Paul Greenberg / January 15, 2010

Racing Downhill

Here are a couple of the latest milestones on the way down the slick slide known as American civilization:

News item No. 1: A company well-named Neocutis now offers a skin cream made from human fetal tissue.

To quote the company’s Web site: “Inspired by fetal skin’s unique properties, Neocutis’s proprietary technology uses cultured fetal skin cells to obtain an optimal, naturally balanced mixture of skin nutrients.”

This outfit, it may not surprise Gentle Reader to learn, is based in San Francisco, and says its product can “turn back time to create flawless baby-skin again.”

What good news for those suffering from dry skin – and who doesn’t this time of year? Better living through … fetal tissue.

But there’s sure to be some reactionary who objects to progress, and a niggling objection did indeed surface here and there to this latest advance in the commodification of the unborn. In its defense, Neocutis issued a statement to all concerned:

“Our view – which is shared by most medical professionals and patients – is that the limited, prudent and responsible use of donated fetal skin tissue can continue to ease suffering, speed healing, save lives and improve the well-being of many patients around the globe.” And improve the company’s balance sheet, too.

Call it another benefit from the ever-growing abortion industry. And another triumph of supply-side economics! Create the supply and demand will follow.

It does make one wonder why, if the use of human fetuses for such purposes is so unalloyed a good, the company feels the need to assure us that the practice is “limited, prudent and responsible.” Is that a faint echo of some vestigial conscience? Or a slight bow to what might be called the wisdom of repugnance? For how can anyone read such an ad without repressing a shudder? Or have we lost the ability to shudder?

News item No. 2: New York has became the first state to consider reimbursing researchers who pay women up to $10,000 for donating their eggs for research purposes.

The suggestion has been approved overwhelmingly by the “ethics” committee of its state Stem Cell Board.

Even an enthusiast of human cloning like Arthur Caplan at the University of Pennsylvania – his job title is “ethicist” – has some qualms about this latest step in the commercialization of human eggs. As he put it in the vocabulary used in these matters:

“The market in eggs tries to incentivize women to do something they otherwise would not do. Egg sales and egg rebates are not the ethical way to go.”

Incentivize, sales, rebates, the market. … How long before human eggs are cheaper by the dozen?

This science and industry – it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins, for they were bound to meld – is only in its infancy. That’s a stage human embryos used for research purposes only will never reach.

Both these milestones were passed in the first year of the Obama Era – even before the administration announced it was authorizing federal funds for research on 13 more lines of stem cells derived from abandoned human embryos.

More such progress is to come, no doubt. We have only begun to experiment with such embryos. There’s no sign of a recession in this field. Any protests are sure to be dismissed as opposition to science, enlightenment, progress and flawless skin.

Barbarism is never so dominant as when it comes clothed in scientific garb. Forget the gray-flannel suit. Nothing now says authority like a white lab coat.

There is apparently no end to the uses the aborted can be put to by an advanced, industrialized society, aka our Brave New World. What was once the title of a dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley now becomes everyday reality. As ordinary as skin cream made from fetal ingredients, and as regular as ads in Ivy League weeklies seeking egg donors.

Somebody really ought to keep track of such developments, which seem to come ever faster.

Somebody does. Her name is Maria McFadden, and as editor of the Human Life Review she continues to put out her quarterly journal against all financial odds and the dictates of intellectual fashion. Every time the Review arrives in its plain brown wrapper, its contents illuminate and electrify. Like a flash of lightning on a dark night.

Where else but in Maria McFadden’s little journal can you find commentators as varied in style, interests and experience as Wesley J. Smith, Esq., historian James Hitchcock, and that indefatigable 84-year-old wunderkind and long-running jazz critic Nat Hentoff, all standing byline to byline for life?

Mr. Hentoff has long been my hero. As a columnist for the Village Voice, he was always a defender of civil liberties, so it was only natural that he would come to defend the most basic right of all: life. By now he’s earned the highest of compliments – the ostracism of his fellow liberals.

The Human Life Review was founded by Maria McFadden’s father, who saw all this coming, and, like some monk in a sci-fi fantasy about the end of civilization, was determined to set it all down.

His daughter has continued his fight and his publication. With zest, determination, a taste for good English prose, and, most refreshing of all, a sense of humor. Which can’t be easy to maintain in today’s (anti-)culture. Yet she does. Even as this society dashes past one strange milestone after another – like a downhill racer on a mad dash to ever lower depths.

If there is hope, and there is, it’s in little magazines and great spirits. And in that last refuge of sanity: instinctive revulsion.


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