Jewish World Review July 30, 2001/ 10 Menachem-Av, 5761

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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When principle hits too close to home -- ACROSS the mighty Atlantic there was a deafening silence when Timothy McVeigh was put to death. Europe, land of enlightenment, poor dental care, and 5 pounds per liter petrol could not rally the Renaissance troops for a hearty protest against us barbarians of capital punishment. Mr. McVeigh was the murderer they too would kill.

Those whose moral outrage knows no limits on abortion clinic bombings remain mute as the Phoenix arsonist torches homes along the mountain preserve nature paths.

Napster creator Shawn Fanning cheered and facilitated the pirating of copyrighted music via peer-to-peer file sharing, but moaned mightily of infringement when an entrepreneur took the Napster logo and slapped it onto shirts that sold like hotcakes.

Bill Gates, Mr.-Requiring-Me-To-Disclose-My Windows-Code-to-Rivals-is-Confiscation, personally lobbied to force AOL to share its instant-messaging software, an area in which Microsoft had missed the boat.

Now pro-life politician Connie Mack, a cancer patient himself, and Nancy Reagan, whose husband's illness might be contained, tout the wonders of stem-cell research. Their personal circumstances make them dismiss their commitment to life's transcending quality. What folly it is to say that we need stem cell research! Such analysis begs the question. Every ethical lapse has a reason, but no justification .

The saying that sports build character has relevance here. Sports reveal character. Sports participation can correct character flaws through a controlled environment, if we keep overzealous parents away from games. So it is with difficult ethical dilemmas. We already have our principles; we just compromise them when the going gets tough. Compelling personal circumstances test us, but they are not justification for compromising principle. Not stealing bread when you're starving is the challenge. Hunger does not change the principle that stealing is wrong. Ad hoc application of principle is moral relativism.

Ad hoc results arise because dilemmas are presented as either/or ultimatums. An expedient resolution becomes the only resolution. Moral relativism thrives. There is effective stem-cell research using adult and umbilical cord cells. Such avenues may take longer, but we get results without the offense to life's transcending quality.

Protection of life requires unwavering principle in life's most emotional circumstances. A letter from a regular detractor on my pro-life position read, "Wait until your daughters are pregnant. We'll see your position on abortion then." That my daughters might be affected does not change my views. My daughters would have my love and support during any pregnancy, but our profound respect for life doesn't waver because we would prefer a different consequence.

The issue in stem-cell research, and President Bush's decision on whether to continue federal funding for it, is very simple: does life begin at conception? If life begins at conception, the rationalization of the inevitable disposal of frozen embryos is clearly not the issue. The creation and freezing of embryos was the result of medical science focusing on "Could we?"and forgetting to ask "Should we?" Because that analysis was not done, we now have a supply chain of embryos from parents who have moved on to a new fad.

Tiny beings now sit on ice, abandoned by their makers to scientific swashbucklers foraging among them. That original flippant and seemingly harmless interference with the dignity of creation (in the name of the noble act of giving folks offspring) has brought us ghoulish scientists in Virginia ratcheting up embryo production for research only. May G-d have mercy on them for their disregard of the sanctity of life and its creation, whether in Petri dish or master bedroom.

My oldest daughter once asked me about the challenges of giving birth at age 41. She commented, "Another baby was probably the last thing you needed," and wondered if there was time for a way out. I reminded her of life's origins in conception. Armed with genetics class material, she conceded, "John existed from the moment he was conceived, from his red hair to his curved fourth toe to his bad temper."

They are not embryos - they are freckles, personalities, and complete beings, save a little incubation. It's tough to draw this line because our children suffer from cancer, our parents' bear the indignities of Alzheimer's and diabetes takes its unrelenting toll.

But, life is not ours to create and then destroy in the name of wants and needs. If life begins at conception, all other questions are moot. Even the choicest among us have succumbed on this issue for we lose sight of principle when we're hungry. Principle compromised for expediency is not only wrong, it is the beginning of an inconsolable regret over our failure to hold firm when the inevitable consequences haunt us.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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06/29/01: There is no excuse
06/21/01: I want an eternal soulmate, but the marriage thing is another issue
06/14/01: Which way maverick McCain? An Arizonan's perspective
06/07/01: No stroke of genius
05/30/01: The lesson of the Mr. Green Jeans senator: 'Moderate' is a classy term for wishy-washy
05/25/01: Baseball has not been so good to me
05/18/01: Clothes make the woman
05/11/01: Selective precaution
05/04/01: Grades: Equality of students, by students, for the students
04/27/01: The Horowitz revelations as seen by a college professor
04/20/01: First, let's kill all the tests
04/13/01: The continuing mistake of underpricing electricity
04/06/01: That pill, Julia Roberts
03/29/01: If it weren't for the parents, we might accomplish something
03/23/01: The melt down of the academy
03/15/01: Columbine redux: Moral infants
03/09/01: The lessons of Tom and Nicole
03/01/01: Pardon the temporary outrage
02/23/01: In defense of homework
02/20/01: A Message for faith-based organizations: Don't take the money, just run
02/06/01: Enough already with the Clintoons
01/26/01: The challenge to be better than we have been
01/19/01: Where have you gone Frieda Pushnik?
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12/23/00: Litigation: It's the American way
12/15/00: In defense of rhetoric
12/06/00: The company we keep: Lawyers and elections
12/01/00: Liberals' art of trashing of women
11/20/00: Put me out of my misery
11/17/00: On being a statesman
11/13/00: When it's broke, fixing it wouldn't offend the Framers
11/08/00: ELECTION 2000: I SURRENDER
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10/20/00: Ten things the gay community should understand
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09/29/00: The capacity for truth
09/22/00: Charity with strings and an agenda
09/15/00: The taming of the shrew: Gloria Steinem takes a husband
09/09/00: Why rich folk don't bother me none
08/28/00: Survival of the not-so-fit but conniving
08/25/00: Conventions: A study in contrasts
08/18/00: Resenting the accusations of racial prejudice
08/04/00: Women: Their own worst enemy
07/21/00: Hillary: Our longshoreman First Lady
07/21/00: SUVs: The root of all evil
07/14/00: The basketball gene and white men not jumping so well
07/07/00: I wanna be around
06/23/00: The liberal conversion
06/14/00: Sex and the City: The shallow but vulgar female
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06/02/00: Oh, Canada: Our Nutty Neighbors to the North
05/23/00: The new mollycoddling coach
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05/12/00: Taking your lumps
05/02/00: Elian: There's never a liberal around when you need one
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04/11/00: The monsters we're raising with the ergo proposition
04/05/00: Endowing the Hooters Chair for Literature Appreciation
03/28/00: Dr. Laura: The passive/aggressive kid's mom
03/21/00: Dough and campaigns
03/14/00: The volunteerism of conscription and pomp
03/07/00: Hope and pray that religion remains a force in politics
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02/22/00: Cranky nitpickers make writing a [sic] experience
02/15/00: Those chameleon 60s activists
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01/25/00: Stroke of the pen, law of the land: Clinton's Camelot
01/18/00: Off the Rocker Rorschach Test
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11/18/99: The elusive human spirit and accountability
11/11/99: Succumbing to the intellectual child within with the help of crackpots and screwballs
10/28/99: Live by litigation, die by litigation
10/22/99: Jesse, Warren, Cybill, Donald and Oprah
10/14/99: Inequality and injustice: It's the big one
10/05/99: Dan Quayle, morals and schoolyard bullies
09/30/99: The monsters of epidermal parenting
09/21/99: The Diversity Hoax
09/15/99: Waco Wackos
09/09/99: Selective censorship
09/01/99: The village, the children, judicial imperialism and abortion
08/24/99: Naughty Newt?
08/17/99: In defense of Boy Scouts and judgment
08/10/99: Ruining the finest health care system in the world
08/03/99: Nihilism and politics: ethics on the lam
07/26/99: Of women, soccer and removed jerseys
07/23/99: Not in despair, a mere mortal doing just fine
07/20/99: "Why me?" How about "Why us?"
07/13/99: Bunk, junk & juries
07/06/99: An Amish woman in a Victoria's Secret store
06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
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06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings