers an affront to their moral values.
Consider evolutionary theory. To most scientists, it’s the value-neutral core of biology; the basis of our understanding of modern life on this planet. To some, however, it’s the work of Satan, spreading corruption in anyone who believes in it, leading its adherents to see themselves as just apes, rather than the pinnacle of God’s creation. They claim that research into it is nothing more than a lie, a sham, a waste of money at the best and a justification for hedonism at the worst. Does this area count in the “well-ordered society” exception?
Of course, anecdotes like this abound. Many people would like to end all research into sexually-transmitted diseases, claiming such knowledge promotes sexual promiscuity–which goes against their moral fiber. Or any studies involving homosexuality, or transgendered individuals, or abortion, or animal experimentation, or a dozen other hot topics.
I respect the right of others to disgree with me. I know that others view the world differently, and that my views on what is/is not moral may be different from theirs. But we can’t limit federally-funded research because some fraction of the population may find certain experiments immoral, or we’d be eliminating funding for a huge body of science.