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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Ron Reagan and Functionalism, Revisited.

A couple days ago on Catholic Kerry Watch I posted on the functionalism of Senator Kerry and it's refutation by Dr. Peter Kreeft ("John Kerry is human . . . But is he a person?"). According to Dr. Kreeft, functionalism is to "define a person by his or her functioning or behavior." One could not ask for a better example of this warped line of reasoning than Ron Reagan's speech last night at the Democratic National Convention:

. . . It is a hallmark of human intelligence that we are able to make distinctions. Yes, these cells could theoretically have the potential, under very different circumstances, to develop into human beings -- that potential is where their magic lies. But they are not, in and of themselves, human beings. They have no fingers and toes, no brain or spinal cord. They have no thoughts, no fears. They feel no pain. Surely we can distinguish between these undifferentiated cells multiplying in a tissue culture and a living, breathing person -- a parent, a spouse, a child.

A position to which Ramesh Ponnuru deftly commented ("Ron's Moment: stem cell delusions" NRO July 27, 2004):

Reagan attempted to engage the arguments of those who believe that the killing of human embryos should not be subsidized. He deserves some credit for this: Many people just skip past this question. "It is the hallmark of human intelligence that we are able to make distinctions," he said. But it is a hallmark of human intelligence that we are able to make rationalizations, too. And Reagan's distinctions don't distinguish. Killing embryos is not a problem, he said, because those embryos have no fingers or toes. So much for quadriplegics. It's not a problem because they feel no pain — like the comatose, or people given lethal injections. It's not a problem because the future will approve. In which case, so much the worse for the future. (All of these arguments, by the way, contradict Reagan's earlier insistence that the research involves only using the materials of our own bodies.)

What I find most disturbing is just how easily public opinion can be swayed on this issue by simple appeal to human emotion. In his speech, Ron Reagan appealed to his audience's sympathy by comparing the plight of the embroyo with that of

. . . a child—well, she must be 13 now—I’d better call her a young woman. She has fingers and toes. She has a mind. She has memories. She has hopes. And she has juvenile diabetes. . . .

She’s very brave. She is also quite bright and understands full well the progress of her disease and what that might ultimately mean: blindness, amputation, diabetic coma. Every day, she fights to have a future.

What excuse will we offer this young woman should we fail her now? What might we tell her children? Or the millions of others who suffer? That when given an opportunity to help, we turned away?

Think about it, Ron says. An embroyo . . . "no fingers. no toes. no brain. no spinal cord. no thoughts, no fears, no pain."

Compared with the life of a 13 year old girl -- a girl with fingers, toes, brain, spinal cord, et al. -- and the countless others we may be able to save, what's the cost of a few cloned embroyos sacrificed in the name of science?

Nothing, really, says Ron.

A trifle, especially were we to believe

". . . these cells could theoretically have the potential, under very different circumstances, to develop into human beings . . ."

Methinks Ron Reagan could benefit from a basic lesson in human biology: "When Do Human Beings Begin? "Scientific" Myths and Scientific Facts", by Dian Irving (International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 19:3/4 (February 1999): 22-47).

It's actually quite elementary, the kind of stuff we all learned (or should have learned) in high school . . . but, as was demonstrated last night, can very well forget, caught up in the crowd and the manupulative spell of a skilled rhetorician.

Incidentally, Senator Kerry agrees with Ron Reagan, and just last week attached his name to a bill supporting what pro-life organizations are referring to as "clone and kill" procedures, permitting scientists to clone unborn children only to be killed to obtain their stem cells for use in research. In doing so, he joins countless others in opposing the Bush Administration's ban on such experimentation.

You can guess what will happen if he wins the election.

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