How many churches got the kind of plain speaking on "playing God" that the pope shared in his Good Friday meditation?

Listen to this report in the secular press—from the London Sunday Times:

The Pope has launched a devastating attack on scientists meddling with genetics to create designer babies.
Benedict XVI accused them of eliminating the family and poured scorn on a society he condemned as "satanic, narcissistic and filthy".
In a strongly worded message during the traditional Good Friday Stations of the Cross service in Rome, he attacked modern values as a "slick campaign of propaganda" which was spreading an "inane apologia of evil, a senseless cult of Satan".
He spoke of the "filth around us" and how "entertainment has become a drug", calling on God to "free us from our decadent narcissism"—and he was scathing about attempts to clone "virgin birth" embryos with no father.
"Surely God is deeply pained by the attack on the family," he said.
"Today we seem to be witnessing a kind of anti-Genesis, a counter-plan, a diabolical pride aimed at eliminating the family.
"There is a move to reinvent mankind, to modify the very grammar of life as planned and willed by God."

It's worth reading part of what he actually said, because it was in the form of a meditation:

Surely God is deeply pained
by the attack on the family.
Today we seem to be witnessing
a kind of anti-Genesis,
a counter-plan, a diabolical pride
aimed at eliminating the family.
There is a move to reinvent mankind,
to modify the very grammar of life
as planned and willed by God. (Gen. 1:27, 2:24)
But, to take God's place, without being God,
is insane arrogance,
a risky and dangerous venture.

It could hardly be better put.

The Latest Stem Celling
James Thomson, the Wisconsin scientist who was the first person to cultivate human embryonic stem cells in the lab, has come out swinging against the President's stem-cell funding policy. "The President's compromise is a bad compromise, and it does not represent good public policy," Thomson said. "Now is the time to change it."

The President's policy was in fact the only "ethical" compromise that could have been drafted—permitting for the first time federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research (the President "could have shut this down," Thomson acknowledged), as long as it did not lead to the killing of any more embryos. And while the U.S. press has ignored the fact, the President's position was immediately copied in Germany, where socialist Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder pressed to allow cell lines to be imported as long as the embryos had been destroyed before a cut-off date earlier in the year. Germany just happens to be second to the U.S. in the number of stem-cell research articles published every year.

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The report on Thomson's speech is useful because it highlights some facts most people don't know. We already spend around $40 million federal dollars every year on embryonic stem-cell research. We spend another $569 million on adult stem-cell research and animal studies. That's nearly two-thirds of $1 billion.

Still, Thomson got plenty wrong. "Considering the Bush administration's views on the matter, few administrators in the agency that is the nation's premier supporter of basic science are likely to press the case for more funding," said Thomson. Well, of course, in a democracy the role of civil servants is to carry out the law. But more importantly, there is no lack of funding for stem-cell studies, including embryonic stem-cell research. There is no "cap" on what proportion of its budget the National Institutes of Health can spend on this research. And there are plenty of samples from the approved cell lines for researchers with good projects.

What's more—and this undercuts the rhetoric we keep hearing about "American falling behind"—there are very large sums of private money and state money being poured into this field, driven by the hype that has turned "stem-cell politics" into front-page news.

Why Ethics Matters for Business
In the same report, an intriguing comment is quoted from a patent attorney, who puts his finger on one of the biggest issues we face in the 21st century. "The uncertainty and social controversy surrounding stem-cell research has discouraged many biotech companies and investors from embracing the technology," said Gareth Williams, a patent attorney with London-based Marks & Clerk.

Controversy undermines investment; ethics, therefore, are good for business! Savvy observers of the European experience with "genetically modified" foods and the vast stem-cell controversy (here in the U.S. and in Europe) have come to a simple conclusion. People have to believe in products if they are going to be successful. Even if some people believe in them, it does not take too many who are worried or offended or believe them to be immoral to sink the market—because investors will put their dollars somewhere safer.

That isn't the only reason ethics matters. But it's a lesson that the more brazen advocates of biotech had better learn fast.

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Related Elsewhere:

Previous Life Matters columns include:

Human Nature on Trial | Tomorrow's "godlike, massively intelligent machines." Plus: Our nanotech future and some good news on stem cells that really work. (April 12, 2006)
Outsourcing Birth: Let an Indian Woman Have Your Baby | Plus: Good news from Europe on stem-cell funding. (April 5, 2006)
The Abortion Agenda: South Dakota's Move in Context | Plus: The latest on the biopolicy agenda and some outrageous lies on stem cells. (March 30, 2006)
Our Cloning Friends, the Brits | The U.K. and disaffected American researchers lash out at U.S. cloning laws. (March 17, 2006)
The Truth, the Partial Truth, and Nothing but Evasions | How to sell unethical science. (March 2, 2006)
The Pursuit of Enhancement | The latest from Brave New Britain. (Feb. 22. 2006)
Poaching Eggs | The latest sad story from the Korean soap opera—and a lack of Talent in Missouri (Feb. 17, 2006)
The State of the Human | President Bush sets out a vital agenda for ethics. (Feb. 2, 2006)

More CT articles on bioethics are available on our Life Ethics page.

Life Matters
Nigel M. de S. Cameron is now president and CEO of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies. His "Life Matters" column, a commentary on bioethics issues, ran from 2005 to 2006.
Previous Life Matters Columns: