In case you haven’t figured this out, I am a Democrat. I will vote for Barack Obama in November, just as I did in 2008. I think Bill Clinton is one of the finest politicians of recent decades (note that I said one of the finest politicians, not husbands), and being at both of his inaugurations (particularly his first, when the hopeful spirit in our capital city was contagious) provided some of the most exciting and memorable moments of my life. In my heavily Democratic state and town, I am a middle-of-the-road liberal, bordering on moderate. Among many colleagues in the Christian writing sphere, I am a flaming liberal. Positively on fire.
Which is why I can’t believe that I—who as a D.C. resident for most of my 20s had a front-row seat to Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” (and didn’t particularly like what I saw from that perch)—am going to say this: I think Newt is on to something.
As this Time article explains, Gingrich has proposed government scrutiny of the ethical issues raised by in vitro fertilization, in the form of a commission to look into these issues. The logistical questions behind such a commission are daunting. It would have to include a variety of perspectives (bioethicists, theologians, fertility patients, people from left, right, and center). And one then wonders if such a commission could possibly accomplish anything, particularly if pro-life and pro-choice groups insisted that their positions can brook no compromise. In other countries, such commissions have foundered under the pressure of trying to include diverse voices.
But I still think that such government scrutiny of reproductive medicine is essential. My main beef with the proposal as Gingrich frames it is that he seems solely focused on the problem of embryos left over from IVF. This is certainly a compelling and important issue. But it’s not the only one. A focus on embryos as the sole or primary ethical concern of reproductive medicine is common among staunch pro-life advocates such as Gingrich. The problem with that narrow focus is that it fails to address other, equally important ethical concerns. Such a focus can lead people to think that if they figure out a way to avoid creating excess embryos or destroying unused embryos, they can check off the “ethical questions” box in their decision-making process concerning what technologies to use to overcome infertility.
So Gingrich’s proposal is far from perfect. But it’s a start. I don’t expect Gingrich to become our next president. But I hope whoever does sees the value in this proposal.