Standing for Life in the Era of Obama

By Smith, Wesley J. | The Human Life Review, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview
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Standing for Life in the Era of Obama


Smith, Wesley J., The Human Life Review


Human exceptionalism - the belief in the immeasurable intrinsic moral value of all human Ufe - suffered a profound setback in 2008 with the election of President Barack Obama and a Democratic Party-controlled Congress. Ironically, the "culture war" issues such as embryonic-stem-cell research, abortion, assisted suicide, etc., had very little impact on this outcome. Widespread economic panic swept Obama into office. In this sense, his election was not in the least a public mandate to destroy the ethic of the sanctity and equality of human life.

True as that statement may be, it and $2.00 will buy you a small cup of coffee at Starbucks. The fact is that those who stand implacably against the belief in the intrinsic dignity of human life now hold almost unfettered power in much of the country. As a consequence, the next four years will see the erosion of policies and revocation of laws that defend human exceptionalism - such as the Bush embryonic-stem-cell federal funding restrictions that Obama revoked on March 9 - and the potential institution of new proposals that threaten to deepen the erosion of the sanctity/equality of human life - such as medical rationing and the Freedom of Choice Act.

In such a toxic environment, it will be more important than ever to speak truth to power. But being vocal alone will not be enough. To turn the powerful cultural tide that is currently flowing will require realism, patience, and the self-discipline to be effective. Toward this end, I humbly offer the following suggestions:

Know When to Hold 'Em and When to Fold 'Em: It is a hard thing; but we will have little influence over public policies for at least the next two years. But all is not lost, just made far more difficult. Operating effectively in this environment will require hard choices about when and where to invest finite energies and resources and when, reluctantly, to make a tactical retreat.

For example, for more than seven years, embryonic-stem-cell opponents ably defended President Bush's ESCR funding restrictions. But this tactic became untenable once President Obama took the oath of office. Prudence thus requires that a new line of defense be established, for example, standing fast to protect the Dickey Amendment - the federal law that prohibits federal money from being used to actually destroy embryos - from being revoked. (The Obama policy permits embryonic-stem-cell lines to be researched upon only after they are derived.) This is not to say that the lifting of the Bush policy shouldn't have been criticized. I certainly criticized it. But it is to say that depleting resources in policy fights that cannot be won will only make it much more difficult to succeed in controversies in which there is hope of prevailing.

Know the Facts: We live in a postmodern age in which narratives matter more than facts. This has even poisoned the scientific field, with some scientists redefining basic biology in order to win political points. Take as just one example the redefinition of the word "embryo." Embryology textbooks state that a new human embryo - that is, a new human being comes into existence upon the completion of fertilization, at which point it has its own unique genetic makeup and its sex has been determined. Yet many "science" organizations have redefined the meaning of the word "embryo" to begin when the (now) "pre-embryo" (or other euphemism) implants in the womb.

This corruption of language and the scientifically unwarranted changing of meaning make cogent debate very difficult - which of course, is the purpose of the tactic. I suggest overcoming this problem by researching and citing objective scientific sources as a way of "footnoting" your arguments to provide proof of the accuracy of your statements. Doing so will then permit ethical analyses based on accurate facts rather than the convenient fiction me other side prefers.

Argue from Secular Human-Rights Perspectives: I think it is important to understand mat arguing for the sanctity/equality of human life in the public square is not the same thing as proselytizing for one's faith.

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