The Spectacle Blog

Steele Shouldn’t Apologize

By on 2.10.06 | 1:24PM

Maryland Lt. Gov Michael Steele, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, has apologized for likening embryonic stem cell research to the Nazis' medical testing on Jews. Consider his remarks:

Look, you, of all folks, know what happens when people decide they want to experiment on human beings, when they want to take your life and use it as a tool.

Okay, fine. He's violated the unwritten rule of polite political discourse (the name of the rule escapes me): don't refer to Hitler or the Nazis. But really, in this case, what's Steele's offense? He supposedly trivialized "the pain and suffering of more than 6 million Jews." That's his language from his apology statement.

If anything, proponents of ESCR trivialize that pain and suffering by refusing to learn from it. Not only did Nazis treat humans as objects for medical experiments, but they targeted the weakest among us. Today, ESCR would be right up their alley.

In a superb column last year responding to similar comments by James Dobson, Hunter Baker wrote,

Take a second look, though, and things take on a different cast. If we broaden our inquiry just a little, we see that what the Nazis were engaged in philosophically and scientifically was not as fully distinguishable from our modern dance with bioethics as we like to think.

For example, the Nazis did not confine themselves to the extermination of Jews. They were also quite actively involved with ridding the world of the retarded and mentally disabled. They did not confine themselves to sterilization. In his powerful book The Pillar of Fire, the great Jewish psychiatrist and convert to Catholicism Karl Stern relates the story of a Lutheran pastor Bodelschwingh who saves his colony of "feeble-minded, epileptics, and idiots" from being killed only by protesting that he must be killed, too. His fame was sufficient to prevent the deaths. Stern indicates others were not so fortunate and that during the war "the Nazis carried out the slaughter of all mental patients."...

The point of this is simply to say that the Nazis didn't hate the mentally retarded and epileptics the way they did Jews. They thought they were building a better society and that if a price had to be paid in terms of innocent human life to achieve that, they were willing to pay it. That, too, was part of their great moral disaster. Our current regime of bioethics shares that same flaw. We are willing to destroy embryonic life in service of hopeful improvements and pay scarce attention to whether it may be a devil's bargain.

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