October 13, 2004

Random Musings on Stem Cells

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/film/3732462.stm

The death of Christopher Reeve has brought to the forefront of my mind the issue of stem cells and the permission/non-funding of embryonic stem cell research in the UK and the USA. Christopher Reeve believed that stem cells treatments, had they been available, might have been able to reverse his paralysis. I’m sure that his death will be used by the campaign to allow embryonic stem cell research as a clear example of a tragic case where stem cells could have greatly helped.

I agree with the US administrations position that embryonic stem cell research should not be funded by the state. Of course it is tragic that someone should be in such as state as Christopher Reeve was, but we should not allow our (right and appropriate) sense of outrage at someone dreadful injuries to overhaul our moral sense in determining whether a treatment should be researched or not. The need for a treatment is not enough. The treatment should also be morally acceptable. This is the issue with embryonic stem cells.

The production of embryonic stem cells requires an embryo. In most envisioned treatments this embryo would be a clone of the patient in order to avoid problems with tissue rejection. The moral problem that I see with this treatment (and feel free to comment on this article in your agreement or disagreement) is that it requires the destruction of an embryo in order to treat the individual. We would not allow the killing of a newborn simply to treat an adult with a medical problem. The whole argument for the embryonic stem cell research hinges on the assumption that the embryo is not a valuable human in the same way as a newborn is. This argument, you will not be surprised to know is the basis of the pro-choice position, because lets face it, if the unborn is not as human and therefore as deserving of protection as any other human, then the pro-choice position is correct, it’s all about the choice of the mother

Fortunately for us, the pro-choice position is not correct. This can be demonstrated by drawing analogies between the conditions of the unborn that cause people to say that it is not human and valuable and adults who show some of these same traits but are still regarded as valuable humans. These differences can be summarised by the acronym SLED.

  1. Size – It has been argued the unborn are not human and worthy of protection since they are smaller than other humans. This doesn’t wash, a 8 year old is not more of a human than a 2 year old because he is bigger, a 7 foot basketball player is not “more human” than a 5 foot 9 geek because he is bigger. The size argument completely fails
  2. Level of Development – The argument is that the unborn is less developed, then it is not human. Again the same logic shows us why this is not true. A 5 year old is more developed than a 2 year old, but that does not make the 5 year old more “human” than the 2 year old
  3. Environment – this one is just absurd. Where you are has not bearing on who you are (in a morally relevant sense). Note that this was the argument that supported dilation and extraction late term abortions. In this abortion the baby is delivered breach first until only the head remain in the mother. How is it that a difference in location of 6 inches is morally relevant in whether the act is an abortion of infanticide? This is why these abortions are now illegal in the USA.
  4. Degree of Dependency – The argument is that since the baby is dependant on the mother then it is less human than an independent individual. This is absurd. I am a type 1 diabetic. I am dependant on Insulin. Does this make me less human than my next-door neighbour? How about those with pacemakers, or that dependant on kidney dialysis machines or that dependant on systems like Christopher Reeve was. They are no less human than any other.

The unborn is different from other people in all these regards, but none of them are sufficient for it to be less human than any other individual. The conclusion is that the unborn is human and should be protected as any other human.

This links to embryonic stem cell research in the issue of destroying the embryo to obtain the stem cells. Since it can also be demonstrated by analogies that the embryo is not morally different from any other human, embryonic stem cell research should not be allowed from the same reasons as abortion, that it kills a valuable human being.

Plenty of alternatives exist such as adult stem cells or placental stem cells. There is not really the need to kill embryos to derive these cells.

Get in contact if you agree/disagree

Rich Cowan

Notes

  1. The majority of the arguments in this piece are adapted from material by Scott Klusendorf, including “Pro-Life 101”. See Stand to Reason for details
  2. I am aware of other conditions placed on humanness, like the requirement of consciousness placed by Peter Singer, however this can be argued against using the examples of people in comas. Also someone who thinks that a dog is more valuable than an infant or a person in a coma needs help in my opinion.

- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. If this is the same Rich Cowan as on the Rev messageboard, add your address to the Rev list

    If not I'll say hello anyway.

    13 Oct 2004, 16:24

  2. ahhh..it is – I've just read the "Who is this Guy?" link…no excuses for not adding yourself to the list now :P

    13 Oct 2004, 16:26


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