Sunday, May 22, 2005

VIA ARTS & LETTERS DAILY, I discovered this fascinating article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The author, Martha Montello, a professor at the University of Kansas, takes as her starting point a recent debate in the state legislature about a proposed bill that would make stem-cell research illegal.

Montello comes to this issue from a very interesting angle. She teaches literature at the University; and also chairs a pediatric ethics committee at the University Medical Center. She observes that scientists and legislators are so inflamed about the ethical implications of scientists' growing ability to manipulate human biology that it's hard for them to see past their own positions -- which only polarizes the debate and leads nowhere.

What they should do, she says, is read more books.

The fight in Kansas (the bill was not put to a vote) is in some ways a microcosm of what has been happening around the country. From Kevorkian to Schiavo, cloning to antidepressants, issues of bioethics increasingly underlie controversies that dominate public and political discussion. Decisions about stem-cell research, end-of-life choices, organ transplantation, and mind- and body-enhancing drugs, among others, have become flash points for front-page news day after day. At the same time, some good literary narratives have emerged over the past few years that reveal our common yet deeply individual struggles to find an ethics commensurate with rapid advances in the new science and technologies.

Montello discusses six of these works of fiction; five novels and a play. The issues they raise run the gamut from cloning to organ donation as it connects to issues of consent and individual autonomy. How far might parents be willing to go to save the life of a child who needs a kidney or bone marrow transplant, for example? These are not theoretical questions anymore, as Montello reminds us: Four years ago the New York Times published an article about two families, each of whom conceived a child to save the life of an already existing child. The irony of the moral choice here is striking: Opponents of stem-cell research say it is wrong to destroy one life in order to save another. But what about the opposite situation? Is it wrong to create life for the sole purpose of saving another life? What does this say about individual worth? What does it say about bodily integrity and choice? Does a parent have the right to require one child to donate bone marrow or an organ to save the life of a sibling?

I don't have any answers, but the questions need to be asked.

3 comments:

Brother Roy said...

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Brother Roy said...

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