For columnist Michael Kinsley human embryos are at once valuable and valueless. Their parts contain a possible cure for his Parkinson’s disease, yet they are “biologically more primitive than a mosquito,” he wrote last Sunday in the Los Angeles Times. Kinsley is very enamored with this mosquito-embryo comparison. He’s used it before in previous columns to drive home the point that disposing of human embryos should generate even less thought than swatting a mosquito. For good measure in this column Kinsley also calls human embryos “tiny clumps of cells” lest we fail to grasp how silly it is to consider them worthy of respect.
Historians of ideas should clip Kinsley’s columns on this subject as a straightforward example of the American elite’s rancid and heedless moral philosophy circa 2000. They reveal that as the age of cloning advances, the elite, demanding longevity at all moral costs, consoles itself with the thought that the class of lab humans they hope to form are “more primitive” than insects. The human embryo is the one endangered species they won’t protect and will use as their utopian science’s slave.
What inspired Kinsley’s most recent column was the news that South Korean scientists had cloned human embryos as spare parts for science. Kinsley regards this as a wonderful development. But he is upset with those like Leon Kass, chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, who in the wake of the news were mulling “morality and all that.” The usually skeptical Kinsley has boundless confidence in these South Korean scientists and rebuked ethicists like Kass for challenging these all-knowing men with time-wasting questions.
But if Kinsley won’t question science, he will question God. “I have no trouble feeling that the government should value my life more than the lives of these clumps,” he wrote. “God may disagree. But the government reports to me and to other adult Americans, not to God.”
“Morality and all that” must be swept aside so that one group of human beings can exploit a class of weaker human beings, mere “clumps.” It doesn’t occur to Kinsley that the very diseased people he thinks this embryo-destroying research will cure are the ones least likely to survive in the dehumanized, self-centered ethos he’s advocating to justify it. He throws down the gauntlet and says in his subhead, “Mr. Bush, don’t I matter more than tiny clumps of cells?” One day, probably not very long from now, society will say, “No, Mr. Kinsley, you don’t. We don’t think disabled adults are valuable.” And at that point, what principle will protect him? He belittles bioethicists for marshalling arguments against therapeutic cloning that “are concerned with the nature of humanity and stuff.” It is those arguments that protect the weak and vulnerable from the designs of a dehumanized scientific culture.
Kinsley calls Leon Kass “fatuous” in a column full of complacently stupid comments, such as: “is human cloning such a horrific concept that it crosses a line into the territory of Frankenstein and ‘Brave New World’? Well, they said the same thing 27 years ago about in vitro fertilization, and that is now uncontroversial.” Uncontroversial? The largest religion on earth condemns the practice unequivocally, a teaching that proves more prophetic with each passing year as IVF is the ever-widening door through which all exploitative reproductive science passes.
Kinsley’s reckless indifference to rudimentary, Golden Rule morality is seen in his blithe and shamelessly accepting admission that therapeutic cloning will result in organ-harvesting of born children and reproductive cloning: “If we’re willing to destroy microscopic embryos for their stem cells, why will we stop before harvesting body parts from advanced fetuses, or breeding babies for their organs? Once we allow human cloning for embryos, how can we be sure no one will bring a cloned embryo to term and produce an actual cloned human being? The answer is that we can’t.”
And he doesn’t care. What Kinsley doesn’t imagine is the grim irony that for every disease his cloning science tries to cure it will create in the process new diseased and disabled human beings. He doesn’t see that the new science will need cures for its cures, as reproductive cloning is sure to create disabled, freakish human beings.
Time presents the South Korean cloning scientist Woo Suk Hwang as a great visionary who is putting “even more distance between himself and the rest of the scientific world.” He sounds more like a medicine man, which is what scientists with all of their omniscient pretensions and claims of grandiose cures are becoming more and more like. “Professor Hwang jokes that we’re good at manipulating the egg this way because we can use chopsticks,” one of his graduate students is quoted in the article. “In this kind of work, you need to insert the human spirit,” Hwang told Time, which reported that he “wears a gold Buddha medallion around his neck.” Hwang makes sure that at least one of his scientists, says Time, “keeps the cells company all day and most of the night, as a way of nurturing respect for them.”
Respect? A little late in the game for that. Michael Kinsley will need to set him straight. They don’t deserve any respect. They are less significant than mosquitoes.
George Neumayr is executive editor of The American Spectator.