Voting with Their Feet

If someone had suggested a year ago that cash-strapped California would be asked to amend the state constitution to siphon $6 billion (yes, $3 billion in principle and $3 billion in interest) into the biotech industry and its university affiliates, people would have laughed. But they would not have been reckoning with the power of the embryo stem-cell research hype. Millions of dollars have already been spent to get the signatures needed, and millions more are being raised for a TV ad campaign. Perhaps the most bizarre proposition in American history will be on California's November ballot. As my colleague bioethicist Dr. Nigel Cameron recently pointed out in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, this $6 billion of funding is intended to sustain biotech researchers with public funds so that they can pursue projects that private investors have decided are literally worthless. And it is a project that nation after nation around the world has already declared to be a felony. In our new book, Human Dignity in the Biotech Century, Dr. Nathan Adams of the Christian Legal Society argues that cloning human embryos for research is fundamentally unjust; and Bill Saunders of the Family Research Council draws the inevitable connection between the abuse of human embryos and the Nuremberg trials. And there's more to the debate than ethics. We also need to grasp the cloning proposition's bizarre economics. It's being said that this vast investment will actually save healthcare costs, as well as cure diseases, even though it has to be imposed by hype and ballot against the wishes of California's elected representatives (who will need a supermajority, by the way, to overrule its plans). As Nigel Cameron points out, the claims for cloning and embryonic stem cells are so preposterous that making them in a securities prospectus would result in doing jail time. But they're being aggressively sold to the people of California. Even if so-called "therapeutic cloning" could work, cures using the cloned stem cells would be extraordinarily expensive. And this is not a matter of my opinion. California's business community has already made up its mind. If it believed all of this hype of those behind cloning, venture capitalists would be pouring funds into the field expecting to reap vast profits. Instead, investors have already voted with their feet. Some of us were present in the White House two years ago to hear President Bush deliver a remarkable speech on human cloning and the need for biotechnology to be subject to ethics. "Advances in biomedical technology," the president said, "must never come at the expense of human conscience. As we seek what is possible, we must always ask what is right, and we must not forget that even the most noble ends do not justify any means." I don't think it can be said better than that. And it's in that spirit that we have written and edited Human Dignity in the Biotech Century, a good basic text on how to approach the ethical questions being raised by biotechnology advances. It will help thinking Christians understand the challenges that lie ahead and separate good science and real hope from spin, hype, and outright lies. For further reading and information: On September 30, 6:30-8:30 P.M., the Center for Bioethics and Culture is holding a forum on the California stem cell ballot initiative (Proposition 71). (Adobe Acrobat Reader required to access information.) Charles Colson and Nigel Cameron, Human Dignity in the Biotech Century: A Christian Vision for Public Policy (InterVarsity, 2004). To order, call 1-877-322-5527. Nigel Cameron and Jennifer Lahl, "Legislating Medicine," San Francisco Chronicle, 11 July 2004. "Calif. Voters Lean Toward Stem Cell Measure-Poll," Reuters, 23 September 2004. Jonathan Knight, "Critics slate ethical leeway in California stem-cell proposal," Nature, 16 September 2004. Michael Hiltzik, "Benefits of Stem Cell Bond Issue in Questions," Los Angeles Times, 23 August 2004. "California Stem Cell Research Backers Pull in Big Money," Chicago Tribune, 13 September 2004. "President Bush Calls on Senate to Back Human Cloning Ban," White House Office of the Press Secretary, 10 April 2002. Visit the Council for Biotechnology Policy website. Visit the Center for Bioethics and Culture website. Pastors and church leaders: Call us at 1-877-322-5527 to request the booklet "The Struggle for the Human Race: Cloning and the Biotech Challenge -- A Pastoral Response." The Wilberforce Forum's "Playing God?" curriculum, from Group Publishing, is designed for churches and small-group studies to address a myriad of bioethics issues, such as stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, cloning, and abortion. Dr. David A. Prentice, Stem Cells and Cloning (Benjamin Cummings, 2003).


Chuck Colson


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