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Jack Sisson's Life Ethics Blog

We must find new ways through many ethical issues, especially regarding bioethics, medical ethics, and criminal justice. Jack Sisson's 'Life Ethics' blog focuses on numerous areas of concern, including the philosophical and ethical dilemmas surrounding stem-cell research, abortion, medical research, and health care.

It's not exactly fresh news, but I have just come across a very interesting column by William Saletan, on the Slate Web site. The headline: "Rights and Wrongs: Liberals, progressives, and biotechnology."

Saletan identifies himself as a liberal, for what it's worth -- although he doesn't do so until a good way down into the column:
...what makes me think I'm still a liberal? I guess it's a stubborn belief that liberalism isn't whatever dogmas currently possess this or that lefty camp. Liberalism is an admission of uncertainty. It's open to self-correction and to the complexity and unpredictability of life.
What's interesting about the column in general is that he uses it to take certain "liberal" bioethicists (or those who support them, without being bioethicists themselves) to task for, well, their illiberalism:
I have problems with liberals. A lot of them talk about religion as though it's a communicable disease. Some are amazingly obtuse to other people's qualms. They show no more interest in an embryo than in a skin cell. It's like I'm picking up a radio signal and they're not. I'd think I was crazy, except that a few billion other people seem to be picking up the same signal. At most liberal bioethics conferences, the main question in dispute, in one form or another, is whether to be more afraid of capitalism or religion.
But -- lest the reader think he's about to stab his liberal colleagues in the back -- Saletan offers up a deft summation of a common-sense approach not only to stem-cell research, but to many related science-vs.-religion controversies (emphasis added):
I don't even like the idea of taking a general position on biotechnology. The field is just too big and complicated to fit an ideology. In science, things change much more radically than in politics. One month, we're screening embryos for diseases, and everybody's happy. The next month, we're screening embryos for their suitability as tissue donors, and everybody's queasy. One year, ethanol is a corn product and makes no sense. The next year, it's a switchgrass product and makes a lot of sense. I like having the freedom to soak my head in a new topic and come out saying the opposite of what I expected. Committing to a political identity would just get in the way.
In general, the column neatly repudiates the idea that supporting -- or decrying -- a field of scientific study has anything to do with common sense. You can take one position or another, based on one thing or another, but it makes no sense to (a) require a litmus test of someone's beliefs on the issue in order to label them as either a good liberal or a good conservative, or (b) claim that you yourself are a good liberal or a good conservative because of your beliefs on a given issue. Not just bioethics, but life at large, is just too big and complicated to reduce it to a range of acceptable yes and no opinions.

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