Tax Money for Stem-cell Research
11 August 2001
Why have we traditionally put to death animals who kill human beings? A tiger in a zoo who by his instincts and through no fault (he has no moral being) kills a child; we kill the tiger.
Why do we allow doctors to study only cadavers which are donated by the will of the deceased or nearest kin?
Why do we ask for permission to harvest the organs of people who die on the highway?
Why do we not harvest the organs of executed prisoners?
Why do we not eat human flesh?
Let me answer for the simple: The human life ethic.
The human life ethic derives from the Christian doctrine of the imago Dei (the image of God in man). Man stands above all the other creatures (the word derives from “creator”).
We are talking symbols here. The dead person’s spirit is gone (unless we want to switch our orientation to one of the many religious systems alien to America’s). No harm is done to him if we eat his decaying body. But we honor his humanity by declining to eat him, unless our very immediate life depends upon it
In her book, The Rituals of Dinner, The Origins, Eccentricities and Meaning of Table Manners, Margaret Visser teaches about symbols. We are also treated to some reminders about the underlying realities and ethics of other religions/cultures. She refers to reports on Aztec cannibalism produced by Europeans who encountered them in the sixteenth century. Participants and beneficiaries at the sacrificial event were many and varied. There were those atop the temple-pyramids in Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) who did the killing. The destruction of the victim was swift so that a beating heart could be offered to the Sun God.
There were those waiting at the bottom of the pyramid to receive the bodies which “came breaking to pieces; they came head over heals.” Some parts were not eaten. The head of each was cut from the body and taken to a rack to be displayed in another plaza-like area o the temple.
“The limbs and some other portions were shared out among the rulers (one thigh from each corpse was offered to Moctezuma himself), their elite entourage, and the actual captors of the prisoners. The flesh was cooked with peppers and tomatoes, and served up upon bowls of maize.”
The immediate and physical benefit of the sacrificed human flesh (we shall refrain from commenting upon the spiritual benefits) was not restricted to the upper class. Mexican archaeologists have found, elsewhere in Mexico City, many headless human rib-cages, leaving experts to conclude that “a different group of people had presumably eaten the rest of the bodies – minus the hearts, of course.”
There are utilitarian and economic lessons here. Religion required the death of one class of human beings to benefit the whole. On the assumption that the deaths were meet, right, and salutary, they served the immediate and long term good of the people.
“The Aztecs cared intensely how they ate people and also who they ate, when, and where. Every gesture of the sacrifice was laid down as ritual.” But what they did not pay enough attention to the fact that they destroyed humans. How? Who? When? and Where? are peripheral questions.
If I were one of those soccer players who crashed in the Andes Mountains and found myself starving with dead human bodies around, I would thank God and eat the human flesh. But if human beings were being systematically slaughtered by my own countrymen, I would not only refuse to eat the meat, but I would seek to have such murderous countrymen stopped by any means necessary.
“No!” was the proper reply to the funding of stem-cell research. Moreover, “No!” is the proper answer by the President, governors, mayors, sheriffs, and judges to the unconstitutional and immoral Roe opinion.