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The fight against disease is an emergency; it requires urgent attention and total focus.
But if life is always at risk and we are always in crisis, then we must always do things that moral contemplation would suggest are wrong.
If we are always in a mode of triage, then we must always choose the strong over the weak because they have a better chance at benefiting from our help.
I exaggerate in both descriptions, but the essence of the contrast should be apparent.
In principle, both modern science and modern politics are devoted to averting pain and death.
But the demand for justice from nature, which is always problematic, is especially so in our times, precisely because when we speak of justice we most often mean equality, and equality is a standard which nature is uniquely unfit to meet.
By some more aristocratic standards, nature can be said to be just — treating the great well and the low poorly — and indeed nature itself can almost be a standard for justice.But if all are to be treated equally, then certainly nature is unjust in the extreme, since it treats people unequally for no apparent reason.If nature is unjust, then nature must be fought and made to treat us properly.And if we must always be engaged in saving life, then we are always justified in breaking the Sabbath, so that in effect there is no Sabbath, no time for rest and contemplation of the truth. To the ancients, the normal and the everyday were the measure of things.Indeed, there is no everyday life at all, against which times of urgency might be measured. Man was that creature that could speak and contemplate and seek after truth, and his greatest need was for a means of doing so.ric Cohen’s essay puts forward a powerful critique of supporters of embryo research: Their case, Cohen argues, is mystical or revolutionary, and constitutes a rejection of the very principle of equality to which most of them swear first allegiance. While the essay argues well that the path of embryo research leads to an abandonment of our foundational commitment to equality, it also argues that the only other choice may be to martyr one’s children to the higher truth of equality.He accuses them of the two sins they most enjoy attributing to their opponents: irrationality and inegalitarianism. One cannot help but wonder if these are really our only options, and if there may not be some way to muddle through the middle and live well without giving up the hope of curing the sick child.They argue that time is running out, but that swift action can still save the day.Testifying before a Senate subcommittee in 2003, Parkinson’s patient and research advocate James Cordy told the Senators: “Please, please don’t let time run out for me and the over 1.5 million Americans with Parkinson’s, and the over 100 million Americans with diseases and conditions who are almost certain to benefit from regenerative medicine, including embryonic stem cell research.It is unconscionable to let time run out — especially now that the scientists tell us the finish line might be within sight.” We cannot let up even for a moment, not for any reason, and especially not now.This is the essence of the argument for approaching medical science with a sense of urgency and crisis: right now is the moment that counts, and we must not let anything distract us.