This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.
Godwin’s Law ought to be enshrined next to Newton’s Laws or Kepler’s Laws for all posterity. For the uninitiated, Godwin’s Law states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” The concept was devised by Mike Godwin in 1990 and officially codified into law in a Wired article in 1994. Since then, the evidence for this law has only gotten stronger.
Because of the unquestioned veracity of Godwin’s Law, it is perhaps inevitable that a journalist will, eventually, be compared to a Nazi. We could even formulate a corollary called Godwin’s Law of Journalism: “As a journalist’s career grows longer, the probability he or she will be compared to Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”
And I have evidence.
Celebrate Life Magazine — a Catholic, pro-life publication — in a recent article by Terrell Clemmons, has compared me to a Nazi. But, not just any run-of-the-mill, Springtime for Hitler kind of Nazi. Specifically, I was compared to the Nazis who operated the most notorious concentration camps:
That kind of science [ignorant of good and evil] 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.
Buchenwald and Auschwitz? I contacted the editor-in-chief for comment, but she didn’t respond. (Perhaps they have a “do not negotiate with Nazis” policy?)
So, what on Earth have I done to deserve such scorn? According to Ms. Clemmons, my support of “three-parent embryo” technology is evil incarnate.
If you’re unfamiliar with the technology, here is a brief primer. In short, the technology allows for a woman who has a mitochondrial disease to use another healthy woman’s egg, followed by standard in vitro fertilization, to conceive a healthy baby. The resulting zygote would have a tiny fraction of DNA from the healthy egg donor, hence the term “three-parent embryo.”
Scientists support studying the procedure because it could help sick women have healthy children. Critics say it is unethical, and a subset of them apparently believe the technique is analogous to poisoning Jews with Zyklon B and disposing of their bodies in giant crematoria. How did I miss that obvious comparison?
When thinking rationally, critics do bring up three relevant points worth discussing: (1) This is a form of human experimentation (and is, therefore, undesirable); (2) The safety of the procedure is unknown; and (3) This is the first step on a “slippery slope” toward “designer babies.”
In regard to #1: Yes, “three-parent embryo” technology would be a form of human experimentation. However, 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.
In regard to #2: It is true that the safety of “three-parent embryo” technology is unknown. That is why the technique should first be perfected in mammals and primates before moving on to human clinical trials.
In regard to #3: The “slippery slope” argument can be applied to any new technology. However, laws could be established to allow therapeutic genetic engineering, but to disallow “designer babies.” Indeed, as conservative columnist George Will (who has a son with Down syndrome) recently commented on three-parent embryo technology, “If it is possible to draw a line, where you can stop on this slippery slope between therapy and the engineering of designer children, it is worth trying.”
Mr. Will’s position is, of course, a very sensible one.
I would, however, take his argument one step further: Denying parents the chance to have healthy children seems a rather cruel thing to do.
One final point: 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.
Just something for the self-appointed bioethicists to think about.