Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reactions: The U.K.'s Horrendous Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act

Josephine Quintavalle has written a thoughtful, interesting piece for Mercator in which she analyzes the horrible defeat the British pro-life community experienced with the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. I do not agree with all of her conclusions, however, fearing that her advice sounds the same strains of unfair blame that are occurring on this side of the Atlantic over the defeat of John McCain. I print below a couple of sections of Quintavalle's essay along with my comments.

...Everything is now approved, every taboo is broken, every possible outrage against human dignity is now formally endorsed: animal-human embryos, artificial gametes, cloning using two maternal egg sources, germline manipulation, preimplantation diagnosis for eugenic purposes, posthumous conception, removal of the child’s need for a father, use of tissue without proper consent … The list goes on.

We fought hard against the bill. The Catholic Church, strengthened by its clear position on the right to life of the human embryo, was particularly vocal, and a great deal of activity was centred around other Christian churches as well. Many of the pro-life organisations grouped together under the banner Passion for Life, and, with a platform which included parliamentarians David Alton, Ann Widdecombe, Geraldine Smith and David Burrowes, travelled the land conducting rallies and encouraging the audiences to make their voices heard. Two million postcards of opposition were sent to MPs from around the country, and everyone was encouraged to lobby personally their individual representatives. There were protests in Parliament Square, briefings, debates, processions, prayers. And we lost every vote...

The new law represents a total victory for science, for genetic determinism, for unconstrained reproductive freedom. Even more worryingly, it has a built-in capacity for limitless liberty, a quality proudly described as “future-proofing” by health minister, Dawn Primarolo.
Summing up in the House of Commons, having assured us cryptically that “The kaleidoscope of science is coming to a rest,” Ms Primarolo proudly asserted that no longer will the “extremes of scientific progress be blocked by red tape, stifled by regulation, or frustrated by a regime that fails to keep pace with social change”. That’s the new legislation in a nutshell...

Now Josephine Quintavalle, the director Comment on Reproductive Ethics, goes on in this Mercator article to criticize pro-life advocates' methodology in the uphill battle they fought against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and Parliament.

But her criticism is too harsh and much too naive.

I'm afraid this frequently happens when there is an election or a cultural battle lost. Certain critics emerge who foolishly underestimate the strength of the opposition and insist that the reason for the loss must lie somewhere in their own camp. This is happening now in the U.S. as several try to blame Sarah Palin and the religious conservatives for John McCain's loss instead of honestly appraising the strengths of the Democrats' campaign.

The reasons the Democrats won the election are simple: a huge money advantage and the wholesale Obamamania of the mainstream press.

Nevertheless, some critics, seeking to advance their own agenda in the party (i.e. wanting to shape the G.O.P. into something more secularized, or more libertarian, or more friendly to the nanny state) invent the silliest, most unfounded indictments against their colleagues.

Sarah Palin didn't lose the election for the Republicans. Indeed, the record clearly shows she was the brightest light it had. And the religious conservatives that she so joyously energized? They're not to blame either. They provided, as they have since Reagan, the party's most energetic and loyal support. Any attempt to move the party away from the principles they hold (sanctity of life, military superiority, fiscal responsibility, freedom, and so on) would create a disaster.

Nevertheless, the whining goes on. And that whining usually gets round to suggesting: 1) moral compromise, 2) pragmatism trumping principle, and 3) a reduction in religious motivation, language and purpose.

Are such things emerging from Quintavalle's criticism of the British pro-life community too? Read her concluding paragraphs and make up your mind.

Much and all as we may admire martyrs, in the secular world of today’s United Kingdom being heroic is simply not enough. It is right and proper for the churches to preach the religious truths, but the lay voice has to learn the value of self-effacement, pragmatic game play, and sheer cunning. We need to build unlikely alliances, not create islands of pro-life rhetoric; we need to work far more successfully with middle-ground players, engage in creative lateral thinking.

If we stand up with predictable pro-life profiles we are quickly marginalised. We need to liaise far more with unexpected spokespeople of the calibre of Frank Field, for example. This Labour MP, with no affiliation to any known lobby positions, tabled abortion amendments of extraordinary astuteness.

Arguments, too, must move beyond repetition of absolutes regarding human life and include the utilitarian. In embryo research, for example, we need to address safety concerns, funding allocation, the economic complexities of marketing tissue in countries with different ethical approaches...

When Scotland’s Cardinal O’Brien used the words, “Frankenstein monsters,” the media reacted immediately, the temperature rose, and it helped lose the Labour Party a by-election in Glasgow East!

I think Quintavalle's assessment of the devastating defeat suffered by the pro-life community (and indeed, the whole British society) by the passage of the monstrous Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act is spot on. And I appreciate all of the efforts she and here CORE colleagues exacted in opposing it.

However, I am concerned about her criticism of the pro-life strategy, fearing it leads to unnecessary (and unhealthy) compromises and the adoption of an "end justifies the means" mentality.

For instance, despite Quintavalle's characterization of the matter, Cardinal O’Brien's use of the term "Frankenstein monsters" was not what lost the by-election in Glasgow East. Did the intolerantly secular media take umbrage at the Cardinal telling the truth? And did they use it as a club to go after him? Sure, what else is new?

But to blame the Cardinal, as she does, rather than the audacious bias of the press is irresponsible and even cruel. And to use that particular case as an illustration of how British pro-lifers need to go easy, to mince words, to be more utilitarian, "to learn the value of self-effacement, pragmatic game play, and sheer cunning" is a most unfair ploy.

I am certainly sympathetic to Quintavalle's concerns. And I'm sure we would agree that pro-life activists need to be as wise, as winsome, as effective as possible in our pro-life efforts. But we must beware of the temptation to win a quarter but give away the game -- and that's what surely happens when Christians begin to compromise, become pragmatic, and aim at lower goals.

We've got to be careful. In the U.S. and the U.K. both, the Christian pro-life community must stand firm in His truth and withstand unfair criticism that might distract us from our responsibilities. And, of course, among those responsibilities are loving our neighbors, defending the defenseless, speaking the truth in love, rebuking evildoers, praying for those who persecute us, and many others.

But not among them are "learning the value of self-effacement, pragmatic game play, and sheer cunning."