Saturday, August 25, 2007

EU divided along religious lines

The Spectator carried an article a few weeks ago which fell under Cranmer’s aegis, yet more pressing priorities stole it away. It was concerning the role of religion in the formulation of ethical codes for scientific research, and it is evidence, if any were needed, that Europe’s divisions are and always have been deeper than mere issue of economics or politics.

While the focus remains on the impending not-a-constitution Reform Treaty of 2007, one minor footnote has been largely ignored: footnote 18 to the proposed draft wording for a replacement of Article 6 on fundamental rights. It is termed a ‘Unilateral Declaration by Poland’, and states quite clearly that the ‘Charter does not affect in any way the right of Member States to legislate in the sphere of public morality, family law as well as the protection of human dignity and respect for human physical and moral integrity.’

This is quite a significant issue to deal with in a mere footnote; indeed, it is of such great significance that it ought to have be included in the main body of text. One can only assume that those who drew up the not-a-constitution Reform Treaty intended that it would not be spotted, but (as ever) the Devil is in the detail.

The Spectator notes that ‘the protection of human dignity and respect for human physical and moral integrity’ is EU-speak for bans on new medical areas such as embryonic stem cell research, gene therapy and even the latest breakthrough, RNA (ribonucleic acid). The ‘Unilateral Declaration by Poland’ is designed to ensure that EU member states will remain free to ban such research, fearful, as they were (and are) that the new voting arrangements threaten to trample over their liberties to legislate upon such matters.

Opposition to controversial stem cell research usually emanates from the religiously conservative. For the vast majority of Jews, Christians and Muslims, an embryo is a person, or at least a potential person whose potential ought not to be extinguished for the sake of expedience. Since Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed were at one time embryos, one might understand why Roman Catholic bishops have decreed that such research is ‘immoral, illegal and unnecessary’.

Yet for Roman Catholics it is universally taught and generally accepted that euthanasia, abortion, and the creation for research purposes of human embryos, are ‘evil’. This was the expressed opinion of John Paul II, and Benedict XVI has since added that the destruction of human embryos to harvest stem cells is ‘not only devoid of the light of God but is also devoid of humanity’. In those countries where Rome is strong, stem cell research will remain banned.

But the Roman Catholic Church, acting through staunchly Catholic countries like Poland, is not merely contending against the EU’s secular-scientific-atheism; Protestants generally have a much more utilitarian view of such ethical issues, as if there were some Kantian moral imperative with transcends the transcendent, and among the Muslims there are also divergent views, with the majority holding that embryonic stem cell research is permissible provided that the motive is the amelioration of human health. Cranmer could not help but smile at The Spectator’s principal observation:

Powerful opposition…coincides with a strong church. It should not therefore be surprising that a country such as Britain, with some of the most ineffectual religious leadership, has some of the most permissive research laws.

Protestant Europe and Catholic Europe will therefore contend against each other on this one. The irony, of course, is that the moment discoveries are made and cures are found in the Protestant parts, all of those Polish Roman Catholics will board their planes and fly to an EU country where treatment is legal. And it is mainly the wealthy who will be able to take advantage of the fact that EU citizens may elect to be treated wherever they wish, when denied treatment in their own countries. Where is the privilege for the poor in that?


Anonymous Voyager said...

Protestants generally have a much more utilitarian view of such ethical issues, as if there were some Kantian moral imperative with transcends the transcendent,

I think you might understand why Germany has a restrictive policy on such matters even though it is notionally majority Protestant.

However we can reflect on the policy of forcible sterilisation to illustrate a policy. The Nazis had a programme of forced sterilisation of women. You might suspect that this programme ceased in 1945 but you would only be 25% correct; it was abolished in the Soviet Zone but retained by the Allies and is actually still on the Statute book in Germany today.

The work carried out by Dr Josef Mengele was not some errant activity by a lone doctor but a proper programme under the aegis of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft (KWG)and his research work on twins at Auschwitz was sent to Berlin for departmental study.

During the 1930s, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research (KWImF) was one of the most dynamic scientific research laboratories in all of Germany. One of its research directors during this time, Otto Meyerhof, had already won the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physiology. Two others, Richard Kuhn and Walther Bothe, were honored similarly in 1938 and 1954 for their contributions to chemistry and physics. Although the laboratory had less than 150 scientists and staff, four additional scientists who worked at the KWImF during these years would go on to win Nobel Prizes later in their careers. The KWImF is today known as the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, one of more than fifty research institutes administered by the Max Planck Society.


In 1942, Josef Mengele's former professor Othmar von Verschuer was made director of the Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics in Dahlem, Berlin. He and his protégé went on to work together on the two eugenics projects...Mengele sent blood samples from some 200 patients of various race to his partner at the Berlin institute, while Karin Magnussen received human parts from the notorious concentration camp, such as eyes taken from a dead Sinti family......Rumor has it that Mengele was working on his postdoctoral thesis in Auschwitz, which was being supervised by Verschuer. That would have meant Mengele was answerable to Verschuer. In that sense, he was taking orders.".........Many of the scientists incriminated in these cases were never even prosecuted in the post-war years. After disappearing in 1945, Josef Mengele allegedly drowned in Brazil in 1979. Karin Magnussen was simply deemed a Nazi "fellow traveler," and spent twenty years as a biology teacher in Bremen before dying in 1997 at the age of 89.

Most spurious of all was the fate of Othmar von Verschuer. He remained a respected scientist in Germany and became Dean of the University of Münster, as well as an honorary member of numerous scientific societies.

Now that may not seem to explain Poland, but if you consider that many Poles wre transported to Germany for medical experimentation.

It is not simply a question of religion that pre-figures an deep anxiety about the triumph of Utilitarianism in scientific research, but a fear of what Pandora's Box may be opened up by permitting research in areas which few will comprehend and fewer still will supervise.

It has taken 60 years for genealogy to be respectable in Germany after the memories of those wishing to marry having to visit the local authority and intiate searches of family records looking for Jewish ancestry or any signs of mental infirmity in the family tree which would render any marriage impermissible.

There are experiences in some countries unknown to Anglo-Saxons which cause an adherence to religious faith in fear of greater horrors - Utilitarianism is not to the advantage of every individual, especially if he is to be sacrified for the greater good

25 August 2007 at 15:22  
Anonymous oiznop said...

It all comes to down to whether you believe a bunch of cells 'with potential' is already a human being. If so, why does God abort them natuarally, before they've had a chance to even breathe? If a bunch of unsentient cells can help someone else, then that should be allowed, and no religion should have the right to impose its worldview on those who don't believe.

25 August 2007 at 16:48  
Anonymous Observer said...

then that should be allowed, and no religion should have the right to impose its worldview on those who don't believe.

but vice-versa is okay ?

25 August 2007 at 16:57  
Anonymous oiznop said...

There's no imposition on the religious. Theyre free to not participate in stem cell research, and not take any medical help as a result. Its laisser faire - everyone's happy. The evil is when any group can impose its narrow view on another group - and that goes for religious or non-religious. I don't think gays should be able to force Catholic adoption centres to give them babies, for example, any more than you should be able to force a Catholic/Muslim doctor to carry out an abortion. Stem cell research should fall in the same areas of conscience.

25 August 2007 at 17:42  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Stem cell research should fall in the same areas of conscience.

You are confusing several issues. Even in the United States Stem Cell Research is perfectly legal.

The only prohibition Bush has imposed is the same one Clinton imposed - no Federal Funds for Embryonic Stem Cell Research.....private funds can be used but not Federal Funds.

In fact it is analogous to religion in the USA since Federal Funds cannot be used to support Churches and Theology Students are banned from taxpayer-funded Universities.

There are major questions whether embryonic stem cell research is so worthwhile anyway since adult stem cells have been showing positive results.

I see no reason not to deny Scientists what they want at first pass, it helps them focus their arguments better - that is what happened at CERN.

There is an attempt to get wide discretion in research simply so whole areas of research can be patented to prevent any other company entering that area. There are attempts currently to patent whole strands of DNA to demand licence fees from other researchers. In fact it is getting rather like Fleming and his refusal to patent penicillin so the American companies did so instead.

There is much more to this game than Berthold Brecht's play of Galileo vs The Church....this time it is The Patent Office

25 August 2007 at 19:10  
Anonymous Dr. Irene Lancaster FRSA said...

I think that the Muslim view on abortion is not quite as strict as the Catholic view.

25 August 2007 at 20:32  

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