Friday, June 24, 2005

A Modest Proposal

Paul Greenberg writes about the wisdom of repugnance, and how we work around it in the embryonic stem cell debate by playing language games.
The trick is not to think of the subjects of these experiments [Nazi WWII experiments] as human, but as Jews, Slavs, Gypsies . . . the eugenically undesirable. And remember that they were doomed anyway, and you can see the (brutal) logic of it.

That's the trick in this case, too: Think of these embryos as something other than human, not as microcosms somehow programmed to turn into fully developed human beings with all of a human being's capacity for good - and evil.

Think of them as microscopic dots, as pre-human, or under-human, literally untermenschen, and anything we do with them is ethically permissible. Even commendable. Focus instead on the future patients to be helped, the suffering alleviated, the scientific breakthroughs that await, the progress (and maybe profits) to be made.

Call the subjects of these experiments blastocysts, surplus embryos, pre-embryos, whatever, but don't let on that they're what all humans are at that stage of our development.

The secret of promoting scientific research on human embryos is not to call them human embryos.


He concludes by referencing A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (who also wrote Gulliver's Travels), in which he offered a "solution" to the Irish Famine. Create a market for 1 year olds.

”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled ...”

And why should we eat them? Well, the family will get some benefit - fewer mouths to feed and money. While the infant will not have to endure a miserable life where he will eventually just die anyway.
"Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast number of poor people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed, and I have been desired to employ my thoughts what course may be taken to ease the nation of so grievous an encumbrance. But I am not in the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well known that they are every day dying and rotting by cold and famine, and filth and vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected. And as to the young laborers, they are now in as hopeful a condition; they cannot get work, and consequently pine away for want of nourishment, to a degree that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common labor, they have not strength to perform it; and thus the country and themselves are happily delivered from the evils to come."

Satire always tells a deeper truth. There is nothing new under the sun.