Blogs > Cliopatria > Comparing Stem-Cell Research to Nazi Experments

Nov 16, 2006 2:05 am

Comparing Stem-Cell Research to Nazi Experments

David Gelernter, in the WSJ (8-10-05):

Last week, James Dobson of Focus on the Family proved that he lacks sufficient control to be pitching in the major leagues of public discussion and ought to be sent back to the minors. He compared embryonic stem cell research to Nazi death-camp experiments. I too (and millions of others) oppose broadened federal funding for stem-cell research, but Dr. Dobson has damaged rather than helped this cause. He has made conservatives look bad by suggesting that some are just as incapable of moral distinctions as the Howard Dean left--and just as unable to treat their opponents like human beings and not wicked moral dwarfs.

Meanwhile, those who popped up on cue to demand an immediate Dobson apology--such Jewish groups as the Anti-Defamation League, political groups like and many individuals--look silly and childish. Rarely has one wild pitch knocked so many people on the head. Thank you, Dr. Dobson; you can sit down now.

Dr. Dobson's analogy is grotesque. It's not just that embryos (as he himself noted later) feel no pain when they are destroyed. Not just that they leave no grief-stricken survivors in the sense that full-fledged human beings do, and rip no comparable hole in the community and the universe when they are murdered. Just as important is the gaping difference in the actors' motives. Stem-cell researchers want to help "mankind," defined to exclude embryos. Nazi experimenters wanted to help "mankind," defined to exclude Jews. If the first definition is wrong, it might nonetheless be proposed by morally serious persons. No morally serious person would go anywhere near the second, which epitomizes Nazi evil.

In arguing for the rightness of our war in Iraq, I often encounter left-wingers who insist that Saddam killed Iraqis and America's war does so, too--so what's the difference? It's tragic when any part of a national community grows incapable of moral distinctions. Drawing moral distinctions is what human beings are for. But Dr. Dobson's analogy is far more simple-minded than the pacifist position on Iraq.

Another Focus on the Family spokesman has said (after the first round of the Dobson-on-stem-cells affair) that "if anyone should be sensitive to the types of atrocities that are going on" in stem-cell research, "it should be the Jewish people." But maybe "the Jewish people" are exactly as sensitive as Dr. Dobson and his colleagues to the fate of embryos, and more sensitive to the suffering of human beings. Some Americans support expanded stem-cell research because they are frantic for science to find new cures for desperately ill friends or family members. Is Dr. Dobson so small-hearted that he can't cut such people a little slack? Can't concede that they are acting out of love, even if their conclusions are wrong?

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