February 22, 2024

Has “conservative bioethics” failed?

A decade after the great stem cell debates, America is still “liberal”

The hullabaloo over sting videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the price of foetal tissue may give the impression that bioethical conservatism is on the ascendant in America. Not so, says Jonathan Moreno, a leading bioethicist who is liberal both politically and bioethically.

“It’s hard to find a conservative intellectual who emphasizes bioethics anymore, a sea change from the era of Bush 43, who devoted a chapter of his memoir, Decision Points, to the debate about human embryonic stem cells,” he writes in the Huffington Post. Instead, after a decade of debate, the liberals have won.

What seems clinched the deal for “liberals” was success. After human embryonic stem cells seemed to be useful (even if not as useful as scientists imagined), they became acceptable. Assisted suicide is spreading because baby boomers have to deal with the suffering of helpless parents. When the dust has settled on the Planned Parenthood videos, it seems likely, writes Moreno, that people will still support foetal tissue sales because it will be useful in fighting dementia.

There are other factors as well. Obamacare has survived a conservative onslaught and will entrench the expansion of government intervention for the common good.

Same-sex marriage is another. “The seismic shift in attitudes toward gay marriage has also changed the way many Americans think about what it means to be liberal …  And though gay marriage is not on its face a bioethics issue, it has a way of carrying other non-traditional family-making arrangements along with it, like in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood.

“Simply put,” says Moreno, “for all its passion and focus, the conservative bioethics project failed.”

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