The Most Inept Analogy Ever?

William Saletan of Slate compares stem-cell research to torture:

On Monday, President Obama lifted the ban on federal funding of stem-cell research using destroyed human embryos. If you support this research, congratulations: You won. Now for your next challenge: Don’t lose your soul.

The best way to understand this peril is to look at an issue that has become the mirror image of the stem-cell fight. That issue is torture. On Jan. 22, Obama signed an executive order prohibiting interrogation methods used by the Bush administration to extract information from accused terrorists. “We can abide by a rule that says we don’t torture, but that we can still effectively obtain the intelligence that we need,” the president declared. “We are willing to observe core standards of conduct not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.”

The next day, former Bush aide Karl Rove accused Obama of endangering the country by impeding interrogations of the enemy. “They don’t recognize we’re in a war,” said Rove. “In a war, you do not take tools that are working and stop using them and say we’ll get back to you in four months, six months, eight months, a year, and tell you what we’re going to do to replace this valuable tool which has helped keep America safe.”‘

To most of us, Rove’s attack is familiar and infuriating. We believe, as Obama does, that it’s possible to save lives without crossing a moral line that might corrupt us. We reject the Bush administration’s insistence on using all available methods rather than waiting for scrupulous alternatives. We see how Rove twists Obama’s position to hide the moral question and make Obama look obtuse and irresponsible.

The same Bush-Rove tactics are being used today in the stem-cell fight. But they’re not coming from the right. They’re coming from the left. Proponents of embryo research are insisting that because we’re in a life-and-death struggle—in this case, a scientific struggle—anyone who impedes that struggle by renouncing effective tools is irrational and irresponsible. The war on disease is like the war on terror: Either you’re with science, or you’re against it.

Except for the fact that science is a politically neutral system of acquiring knowledge (when it is not deliberately politicized, of course), whereas the “war on terror” is an unscientific political construct based on a false premise and invented to serve the goals of a particular ideology, certainly the “war on disease is like the war on terror.”

Except for the fact that embryonic stem cells have been found, through legitimate and authoritative scientific methodology, to potentially be an extremely effective tool for treating a wide range of thus-far incurable conditions — Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, and possibly genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs and Sandhoff’s being just a few examples — whereas psychologists, experts in human behavior, intelligence professionals, and over 2,000 years of human history have overwhelmingly shown that torture is a thoroughly unreliable method of getting accurate information and thus doesn’t save lives, certainly embryonic stem cells and torture are both effective tools for combating disease and terrorism, respectively.

Except for the fact that torture is done to actual living human beings for the purpose of inflicting excruciating pain, fear, and/or emotional and psychological suffering, and has long-term and/or lasting psychological and often physical consequences for the victim, whereas the embryos used in stem-cell research don’t and can’t feel pain (they are extras from in-vitro fertilization clinics that have been frozen and will be thrown away if not used or donated), certainly torture and embryonic stem-cell research are comparable in their moral implications.

Cross-posted at Liberty Street.

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