Nurturing Justice 23 (2007)
Let me refer you, once again, to a well-regarded study: Bob Goudzwaard and Harry de Lange Beyond Poverty and Affluence: Towards a Canadian Economy of Care (University of Toronto Press 1994). As the title implies, the authors explore the implications of redefining economics as a normative science concerned with care. Economics cannot escape the demands of human stewardship for the creation, for nature, for our bodies, for ourselves, for society. The book expounds six paradoxes that need to be confronted as we work to meet the burgeoning problems that are unfolding before our eyes with respect to our God-given responsibility to care.
Those who would like to read more of Goudzwaard's economics are invited to explore his on-line archive at:
There is no getting around the significant theoretical and scientific work that is required if public policy is to comprehensively confront genuine political needs with well-worked out policies. All aspects of our social life have to be critically examined if public policies are to address the very real political needs present in our society in a comprehensive and justice-enhancing way. And our economy at all levels - household, neighbourhood, local, regional, national and global - is vulnerable, and so are we, the ones who are called to give an account of our stewardship. How do we make a stand for justice in relation to the issues of "body politics" without espousing a standpoint which in some unanticipated way may exclude the most vulnerable? How can justice be genuinely promoted and due respect given to authentic political needs?
I hazard the guess that there is no area of public policy that is more subject to confusion, at a deep-down spiritual level, than "body politics". To reiterate: "body politics" here refers to public policies that relate to the just public care for our bodies. I used the term "authentic political needs" in the last sentence of the previous paragraph. The spiritual confusion that dominates public discussion about "body politics" can be seen in the intense competition between rival arguments and positions over the right definition of "political need". Which definition is to prevail?
We also have to face the fact that the task of identifying true and real political needs is continually subjected to claims and counter claims from those who are defending "alleged needs", or who are accommodating "imagined needs" and then of course there are "false needs".
As we know, the public provision of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), has in recent years been one prominent domain in which this warfare has been waged. When he needed (sic!) to gain the support of his electors on the issue, the former PM was clear in his opposition to embryonic stem-cell research. This principled ethical standpoint was justified by the need to safeguard the integrity of IVF programmes around the country which were serving the bona fide aspirations of parents who wanted to conceive children but could not. But then, as we know, after the election he was confronted full-on by the alleged needs of science (Dr Trounson and the anticipated needs of Monash University to maintain its "world's best practise" bio-research programmes), as well as the speculative needs of pharmaceutical companies claiming to be promoting basic research to meet the real needs of the severely disabled and those afflicted by debilitating diseases. And thus the political issue changed and no longer were IVF programmes viewed simply as a means of service to aspiring parents. In the public debate they became a means to another set of ends, and the COAG agreement between the PM and the eastern state Labor premiers clearly identified these ends with the needs of national economic development and viability. The human embryos, eggs and seeds that had been specifically gathered to do a specific work, were discussed in ways that assumed they could henceforth be used to meet (allegedly) wider public demands.
(But now a significant proportion of the "touring capital" - a term coined by the German sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman - has apparently left the country …)
And so, in that situation, where the former PM - perhaps spurred on by his own need to offer the country leadership in a vexing moral issue - actually undermined his own relationship with his electorate by assuming he could dispense with one obligation in order to give leadership on another. I have repeatedly drawn attention to this. The need of the electors of Bennelong, to have an accountable representative in Parliament was displaced by other perceived needs. Any candidate's political platform in a Westminster Parliamentary system should be a capstone of democratic accountability. But in this moral issue, personal values were set against economic prosperity, and so the links of accountability became seriously, perhaps irreparably, unhinged.
We have expanded this discussion previously showing how the use of "free votes" (the latest secularised update of "conscience votes") confirms a sustained process by which Parliamentarians have actually come less and less accountable to their electors in our parliaments. "Free votes" are vital if political parties are to avoid coming down decisively on a range of contentious moral issues. Candidates are thus accorded the liberty of making up their own minds up on any particular issue. One has to ask what this then will mean for any party's attempts to promote a comprehensive political programme that addresses all the genuine political needs across the society. But it is this political party problematic which helps us understand why the libertarian view prospers and political parties shying away from a comprehensive policy framework for dealing with the issues of "body politics".
But here again, if we are serious about the work we intend to do to promote justice, we will see this as a further confirmation that there can be no getting around the theoretical work that is required. Public policy needs to be framed in a way that comprehensively confronts all genuine political needs with well-worked out policies. All aspects of our social life have to be critically examined if public policies are to address the very real political needs that are present in our society in a comprehensive and justice-enhancing way. I'll leave that there for the moment.
Let us return then to the issue of safeguarding the moral integrity of IVF programmes. Readers will note that in commending the stand taken by the former PM in the election of 2001, I joined my voice to those opposing embryonic stem-cell research. To reiterate: This principled ethical standpoint was justified by the need to safeguard the integrity of IVF programmes which were serving the bona fide aspiration of parents who wanted to conceive children. But the problem we have to consider now is that the so-called integrity of such programmes was not "under attack" solely from powerful proposals that would gain access to use "spares" for such scientific purposes. The fact that there were already "spares" should alert us to other aspects of this complex political issue.
IVF, in cattle, has been developing for many decades. Around the time of the initial parliamentary debate on embryonic stem-cell research, I had an intriguing discussion with a bio-engineer with some experience of working in the bovine-IVF field. He alleged that the fact that there were "spares" left over after human IVF procedures could not properly be evaluated without also examining the overall research trajectory of human IVF and the initial research decision that had, at an early stage, been made to forego research initiatives that would develop the requisite one-on-one technology. Why? I asked. Well, he explained, such technologies have long been available in the bovine-IVF field. Thus, he said, the suspicion is raised that the alleged need for multiple fertilised eggs is actually a false need, an artificially (sic!) inflated requirement of human IVF programmes, in which the imagined future research needs (and promised pharmaceutical industry finance) have become the (hidden) main game. At this point in my discussion, I simply would say that I suspect that such allegations have validity. But they have to be treated as matters that need to be fully and expertly assessed if any public policy research programme wants to promote public justice in relation to human IVF provision. We can easily become very depressed because of the cumulative weight of the issues and the a-normative developments. And so at this point we have to ask: How are we to address this seemingly never-ending complexity with respect to the issues of "bio-politics"?
Let me conclude. The above question is one that cannot be avoided even if NJ is in no position to definitively resolve it at this time. It just cannot be avoided. A broadsheet like this can only nurture justice in a step-by-step way. We will need to take note of developments in our society which relate to the apparent "free availability" of human seed, and eggs, and embryos. In certain respects, this discussion will be considered next time when we turn our gaze more specifically to "Public Morality and the Mass Media". A lot of our anxiety may well find its root in the failure of our news services to properly inform us about the legal aspects of legislation related to public morality. Nurturing Justice may advocate Christian industrial organisations and Christians organizing for political service. But these endeavours are not going to get very far without a sustained effort in public education supported by authentically Christian journalism and news services.
At this point, the intense and seemingly bizarre economic-moral complexity prods us to compare our sense of Christian responsibility with that which faced William Wilberforce, so perceptively depicted in the recent feature film: Amazing Grace. How many of us, when considering these issues, are willing to think about them in ways that encourages the patient and persistent and humble push for justice for the rest of our days? If you need added inspiration to get busy, go back to the film and replay the exchange between Wilberforce and John Newton.
On our list of 12 issues we have been considering Number 8, "Issues Of Marriage and Family - Body Politics." These issues have also been dealt with in previous Nurturing Justice editions in 2007: 1. Human Seed, Law and Politics 14 March; 7. Respect for Race and Ethnicity All Along the Line 26 June; and 20. Body Politics (1) 8 November. Next time, we will consider No. 9 Public Morality and the Reform of Mass Media.
November 2007 © The contents of this email are copyright. Documents may be photocopied or retransmitted in their entirety but not otherwise reprinted or transmitted without permission. "Nurturing Justice" is a project to encourage Christian political reflection based upon wise and loving civic participation. Comments are welcome and should be sent to email@example.com