July 1, 2022

The Washington Post changes its mind

Hi there, 

Good on the Washington Post! It certainly takes a principled stand in its editorial on stem cell research. Not even its potential for curing dread diseases is sufficient reason to cross a bright line, it argues. “The creation of human embryos specifically for research that will destroy them is unconscionable. The government has no business funding it.”

Unfortunately, that was in 1994 (October 2). Almost exactly 20 years later, the Post took a very different line. An editorial this week argued: “As long as scientists do not cross ethical lines much farther from where they are now … researchers should have the flexibility to go in whichever direction is scientifically useful.”

As Emerson once said, “a foolish inconsistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” No one can blame the Post for recalibrating its positions with the years. But a 180-degree turn is a different matter.

The 1994 editorial warned of the “slippery slope”. Anyone who denies that this lacks force as an argument should read both editorials carefully. Twenty years ago, the “deeply alarmed” Post said that creating embryos for experimentation was “flat wrong”. Now it says that “Some ethical worries are reasonable, but they are not enough reason to hold back this research.”

What is very discouraging in this comparison is not so much the change in the Post’s position as its decline in moral sophistication. Back in 1994, it recognised that serious ethical issues were involved. The issue could not be decided simply by acquiescing to scientists’ demands. Now its position is essentially that the only thing that matters is financial and scientific success. Is this really progress? 

Michael Cook
After 20 years, a change of heart.