A lot of people are writing about this, and I do not really have
anything new to contribute. But I will say it anyway.
Researchers whom I trust, people of fine moral character,
think the restriction on federal funding for embryonic stem cell
research is bad. Despite opinions from a majority of
scientists, President Bush vetoed
legislation that would have allowed federal support for the research.
A supporter, Sen. Jim Talent
Talent said he
“against the bill that would use tax dollars to fund research that
would destroy human life at the earliest stages.”
My comments are these: first, if one argues that moral relativism is
wrong, then Talent’s statement is illogical. It should not
matter at what stage human life is destroyed.
Second, it bugs me to hear the phrase “tax dollars” used in this
context. The fact is, all dollars are tax
dollars. Where does money come from? Taxes.
If the government did not collect taxes, it would not be able
to print any money.
Third, everyone who pays taxes ends up funding some activity or another
that they find morally objectionable. How many people agree
with everything the government does? These days, much
government activity goes toward the destruction of human life.
If it is wrong to destroy life for research purposes, then it
is wrong to destroy life so Halliburton can make a profit.
Plus, if the activity is wrong, then it should not matter
where the money comes from.
Fourth, Bush, Talent, and those who supported the veto erroneously cast
this as a moral issue. It is not. It is a political
issue. Morality has nothing to do with it.
There argument goes like this: destruction of embryos is murder.
Murder is wrong. Therefore, destruction of embryos
is wrong. On the surface, that appears to be a moral
What that argument does is this: it proclaims that a particular set of
actions (taking cells from embryos for research, which has the
consequence of destroying the embryo) belongs to a class of actions
(murder). No one is going to argue that murder is not wrong,
since wrongness is part of the definition of murder. The only
question is whether the set of actions (destruction of embryos) belongs
in the general class (murder). That assignment is made by
people. As is all ethical questions, the only
question here is, who gets to decide which specific
actions can be assigned membership in the general class.
Questions about who gets to do what are
not moral questions; they are political questions.