I am willing to be critical of our president whenever it’s justified. I also will give him credit where it is due. The Washington Post has lied about restrictions he imposed on research with human fetal tissue. Their article is misleadingly called “Trump ban on fetal tissue research blocks coronavirus treatment effort”.
Of course, the ban has done no such thing. There are many avenues being pursued to discover a treatment and a vaccine for the virus. The ban has simply restricted one avenue of research. Everyone says they believe human experimentation is wrong. The problem is not everyone actually means it.
Many atrocities have been done in the name of science in the past. Nazi doctor Josef Mengele did horrifying experiments on Jews during the Holocaust. After the war, he made his living performing abortions in Argentina.
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Meanwhile, African Americans were experimented on during the Tuskegee Study. We rightly view these as atrocities, egregious violations of human rights. And yet we’re now in a similar situation. It’s not Jews or African Americans which are being dehumanized for the sake of experimentation for scientific advancement, now it’s embryos and fetuses.
When a conservative president and ethics board tell scientists that they can’t experiment on young humans, not only scientists but the media and other anti-equality advocates (Frank Beckwith’s term for those who view rights as being attributed to one’s present capacities instead of being endowed in them by their nature; see his book Defending Life, chapter 6) will of course get mad. They’ll claim that conservatives are simply getting in the way of scientific progress, a claim they would have made about conservatives who opposed human experimentation on Jews and African Americans during those dark times in Earth’s history.
What is the reason that it’s wrong to experiment on adult human beings? It’s not because we are self-aware or have the present ability to value our lives. I don’t value my life when I’m asleep, but surely it would be wrong for a scientist to put me in a coma and then experiment on me against my will. Similarly, if a woman falls into a coma and is sexually assaulted by her doctor, then she has been harmed–whether she’s aware of it or not.
Rather, experimenting on human beings is wrong because they are human beings. Human embryos and fetuses are full-fledged members of our species, Homo sapiens. This has been attested to time and again by scientists. And humans develop from the single-celled stage to the point where they can start to reason, and even beyond.
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If you argue that these young human beings have no rights because they lack some kind of property that we currently have, you are essentially arguing that a human doesn’t have rights if he is too young to have developed the arbitrary property you have chosen to place value in. This is as great a tragedy as taking away someone’s rights because she is the wrong color or the wrong gender.
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