Thursday, March 26, 2009

Monday's press conference and how Oh, bama "wrestles" with ethics

Below is a portion of the transcript from Obama's press conference from Tuesday March 24th.  Obama's remarks on stem cell funding and ethical wrestling seems to have received no coverage based on my searches.  I've inserted my commentary in bold print throughout the text of the transcript. 

OK. John Ward, Washington Times? Where's John?

Question: Thank you, sir.

Obama: There you go.

Question: Thank you, Mr. President.

Obama: Sure.

Question: In your remarks on stem cell research earlier this month, you talked about a majority consensus in determining whether or not this is the right thing to do, to federally fund embryonic stem cell research.

I'm just wondering, though, how much you personally wrestled with the morality or ethics of federally funding this kind of research, especially given the fact that science so far has shown a lot of progress with adult stem cells, but not a lot with embryonic?

Obama: OK. No, I think it's a legitimate question. I wrestle with these issues every day.

As I mentioned to -- I think in an interview a couple of days ago, by the time an issue reaches my desk, it's a hard issue. If it was an easy issue, somebody else would have solved it and it wouldn't have reached me.We disagree.  If you are certain of a hard and fast rule, such as ‘murder is wrong’ or ‘organic is good,’ then on all questions that relate to those foundation principles a decision is easy.  If you have a solid core of beliefs, if you believe in absolutes, then moral questions are rarely mind boggling. 

Look, I believe that it is very important for us to have strong moral guidelines, ethical guidelines,what are those guidelines?—are they more than just popular consensus? when it comes to stem cell research or anything that touches on, you know, the issues of possible cloning or issues related to, you know, the human life sciences.

I think those issues are all critical, and I've said so before. I wrestle with it on stem cell; I wrestle with it on issues like abortion. But every vote you have ever cast sides against conservatives.  Every social policy you promote seems one-sided.  The Mexico City Policy, calling abortion a “right” while campaigning, saying your daughter could be “punished by a pregnancy,” rescinding the conscience protections Bush signed into law, and now using tax money to do research on stem cells from aborted (murdered) children.  Your record shows no sign of any wrestling…you have the highest rating NARAL can give…clearly they don’t see you wrestling with this either. Perhaps you do wrestle, but the decision always seems to be the same.

I think that the guidelines that we provided meet that ethical test.What Ethical test?  I’m yet to see where you identified the grounds, rubrics, or criteria of any test? I know of no anti-abortion advocates you've included in your abortion advocacy your litmus test?  Do you think an anti-abortion judge could ever be fit for you to nominate to the Supreme Court?   What we have said is that, for embryos that are typically -- about to be discarded, for us to be able to use those in order to find cures for Parkinson's or for Alzheimer's or, you know, all sorts of other debilitating diseases, juvenile diabetes, that it is the right thing to do.  If you saw the child from which the stem cells were extracted as a murder victim, then you would likely have a problem with how they were acquired…so, do you have a problem with how the stem cells are acquired?  If you’re ok with abortion then I don’t see why you would need to wrestle with the issue of funding stem cell research, as you said before.  If abortion is murder, then no one should have these stem cells in the first place.  (miscarriage would be a completely separate issue)

And that's not just my opinion. That is the opinion of a number of people who are also against abortion. I’m curious to hear names.  And, again, is consensus the criteria, is pragmatically making the greatest number of people happy your criteria?  It’s not a matter of how many people hold the opinion.  What reasoning, logic, teleology (ends/means thinking) do YOU use to draw these conclusions?

Now, I am glad to see progress is being made in adult stem cells. And if the science determines that we can completely avoid a set of ethical questions or political disputes, then that's great.When do you think all scientists could ever agree on that?  How can science prove that stem cells could never be useful for some scientific experiment.  Science can’t prove that.  Some scientist will always want to tinker with stem cells.  The question remains: what is the morality of acquiring the stem cells in the first place? 

I have no investment in causing controversy. I'm happy to avoid it if that's where the science leads us. But what I don't want to do is predetermine this based on a very rigid ideological approach (this is code for???), and that's what I think is reflected in the executive order that I signed.How is a matter of moral reasoning labeled as mere ideology?  I’m more than ever inclined to believe that you hold no absolutes.  Is there one action which is forever wrong under any and all circumstances no matter where or when you live? 

Question: I meant to ask -- just to follow up -- do you think that scientific consensus is enough to tell us what we can and cannot do?

Obama: No. I think there's always an ethical and a moral element that has to be a part of this. Again, what is that line of  ethical and moral reasoning?  What are your philosophical/ethical/moral premises that lead you to this conclusion?  And so, as I said, I don't take decisions like this lightly. They're ones that I take seriously, and I respect people who have different opinions on this issue. (like those you labeled as people who “cling to guns and relgion?”

But I think that this was the right thing to do and the ethical thing to do.Again, why do you think this?  On what grounds?  And as I said before, my hope is, is that we can find a mechanism, ultimately, to cure these diseases in a way that gains 100 percent consensus. And we certainly haven't achieved that yet, (do you honestly think that that is in any way possible in your life time?) but I think on balance this was the right step to take.  Is a balance of good and bad your standard?  If it is only a little bit evil then is it ok?  What is your balanced criteria? 

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