Thu, Feb 16, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Pre-life prevails over the living in some US quarters

There's something inconsistent about moralizing that blocks stem cell research while justifying and downplaying `collateral damage'

By Peter Singer

In August 2001, US President George W. Bush told Americans that he worried about "a culture that devalues life," and that he believed that, as US president, he has "an important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life in America and throughout the world."

That belief lay behind Bush's denial of federal government funds for stem cell research that could encourage the destruction of human embryos. Although the Bush administration acknowledged that some scientists believe stem cell research could offer new ways of treating diseases that affect 128 million Americans, this prospect evidently did not, in Bush's view, justify destroying human embryos.

Last month, the military forces that this same president commands aimed a missile at a house in Damadola, a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border. Eighteen people were killed, among them five children.

The target of the attack, al-Qaeda's No. 2 man Ayman al-Zawahri, was not among the dead, although lesser figures in the terrorist organization reportedly were.

Bush did not apologize for the attack, nor did he reprimand those who ordered it. Apparently, he believes that the chance of killing an important terrorist leader is sufficient justification for firing a missile that will almost certainly kill innocent human beings.

Other US politicians took the same stance. Conservative Republican Senator Trent Lott -- a prominent opponent of abortion -- said of the attack: "Absolutely, we should do it."

Republican Senator John McCain, though often ready to disagree with Bush, expressed regret for the civilian deaths, but added: "I can't tell you that we wouldn't do the same thing again."

Indeed, it would be hard for the current administration to say that it wouldn't do the same thing again, because it has done it many times before.

On Nov. 1, 2001, US planes bombed Ishaq Suleiman, a group of mud huts, because a Taliban truck had been parked in one of the streets. The truck left before the bomb hit, but 12 local villagers were killed and 14 were injured. There are many more such stories of innocent lives being lost in the war in Afghanistan.

In Iraq, too, US attacks have taken the lives of many civilians. Again, one of many examples will suffice. On April 5, 2003, a civilian neighborhood in Basra was bombed. The target was General Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" because of his use of chemical weapons against Iraqis. One bomb hit the home of the Hamoodi family, a respected, educated family, none of whose members belonged to the ruling Baath Party.

Of the extended family of 14, 10 were killed, including an infant, a two-year-old baby, a 10-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. Four months later, Majid was captured alive; the bombs had missed their intended target.

This consistent pattern of readiness to inflict civilian casualties -- often when striking targets that are not of vital military significance -- suggests that Bush and other pro-life US leaders have less concern for the lives of innocent human beings in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan than they have for human embryos. This is a bizarre set of priorities.

No parents grieve for a lost embryo in the way that they would grieve over the death of a child. No embryos are capable of suffering, or have hopes or desires for the future that are abruptly cut off by their death.

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