In her excellent article “Criminalizing Science“, Virginia Postrel compares trends in the US and Canada, and argues that it’s not who you think. One excerpt:
U.S. scientists and their supporters tend to assume biomedical research is threatened by know-nothings on religious crusades. But as the Canadian law illustrates, the long-term threat to genetic research comes less from the religious right than from the secular left. Canada’s law forbids all sorts of genetic manipulations, many of them currently theoretical. It’s a crime, for instance, to alter inheritable genes.
And the law has provisions the fabled religious right never even talks about. It’s a crime to pay a surrogate mother or to make or accept payment for arranging a surrogate. It’s a crime to pay egg or sperm donors anything more than “receipted expenses,” like taxi fares. Since eggs are used not just in fertility treatments but in research, this prohibition stifles both.
Meanwhile, in backward, intolerant America objections to embryonic stem-cell research and therapeutic cloning are less politically persuasive than they were a few years ago. With the support of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Congress is close to a veto-proof majority to expand federal subsidies for embryonic stem-cell research. Many conservative leaders are uncomfortable opposing potentially lifesaving research.
And a few scientists are beginning to explore ideas for producing embryonic stem cells while respecting religious scruples. It might someday be possible to clone embryonic stem cells without creating and destroying otherwise viable embryos.
That’s not an argument for banning embryonic research. But it’s a promising route toward a nonpolitical solution to the dispute. As long as religious conservatives object to a specific procedure — destroying embryos — rather than to genetic research or life extension in general, it’s possible to treat their concerns as a technical problem.
You can’t say the same for the antibiotech left. In liberal Canada, in fact, the law defines cloning expansively. Future procedures that might avoid religious objections would still be illegal. The goal is to stop certain research altogether.
Postrel goes on to show how many environmentalists, feminists, and egalitarians in particular are opposed to the new advances in biotechnology.
I think the Religious Right poses a significant (and growing) threat to the US. But the Left, as Monty Python would say, is definitely “not dead yet”.