The Magazine

Liberty, Equality, Eugenics

Dec 22, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 15 • By CHRISTINE ROSEN
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Worse than selective history is Maienschein's thinly disguised contempt for people who do not share her own view of life as a process that should be subject to our most extreme technological manipulations. This is clearest in her treatment of Catholics. Popes past and present are treated with disdain. "Evidently, Pope Pius IX did not need to know more about reproduction and development to proclaim the Catholic Church's official position on the beginning of life," she sniffs while describing the 1869 encyclical "Apostolicae Sedis." But her animosity toward religion is ecumenical; describing President Bush's stem-cell speech, she says, "In a country founded on separation of church and state, it is not clear why it is prayer that should guide an American president to policy decisions about bioscience."

Similarly, Maienschein praises the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade and offers positive words for abortion activists while describing opponents of abortion as intransigent potential murderers, a group that holds "their particular values as absolute and immutable, without possibility of compromise" and that has "become more vocal and even violent." Although she praises bioethicists like Arthur Caplan, whose views she shares, she impugns those she does not. "Theologians-turned-bioethicists" are deemed "not seriously willing to engage in reflection about the difficult challenges of sorting out right and wrong," and Leon Kass, the chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, is dismissed as someone who "relies heavily on his own intuitions, on his assumptions that our intuitions will match his and that if they do not match there is something wrong with us."

In "Whose View of Life?" Maienschein founders primarily because the lessons she draws from history are too freighted with her own political views, and her bias in contemporary debates is too thorough to allow a fair-minded discussion of embryo research, stem-cell research, and cloning. As a result, her recommendations for how we can better grapple with these difficult issues fall flat. Her constant refrain--"Nature evolves, science evolves, social attitudes evolve, and our responses should be expected to evolve"--should be answered: Yes, they do. But not always for the better.

Christine Rosen is a fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center and author of "Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement," forthcoming in January.