Embryo ethics

Posted in news, politics at 7:49 pm by danvk

A&L Daily linked to an interesting article in The Boston Globe that attempts to examine the logic behind President Bush’s position on stem cells.

The article makes some good points, most notably that there’s no inherent logical contradiction in the president’s position. This is one of the reasons that stem cell arguments are so maddening. There’s a consistent position to be found on both sides of the issue, it’s just that most people don’t find the President’s side very compelling.

Wherein the consistency? The most common argument for federally-funded stem cell research is that those 400,000 blastocysts are going to be destroyed otherwise, so there’s no net loss. That’s why it would make a lot of sense for the government to support scientists who do something with those embryos. The problem with this argument is that the government doesn’t fund the creation of these embryo banks. There’s a big difference between allowing an activity and funding it. If I honestly believed that each of those embryos were a human life, I’d have a huge problem with my tax dollars being used to harvest them. The same argument applies to abortion: it’s totally reasonable to think that abortion is killing babies, and if you do, you can at least rest assured that you’re not funding the slaughter.

The only argument the article makes against this point is that the President doesn’t take his position to its logical extreme. If he really believes that embryos are living human beings, then he should be prosecuting those who destroy them, not vetoing funds for them. That’s fine, but I think there’s something to be said for picking battles you can win. His veto is enough to win this one. It wouldn’t be enough to criminalize in-vitro fertilization.

This is why arguments about morality never get anywhere. Most morals can be put into a logically consistent form (even infanticide). You’re not going to find an insurmountable hole in the other person’s logic. His morality just won’t be as compelling to you as it is to him. And so you argue until you’re blue in the face and never convince anyone of anything.

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