Science writer outraged over Nazi analogy to new IVF experiment; toying with human life, not so much


Any responsible practice of science must bind itself to ethical standards that remind us of science’s just purpose, the betterment of human life, which cannot be achieved by violating human rights. But disturbingly, too many in our culture find noticing and describing such violations more offensive than the violations themselves.

In the January-February issue of American Life League’s Celebrate Life magazine, Terrell Clemmons challenged RealClearScience founding editor Dr. Alex Berezow’s endorsement of a new in vitro fertilization method that creates embryos from the cells of three separate parents: one sperm, one egg, and a nucleus from a second egg. Clemmons questioned the ethics of creating human beings in an experiment that Berezow admitted was of “unknown” safety to them, and reviewed the ugly history of what happens when science disregards a respect for human life:

The empirical sciences don’t speak to principles of right and wrong. Those must be supplied by the human practitioners of science, or short of that, people of conscience with the moral clarity and will to hold them accountable. The conflict between Smith and Berezow, then, was not a case of anti-science versus science, but of science informed by conscience and directed for human good versus science barreling on, ignorant of good and evil. That kind of science was to novelist Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; to Lewis, The Abolition of Man; and to Jews in Nazi Germany, the death camps of Buchenwald and Auschwitz.

On March 3, Berezow huffed at the indignity of Clemmons “compar[ing] me to a Nazi.” He sarcastically scoffs at the possibility that anyone would suggest this perfectly innocent procedure, which could “help sick women have healthy children,” is “analogous to poisoning Jews with Zyklon B and disposing of their bodies in giant crematoria. How did I miss that obvious comparison?”

A thicker-skinned, more open-minded proponent of 3-parent IVF might have spent some time actually grappling with Clemmons’ argument—not that Berezow is a Nazi, but that an uncompromising sanctity-of-life ethos is our first line of defense against a resurgence of Naziesque experimental hubris, and Berezow’s logic would, however unintentionally, dismantle it.

His rebuttals to Clemmons—well, not specifically to Clemmons, whom he dismisses as “profound[ly] ignoran[t]” and “disgusting”—but to critics who “thin[k] rationally”—aren’t exactly reassuring.

First, the objection “This is a form of human experimentation (and is, therefore, undesirable)” doesn’t matter, he says, because “all clinical trials are a form of human experimentation”:

Do you take any prescription drugs? Those were first tested on humans. Did you have laser eye surgery? Yep, tested on humans first. Are you a cancer patient? You guessed it: chemotherapy was tested on humans. In fact, the term “clinical trial” is a just nice way of saying “human experimentation.” Before any major medical treatment goes to market, it is first tested on willing human volunteers.

Uh, Doc? Your last sentence just refuted the rest of that paragraph. Willing human volunteers. How can an embryo possibly consent to being the creation of any experiment?

Second, Berezow allows that, “The safety of the procedure is unknown” is a valid concern, but “That is why the technique should first be perfected in mammals and primates before moving on to human clinical trials.” We’ll see. I don’t want to entirely discount the possibility that this could someday be perfected as a safe and ethical way to overcome mitochondrial disease, but frankly, I can’t imagine that happening in a culture so tolerant of all the embryonic killing we already do.

Third, the “slippery slope” toward “designer babies” isn’t an issue because “laws could be established to allow therapeutic genetic engineering, but to disallow ‘designer babies.’” But again, the current scientific and political elites can’t be trusted to support or abide by such laws. As Wesley Smith points out:

California already passed legislation allowing a child to have three parents, vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown. I don’t see why that type of proposal would not fit this bill.

Besides, if we have learned anything, biotech very quickly becomes a tool to facilitate lifestyle desires, not just treat medical dysfunction. For example, IVF moved very quickly from allowing infertile married couples to have a baby to a consumerist service used by fertile women to have babies via surrogacy if they don’t want to gestate.

IVF has also become a means of eugenics, for example, couples paying beautiful and brilliant college women for their eggs and embryo selection. I mean is there any doubt that once this is done for women with disease, it will very quickly move on to lifestyle facilitation? Indeed, won’t that eventually become the primary use?

[…] Go to any major university and you will see ads for egg buying precisely in the manner I mentioned. Selected young women are offered tens of thousands, and risk their health and fertility in the process.

Smith also notices that Berezow’s prior endorsement of 3-parent IVF contains the shockingly-backward implication that, since we’re already destroying hundreds of thousands of embryos through standard IVF, fear of whatever new deaths or disorders this new procedure might inflict on additional embryos is somehow less weighty.

But whatever merit those objections might have in Berezow’s eyes, the worst part of the whole debate is that anyone would dare to use the N-word:

It’s time for Godwin’s Law to come to an end. Nothing on Earth, except perhaps the Kim regime in North Korea, even remotely compares to Nazi Germany. Anyone who cavalierly draws such comparisons betrays a profound ignorance of world history. Additionally, my paternal grandparents survived the Holocaust, and I find such commentary — particularly from a Catholic magazine — to be far beneath its dignity and, frankly, disgusting.

But as we’ve discussed before, if there’s any contemporary subject that trumps the Godwin defense, it’s societal tolerance for the destruction of living human beings before birth. Sorry, but legalized abortion and the various other practices we’ve rationalized for killing the unborn do “compare to Nazi Germany,” and more than “remotely.”

Nobody’s denying that the Holocaust contained many horrors abortion does not—the forced separation of families, the torture and starvation, the abominable living conditions, the living in fearful hiding—but the core offense is the same: the state-sanctioned killing of a certain category of the population deemed less worthy of basic human dignity. On that score, the post-Roe death toll vastly outnumbers that of Hitler’s “Final Solution.” (And let’s not pretend the unborn holocaust doesn’t also contain its share of tangential evils for mother and child alike.)

Citing CS Lewis, Clemmons warned of the difference between science and scientism, the latter being an arrogant faith that scientific expertise trumps all moral reservations. Berezow demonstrates that scientism is alive and well.

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