Tonight Laura and I attended an event at my school featuring Senator Sam Brownback, the Kansas Republican, and potential 2008 presidential candidate. The Senator spoke about stem cell research and other issues on the forefront of bioethics, such as cloning and chimeras (creating animal/animal or animal/human hybrids).
Frankly, I was surprised at how lucid and considerate the Senator sounded. From his sound bytes, I was expecting a man with a much more narrow viewpoint who would relentlessly harp on a single point (specifically that life begins at conception) without really drawing the fine distinctions that bioethics requires.
To be sure, Senator Brownback had a point of extreme emphasis - that life begins at conception - but he also clearly understood the appeal of stem cells. He was a man who obviously had his mind made up, but had also clearly first approached the question with an open mind. I expected he would be someone too obtuse to listen to the other side - but he clearly hears the flip side of the argument.
The Senator stressed the importance of doing everything - within certain ethical bounds - to help eliminate diseases. He was quite well versed in the alternatives to embryonic stem cells, namely adult stem cells and cord-blood stem cells. The Senator urged using these stem cell lines for research, and pointed out that much of the success which has come from stem cell research in the past has actually come from lines which are non-embryonic. As someone who has been doing plenty of bioethical thinking this past year, I appreciated the Senator's position; not necessarily because I agreed with it, but because it shows an understanding of the relevant issues. Quite simply, most bioethicists recognize a substantial difference between embryonic stem cells and other forms of stem cells.
The Senator really tried to engage the crowd in the question and answer session, and though at times he was a bit heavy-handed with his responses ("Well, let me ask you a question: when did your life start?")(gotta love those politicians), for the most part he was engaging, sincere, and really took the questions to heart. He even went so far as to do a little impromptu dissection of the President's position on stem cells, showing why, for those who believe life beings at conception, it can be seen as both an ethically tenable and potentially troubling position. That kind of fine moral distinction demonstrates sound thinking on the Senator's part.
Of course, I don't just mean for this post to be a huge love-fest for Senator Brownback. Sure, I agree with him that we shouldn't use embryonic stem cells, but often enough I've found myself disagreeing with his sound clips and his tactics and his politics. I really went to the talk because I was expecting a more extreme view, and a little more ire from the crowd. I didn't get either, but then again, that's what made the talk a success.
Oh, but if he does get the Presidential nomination, odds are good he won't get my vote. After all, there are consequences for a speaker who's 20 minutes late.
You'll be his, you'll be his, you'll be history