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The Unnoticed News

March 17, 2009

pluriWhile the entire world has cast their eyes upon the economic turmoil, a huge (I repeat HUGE), repeal of laws was passed this month. Barack Obama has successfully lifted the ban on human stem cell research that was passed by the Bush administration, and nobody seems to have noticed. For a story which had dominated headlines, directed election strategies, and heated up morality debates across the country this huge ruling has garnered very little press. Of course the news did cause some backlash. As soon as the bill passed many states executed their right to pass laws that impede or outright block the new stem cell laws. But the public outrage one might expect from a fundamental shift in morality never occured. 

In an article in the New York Times, Frank Rich argues that this blasé attitude towards a radical modification to scientific law comes from the current recession. He draws comparison to the defeat of prohibition laws during the great depression. His argument being that during times of great financial duress, fundamentalist mindsets tend to warp in reaction to the times. Whether this could be because of a loss of faith, the cyclical change in bipartisan a government, or the gradual acceptance of change it’s hard to tell. But as Frank Rich points out, “History is cyclical, and it would be foolhardy to assume that the culture wars will never return.” 

While these laws are a blessing in many ways, I think it’s important we tread cautiously into these new waters. Stem cell research will make many new inroads to cure many diseases, possibly create usable organs for patients in need, and further advance our understanding of the human genome. But the laws that were recently passed were more or less a complete reversal of Bush’s standing on the subject. Overnight we’ve gone from using no human stem cells for research, to using any human stem cells, no restrictions. We must remember that stem cell research was progressing before these laws. Bush’s ban simply refused to use human stem cells for research. But with these new laws in place we’ve now opened a gate onto a slippery slope. How far is too far? With scientific break throughs coming along at an exponential pace, I think it’s more and more important that we stop ourselves from time to time and contemplate the ethical implications behind our actions. The question is no longer, “Can we do it?”, but “Should we do it?” 

Make no mistake, I think these changes will bring greatness to the medical community, and the world in general. But what I worry for is the slippage of morality in our world. We’re already taxing the world with over-population, and by keeping thousands alive longer how will we further effect the world? If the human genome is a place for scientific experimentation, how long will it take until we become so apathetic to our own genetic make-up that we decide human cloning is a good idea? And if embryonic tissue is no longer seen as “life”, how will that effect the use contraceptives for sex when an abortion/donation to research is seen as a morally neutral action? I fear that our scientific and technological advancement has far out-paced our moral knowledge, and as we push forth I think it’s important that we slow down to help develop the latter.

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