Byline: Suzanne Fields, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
From the day that Eve bit into the forbidden fruit plucked from the tree of knowledge, man has sought to know more about the universe - but at a price. Life as in literature is filled with our kind trying, like Dr. Faustus or Dr. Jekyll, to play God.
Playing God means playing with death, and yet scientific progress depends on man's ambition to look for ways to master what he doesn't understand. Science, for all the good it actually accomplishes, is seldom neutral on the moral scale because it's at the mercy of man, and can be used for good or ill, altruistically or villainously.
James Reston Jr. tells how his daughter, Hillary, age 8, who suffered from a failing kidney for most of her life, not long ago obtained a kidney transplanted from a young man, age 18, who died in a crash when he lost control of his all-terrain racer at the county fair. Hillary's father counts his blessings, all the while recognizing that his joy rises from another's grief. He gives thanks for the ultimate generosity of the donor, and wonders how far he would go beyond his own ethical boundaries if that's what it takes to save his daughter.
If his daughter had no other way to live, he asks, would he accept parts from an animal or human clone if they were stocked, available and promising. "My ethical reservations would give way to my desire to keep her alive," he concludes in an essay in the New York Times. "Ultimately, families, not politicians, should resolve the dilemma of whether artificial organs or organs from different species should be transplanted in their own family members."
This was clearly not said lightly, and yet, pitting the personal against the political gets to the heart of decisions governing medical and technological advances. Ethical values in the abstract are considerably easier to support than those that affect us personally. We do not always respond to the hard questions with consistency.
When Mike Dukakis, in a presidential debate in 1988 gave an abstract answer to a hard question of how he would deal with a man who raped his wife, wrapping his answer in legalese rather than emotion from his gut, Americans were unforgiving. Where was this man's passion? No one would have wanted President Dukakis to seek revenge, but nearly everyone wanted Dukakis the husband to show a little outrage and anger. …