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Reflections on My Termination

Obama dismisses members of the President's Council on Bioethics.

3:30 PM, Jun 19, 2009 • By PETER AUGUSTINE LAWLER
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For many of the bioethical issues that face us, there's no obvious, objective solution--meaning one that emerges from experts without real moral and political deliberation. That doesn't mean that the contending parties involved should be narrowly ideological or blindly fundamentalist. It's their duty to be and in fact they often really are guided by what we can really know through science. But as Socrates himself constantly reminded us, for the most reasonable of men and women the key questions often remain more obvious than their answers. There's no substitute, in a democracy, for thinking together about who we are before deciding what to do, and it's not "anti-science" to sometimes conclude that science alone doesn't resolve every dilemma we face about human freedom and dignity.

One reason among many it's disquieting to see the president so complacent about Roe v. Wade is that the real goal of the Court in that decision was to shut down public discussion over who and what the fetus or unborn child is. The president said at Notre Dame that both science and the equality of women have closed the issue for all practical purposes. But surely everyone knows that there are good reasons both moral and scientific for why Americans disagree and are disquieted about the status of the relevant being, and even for why the young are more pro-life than their parents. There's plenty of need for more national dialogue before we can reasonably view this fundamental issue as resolved. There also needs to be room for legislative compromise--for the consent of the morally conflicted governed--that the Court has quite arbitrarily denied us.

The rule of experts might be fine if they were philosopher-kings who had united in themselves not only technological power but perfect wisdom. But of course, it's much more clear that the human power over nature and human nature is growing faster than is our wisdom to use it well for authentically human purposes. The experts, we have to remember, very often hide their own personal opinions and ideological agendas behind their impersonal claims to merely be following what the studies say. We can learn from them, but as long as they fall short of perfect objectivity based on perfect wisdom, we shouldn't trust them. These days, the people, above all, should distrust meddlesome, schoolmarmish judges and bureaucrats (and presidents who enable them) who want to deprive them of the capacity of thinking for themselves.

Peter Augustine Lawler is Dana professor and chair of the department of government and international studies at Berry College.