Sunday, July 1, 2007

The only moral reason to support embryonic stem-cell research

Rabbi Marc Gellman, one-half of the God Squad with Monsignor Thomas Hartman, simplifies the embryonic stem cell research issue.

The way we discuss the big moral questions has got to change. We yell too much and listen too little, and demonize those with whom we merely disagree. We need to practice critical thinking that recognizes good and bad reasons for tough ethical issues. Let's practice some forced reasonableness today on the roiling debate over embryonic stem-cell research.

[...Snip] The only reason I have ever heard which, if true, clearly and convincingly supports embryonic stem- cell research is this one:
  • A human embryo is not a bearer of moral rights until much later in its development.

There are two important versions of this argument. The first is that the essential moral moment for a human embryo is implantation into the uterine wall. The argument in support of this claim is that if nothing is done to an embryo in a dish, it will not grow to be a person, but if it is implanted, it will. Therefore, according to this line of reasoning, the moral significance of an in vitro embryo falls short of the moral rights of an implanted and growing human embryo in the womb. This reason has convinced some people who otherwise are pro life to nevertheless support embryonic stem-cell research. They believe that implantation, not fertilization is the bright moral line after which the fetus must not be harmed.

The second version of this argument claims that neither the human embryo in a dish nor the fetus in a womb is a bearer of moral rights until birth or perhaps viability. The argument in support of this claim is that the ability to live outside a host body is an essential moral requirement to qualify for moral rights. If this argument is valid, it justifies not only embryonic stem-cell research, but also elective abortions. Of course this argument must overcome the facts of fetal development, but if it is defended successfully, embryonic stem-cell research is a moral piece of cake.

So, is the human embryo in a dish really a bearer of moral rights? Stop yelling. Start thinking. It is important for us as a moral culture not merely to argue for an answer. We must live our way into the answer. MSNBC

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