I don't know about anybody else, but I'm having a party on Monday. Well, maybe not a party, but at least I'm going to have a celebratory drink or two. On Monday President Obama will reverse George Bush's restrictions on stem cell research.
My celebratory mood will most definitely be tinged with sadness not to mention anger at the fact that we've lost eight years of precious time; eight years that could have brought us closer to a cure for numerous diseases. Diseases such as Parkinson's disease. And cancer. And diabetes. And heart disease. And spinal cord injuries. And there are a whole host of others on that list as well.
But our former president thought that the rights of those of us who are dealing with these diseases every day of our lives, you know us sentient living human beings, weren't as important as the "rights" of a clump of cells. Well you know Mr. Bush, I beg to differ. I think, no scratch that, I know that my right as a living human being is more important than the "right" of a "potential" life. God, I can't believe that I even have to say that. So, what the hell, I'm going to say it again. My right as a living human being is far more important than the "right" of a potential life. A potential life, I might add, that will almost certainly end up being discarded anyway.
Of course I realize that there are some out there who, like Mr. Bush, would justify their position by raising the issue of faith. Excuse me but I do not buy it. And I do not accept it. Because faith has absolutely no place at the table when discussing matters of science and matters of policy. Ethics? Yes, ethics most definitely has a place at the table, a prominent place. But faith? No. I know people who would say, faith and ethics, what's the difference? And I'm happy to address that. Because there is a huge difference and the fact that we don't bring that discussion to the floor is a huge mistake and gigantic error in judgment.
And frankly, the fact that Mr. Bush allowed faith to play a part in his decision on this issue is more than a little insulting to my faith. Because my faith is informed by the belief that we should take care of each other, that we have a responsibility, a moral obligation to do so.
But back to the difference between faith and ethics. Faith is a personal belief system, a belief in things not seen, and while one can feel absolute certainty that this belief is real and true for them, there isn't any way that this belief can ever be proven or disproven. I'm not saying that people's faith is unimportant and shouldn't inform their decisions on their own life choices. I most definitely do not believe that. My faith is incredibly important to me and is a central part of who I am. But, I would never impose that faith on anyone else. Why? Simple, it is my faith, and as much as I trust in it for myself, I can't prove it, and I can't and don't have the least bit of interest in imposing it on anyone else. I don't expect anyone to accept my faith just as I have no interest in accepting the myth of a homophobic, misogynistic, judgmental, finger-pointing god who looks down on us from somewhere in the heavens, meting out punishments with the same level of disregard for human life as has been exhibited in sending thousands of young people half way around the world to fight a war we shouldn't have started in the first place.
Now that I've got that off my chest, let's move on to ethics. Ethics are "the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group, a guiding philosophy, a consciousness of moral importance". A society develops over time an agreed upon systemic view of what behaviors are acceptable and which are not. Even if this system isn't articulated or codified in any formal way, we have a baseline for what is acceptable and beneficial to the individual as well as the collective. Let's look at an example. I think that most of us would agree that in our society, murder, except under extenuating circumstances, does not fall in line as an ethical behavior. Base that decision on "faith," well then I suppose stoning a woman to death for adultery is just fine.
The way I like to think of it is this – when people talk about doing something based on ethics, it generally means doing good, but when people talk about behaviors in light of their faith, it is usually used as a way to justify a behavior that violates the rights of others. In other words, rationalizing an unethical behavior.