I have seen some pretty outrageous protests in Perth, often involving non-conforming idealists with arrogant and ignorant views about the law and those who set and uphold it.Â We tend to excuse them for their lack of morality â€“ they are a fringe element who like to create a little bit of civil unrest amidst the insignificance of the political cycle.
Today however I encountered a different type of protest, in the Murray St Mall of the Perth CBD. This was a Christian group, exercising their right to demonstrate against Stem Cell research. Their protest was prominent, peaceful, and no doubt legally permitted.
The protesters included at least 30 young children, some well below the age of 10, putting their school holiday program time to good use. Still no problem. Until I saw one of the signs, held by a young child. The sign read Stop Nazi style experiments on cloning.
It goes without saying that the young child with this placard in hand could hardly understand the significance of this sign, and its relationship to their cause. I would however expect more from the adult who provided it to them.
I spoke to one of the protestors to let them know I thought their banner was offensive. I explained that the Nazis conducted medical experiments for the purpose of destroying life, causing pain, and in the process inhumanely treated humans like labrats. Scientists and Doctors conduct medical experiments to save life and improve its quality. From an ethical and moral standpoint, the two could not be further apart in intent.
She responded that in the same way that Nazis destroyed and manipulated life, so too, stem cell research destroys and manipulates. I walked away totally disgusted. On behalf of the few survivors of Nazi medical experimentation and their descendants, and on behalf of all their victims, I would like to say to the Christian group that is protesting that they should understand the significance of their sign, they should stop brainwashing their children, and they should spend their lunchtime making a more constructive contribution to humanity.
For the record, Judaism is not anti stem cell research. There is an excellent article by Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence from the Great Synagogue (in Sydney) that outlines a halachic position for those interested in this topic. It is not a black and white issue. The moral imperative to save life needs to be matched against the ethical dangers of playing G-d. At the end of the day however we are created in G-d’s image, to complete and enhance the creation of G-d. On this basis, Jewish medical ethicists often do not stand in the way of progress.
I am not an expert in medical matters, or an expert in professional protesting. However I do know the difference between right and wrong. To give a child a sign that compares stem cell research to Nazi medical experimentation is just plain wrong.