On March 9, President Obama announced he was overturning former President Bush’s executive order that partially banned federal money from funding embryonic stem cell research. He cited his desire to make decisions “based on facts, not ideology.” While the pundits on both sides of the issue have criticized or lauded the move using the same tired old lines from the cultural wars of the ’90s, few have considered the implications of divorcing science from ideology.
Today, through science, we have a previously unimaginable capacity to destroy, unprecedented mobility, near omnipresence with information from around the world available at the speed of light, and, finally, the ability to change the very makeup of life itself through biotechnology. We stand on the brink of obtaining the ability to change our species at will, the power to manipulate our children and even ourselves however we desire.
The question that must be asked is: Do we look back to the past for guidance and reject this power in the hopes of preserving that which is essentially human, or do we blindly forge ahead without looking at the ramifications of what we are about to do?
Science, for as many questions as it can answer for us, fails us in answering this one. Science without the moral and ethical guidance of history’s collective human experience ceases to serve humanity and, instead, only serves to further its own existence. This is not to say by any means that science should be abandoned; rather, this suggests that science and ideology must be equals. It has a tremendous potential, but without the guidance of human experience, it pursues avenues of research that are perhaps the very antithesis of what we see as human traits.
Cloning illustrates this point well. There’s nothing scientifically wrong with reproductive cloning. What scientific fact precludes citizens’ ability to choose to recreate a deceased child if they so choose? Furthermore, there is no scientific reason to avoid cloning for organ harvesting.
Consider the possibilities. Many individuals find the idea of cloning for organs repugnant, but the important question, however, is why we find such a technique so repulsive. Scientifically, the idea is sound. It is an expedient method of crafting perfect replacement organs. It might violate scientific codes of ethics, but aren’t those ideologically based as well?
The simple and obvious answer is that ideology stays our hands in these endeavors. Fundamentally, science is neither ethical nor unethical. It makes no judgments beyond whether data was obtained in a manner that ensures repeatability and a sound application of the scientific method. Any further judgments are inherently ideological restrictions and wholly subjective.
The president, contrary to his rhetoric, has kept ideological restrictions in place, as many people would have been horrified by their removal. The claim that ideology can be removed from science is ridiculous at best and deeply disturbing at worst. We must realize that science, as a study, does not share our horror; everything is fair game unless we, as humans, declare otherwise. If we wish to be served by science, ideology must regulate scientific study.
We, as humans, should not only be able to restrict science, but we should also feel obligated to ensure that it does not disrespect the sanctity of human life under the guise of serving us. When so many people feel so strongly about this issue, it is indeed wrong to force them to fund it through mandatory taxes, especially when there are promising alternatives.
Whereas President Bush’s executive order was intended to allow people to choose for themselves whether to fund such controversial research, President Obama’s decision is nothing more than an attempt to force his own ideology upon the entire nation under the guise of doing the very opposite.
John Scrudato is a sophomore in Morse College.