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Conservative vs. Progressive (no adjectives)

Once again, we’re reminded about the great gulf between perception and reality (just look at the repetition of the names of authors whose ethics comments are published in the “mainstream” science and bioethics journals and explore the political and religious viewpoints of those authors and editors), between the idea that all humans are people possessing rights endowed by “their Creator,” and the difference between exercising those rights and the restrictions and privileges afforded by government. And we see another example of projection, re-definition to attack pro-life conservatives.

(Go ahead and read the Declaration of Independence (Here’s another text version). I believe it’s a good primer for understanding conservativism.)

The latest American Journal of Bioethics includes a silly little target article, “Biotechnology and the New Right: Neoconservatism’s Red Menace,” (the abstract is free, the rest is behind a pay-wall. Let me know if you want to read it) by Jonathan Moreno, Ph.D. and Sam Berger. Both “progressives” are mouth pieces a Senior Fellow and a (former?) Research Assistant at the Progressive Bioethics Initiative. The PBI is an off-shoot of the “Center for American Progress,” a far-left think-tank started by John Podesta.

Moreno and Berger look at the fathers of some men that opponents have named “neocons,” and build upon the argument that

“Although the neoconservative movement has come to dominate American conservatism, this movement has its origins in the old Marxist Left. . . . By not acknowledging and embracing their intellectual roots, neoconservatives are left with a deeply ambivalent and often confused view of biotechnology and the society that gives rise to it.”

The “Open Peer Commentary” pieces are written by volunteers who review and argue the target article. Remember the Womens Bioethics Project and their “God’s Bioethics” expose’? (Read more about that here and here.) The Commentary “Responding to Neocon Critiques of Biotechnology: A Progressive Agenda” (sorry, another pay-to-read) by Kathryn M. Hinsch, and Robin N. Fiore, Ph.D., of the Women’s Bioethics Project should offend conservatives of all ages and progressives as well.

In order to overcome what they see as impediments to their goal of “. . . attempting to construct a coherent consensus “progressive view” that could be acceptable to the wide range of extant progressive views (plural),” (sic) they suggest that Progressives work on the following problems:


1) Widespread scientific illiteracy permits the substitution of rhetoric about vague but disquieting threats to human nature, engenders distrust of the scientific enterprise and its products, and sanctions relativism with respect to non-scientific and pseudoscientific explanations and justifications for empirical claims. For example, neocons have successfully exploited the public’s lack of understanding with respect to the differences between therapeutic and reproductive cloning in order to pursue a ban on all forms of embryo research.

2) Social arrangements structured by historical gender, race and class inequities continue to appropriate women’s sexuality, their reproductive capacities, and their labor. Progressives as well as conservatives often neglect analyses of (current and potential) distributions of power and privilege. For example, neither conservatives nor progressives address caregiving in ways that acknowledge the increasing dependence on uncompensated care
by women in families and the impact of caregiving burdens on women’s own well-being. The President’s Council on Bioethics issued a lengthy report that finally concludes with a recommendation (sigh) that yet another commission be appointed to study this issue (President’s Council on Bioethics 2005).

3) Progressives are identified as being more concerned with social justice and conservatives as more concerned with human dignity — 45 million uninsured Americans rebut both propositions. On questions of access, disparities in healthcare and medical entrepreneurship,
progressives have failed to distinguish themselves. Conservatives offer a dystopian vision of a future gerontocracy and blame ill health on the personal irresponsibility of the medically least well off. Mainstream bioethicists have offered arguments from“justice” about individuals’ duty to refuse expensive medical interventions
after a “fair” share of normal life expectancy, but have been unable or unwilling to specify a “fair” profit margin for entrepreneurial healthcare systems and insurers.

4) Moreno and Berger (2007) suggest that the neocon attempts to ban whole sectors of biotechnological research and commercialization — particularly those that implicate reproduction — stem from neocon’s understanding of “people” (scare quotes added for emphasis) as too weak, imperfect, and immoral to make certain weighty decisions. This view of moral agency has, of course, been routinely applied to women and other infantilized social actors, particularly with respect to individual decisions regarding sexuality and reproduction. In Gonzalez v. Carhart, the Supreme Court of the United States justified upholding the ban on late-term abortion in part by invoking gender stereotypes and claiming that women needed to be protected from poor decision-making. As Justice Ginsberg pointed out in her dissenting opinion, this decision could have been accomplished by strengthening informed consent rather than depriving women of the right to autonomous choice. Conservatives are now attempting to limit forms of medical progress that have implications for the moral agency of previously privileged social actors. For example, Francis Fukuyama and Leon Kass, both members of the President’s Council on Bioethics, support legislation that would criminalize the prescription or utilization of treatments developed (anywhere in the world) from cloning technology.
A progressive alternative to technology embargoes and diminished moral scope might focus on developing programs to enhance technological information literacy, critical thinking and decision-making skills and supports, as well as broadening opportunities
for community participation. Such efforts may nourish solidarity and ground more substantive forms of autonomy.
5) The patenting of drugs, devices and other medical technologies both stimulates innovation and deprives the medically indigent, creating special interest wealth at the expense of life and health. In contrast, Benjamin Franklin refused a patent on his design for an improved wood stove, preferring that all people benefit from it.
Ultimately, progressives must engage the difficult problem of ensuring that the benefits of the new biology and medical advances are distributed as broadly as fairly as possible.

Both the Progressives and the Women would do well to consider what it means to believe that the right to “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” are endowed on all humans, rather than legislated and regulated. So many of the misconceptions outlined above are answered anew by this simple philosophy. No matter who your father was.

Note: Post was edited 11/2/07, because of an error in Ms. Hinsch’s name.

About bnuckols

Conservative Christian Family Doctor, promoting conservative news and views. (Hot Air under the right wing!)

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