Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths. - Psalm 25:4

Predictions on Life and Bioethical Issues in 2009

Wesley J. Smith, JD
Reprinted with permission of the author

LifeNews.com Note: Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His most recent book is The Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World.

Each year at this time, I predict the coming year's happenings in the field of bioethics. Such prognostications do not require a crystal ball. It is merely a matter of being informed about current controversies, sniffing the air to see which way the wind seems to be blowing, connecting some dots, and making educated guesses about how things will turn out.

Alas, the bioethical events of 2009 are all too easy to foresee. While the recent election results were not determined by bioethical issues—the economic meltdown swept all other considerations aside—it amounted to a cultural earthquake nonetheless because the people now in power have views that are inimical to the sanctity and equality of human life.

Biotechnology

The Bush Embryonic Stem Cell Funding Policy is Toast: Let’s start with the obvious: One of the first acts of President Obama will be to dismantle the Bush ESCR federal funding restrictions. This will allow all embryonic stem cell lines already in existence—and those that will be manufactured from "leftover embryos" during the Obama presidency—to qualify for federal funding.

The Amount of Federal Funding of Human ESCR Will Remain Roughly the Same: The real gripe "the scientists" had with the former Bush policy was not the amount of financial support—the NIH gave about $160 million in human ESCR grants during the Bush years. Rather, it was Bush’s implied message that it is wrong morally to use human embryos as instrumentalities and their having to segregate work on Bush-approved and unapproved cell lines. Those “problems” are now kaput, but given the economy and the current technological problems in the field, don’t look for the amount of money the Feds put into ESCR, to rise substantially, if at all, in 2009.

New Federal Law Will Explicitly Legalize Therapeutic Cloning: Nearly everyone claims to want to outlaw human cloning. But some proposed bans are actually phony. This has been the approach taken by Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Orin Hatch (R-UT), who co-authored a bill to legalize human SCNT for research purposes (sometimes called “therapeutic cloning”), but prohibit implantation of the cloned embryo into a womb for the purpose of initiating a pregnancy (sometimes called “reproductive cloning”). Such an explicit legalization—pretending to be a ban—is likely to pass the Senate this year, although it might stall in the House. If it gets through Congress it is a sure bet to be signed into law by President Obama.

The Federal Government Will Not Fund Human Cloning in 2009: Feinstein/Hatch is the necessary precursor to federal funding of human SCNT. While that will still be the plan, don’t expect the agenda to get that far in 2009.

Assisted Suicide

There were two big news stories about assisted suicide in 2008—Washington voters legalized Oregon-style assisted suicide by ballot initiative (I-1000), and a Montana trial judge declared a constitutional right for the terminally ill to "die with dignity." These events will materially impact the future of the field.

Washington Assisted Suicide Will Quickly Seem Routine: As with Oregon, Compassion and Choices will facilitate most assisted suicides in Washington, allowing the group substantial control over what the media reports about the issue. With most reporters in the tank for the agenda anyway, we will soon be told that assisted suicide is completely under control in Washington. Any abuses or problems that come to light in WA, will, as in Oregon, be ignored by state authorities and go mostly unreported by the media.

The Montana Supreme Court will Create a Constitutional Right to Assisted Suicide: Too many judges believe that they, rather than the people or legislators, should decide major social controversies. In this spirit, look for the Montana Supreme Court to agree with the trial judge that there is a state constitutional right to assisted suicide.

At Least One State Legislature Will Vote to Legalize Assisted Suicide: Look for Hawaii, California, and/or Vermont to legalize assisted suicide through the legislative process. Whether these proposals become law will depend on whether the governors of the affected states have the courage to veto the bills. I predict that at least one governor will sign such a bill, establishing another landmark for assisted suicide. That event will open the floodgates in 2010.

Miscellaneous

There are many other issues in bioethics that will make the news headlines in 2009:

Abortion: The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA)—which would erase all state laws limiting abortion—will be fought tooth and tong by the pro life movement. It will not pass in 2009. However, abortions will be eligible for federal funding by the end of the year.

Conscience Clauses: One of the great bioethical battles in the coming years will be whether medical professionals who do not wish to be complicit in life-ending activities such as abortion or assisted suicide will be driven out of health care. The Bush Administration passed a regulation at the end of his term protecting such dissenting health care workers from being discriminated against in employment for harkening to the call of conscience. Look for this rule to be overturned by the Obama Administration, or overturned by legislation. Thereafter, the drive to exclude health care professionals who wish to abide by the terms of the Hippocratic Oath will pick up steam.

Human Exceptionalism: Timing is uncertain, but look for the European Court of Human Rights to declare that chimpanzees are legal persons in Europe, perhaps this year, but almost certainly by the end of 2010. Spain will formally pass the Great Ape Project making great apes part of the "community of equals" with people. Nepal will follow Ecuador in granting "rights" to nature.

Futile Care: Texas will not rescind its law legalizing medical futility in 2009. At least one lawsuit will make the news in which a family fights a hospital in court to continue wanted life-sustaining treatment that the hospital wishes to end.

Biological Colonialism: Alas, despite legal attempts to restrict the exploitation of the world’s destitute for their body parts, biological colonialism (such as buying organs), will increase in 2009.

Expect the Unexpected: The field of bioethics is moving so fast and growing so exponentially, that the biggest bioethics story of the year may be one that hasn’t yet appeared on the horizon—as the surprising breakthrough in induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) were in 2007.

It’s going to be a dark year in 2009. In such an atmosphere, it is more important than ever to defend the sanctity/equality of human life. The CBC is dedicated to this struggle and promises to do its utmost to maintain morality and decency in the world of bioethics in the coming year.



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