In sessions titled “The States and Bioethics: Stem Cells” and “The Endarkenment: Bioethics in a Time of NeoConservatism,” I spent the last few days surrounded by self-proclaimed “liberals,” “progressives,” “leftists,” and “women.” (I know, I’m a woman, but evidently not their kind of woman.)
Seriously: it seemed very important to most of the speakers to reaffirm that they came from the left, were progressive, and/or were active in defending women’s reproductive rights. Some of the comments were meant to be funny, such as the time that the side of the room chosen to go to the buffet first was determined because the announcer said he prefers the left. (The guy didn’t get it right, though: he chose those to his left, as opposed to those sitting on the left of the room. Okay, that was open to interpretation.)
But some of the comments were not funny.
Too often, the comments made by the self-labeled liberal about the “conservatives,” “religious,” “neo-cons,” and “right” were attacks directed at a person rather than a rebuttal of ideas. Reportedly, one of the paper sessions included a presentation with a picture of the “Unibomber,” labeled with the name of Nigel Cameron, Ph.D. Wesley Smith was criticized at lunch by a keynote speaker for being human centric. One paper was focused on exposing Americans United for Life and the bulk of another presentation dealt with the religious beliefs of former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The “liberals” also repeatedly noted that they were surprised that so many of the conservatives showed up. Besides Glenn McGee and Art Caplan, who seemed to be genuinely enjoying the give and take and the result of their brainchild, I don’t think the liberals wanted us there. I would like to assure those who seemed more concerned than delighted that I and, as far as I could tell, the others, we conservatives were there because we wanted to learn and discuss, and because some of “our” guys were actually invited speakers. We recognize that the bioethics debate permeates every aspect of education, law, medicine and economics and we really do believe what we say: each human is human enough for our protection of their right not to be killed or enslaved.
As is often the case when I listen to or read the “pro-choice,” “leftist,” or “progressive” bioethicists, I had the urge to shout “Boo!” as one boogey-man after another was brought out to frighten the listeners. They actually tried to frighten us about the risks of using fear-tactics to influence public opinion. (But, some seemed to think fear is just a tool that needed to be wielded by the proper – not “right” – hands. Watch for the follow up on this.)
One speaker urged us all to respect the authority of local laws and conditions as they influence regional attitudes toward bioethics issues, while praising Justice Kennedy’s ruling that history, tradition and public opinion concerning morals shouldn’t affect laws concerning private matters.
We were reassured that Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis and other techniques of prenatal diagnosis with selective abortion would not lead to eugenics. I pointed out that we have contemporary laboratory evidence of a sort in India and China, on the eugenic effects of acting to select children who are more desirable than others according to the local attitude toward moral issues. There are 120 or more boys for each 100 girls in India and China. I was told not to worry: that’s in India and China, not the US or China where families tend to want one boy and one girl.
“Yes,” I asked, “but what’s the difference between killing your children because you want to make sure to have one of each or killing them because you only want males?” Can there be good and bad, if it’s somehow wrong to be human centric in the first place?
What are laws in a democracy, except the expression of the traditions and will of the people, through direct referendum or representative legislation? How do we respond to those societies that practice jihad, slavery and the non-personhood of women?
One after another, the leftist, progressive, women’s bioethicists warned about the conservatives’ efforts at redefining and honing the language, that we were getting together to work against the left, and far too many of us are against abortion, belong to the Republican party, go to church and belong to, support, or are supported by right wing think tanks and organizations. (Of course, only the conservatives called abortion, “abortion.” The “liberals” consistently called “abortion” “a woman’s right to choose,” “choice,” and “reproductive rights,” as in, “John Ashcroft is anti-choice.”)
None of the self-declared liberals seemed to count the support the left receives from, and their formal and informal service to, humanists, PP, NOW, and all those “death with dignity” organizations that received seed money from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and George Soros or by the organizers of the “Progressive Bioethics Initiative.”
(I think a couple of women looked guilty when a third woman happened to mention that means of redefining and using words in order to influence the public had been brought up at the “Progressive lunch.” Or maybe they were just worried about the leak. I became increasingly cynical the 2 days, deciding that there is no secret about what the left is up to: just listen to what they’re accusing the conservatives of doing, and expect them to do the same.)
One conservative speaker challenged us to name even one prominent Conservative in a tenured position in a university. Whispers broke out behind me, and over the course of the day, several people mentioned echoed the whisperers: we’ve got Robert P. George!
Okay, there’s one. Name another.
In the end, though, my final impression is that the group is – so far – a closed and insular one. There was little acceptance that the conservatives had a place in the discussion, except as a caricatured opposition – a caricature drawn with curly black mustache, blackened teeth and horns.
Edited for formatting and to add categories after import from another host – April 15, 2012 BBN