On the Other Side of Change

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The BBC announced today that President Obama has ended the Bush administration prohibition against using government funding to support stem cell research. The ban has been in effect since 2001 and was reversed by an executive order, a device the President also used to end the policy known as the "global gag rule" at the end of January.

Both of these decisions have been met with intense opposition by religious and conservative groups, despite the fact that both stem cell research and U.S. funding for international women's health organizations have the weight of science and public opinion on their side. These issues are not unlike the move to lift the ban on gays in the military, which has the same support, and yet continues to inspire intense opposition from these same religious and conservative groups.

The fact is that these issues are not unrelated, all three have the potential to fundamentally change the way people interact across gender/sex, and each of them are unlike anything that our religious texts address, or that our religious ancestors faced. It is understandable to fear such profound and unknowable change; and I don't begrudge those who are cautious.

Ironically, those same texts and traditions that make it hard to feel comfortable imagining what kind of morality may exist in a world where we do stem cell research, or provide women in poverty around the world with abortions, or allow openly gay people to serve in the military, also provide the insight and acceptance we need to imagine the way forward.

Ultimately, as humans we are bound to disagree about these things, but not because of texts or traditions, but because of our capacity to imagine a way through the fog of uncertainty, or not. Sometimes, a stroke of the pen is the right thing to do, not only to help poor women, or science, or civil rights, but because it makes it clear that the change we fear has arrived and we can get on with the living.