In his seminal work, Nichomachean Ethics, the philosopher Aristotle begins his meditation on the subject of morality and the ultimate end of human life with an observation that certain first principles of ethics are self-evident to a person who has been raised up in a virtuous manner. A good man simply "knows" certain things to be good and others evil. A person raised up in vice, however, has a distorted sense of the good. He is incapable of reasoning towards ethical ends because his moral foundation is corrupted.
I wonder what Aristotle (and other ancient philosophers, for that matter) would have to say about contemporary culture's dearth of ethical virtue. It is not unreasonable to conclude that they would assume that we're a godless people, nurtured on vice, starved of virtue, and incapable of distinguishing between good and evil.
Bioethics blogger Wesley J. Smith often writes about issues that highlight the world's headlong slide into complete ethical bankruptcy. Last week, he featured a story from England's Daily Mail reporting on the advent of technology that would enable scientists to harvest fetal eggs from aborted baby girls' ovaries. These eggs, the scientists argue, hold immense potential for infertility treatments. From the post:
"This isn’t new. I reported on these efforts a few years ago. Some have even called for paying women who want to abort to carry their babies longer so that the cadaver will provide more useful parts.
By the way, it isn’t IVF for which the eggs will be required, but human cloning. Somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning requires a human egg for each try and eggs are in short supply. Indeed, I have frequently noted that the technology has been held back by what I call the 'egg dearth.'
But if they can get unlimited eggs from dead fetuses and women, cloning will not only be successfully performed (which, I predicted, will happen this year) but eventually perfected and put to concerted use. Then, it is on to all the Brave New World technologies – such as genetic engineering – that require cloning to develop.
Killing the fetuses and keeping their ovaries alive. That makes the scientists complicit in the abortions. Think about what we are becoming."
What are we becoming, indeed? Such practices represent nothing less than the complete triumph of utilitarianism over ethics, and Wesley Smith is correct that this is nothing new.
We've seen the same impulses at work in the area of embryonic stem cell research for decades, in which the life of a person is sacrificed in order to derive societal "benefit" from its constituent parts. The scientists and bioethicists who advocate these ghoulish technologies don't view human life as sacrosanct; they merely view the human body as fodder for scientific "progress and discovery."
This is Dr. Mengele medicine, plain and simple. One of Hitler's most terrifying henchmen, Josef Mengele was given absolute license to push the medical envelope as far as his sadistic imagination could carry him. For those unaware of the barbarism that was unleashed on Jewish prisoners in the name of medical research, it is worth describing at length:
"Mengele used Auschwitz as an opportunity to continue his research on heredity, using inmates for human experimentation. Mengele's experiments also included attempts to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children's eyes, various amputations of limbs, and other surgeries such as kidney removal, without anesthesia. . . . At Auschwitz, Mengele did a number of studies on twins. After an experiment was over, the twins were usually killed and their bodies dissected. He supervised an operation by which two Roma children were sewn together to create conjoined twins; the hands of the children became badly infected where the veins had been resected; this also caused gangrene.
Mengele also sought out pregnant women, on whom he would perform vivisections before sending them to the gas chambers.
Former Auschwitz prisoner Alex Dekel has said:
'I have never accepted the fact that Mengele himself believed he was doing serious work – not from the slipshod way he went about it. He was only exercising his power. Mengele ran a butcher shop – major surgeries were performed without anesthesia. Once, I witnessed a stomach operation – Mengele was removing pieces from the stomach, but without any anesthetic. Another time, it was a heart that was removed, again without anesthesia. It was horrifying. Mengele was a doctor who became mad because of the power he was given. Nobody ever questioned him – why did this one die? Why did that one perish? The patients did not count. He professed to do what he did in the name of science, but it was a madness on his part.'
A former Auschwitz prisoner doctor has said:
'He was capable of being so kind to the children, to have them become fond of him, to bring them sugar, to think of small details in their daily lives, and to do things we would genuinely admire.... And then, next to that,... the crematoria smoke, and these children, tomorrow or in a half-hour, he is going to send them there. Well, that is where the anomaly lay.'"
What further proof does society need that science untethered from ethics leads to barbarism? Do the scientific "pioneers" of today think that they are any better than Dr. Mengele simply because their victims are too young to speak out or fight back? Because they are unable to plead for mercy? Because they happen to reside in their mother's womb and not a concentration camp?
I can hear the snide mockery of detractors who will dismiss these arguments as hyperbole, but this is merely a symptom of the ethical schizophrenia described at the outset of this article. When mainstream news outlets like the Huffington Post publish the words of a bioethicist who advocates paying women to gestate fetuses longer so that their aborted body parts are more useful, we're not far off from the same mentality that justified the horror of Auschwitz.
What's next? Sacrificing the elderly with dementia in order to harvest any remaining viable organs? Harvesting organs from the handicapped so that fully functioning people can preserve their quality of life in the event they have an organ fail? Cloning your child in order to have a "spare" on hand in the event of illness or injury?
This is social Darwinism taken to its logical conclusion, the Nietzschean "Overman" philosophy run amok: The strong prevail over the weak and impose their will in any manner they find advantageous. We think we are so civilized, but beneath our veneer of progressive enlightenment is a brute nature, red in tooth and claw and terrifying to behold when unconstrained by belief in anything but ourselves.