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Brutality in a Brave New World

geneticsIn his seminal work, Nichomachean Ethics, the philosopher Aristotle begins his meditation on the subject of morality and the ultimate end of human life with an observation that certain first principles of ethics are self-evident to a person who has been raised up in a virtuous manner. A good man simply “knows” certain things to be good and others evil. A person raised up in vice, however, has a distorted sense of the Good. He is incapable of reasoning towards ethical ends because his moral foundation is corrupted.

I wonder what Aristotle (and other ancient philosophers, for that matter) would have to say about contemporary culture’s dearth of ethical virtue? It is not unreasonable to conclude that they would assume that we’re a godless people, nurtured on vice, starved of virtue, and incapable of distinguishing between good and evil.

Bioethics blogger Wesley J. Smith often writes about issues that highlight the world’s headlong slide into complete ethical bankruptcy. Last week, he featured a story from England’s Daily Mail reporting on the advent of technology that would enable scientists to harvest fetal eggs from aborted baby girls’ ovaries. These eggs, the scientists argue, hold immense potential for infertility treatments. From the post:

“This isn’t new. I reported on these efforts a few years ago. Some have even called for paying women who want to abort to carry their babies longer so that the cadaver will provide more useful parts.

By the way, it isn’t IVF for which the eggs will be required, but human cloning. Somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning requires a human egg for each try and eggs are in short supply. Indeed, I have frequently noted that the technology has been held back by what I call the ‘egg dearth.’

But if they can get unlimited eggs from dead fetuses and women, cloning will not only be successfully performed (which, I predicted, will happen this year) but eventually perfected and put to concerted use. Then, it is on to all the Brave New World technologies – such as genetic engineering – that require cloning to develop.

Killing the fetuses and keeping their ovaries alive. That makes the scientists complicit in the abortions. Think about what we are becoming.”

What are we becoming, indeed? Such practices represent nothing less than the complete triumph of utilitarianism over ethics, and Wesley Smith is correct that this is nothing new. We’ve see the same impulses at work in the area of embryonic stem cell research for decades, in which the life of a person is sacrificed in order to derive societal “benefit” from its constituents parts. The scientists and bioethicists who advocate these ghoulish technologies don’t view human life as sacrosanct; they merely view the human body as fodder for scientific “progress and discovery.”

This is  Dr. Mengele medicine, plain and simple. One of Hitler’s most terrifying henchmen, Josef Mengele was given absolute license to push the medical envelope as far as his sadistic imagination could carry him. For those unaware of the barbarism that was unleashed on Jewish prisoners in the name of medical research, it is worth describing at length:

“Mengele used Auschwitz as an opportunity to continue his research on heredity, using inmates for human experimentation. Mengele’s experiments also included attempts to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children’s eyes, various amputations of limbs, and other surgeries such as kidney removal, without anesthesia. . . . At Auschwitz, Mengele did a number of studies on twins. After an experiment was over, the twins were usually killed and their bodies dissected. He supervised an operation by which two Roma children were sewn together to create conjoined twins; the hands of the children became badly infected where the veins had been resected; this also caused gangrene.

Mengele also sought out pregnant women, on whom he would perform vivisections before sending them to the gas chambers.

Former Auschwitz prisoner Alex Dekel has said:

‘I have never accepted the fact that Mengele himself believed he was doing serious work – not from the slipshod way he went about it. He was only exercising his power. Mengele ran a butcher shop – major surgeries were performed without anesthesia. Once, I witnessed a stomach operation – Mengele was removing pieces from the stomach, but without any anesthetic. Another time, it was a heart that was removed, again without anesthesia. It was horrifying. Mengele was a doctor who became mad because of the power he was given. Nobody ever questioned him – why did this one die? Why did that one perish? The patients did not count. He professed to do what he did in the name of science, but it was a madness on his part.’

A former Auschwitz prisoner doctor has said:

‘He was capable of being so kind to the children, to have them become fond of him, to bring them sugar, to think of small details in their daily lives, and to do things we would genuinely admire…. And then, next to that,… the crematoria smoke, and these children, tomorrow or in a half-hour, he is going to send them there. Well, that is where the anomaly lay.'”

What further proof does society need that science untethered from ethics leads to barbarism? Do the scientific “pioneers” of today think that they are any better than Dr. Mengele simply because their victims are too young to speak out or fight back? Because they are unable to plead for mercy? Because they happen to reside in their mother’s womb and not a concentration camp?

I can hear the snide mockery of detractors who will dismiss these arguments as hyperbole, but this is merely a symptom of the ethical schizophrenia described at the outset of this article. When mainstream news outlets like the Huffington Post publish the words of a bioethicist who advocates paying women to gestate fetuses longer so that their aborted body parts are more useful, we’re not far off from the same mentality that justified the horror of Auschwitz.

What’s next? Sacrificing the elderly with dementia in order to harvest any remaining viable organs? Harvesting organs from the handicapped so that fully functioning people can preserve their quality of life in the event they have an organ fail? Cloning your child in order to have a “spare” on hand in the event of illness or injury?

This is social Darwinism taken to its logical conclusion, the Nietzschean “Overman” philosophy run amok: The strong prevail over the weak and impose their will in any manner they find advantageous. We think we are so civilized, but beneath our veneer of progressive enlightenment is a brute nature, red in tooth and claw and terrifying to behold when unconstrained by belief in anything but ourselves.


Kenneth L. Connor is the Chairman of the Center for a Just Society, 1220 L St. NW, Suite 100-371, Washington, DC 20005. Email: info@centerforajustsociety.org and website: http://www.centerforajustsociety.org.
  • Howard

    No, this is not hyperbole. Several years ago, I read someone say that in a hundred years the survivors will frighten their children by telling them boogeyman stories about us. That is not quite right; what we are doing is not suitable to tell to children.

    And no, I’m not anti-science; I’m actually a physics professor. This is not really about science.

  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    I miss the point of this article.

    Is the author claiming that modern day USA is similar to Auschwitz?
    Is he claiming that American doctors today are similar to Dr Mengele?

    My family’s experience would not support these conclusions. My grandson was born with a serious problem, but thanks to the research and skill of American doctors in developing treatments he seems to be making progress here in Gdansk, where he came to from Ireland.

    Let us acknowledge the great progress humans, and especially American doctors, have achieved in recent times.

  • Allan

    I miss the point of your comment, Noel. Are you claiming that as long as a medical advance can help improve the health of a child, it is irrelevant how that medical advance or treatment came to be?
    It’s very obvious that the article is about medical treatments derived in immoral ways, so if you “miss the point”, or your “family’s experience would not support these conclusions”, it seems that you do not care how the treatments were derived or carried out, they are worthwhile because they help children such as your grandson. An understandable sentiment, in many ways, but still morally wrong.
    Killing an innocent human isn’t acceeptable just because it helps other humans (science does acknowledge the embryos as human from conception). Are you denying the humanity of the embryos, or is it okay to kill some humans if it helps other humans that we care more about? If a gunman was shooting at you and a loved one, would you think it okay to grab another person to use as a human shield to protect your loved one?
    Obviously, if your grandson’s treatment was derived in ethical ways, that’s a great triumph for science, but if your comment was a denial that unethical research or treatments exist, you’re quite obviously wrong. The article itself detailed some of them. Do you not have a problem with those things? Anything goes, as long as we can extend our own lives by it? I can’t imagine that’s really what you’re arguing.

  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    Allan,
    Many thanks for your reply to my post. I am grateful to you for challenging me and giving me an opportunity to clarify my thoughts for my own benefit and for others. I am also pleased that my opinions have been read, considered and deemed for further exploration.

    We all have views based on our own experience. Dr Foker in the US developed the treatment my grandson benefits from. This treatment is being used very
    successfully by Dr Russell Jennings in Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard. Dr Losin from Gdansk worked in Boston with Dr Jennings and now has a very successful program in Gdansk.

    In this development, which uses surgery, engineering and biology/biochemistry/chemistry there is no indication that unethical practices were considered.

    There is a generally accepted principle that the ends do not justify the means, and there is no need to defend this here.

    I am amazed and encouraged by the dedication of doctors and nurses to protect and save human life. My grandson was premature, and the medical personnel our family met in Ireland and Poland were wonderful in protecting the lives of first my unborn grandson then this young person after he was born, and
    also my daughter-in-law.

    I consider it appropriate to thank all health personnel who devote themselves to the health and life of sick people. From the time an ultrasound showed my grandson would have serious health problems the medical people were great to help both my daughter-in-law and grandson.

    I am grateful.

  • somd

    Noel,
    Unfortunately the state of medicine in America is that the only unborn children that are considered worth saving are those that are wanted. The same effort that went into preserving your grandson’s life could just have easily gone towards destroying it in this country.

    This article isn’t just about medical treatments derived in immoral ways, it’s about how American medicine and science is NORMALIZING the development medical treatments through immoral means. (Forgive the caps, I’d use italics if I could)… These are the same medical professionals we all entrust our lives to; and, granted, there are good ones out there that are commited to upholding life, such as my own OB/GYN. But, this article isn’t about that, it’s about the how the medical community at large is more and more willing to use evil as a means of acheiving “solutions” to medical problems.

  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    Somd,

    Many thanks for your comments.

    I agree we are talking about
    different things. I wished to emphasize
    that great work some doctors do to preserve and foster life.

    In recent years life expectancy and
    quality of life have increased in many countries, but not all to the same extent.

    There are faults with medical
    care in different countries; in the US the cost is often huge and not covered by
    insurance, but most of you know this better that I do.

    So let us all thank good doctors
    and continue to fight for life.

    PS: Also please continue with the
    prayers for my grandson, Jamie.