Friday, August 05, 2005

Legislators, Theologians and Medicine

Since I live only a few short blocks from the headquarters of Focus on the Family, I seem to get a bit more than my share of exposure to the guidance, reasoning and direction of Dr. James Dobson. Focus has become a huge political player, not only in Colorado Springs and the state of Colorado but nationally as well. Candidates for the presidency of the United States are certain to stop in for an office visit with the good doctor to seek his endorsement. When they kiss his ring and prove that they are ideologically pure of heart, Dobson responds by telling all of his millions of readers, listeners and viewers precisely whom to cast their ballot for.

Focus has done a lot of good. They offer sound information on child rearing, marriage, life skills and more. They also preach a lot of evangelical, fundamentalist religion. And, they reach deeply into the government to impose their moral views on our society. They are rigidly pro-life, Christian, anti-gay, home-school, school prayer, anti-porn, and creationist. Some of their positions are defensible in their minds and some are indefensible by any stretch. The organization and its subsidiaries walk a very narrow line with regard to the tax-exempt status they claim as a “ministry.”

Dobson got a bit upset last week when Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-TN) came out in favor of relaxing the Bush administration restrictions limiting embryonic stem-cell research. Dr. Dobson Goes Too Far? There is a great deal of potential for such research to result in significant medical advances. The research requires embryonic stem-cells, not adult stem-cells, to progress and the limited number of stem-cell lines which have been made available under the Bush rules aren’t adequate. The argument for relaxation of the rules, however, hinges on questions of abortion and “life” rather than science.

What is noteworthy here is that while Dr. Dobson, holds a Phd in child development, it is Senator Frist who is much more than a legislator on this issue. Frist is an M.D. and a respected heart surgeon. Dobson has made his career as a counselor and a theologian, while Frist is arguably on a temporary detour from a career in medicine. We might just have a situation in which a scientific decision is actually going to be subject to science rather than religion or political expediency. Wouldn’t that be a relief?

Dobson doesn’t deal with science in his outrage. He likens the medical researchers to the Nazis. When Rep. Dick Durbin (D-IL) drew a Nazi/Fascist/Stalinist parallel to our soldiers in Iraq a few weeks ago, the righteous right got outraged. Will we hear similar umbrage again? Most troubling though is this key statement by Dobson regarding those who seek relaxed stem-cell research rules, “The truth is these are ultraliberals who want the legal approval — and the federal money — to experiment on unborn life and don’t care a whit about unborn life at any age.”

It appears that, carried away by his own rhetoric, Dobson forgets that Frist can hardly be called an ultraliberal. To me it would be Republican sacrilege to hang that label on Nancy Reagan who has also spoken out in favor of increased stem-cell research.

And, stickler that I am for precise language, what of the term “unborn life”? Can I live in an “unbuilt house”? It causes me to reminisce on all of those grade-B horror movies about the “undead.” And, what of the even more confusing “unborn life at any age”? How does one get older while still unborn? Does Dobson realize he makes no sense and in quixotic terms seems to be tilting at medical windmills with a lance of inflammatory rhetoric?

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