'Spare' Embryos & 'Symbolic' Life
"SPARE" EMBRYOS AND "SYMBOLIC" LIFE Editorial by Dave Andrusko, NRL News Editor National Right to Life News, Feb. 28, 1994 legend: *italics* #boldface# "Even many of those employed as so-called 'bioethicists' appear incapable of saying no to any new advance in the manipulation and sale of life. They seem intent on guiding the unthinkable on its passage to becoming debatable, then justifiable, and finally routine." *Andrew Kimbrell,* #The Human Body Shop# "Well, I don't mean to be cynical here. The fact is that you are never going to persuade an entire public to support a point of view, but you can get a good deal of tolerance if you have what looks like a defensible, open process." *Dr. Steven Muller, chairman of the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel* "Please don't kill the child . . Please give me the child"
*Mother Teresa, delivering a passionately pro-life message to the February 3 National Prayer Breakfast*
Jeremy Rifkin once observed that while Aldous Huxley's 1932 classic both excited and frightened its readers, "still for many in the intellectual community and the public at large, Brave New World was greeted more as a metaphor, a compelling parody of the modern condition, than as a very real possibility." But today, as Rifkin wrote in his foreword to *The Human Body Shop,* "Huxley's vision is fast becoming commonplace." Alas, the institutionalization of this degradation is now in the works.
During the last election cycle many of us feared that if Bill Clinton were able to snooker the American people into electing him President, the last dike holding back a tidal wave of sickening fetal experimentation proposals would crumble. But even those of us most apprehensive about what Clinton would do or allow were unprepared for the breathtaking contempt for the dignity and integrity of human life on display at the February meeting of the new 19-member National Institutes of Health Human Embryo Research Panel. Chaired by Dr. Steven Muller, the panel exemplified in every detail the worst of the contemporary, anything goes "bioethics" mindset. Should the NIH panel's grotesque sentiments prevail, any distinction between the unborn and "tissue" will be annihilated. Some background is in order to appreciate that the long fight over harvesting fetal tissue was the opening act in a human tragedy whose goal it is to make the utterly wrong absolutely right.
Virtually the day he was inaugurated, Clinton disposed of the ban on federal funding of abortion-dependent fetal tissue transplants. Less than 12 months later, in early January 1994, the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINDS) dished out $4.5 million to Dr. Curt Freed (who is not exactly known as an exemplar of competence among his colleagues, by the way) to study fetal tissue implants as a possible "remedy" for Parkinson's disease. The grant's antecedent was a fierce struggle that went back to the 1980s over the historic question: Would the federal government subsidize the harvesting of body parts taken from electively aborted babies? By 1988, those at NIH who ached to go forward felt the time was ripe to bring together a stacked (17-4) panel of notables who, they knew, would give their sanction to federally underwriting the stripmining of unborn babies. With approval by the Panel on Human Fetal Tissue Transplantation a foregone conclusion, as a sop to those worried sick by scenarios of women being pressured into having "altruistic" abortions, abortions delayed to harvest the "right" tissue from hapless babies, collusion between abortion clinics and medical researchers, etc., the majority added a number of cosmetic "safeguards." Thanks to Clinton's election, all this paid off for proponents beginning with the grant to Freed. Yet even before the grant was formally announced the anti-life set was already reneging on its altogether insincere "promises."
In December 1993, an article appeared in the prestigious journal Science, written by Cynthia Cohen and Albert Jonsen (no doubt with full knowledge of the upcoming NINDS announcement), key players in the National Advisory Board on Ethics in Reproduction. They addressed a number of issues relating to human fetal tissue transplants. Lo and behold, we learn, perhaps it's time for even those minimal safeguards to go. Referring to a proposed successor to the 1988 panel, Cohen and Jonsen advised, "The new panel should consider whether changes in the timing and method of abortion that are not significant and that would retain the integrity of the tissue without placing the woman at greater risk, would constitute an unacceptable breach of the wall of separation" between those involved in the "donation" and those who use the tissue.
However, if you think the fetal tissue scavengers have cornered the market on disrespect for unborn human life, think again. Richard Doerflinger's thoughtful, thorough account on page 14 of the first meeting of the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel February 2-3 reminds you of Yogi Berra's immortal observation - - it was like *deja vu* all over again - - only worse! Interestingly (but predictable, given a militantly pro-abortion president in office), unlike the case when the . . 1988 panel was assembled, NIH didn't even make a pretense at including dissenters. There was #no one# on the panel likely to have a smidgen of doubt about making guinea pigs of (among others) so-called "spare embryos."
The tone was established right out of the box when panel members chafed at the "restrictions" on their charge. Ostensibly, the "only" babies they could voice approval to shred, splice, spindle, and scavenge were those residing outside the mother's womb, i.e., in a petri dish - and (supposedly) only the first 14 days of the embryo's existence. But from the word go they showed they already had gobs of ideas how to circumvent the limitations. For instance, they pine for the day when they will be able to "grow" a baby in an artificial womb. Since the baby has never been "implanted" they reason they can do what they want with the child.
There was seemingly nothing protective of the poor unborn baby the panel couldn't invert. For instance, the first staff presenter referenced a famous essay written 28 years ago which documented that unethical human experimentation was rife in the medical community. That notable 1966 essay by Henry Beecher was (like so much else those two days) trotted out as a cover to hide/justify wretched proposals. Thus, the real lesson of Beecher's warning was not, for instance, the need for fully informed, voluntary consent, but for "far more dependable and reliable safeguards than consent" - - the "presence of a truly responsible investigator." Famous historic declarations motivated by worldwide revulsion - -the Nuremberg Code and the Helsinki Declaration - - were subtly dismissed as mere "guidance or rules." Much better to look to "fundamental ethical principles."
However, when this reassuring rhetoric is deciphered, there are a number of readily apparent dangers. First, the "principles" are so vague it is easy to use them as license to degrade the humanity of the "subject." Second, ethical scrutiny is reduced to the researcher taking his own pulse, or to "peer review" - - having others equally as eager to manipulate the chromosomal language of life "critique" the work!
But the prepacking didn't stop with a uniformly pro-experimentation panel, disdain for mere "rules," and eagerness to circumvent the parameters of what they were supposed to discuss. For the most part the panel called witnesses whose primary (in one case exclusive) responsibility it was to goad them into doing what they were already primed to undertake. The guts of the testimony by attorney Lori Andrews and "bioethicist" Bonnie Steinbock can be quickly summarized. Other nations to some extent are reining in their very permissive fetal experimentation policies, but don't let this much needed re-evaluation get in the way. In fact, let's go the other way. Let's take a "fresh" look at protections for the unborn established principally in the 1970s following a series of hideous experimentations involving children born alive during late-term abortions. (As Richard Doerflinger wrote in #NRL News# a few years ago, "Among the most notorious were experiments in Finland studying metabolism in the living decapitated heads of victims of hysterotomy abortions.") Worry less (actually, don't worry at all) about the harm you might do, worry about the "good" you don't do if you get hung up on honoring the humanity of "products of conception." In fact, now that we're on the topic the only value embryos have is "symbolic."
And there is nothing - - NOTHING - - that is out of bounds. Between Steinbock's prepared remarks and follow-up questions we learn it's okay to create transgenic (cross-species) kids, okay to specifically create embryos for ghoulish experiments, okay to clone, okay to reap fetal ovaries from aborted babies, okay to discard "surplus" embryos, and okay as part of the cloning exercise to use the "other" as a "source" of tissue to implant in the adult at some future time to correct some "failing system," to name just some of the atrocities.
The prevailing attitude, the collective group-think, was neatly summed up in Steinbock's memorable response to the question of creating cross-species, with humans being one of the species: "Some people are offended by the notion and think that there's a natural way of things, and I don't accept that world view."
Those not able to stomach the ugliness that the panel found lovely were largely dismissed as merely afraid of the "new." The one time reality intruded itself was when a man observed uneasily, "I have the feeling that we are much more comfortable with many of these issues than is the broad cross-section of the country."
For my money, no one on the panel had a clue how radically what they are proposing would transform our cultural landscape. I think of one panelist, utterly transfixed by what they could already do, let alone what was over the horizon. He positively swooned over the prospect of growing a human embryo in a petri dish, who forms an embryonic disk, a primitive neural system - - "(y)ou could even, I suspect, probably get a beating heart without having a massive blood supply going."
Possessing a tin ear morally, far from troubling the anti-life set, is a badge of honor they wear proudly. What one writer called the "abyss of possibilities" - - a cavalier attitude of "Why not?" to every proposal no
*#The prevailing attitude, the collective groupthink, was neatly summed up in Steinbock's memorable response to the question of creating cross-species, with humans being one of the species: "Some people are offended by the notion and think that there's a natural way of things, and I don't accept that world view."#*
matter how nauseating, no matter how it undermines the solidarity of the human community - - stirs the juices of those whose values bear a striking resemblance to the eugenics movement. Their ace up the sleeve when reducing members of the human family to experimental fodder is to reassign the intended victim to some "intermediary" form of life. Once we have some category worthy of "respect" but not protection, the door is wide open to complete disrespect and unlimited exploitation.
Personally, I do not believe it was mere coincidence that the NIH panel met on the same day Mother Teresa delivered an uncompromising pro-life message, or that in attendance, no doubt wishing he were any place else on the face of the earth, was Bill Clinton. As Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the *Arkansas Democrat-Gazette* observed, "The elderly nun skipped the traditional, feel good opening and got right down to business. The business of abortion, to be painfully exact."
In her inimitable manner, Mother Teresa returned for what may have been the thousandth time to a theme she refuses to abandon: "The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?" The National Prayer Breakfast audience gave her a stupendous ovation; it seemed to go on and on. Cal Thomas was right: the Gores stared blankly ahead, the Clintons reached for their water glasses. (See page eight.)
There is no reason, of course, for the President to have had any idea what was going on just a few miles away at the Human Embryo Research Panel. "All" he did was unleash the furies; we can't expect him to micromanage the greatest assault on preborn life since Roe v. Wade, can we? But what we can hold him responsible for is the message his Administration is sending. Not only are the barriers down, but the huns are already inside the gates; and no matter how rancid the proposal, the instinctive response will always be, "Why not?"
Rifkin has warned that, for many, trepidation at the technologicalization of the entire human reproductive process has been replaced with mere curiosity. "The question, How could we? has been replaced with the questions, How soon? and, At what cost?" But not, we need to remind ourselves, by the Mother Teresas of this world. She refuses to allow questions of profound moral importance to be dismissed as though it were nothing but the twitch of a now-dead ethical legacy.
The struggle ahead will be even more challenging than the confrontation over reaping the brains of an aborted baby. The trajectory of the Human Embryo Research Panel was apparent just by its composition. (More on that next issue.) It will go about its business - - doing its level best to eradicate the troublesome residue of respect for the sanctity of unborn human life - - regardless of how loudly we protest. However, if enough of you write the panel, vehemently objecting to the sickening, morally bereft practices outlined in this editorial and Richard Doerflinger's story, we will establish the foundation to fight this war another day and in a forum more attuned to the voice of the people. The address is: Steven Muller, Ph.D., Chair, NIH Human Embryo Research Panel, c/o National Institutes of Health, 900 Rockville Pike, Building #1, Room 218, Bethesda, MD 20892.
Please do it today!
First appeared in the National Right to Life News. Copied with permission. National Right to Life News is the official publication of the National Right to Life Committee, Inc. Subscription information, including bulk rates for schools and libraries may be obtained from NRL News, Suite 500, 419 - 7th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004. Phone: (202) 626-8800.