The Veto Heard Round The World

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture on June 30, 2006

-View video of entire statement by President Bush
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For the first time in his presidency George W. Bush has exercised his right to veto. H.R. 810 would pave the way for more federal funding dollars for human embryonic stem cell research. And this president has said, “Not on my watch”.

I support the president’s veto and see this as a necessary and critical bright line to draw in the sand. Bush was right to say, “Our children are creations not commodities”, and his veto affirms that belief. His position on embryo research provides a principled and ethical framework for scientific research to advance and flourish. Our government should not fund research that treats nascent human life as a harvestable crop. We should not be in the business of creating human life for the sole purpose of destroying it—no matter what the end results may be.

The president is being criticized for his ideological stance on nascent human life but in fact the Dickey Wicker Amendment, a long-term policy since the Clinton administration, prohibits the use of federal funds for harmful or destructive research on human embryos. The Bush administration has relaxed the Dickey climate and last year, under the President’s policies some $40 million federal dollars funded human embryonic stem cell research. And of course states as well as private monies are free to fund any of this research and Bush’s veto has no bearing on this research. This president recognizes the need for ethical research to advance but for human life—even very early human life, to be treated with respect and dignity.

Bush’s veto maintains an important fire wall between women and couples who use in vitro fertilization technologies to make embryos to make babies and the researcher who has a vested interest in these couples donating their spare or leftover embryos for research. Women and couples dealing with infertility issues are already in a vulnerable position. Reports show that many couples will not donate their extra embryos for myriad reasons, primarily for future family building—these are their children. Also, researchers already are clamoring for fresh embryos and even better—cloned disease specific embryos for disease specific research and designer therapies. Spare, leftover, frozen embryos are not what they are after ultimately. And the president is keenly aware that to exercise his right to veto prevents the floodgates from opening which may pave the way to society treating human life as chattel—and how does that affect society’s perception of human life, human dignity and human rights, if we start to see life as extra, or spare, or something to be used for another’s benefit? What kind of Brave New World soma strength drugs would we need to numb us from the reality of treating human life with such disregard? Parents would go to the IVF clinic thinking “pink for girls” “blue for boys” and “spare and leftover for destruction”. This president is right to use his executive privilege and veto this bill.

288, ‘The Trouble with TranshumanismWesley J. Smith CBC Special Consultant

Transhumanismis an emerging social movement that promotes the technologicalenhancement of human capacities toward the end of creating a utopianera in which “post humans” will enjoy absolute morphological freedomand live for thousands of years.

Most peoplehave never heard of transhumanism, but the movement is quickly gainingrespectability. It has already been featured prominently in mediareports, including as cover stories in Wired and the New Scientist and is a frequent topic of serious discussion at our most prestigious universities.

I recently attended one such university conference— “Human EnhancementTechnologies and Human Rights,” held at the Stanford University LawSchool. During the three day international symposium, transhumanistsproposed:

  • Thesurgical engineering of men to allow them to give birth and thecreation of the artificial womb to free women from the burdens ofgestation;
  • The “uplifting” of animals tohuman levels of intelligence and the eventual transformation of allanimal life on the planet into post biological states in order to put an end to suffering;
  • Permitting people whowant to be amputees (a mental illness known as “body integrity identitydisorder”) to have their healthy limbs removed so they can feelcomplete and whole;
  • The recognition of”post human dignity” that would require an end to discrimination basedon “substrate,” meaning the kind of material from which a “being” ismade, e.g., biological, silicon, etc., and “ontogeny,” that is, how a consciousness comes into existence.
  • Giving top funding priority to “curing” aging so that within a few decades the “physiological differences between older and younger adults” will beerased.
  • Thefore going ideas are so un-tethered from the concerns of most peoplethat it is tempting to dismiss transhumanists as so many Star Trekconvention devotees. But that would be a mistake. While it is true thatthe technology required to redesign ourselves into a truly post humanspecies will probably never exist, the distorted values of transhumanism are dangerous, primarily because the movement explicitly and fervently rejects the intrinsic and equal value of all human life.

    Transhumanismis an emerging social movement that promotes the technologicalenhancement of human capacities toward the end of creating a utopianera in which “post humans” will enjoy absolute morphological freedom and live for thousands of years.

    Most peoplehave never heard of transhumanism, but the movement is quickly gainingrespectability. It has already been featured prominently in mediareports, including as cover stories in Wired and the New Scientist and is a frequent topic of serious discussion at our most prestigious universities.

    I recently attended one such university conference— “Human EnhancementTechnologies and Human Rights,” held at the Stanford University LawSchool. During the three day international symposium, transhumanistsproposed:

  • Thesurgical engineering of men to allow them to give birth and thecreation of the artificial womb to free women from the burdens ofgestation;
  • The “uplifting” of animals tohuman levels of intelligence and the eventual transformation of allanimal life on the planet into post biological states in order to putan end to suffering;
  • Permitting people whowant to be amputees (a mental illness known as “body integrity identitydisorder”) to have their healthy limbs removed so they can feelcomplete and whole;
  • The recognition of”post human dignity” that would require an end to discrimination basedon “substrate,” meaning the kind of material from which a “being” ismade, e.g., biological, silicon, etc., and “ontogeny,” that is, how a consciousness comes into existence.
  • Givingtop funding priority to “curing” aging so that within a few decades the”physiological differences between older and younger adults” will beerased.
  • Theforegoing ideas are so un-tethered from the concerns of most peoplethat it is tempting to dismiss transhumanists as so many Star Trek convention devotees. But that would be a mistake. While it is true thatthe technology required to redesign ourselves into a truly post human species will probably never exist, the distorted values of transhumanism are dangerous, primarily because the movement explicitly and fervently rejects the intrinsic and equal value of all human life.

    This key point was emphasized at the conference by James Hughes, aprofessor at Hartford’s Trinity College and author of the transhumanistmanifesto Citizen Cyborg. Hughes argued that society mustcast off “human racism,” his term for the belief that we all possessequal moral status merely because we are human beings.

    In place of what is sometimes called the sanctity or equality of humanlife ethic, Hughes urges society to embrace “personhood theory.” Underthis view (which is also widely accepted in mainstream bioethics), only”self aware” beings are entitled to the full rights, privileges, and protections of citizenship.

    Personhood asthe criterion for moral value would entitle smart robots, upliftedanimals, and artificially intelligent computers—assuming they everexist—to equal rights. But the cost would be high to existing andfuture human beings, particularly the unborn, infants, and theprofoundly brain injured, who would all be excluded from the moralcommunity under that ethical paradigm. This could lead to practices such as cloned fetal farming and killing the catastrophically braininjured for their organs.

    Unfortunately, such eugenics thinking can be seductive. Indeed, the government isalready flirting with transhumanist fantasies. Thus, “ConvergingTechnologies for Improving Human Performance,” a 2002 report issued bythe National Science Foundation and United States Department ofCommerce, recommended the government spend billions pursuing some ofthe very technologies that transhumanists crave to utilize in theirmorphological quests. And real money is already being spent onthreshold transhumanist agendas: The NIH just issued a $773,000 grantto Case Law School in Cleveland to determine the “ethically-acceptablerules” to permit human research into genetic enhancement technologies.

    Itis easy to laugh at transhumanist fantasies but there is nothing funnyabout a movement whose core value is inherently discriminatory andoppressive. And while we will almost surely never become a post humansociety, we could easily devolve into a post-sanctity-of-life culture.The antidote to such a dystopian future is to stick with the basics andby recommitting ourselves to the fundamental concepts of humanexceptionalism and the intrinsic value of all human life.

    Award winning author Wesley J. Smith is asenior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant tothe Center for Bioethics and Culture. His current book is the revisedand updated Forced Exit: Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and the New Duty to Die.

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