There are two great evils against which our generation has been called upon to contest. The first is the threat of Islamo-fascist terrorism, a struggle that has grown increasingly intense since the atrocity of September 11. The second is an issue of law, ethics, and morality, and is nothing less than whether human life has intrinsic value simply and merely because it is human.
As with the war against Islamo-fascism, the defense of the sanctity/equality of human life will be a twilight struggle—to borrow an old Cold War term—the outcome of which will determine the morality of the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, we can already determine some of the consequences of deciding against the intrinsic value of human life—the commoditization and exploitation of the world’s poor for their body parts.
This is already happening. Take as one ugly example the growing black market in human organs in which the rich cannibalize the desperate destitute from countries such as India and Turkey by paying them a few thousand dollars for a kidney or a slice of liver. China has been charged in a credible report by two Canadian lawyers with killing Falun Gong practitioners and selling their organs—about which I will soon have a column published on National Review Online. Poor women are being exploited for their eggs in IVF treatments, and if therapeutic cloning ever takes off requiring millions of human eggs, this phenomenon could grow geometrically.
Some excuse these dehumanizing practices as necessary to reduce suffering and treat devastating illnesses and injuries. This is no justification, of course. But once human life is deemed a resource ripe for the harvest, there is no reason why it would be limited to cases of catastrophic illness.
Take this story , published in the not-always-credible Daily Mail (UK), as one example. According to the reporter, rich women of the West are using aborted fetus stem cells as beauty treatments. Even worse, Ukrainian clinics are reportedly paying poor women $200 to gestate fetuses through the twelfth week, which is “thought to be best for harvesting stem cells.” If true, this is literally fetal farming.
We should take the veracity of this story with a salt shaker of salt. The reporter gets her facts wrong about the stem cell controversy in the United States, claiming incorrectly that President Bush has banned all federal funding of embryonic stem cell research because it isn’t “Godly.” Plus, these clinics are probably preying on the vanity of the rich, since there is no proof that stem cells of any variety can make one look younger. On the other hand, New Jersey has already legalized human cloning, permitted implantation, and allowed gestation through the ninth month. This can’t be done technologically, but it does mean that one state in this country has already legalized the very kind of fetal farming depicted in the Daily Mail story. (See also this Weekly Standard article.)
One definition of evil is treating human beings as objects rather than subjects. While the fight against Islamo-fascism is our most immediate task, we must work tirelessly against the tide of dehumanization that would permit human life to be exploited as a natural resource. Indeed, in the long run, the destruction of the view that human life has intrinsic value may be the greatest threat to human rights in the world today.
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