Ken Blackwell: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
September 17, 2008
This op-ed originally appeared on Townhall.com on July 3, 2008
We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
-Declaration of Independence
It behooves us all, especially in this pivotal election year, to reflect on the words of our nations Founders in light of medical sciences capacity to infringe upon the first human right, the right to life.
The Sunday Times of London recently reported that a couple screened children shortly after conception who might have had an increased chance for cancer so they destroyed the embryos that had the defective gene. This medical capability in modern day eugenics has terrifying and profound implications for American public policy.
The article started, A woman has conceived Britains first baby guaranteed to be free from hereditary breast cancer. You would almost think that what she and her husband consented to was a good thing.
They had her eggs fertilized to produce 11 female children. They then had a lab genetically test all of them for a gene that increases the chance of breast cancer. Five of them were found to be free of the gene, of which two were implanted in her womb. Shes now 14 weeks pregnant.
The other embryos were all destroyed.
The couples rationale was they had two family members who had suffered with breast cancer. They wanted healthy babies, so they made sure the wife would only carry a baby that was not considered at risk for breast cancer. After all, breast cancer is one of the leading killers of women in the world.
But there was not even an ironclad certainty that any of them would ever get breast cancer. What the couple decided to do and what the doctors did is disturbing. Should we cull the herd of humanity, looking for genetic weakness and destroying life in the earliest stage for those whom we deem to carry too risky health problems?
This destruction of life ignores the chances of finding a cure.
Today there are illnesses we can successfully treat or even cure that were thought hopeless when babies were born with them. Every year there are increasingly effective treatments for cancer, and scientists say there is a solid chance we can find a cure for the disease.
What a tragedy it would be to destroy a life today to save that person from possibly encountering an illness in the future when we may have a cure for that illness years before they get sick.
I am a cancer survivor. Eight years ago I was treated for prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is one of the leading killers of men in the world.
I am also 60 years old. What if there was a genetic screening test for prostate cancer 60 years ago? Would I have been born? As I look at the faces of my grown children, I contemplate that they would never have lived if their father had never been born.
No one knows the length of our lives. Families all across this country suffer the loss of perfectly healthy babies in the first years of life. Other people overcome enormous health obstacles to have extraordinary lives. And still others succumb to breast cancer, prostate cancer or other illnesses, but after long, happy, and productive lives.
There is a horrifying slippery slope here. Where do we draw the line? Again, these babies did not have a debilitating lifelong malady. All they had was a chance of developing an illness. Whats next? Poor eyesight or hearing? How about food allergies?
Better yet, why stop at abnormalities? How about insisting they be taller than average, or have superior abilities? While youre at it, why not also select the eye color and hair color? Dont just fertilize eleven eggs. Fertilize a hundred, choose the single best one, and destroy the rest.
Yet that is the world we now live in, so our leaders must now take a stand on all such policy issues.
This is similar in one regard to our recent national debate on embryonic stem cell research. For several years the press and liberals pounded the president for opposing the destruction of fertilized embryos like those destroyed by British doctors for scientific research. But earlier this year scientists discovered a method for extracting stem cells from skin cells called somatic cell dedifferentiation. Now scientists can engage in all the research they like without harming anyone.
Thats the potential of medical science. And its the potential ignored by the aforementioned British doctors, and those like them in America.
We are in an era where science enables us to do wonderful things, but also terrible things. Our public policy must protect life, especially the lives of innocent, unborn children.
And we must never deceive ourselves that we do children a favor by ending their lives as they begin.