Unbridled science

Gov. Deval Patrick said March 30 that he plans to work with the Public Health Council — whose members are going to be replaced with Patrick’s appointees — to lift restrictions on the use of embryos conceived for the sole purpose of donating them to science for stem-cell research.

In his comments announcing the move, the governor vigorously supported a vision of unbridled scientific research.

“I believe that life sciences should be guided by science and not ideological politics,” Gov. Patrick said. “Stem-cell research should proceed both from the economic and humanitarian perspective and I am committed to that. I want science to prevail.”

The governor also said that he wants “to ensure scientists can perform their research uninhibited.”

We wonder if the governor understands the gravity of his statements. Science, as any other human activity — if it is to continue to be human — must be guided by a code of ethics that places limits on the ambition of scientific researchers and institutions.

Absent a moral code of conduct, science will invariably succumb to the temptation of doing everything possible to attain the desired results. Yet not everything that is possible is moral. Patrick’s call for science to police itself — “sciences should be guided by science” — is distressing. It is in fact society — guided by moral principles of natural law — that has the obligation to set limits on what is “possible,” to make sure it is also ethical.

Unfortunately our current political establishment — the governor and most state legislators — seem to be ready to embrace the idea that “uninhibited” science will bring wellness and progress. By doing so, they are neglecting their responsibility to care for the common good by turning a blind eye to scientific procedures that may not be ethical.

In his statement, the governor states that the research should proceed from a “humanitarian” perspective. Creating human life with the sole purpose of killing it is not a humanitarian action, but a despicable activity that should be condemned. Respecting and caring for human life is the first and most basic principle of society, upon which all other principles are built.

It is indicative of our society’s current moral health that only the four bishops of Massachusetts reacted publicly to the governor’s remarks. It is troubling that the secular media — always ready to highlight controversy — ignored the bishops’ statement. Our society at large seems to be dormant and complacent with the prospect of scientific institutions operating without ethical oversight.

That naïve optimistic mentality stems from an idealistic vision of science as an altruistic endeavor, without realizing that science is a business like any other: one in which discovery and advancement are rewarded with fame, pride and money. Scientific institutions — even if well respected — need to be policed from the outside to make sure that Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” remains a science-fiction bestseller, not an everyday reality.