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January 2, 2007

As we enter the new year, a look back at 2006 may give us perspective. Unfortunately, this has not been a particularly good year for the notion that human beings have inherent value. In fact, human personhood as a concept took a downward turn, replaced by a disturbing ‘end justifies the means’ mentality. A few examples may serve to illustrate.

The beginning of 2006 saw the public discrediting of Hwang Woo-suk, the stem-cell researcher and media darling. In 2005 he became famous as the first to clone a human embryo to produce stem cells, with their supposed promise of curing a variety of human ailments. When it turned out that Hwang had largely fabricated his results, he was fired, and he now faces a variety of criminal charges.

Yet according to Fortune Magazine, “far from discrediting the field of stem-cell research, the scandal has juiced up the race for cloning patents . . .” In California, and most recently in Missouri, stem cell research has received legal protections and large infusions of public money. Much of the excitement about embryo-destructive research is based on hype and misinformation.

In other news from 2006, the recent approval of over-the-counter sales of Plan B, the so-called “morning-after pill,” ignores the real possibility that this so-called pregnancy preventative may sometimes cause an early abortion. See my earlier post on this. I have also discussed both of the above stories in recent editions of the CedarEthics Podcast.

Finally, November 8th saw oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in two cases involving the federal ban on partial-birth abortion. Three lower courts have decided that the law does not pass constitutional muster. Partial-birth abortion, morally indistinguishable from outright infanticide, will be the most important issue of the new year, with a court decision due next summer (news article).

In the past year, a vague notion of human dignity was often trumped by utilitarian considerations, making it easy to sacrifice less visible human lives for the “greater good.” May God help us in 2007 to reverse this trend.

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