Stem Cell Research and Utilitarianism
It would seem that the use of embryonic stem cells to find potential cures and treatments to diseases and other uses would be a revolution in medical science, however, ever since the first human stem cells were first extracted in 1998, it has been met with strong opposition regarding whether its ethical or not..
Opponents argue embryonic stem cell use as crossing the lines of science, unethical, immoral, and view it the same as abortion. Pope Benedict XVI stated, "When human beings in the weakest and most defenseless state of their existence are selected, abandoned, killed or used as pure 'biological material,' how can one deny that they are being treated not as 'someone' but as 'something,'" (Ertelt, Steven, (2008) LifeNews.com, http://www.lifenews.com/bio2322.html)
Proponents argue that the benefits to medical treatment would be revolutionary; to grow entire organs in a lab for people who need transplants, cure diseases such as AIDS, multiple sclerosis, types of cancers, back injury patients possibly walk again by growing new tissue, the potential benefits would seem to go on and on.
At the University of California, Irvine, scientists have had success with injecting embryonic stem cells into rats with severe spinal cord injuries. The rats successfully walked again and human trials are on the way for a clinical trial in patients with acute spinal cord injury. "Hans Keirstead, co-director of the UCI Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, said, “Any benefit to the patient, even an incremental one, would be a resounding victory." (Fitzenberger, Jennifer, (2005) University Communications)
In my opinion, adult stem cell use is fine, using what is already there is not interfering with natures course of life. But the use of embryonic stem cells is absolutely and unequivocally immoral and unethical and my reasons are threefold. First, when man tries to play God the results can be disastrous.
In 1818, Mary Shelly published her masterpiece ‘Frankenstein’, a story about Victor Frankenstein, a doctor obsessed with defeating death. He believed he was benefiting humanity by his works, Victor explains,
”A new species would bless me as its creator and source, many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. I might in the process of time renew life where had apparently devoted the body to corruption.” (Shelly, Mary, Frankenstein. Ch. 4, Penguin).
The outcome of his madness resulted in the monster, a revolting and hellish being comprised of several peoples’ body parts that he brought to life by shooting it full of electricity. The story is meant to terrify as well as a reminder not to abuse technology and that there is a very thin, fine line in medical science that should never, ever be crossed and when man attempts manipulate nature’s design to those ends, the outcome can be a nightmare and an abomination, as Victor learned at a very heavy price.
This line of thinking has already broken the floodgates of morality, such as bleeding into the world of cloning.. In Scotland in 1996, the success of the cloning of the sheep ‘Dolly’ excited researchers and opened the door to human cloning. Humans can be duplicated like robots and even get to a point where a human can be custom made so to speak. As Pope Benedict XVI has pointed out, practices of cloning and embryonic stem cells shatter the barrier of human dignity.
Secondly, it is the destruction of innocent human life. Life in its simplest form is an animated being; we know that when a sperm impregnates an egg a new life is created and from that moment on will begin to grow in different stages and there’s only two means of which to stop it, natural or an external cause.
The Greek philosopher Protagoras said, “Man is the measurer of all things” (410 BC). This is an absolutely frightening concept, mankind to hold the measuring stick of morality and ethics. Where and who would draw the line and why would even need to be one?
Unfortunately, many people are adopting this line of thinking and is picking up steam, particularly in academia. Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University, strongly advocates the putting to death of infants born with any types of birth defects until up to 28 days after birth. Singer believes that the putting to death of a “defective” infant outweighs the favorable outcome to try again and have a healthy child.
He believes they’re not persons and even animals have more personhood than a baby born with down syndrome, he says, "The right to life is not a right of members of the species Homo sapiens; it is … a right that properly belongs to persons. Not all members of the species Homo sapiens are persons, and not all persons are members of the species Homo sapiens." (Singer, Peter, Rethinking Life & Death, p. 206).
Some will dismiss this an extreme, but if morality is to be subjective as people have been striving for, then why does it have to be extreme? If man measures, he can easily make his measuring stick whatever way he wants, he already defines life the way it suits him, now he’s redefining nature’s law.
Some biologists argue life doesn’t begin until a certain point, until he/she can breath on it’s own, organs are developed to a certain point, etc, but truthfully they have no sound authority to make such a judgment. They merely reduce it to the lowest standards possible to justify themselves so man creates the measuring stick for himself based on weak or no ethical barriers.
Embryos aren’t potential humans, they’re humans with potential, they are of human nature, they will grow in every stage until death. Every being is viable in its own natural environment proper to its stage of development. A human embryo needs a hospitable womb of a well-nourished woman to grow, and that is the environment appropriate to his stage of development. A baby human in the womb cannot breathe air at 4 months, neither can a full-grown 20 year-old adult outside the womb breathe thru an umbilical cord. The preservation of innocent human life is at the very heart of the matter.
Finally is ethics in itself. Now a days, ethics are taught primarily from a utilitarian perspective, that is, what is good and beneficial for the majority outweighs the needs of the few. A hypothetical example, there’s an airplane full of people, one person aboard has a potentially fatal air born flu and it will spread and infect everyone within a few minutes, not even putting him below deck will solve the problem. The only way to stop it from spreading to everyone else is to throw him out of the plane, what’s one life compared to the other 150 passengers on the plane? It’s nothing personal, I’m sure he understands as he plummets to his death, his family should understand too, it was for the common good.
Marx and the communists adopt this ethic, whatever advances the revolution is moral, and the bloodshed of anyone is necessary and is outweighed by future benefits and gains. As Lenin put it "If you want to make an omelet, you need to break some eggs”.
An act of deliberate free will of a person, according to philosopher Thomas Aquinas, says all acts are good, evil, or neutral and each human act has an object, a motive, and surrounding circumstances.
The object is the thing that is done. For example, Robin Hood robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, stealing is wrong, but the story states that the sheriff of Nottingham heavily and unfairly taxed everyone, enjoying the spoils while they starved. Robin of Loxley stole money from the sheriff, but a lot of that money was not rightfully his and was attained unjustly by intimidation and force (not much different today), so to recover money for the reason of feeding families is a just act. The object and motive are pure in the surrounding circumstances, but if the sheriff had attained that money fairly it would be an unjust act of Robin Hood to steal it since it rightly belonged to the state.
So how embryonic stem cell use pertains to the moral law, even though the motive may be pure, to cure people with different ailments, the object or deed in itself is an evil act, the destruction of life with potential.
When mankind uses technology to manipulate nature in such a way that it crosses the boundaries of human dignity to a point where man thinks he can play God and redefines morals to fit his own agenda, we, as a species are interfering with the natural order of life and the universe.
The ends ought not to justify the means to such a way where it places little or no value on human life as utilitarianism does. Even if using embryonic stem cells does benefit humanity, it doesn’t mean we should just do it…just because we can do something doesn’t necessarily mean we should do that thing.
c. 2009, J.S.