Senator Kerry and Family Values

In his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Sen. John Kerry made sure that he underscored the importance of “family values.”

“Values are not just words,” he said. “Values are what we live by … And it is time for those who talk about family values to start valuing families.”

His point is well taken. We should practice what we preach. It is useless to preach “family values” if we do not value families in practice. Actions surely speak more convincingly than words.

The larger question, for American voters, however, is whether the Democratic candidate for the presidency himself truly values the family. In attempting to persuade us that he does, he presents a montage of personal vignettes in which his role as a genuine family man shines with a luster that appears to be irresistible. This family portrayal, with Kerry as the shining centerpiece, nonetheless may not be enough to convince the more perceptive voters that Kerry is, indeed, a family man who practices what he preaches.

In that same address to the Democratic Convention, Kerry said, “What if we had a president who believed in science?”

Here, Kerry is alluding to the restrictions President Bush has placed on stem-cell research, choosing to balance scientific research with sanctity-of-life values rather than endorse an approach to science that omits moral values. Kerry's remark is consistent with, but less blistering than, the one he made on the same topic in a December 2003 campaign speech: “Nothing illustrates this administration's anti-science attitude better than George Bush's cynical decision to limit research on embryonic stem cells.”

He went on to condemn the Bush administration as a “recessive gene of pessimism about progress and people,” while vilifying the sitting government leader for his decision “to go to the right wing instead of the right way.”

President Bush is hardly “anti-science.” He instituted the President's Council on Bioethics and named scientist Leon Kass to lead it. The 18-member council operates with an acute awareness of science, but also with a sense of ethical values. It is not obeisant to the technological imperative. Its first published book, Being Human (628 pages in length), sold out within a few months. At the council's first meeting, President Bush spoke of the need to explore how medicine and science interface with the dignity of life.

The council has called for a ban on implanting human embryos into an animal uterus, producing embryos with human sperm and animal eggs or animal sperm and human eggs, initiating pregnancy solely for research purposes, producing a child with four genetic parents (“blastomere fusion”), conceiving a child whose father or mother is a dead embryo or aborted fetus, and human cloning.

The restrictions the council advises are based on sanctity-of-life values.

But these values are convergent with family values. The kinds of gametic manipulations that scientists now envision, together with a wide variety of reproductive technologies have called into question the very notions of “motherhood,” fatherhood,” “procreation” and “family.”

Is it “left wing” to allow science to advance unchecked by ethical restrictions? Is it “liberal” to follow the model set by Nazi scientists? Is it consistent with “family values” to endorse mechanisms that, by blurring the notions of mother, father, parent and offspring, threaten the very meaning of the family?

Kerry, as is well known, has consistently voted in favor of abortion, including partial-birth abortion. He would have a hard time, if he were willing to face the issue, to reconcile his abortion stance with the integrity of the family. But stem-cell research and new modes of technological reproduction clearly threaten the integrity of the family even further.

There are currently about 400,000 frozen embryos in storage. What is the family status of these tiny human beings? Do they have parents who are committed to their best interest?

Are they children, property or scientific guinea pigs? Are they part of the human family? According to the current and amorphous notion of “family,” it seems that we arbitrarily define out of the family any human being whose continued existence we happen not to condone. Two competing bills have been stalled in Washington: the Brownback bill that would ban all human cloning, and the Hatch-Feinstein bill that would approve cloning human beings for research and then mandate their destruction. If the latter bill passes, it would be the first time in human history that a class of human beings was produced with the legal requirement that they must be destroyed. Would it be “right wing,” cynical” and “unprogressive” to oppose this bill?

Sanctity-of-life values are at the heart of family values. This most basic point seems to elude Sen. Kerry. He talks glibly about finding a “common ground so that no one who has something to contribute to our nation will be left on the sidelines.” He seems to be unaware that American people who believe and practice sanctity-of-life values have something to contribute to their country.

And it is precisely these people that Kerry would leave on the “sidelines.” By abandoning their values, he will look in vain to find his “common ground.”

We get a better understanding of his views on the family by examining the implications of his acceptance of abortion and his unfounded, caustic, misguided, unthinking and purely political diatribe against President Bush and the Bush administration's willingness to temper science with values.

Eric Cohen, editor of the The New Atlantis and resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, together with William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, have shown that there are three rather insidious implications that flow from Kerry's stance on biotechnology (The Weekly Standard, May 10, 2004). They are: 1) the destruction of human life; 2) the degradation of the family; 3) the threat of eugenics. No serious-minded voter should ignore these implications.

There are no “family values” in any positive sense without regard for life. The family is the principal generator and caretaker of human life. It is both the school of love and the cradle of liberty. Kerry claims that he endorses family values. Yet his record shows that he does not oppose the destruction of the family's most innocent members, whether they reside in the womb, are nearly out of the womb, exist in some laboratory apparatus or lie in suspended animation in a cylinder of liquid nitrogen.

Such an egregious contradiction illustrates how rhetoric can be completely divorced from the reality it presumes to reflect. Kerry's abuse of rhetoric only thinly conceals his program for an abuse of science, as well as an abuse of the family.

Politicians may carry their rhetoric to new levels of unreality. But the voter has a solemn obligation to keep his feet on terra firma and his heart in the right place.

Donald DeMarco is an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary.