Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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I’m not quite ready to take Peter Lawler’s advice. Contrast this, from November, 2002:

Conservatives face a daunting challenge today. On the most pressing moral issues confronting the country—many of them having to do with aspects of biotechnological research—the public is deeply divided, and the divisions are far from trivial. Take the issue of embryonic stem cells. Many conservatives contend that the union of complementary gametes (sperm and ovum) instantly produces a unique person who possesses the same rights as a mature human being; they thus conclude that embryonic stem cell research, which destroys this person, must be prohibited. But many others think differently. For them, the prospect of relieving the suffering of sentient human beings—especially when they are members of one’s own family or beloved celebrities such as Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox—should outweigh concern for the dignity of a microscopic clump of cells in a petri dish.


The former view is clearly based on the stronger argument. In the words of Robert P. George, blastocysts are indeed “capable of directing from within their own integral organic functioning and development into and through the fetal, infant, child, and adolescent stages of life, and ultimately into adulthood as, in each case, determinate, enduring, whole human beings.” And yet, the latter position is not obviously absurd. It is neither nihilism nor reflexive sentimentality, but rather an intuition embedded in moral common sense, that leads so many to conclude that decency requires us to do what we can to relieve the suffering of those we love. The conflict, then, arises from a tension within morality itself.

With this, from April, 2005:

Yet there are reasons to be suspicious of all absolutisms--even the noblest kinds. While they inspire great certainty and conviction, they also distort our vision, obscuring the exceedingly complicated, even paradoxical, character of morality itself.


Take the Pope’s influence on the way stem-cell research is discussed in the United States. John Paul convinced many American conservatives that the union of sperm and ovum instantly produces a unique person who possesses the same dignity (and thus rights) as a mature human being; embryonic stem-cell research, which destroys this person within two weeks of conception, must therefore be prohibited. From this standpoint, those who support such research appear to be immoralists advocating a bloodthirsty "culture of death." But this is far from fair. It is neither nihilism nor a craving for "death" that leads many of us to conclude that we should support research that promises to relieve human suffering when doing so inflicts no suffering of its own. (A microscopic clump of cells in a petri dish is, of course, non-sentient.) On the contrary, this conclusion flows from an intuition embedded in moral common sense. This is not to deny a certain moral grandeur to the Pope’s absolutist stance, which holds that the defense of innate human dignity ought to trump suffering every time. But denying that both positions have moral weight does serious damage to the richness and complexity of moral experience.

What he once called the better argument is now just an "absolutist stance" to which he concedes a "certain moral grandeur." Yes, human moral life is complicated, but becoming "pro-choice" on stem cell research is not self-evidently the better way to proceed, politically or morally. Linker seems to have forgotten (if he ever knew) that the pro-choice position is itself a moral teaching, not a merely political or "meta-moral" position that ascribes equal status to several competing moral positions. It teaches us either to be indifferent to the moral considerations involved in stem cell research, or it elevates social peace or personal autonomy to the privileged position. There’s an argument for this stance, but it’s not a slam dunk.

Update: Rick Garnett has more.

Discussions - 5 Comments

Forgive my ignorance, but last time I paid any attention to this issue was during the ’04 campaign. At that time, claims were made, by Republicans of course, that adult stem cell research achievements far exceeded those of embrionic stem cell research. I have 3 questions:

1. Were those claims true?

2. If so, are those claims still true today? and

3. If so, why are scientists still bothering with embrionic stem cells? Are they attempting to suggest abortions are good because they can get Pinto-like stem cells when Adult cells provide Cadillac-like stem cells?

I don’t know if those claims are true, however I do know that there seems to be a regular stream of articles about how adult stems cells are doing this or doing that and not much of a peep in regards to embryonic stem cells.

By the way, I don’t think anyone has seriously argued that an embryo should have the same rights as an adult. We don’t even afford that to children that are born.

I believe the argument has been consistently that the unborn should have the same right to life that the born has.

What if adult stem cells could become human in the proper conditions much as embrionic stem cells could?

I realize you might be trying to catch me is a conundrum or some other type of thing, but life is life and it is truly that simple.

There has been an enormous amount of hype about embryonic stem cells. There are real problems: the deal with stem cells is to get them to divide and reproduce--which is what cancer does. The risks are many. There are also huge problems with rejection. Adult stem cells have been worked with in laboratories since 1965. They are found not only in ubilical cord blood, but in bone marrow, fat, skin and nose. Since they are the patient’ own cells, there is no problem of rejection. There have been many successful treatments, and more are coming.

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