June 15th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The future of Telstra

Has the PM been misled on stem cell research?

Nationals' survival depends on new agenda

EUTHANASIA: Nancy Crick - what is the real story?

TRADE: Philippines bananas could cost Australian Government millions

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Insider dopesters / Democracy at work / The new lonely crowd

MEDIA: ABC's left-liberal Twilight Zone

Handling the boat people issue (letter)

Small business and superannuation (letter)

Drug summit in Port Macquarie(letter)

Going to war over trade

LAW: ICC report tabled in Parliament

DRUGS: WA to go ahead with cannabis toleration

DOCUMENTATION: Archbishop George Pell rebuts '60 Minutes' allegations

CLONING: truth and the middle ground

OPINION: Can the GST be wound back?

EAST TIMOR: After the celebrations, reality dawns

ASIA: China convulses but won't collapse

BOOKS: 'American Muslims: The New Generation'

Books promotion page

truth and the middle ground

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, June 15, 2002
In a recent editorial discussing cloning, Quadrant sought a middle ground between extremes, especially that of the "religious absolutists". If truth and morals, like Revlon's lipsticks, come in 166 different shades, then the elusive middle may be worth pursuing. But if absolutes do in fact exist, then absolutism is to be encouraged, and not dismissed.

It is because modern society is so squeamish about absolutes in any form that we have so much trouble in thinking clearly about moral and social issues. Quadrant unfortunately reflects this muddled thinking.

The argument about spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), for example, is on shaky ground. Why do we grieve when a woman has a miscarriage? We do not grieve when a woman has a haircut or a nail clipped. There is something very different involved with the loss of an embryo. And the fact that nature allows miscarriages is no reason for us to imitate nature. Nature also allows earthquakes and floods, but that does not justify genocide or massacres.

The editorial is also wrong to suggest that religious folk can force the hands of public policy in areas of bioethics. They can merely share their concerns. As in the debate about censorship, religious folk can only express their preferences. Only governments can actually coerce people into types of behaviour. To share one's opinions on difficult moral issues does not amount to "forcing" others to conform. And to exclude religious folk from the public debate means blocking a full three quarters of Australians from entering into the discussion.

The editorial also seems to reflect the worrying modern trend of kneeling at the altar of science. If the priest was the source of authority 100 years ago, surely it is the scientist who now commands the same respect and unquestioning reverence. But science is not as neutral and objective as many would believe.

The truth is, scientists can be bought for a price, like anyone else. There is big money in bio-tech, and as Daniel Greenberg argues in a new book, Science, Money and Politics, there has been a history of science selling its soul to the highest bidder. Wearing a white lab coat does not guarantee that financial interests have no sway.

There is always the real concern that companies will make profit the first and final consideration in the multibillion-dollar biotech industry. As American commentator Wesley Smith once put it, "Big Biotech has the same profit-driven agenda as other industries that are viewed sceptically by the media such as Big Tobacco and Big Oil".

Science, unbridled by the wisdom which philosophy and religion can bring, becomes a law onto itself. As Francis Fukuyama remarks, "Science alone cannot establish the ends to which it is put. It is only theology, philosophy, or politics that can establish the ends of science and technology."

Without the checks and balances of an informed moral and religious commentary, biotech will run rampant. And the research on embryonic stem cells will just be the first step in the cannibalisation of humans. As Charles Krauthammer warns:

"We will, slowly and by increments, have gone from stem cells to embryo farms to factories with fetuses in various stages of development and humanness, hanging (metaphorically) on meat hooks waiting to be cut open to be used by the already born. ... Once you countenance the very creation of human embryos for no other purpose than for their parts, you have crossed a moral frontier."

Indeed, we have been down this path before. We were told twenty five years ago that legal abortion would only be for the hard cases, to save the life of the mother, etc.

Now we have 100,000 children destroyed each year in the name of a woman's right to choose. And when we focus on the relief of suffering, and make grandiose promises of miracle cures, then the pressure will be great to not just stop with embryo experimentation, but to go the whole route, using infants, the elderly, the infirm, for the "good" of mankind.

It is precisely because those who hold to absolutes know this horrible progression, and have seen it played out in history in other ways, that we want to draw the line here. And lines can only be drawn in black and white, not in 99 shades of gray.

  • Bill Muehlenberg

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