Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Therapeutic vs. Reproductive Research

One of the ironies in the stem cell debate is that there is a camp of scientists and ethicists who are trying to strike a kind of middle ground in which embryonic stem cells are allowed to be cloned or created for research, but only for what is called therapeutic purposes and not for reproductive purposes. (This story makes note of that.) In short, they believe cloning and ESC research should be allowed only to allow the product to be destroyed and the stem cells or organs harvested. It would be much worse, apparently, if infertile couples cloned an embryo to raise it and care for it as a human being.

The poet and ethicist J. Bottum has noted that this runs contrary to our moral intuitions and leads to a scientific culture reminiscent of our worst dystopias. At least, he argues, if we allow cloning and ESC research, let us do so for reasons much more humane than destruction and research. Doubtless the defenders of this odd position point out that the destruction and research is for potential future benefit. But I cannot come up with another situation in which we as a culture allow the wholesale slaughter and destruction of a certain class of humans for the potential future benefit of a few.

We must resist the tendency our scientific culture has to euphemize its way out of moral conundrums. If we beat down our moral intuitions for too long, they may be very hard to regain indeed.

5 comments:

biblemike said...

Euphemisms have been used by science and humanists to avoid facing the morality of their proposed actions almost forever. In the twentieth cetury and into the twenty-first we saw how that worked to dehumanize God's creations and turn them into so much trash.

An unborn child became a fetus and then the fetus stoped being a person and became a thing, a burden that must be dealt with. Since a fetus wasn't really human society had no problem with legalizing abortion. The same process has begun regarding euthanasia.

Euthanasia used to be a term used to mean killing a person who has no hope of survival and is in horrendus and untreatable pain. Now it is releaving the sufferingof one who has no meaningful life. Who determines whether my life is meaningful? Me? The State? Those seeking my inheritance? Does my life become meaningless whenever I am too weak to let my wishes be known or just when I become a drain rather than a contributer to the GNP?

This world and our society in particular are on the way to practices that even some of the most primitive peoples found abhorrent. May God's mercy end this before it goes any farther.

biblemike said...

Euphemisms have been used by science and humanists to avoid facing the morality of their proposed actions almost forever. In the twentieth cetury and into the twenty-first we saw how that worked to dehumanize God's creations and turn them into so much trash.

An unborn child became a fetus and then the fetus stoped being a person and became a thing, a burden that must be dealt with. Since a fetus wasn't really human society had no problem with legalizing abortion. The same process has begun regarding euthanasia.

Euthanasia used to be a term used to mean killing a person who has no hope of survival and is in horrendus and untreatable pain. Now it is releaving the sufferingof one who has no meaningful life. Who determines whether my life is meaningful? Me? The State? Those seeking my inheritance? Does my life become meaningless whenever I am too weak to let my wishes be known or just when I become a drain rather than a contributer to the GNP?

This world and our society in particular are on the way to practices that even some of the most primitive peoples found abhorrent. May God's mercy end this before it goes any farther.

Phil Steiger said...

Mike-

I think you are right that we are on a dangerous path when it comes to the language we use to categorize our moral choices. Many people don't like the "slippery slope" kind of argument, but I don't know how we can avoid it's considerations-we need to see that these deleterious consequences are in the realm of reality.

The Dawn Treader said...

Phil,

I agree wholeheartedly with your post. Language is used to sanitize moral atrocities. One of the best ways to restore meaning to words is to show pictures -- we are a visual society after all. Abortion has meaning once we see aborted children -- it no longer is about "choice", it is about murder.

In the case of extracting cells from embryos, however, the picture approach is not as fruitful because the embryos don't look like us.

In your opinion, how can we make our moral argument in a way that is compelling -- even to a visually oriented society like ours?

Mr Dawn Treader
www.mrdawntreader.com

Phil Steiger said...

Jeff-That is a very good question, and it has been rolling around in my head since you posted it. I just completed a great book by J. Budziszewski called The Revenge of Conscience, and I hope to craft a bit of a response as a result of some of the things in his book.