Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Staying the course

...on stem-cells. From Inside Politics:

The White House yesterday rejected calls from Ronald Reagan’s family and others to relax President Bush’s restrictions on stem-cell research in pursuit of cures for illnesses.

Discussions - 19 Comments

would someone please comment on why in-vitro fertilization for fertility treatment which results in countless unused, fertilized embryos is ok, while using those embryos for stem-cell research is not ok.

if one is opposed to the stem-cell research, then using existing lines is not terribly justifiable either. I don’t like Bush’s stand on this b/c it is not logical.

i don’t like fertility treatment for just this reason. But if it is occuring and we are going to accept that, then let’s use the fertilized embryos instead killing them for no purpose.

Logically, invitro and anything that creates embryos is just as bad as embryonic stem cell research. It creates life only to destroy it later or only to use it for other ends.

Bush’s stance is merely political, I think. He is trying to play both sides cause he thinks an "all or nothing" approach would cause too much controversy and hurt his chances of reelection. Although, I think he probably believes it to be wrong.

In principle, one who thinks these procedures are immoral can never condone using the embryos even if they have been created. That’d be like saying that since the South had slaves, they should have used them for medical experimentation. One can make prudential judgments based on the circumstances, but cannot act in ways that destroys the principle one is trying to protect.

"Mr. Bush signed an executive order in August 2001 that limited federal help to financing stem-cell research on the 78 embryonic stem-cell lines then in existence."

So does this mean the Reagan’s favor using government funds to support stem cell research?

Or is it currently illegal to research stem cell’s outside the 78 stem cell lines in existence August 2001, and they wish to have more stem cell lines to study?

-John Lewis.

Unsurprisingly, I find myself in agreement with Mr. Driscoll’s comments. It is immoral for human beings to destroy human life even it if seemingly serves good purposes. That kind of utilitarianism was at the root of the murderous twentieth century and sadly has not truly been renounced by humanity. It did not learn from the slippery slope exemplified by the Nazis who preyed on the weak, the disabled, the Jews, and other "undesireables" and "undermenschen." Stem-cell research (where embryos are utilized - I believe it is possible to use cells from umbilical cords and such) is wrong for the same reasons that in-vitro fertilization is wrong for the same reason that abortion is wrong. Besides the aforementioned destruction of human life, it is wrong for human beings to assume the role of God in creating and destroying human life at their own will.

I am not sure that Utilitarianism was at the root of the "murderous" 19th century.

Since 1981 114,000 babies have been born as a result of In-vitro fertalization. How are these births wrong in the same way that Abortion is wrong? Is it that as in the case of abortion, in-vitro fertalization gives more control to parents on questions of raising a familly?

In your words "it is wrong for human beings to assume the role of God in creating and destroying human life at their own will." OK...

"It is immoral for human beings to destroy human life, even if it seemingly serves good purposes." This might rule out the death penalty. It might even rule out war, or self-defense. You are going to have to ammend it somehow. After all that attitude would have certainly prohibited the killing of Hitler before world war II. Something that a utilitarian wouldn’t have much problem with. Now if you could show me how John Stuart Mill would have supported Hitler or Stalin by all means do so. In my opinion the utilitarian framework is interesting, because it is a framework that allows the most room for judgement. I think I could probably make a utilitarian arguement for and against the same solution, in fact in order to come to a rightfull conclusion under the framework you are required to do so.

In fact part of your argument is close to being Utilitarian. You offer stem cells from umbelical cords as a moral alternative to those from embryos whose utility is similar, But which seem to fullfill your criteria for non-destruction of human life.

Chris, maybe you need a course in Hegelian logic.

All joking aside. I think you could argue that the end of In-vitro fertalization is pregnancy and the extra fertalized embryo’s are simply the means. Pregnancy as the end of In-vitro fertalization, is a good thing in the same way that pregnancy by the normal means is a good thing. Maybe even more so, since sex itself has ends other than simply procreation but in-vitro fertalization does not. I can’t resist the jab at those who argue that the sole end of sex is procreation, as if sex were as clinical or as focused by intent as in-vitro fertalization. Since both sex and in-vitro fertalization bring about pregnancy, we turn to a discussion of the cost. Sex is free (not really) and In-vitro fertalization costs around $12,500(per try). Which incidentally shows that the person doing In-vitro fertalization has more invested in the end result (not necessarily but in general) certainly unwanted pregnancy is a lot less of an issue among pregancy brought about by In-vitro fertalization vs. sex. Also given the cost a parent that could afford such a pregancy could also afford a good education and life for the kid. But what about the cost in terms of embryo’s? What is an embryo? an embryo is a sperm and an oocyte. That is a fact. Now maybe the embryo is alive, in fact it certainly is. But in the same way a sperm is alive and an oocyte is alive. But is it alive in a "greater" way? maybe... but if it is then it isn’t terribly far off from the sperm or the oocyte, maybe say 1+1=4. But in normal sex no one complains of all the sperm that die, no one complains of all the eggs(oocyte) that never become human. One could argue that the catholic church’s prohibition on birth control in some sense recognizes a certain concern with maximizing the utility of these sperm and oocyte, thus condoms that in fact kill sperm, or stop them from reaching the egg are immoral on the grounds that they hamper the natural course of things. But in the natural course of things millions of sperm die, and so do many oocyte which do not go on to become babies. But of course we don’t really recognize this cost or even try to tabulate it, so why tabulate a few hundred embryo? After all in a couple that is otherwise infertile how many sperm and oocyte would otherwise die without ever producing a child?

In my humble opinion to say that In-vitro destroys embryo’s would be to say that in the absense of In-vitro embryo’s would be created in the first place that would not be destroyed. But this is not the case, in the absense of In-vitro many sperm and oocyte would simply die without ever having the potential to be embryo in the first place. So just as in normal sex we do not concentrate on the building blocks that die in order to yield the baby why do so in the case of In-vitro where once again some building blocks die in order to yield a baby rather than all the building blocks and no baby without the procedure. Thus if having a child is moral at all then it is moral despite the costs in terms of building blocks. Thus In-vitro is a morally acceptable procedure no matter how many unused embryo’s it creates because its end is procreation, and otherwise the building blocks would die without ever attaining this end.

But to then use these building blocks for an end other than procreation is not okay, because then you are messing with the building blocks of life without intending to create life. Thus using embryos for stem cell research is not okay.

This is my "I am bored lets make something up argument" justifying the Bush position. But I think it is logical, and I will be happy to defend it against attack.

Without weighing in on the underlying merits of the argument or on utilitarianism’s role in the 20th century, I am not sure what Mr. Lewis means when he says that utilitarianism allows the most room for judgment. In fact, utilitarianism provides relatively little room for judgment unless you impose something like Nozickian side-restraints on the theory. In other words, utilitarianism doesn’t work unless it is directed by a moral philosophy. In the classic example, there is no reason in a utilitarian calculus for the state not to impose draconian sentences for minor infractions which the state nonetheless would like to occur at a rate approaching zero. However, we naturally recoil at punishment which is "disproportionate" to the crime because it offends our sense of fairness or justice. Outside of anticipating error costs, which does not fully inculcate our revulsion to unjust penalties, utilitarianism uninformed by moral philosophy fails to take this into account.

I am also not sure that making an argument about the use of umbelical cord stem cells is all that utilitarian. Attempting to do good without doing evil is a classic theme in moral philosophy. To claim this as utilitarianism would coopt much of teleological and moral philosophy into the rubric of utilitarianism.

Hum... I would combine On Liberty and Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism+On Liberty=John Stuart Mill. But like you said Utilitarianism does not work unless it is directed by a moral philosophy. Just as the Free Market doesn’t exist without government setting the standards for its existence. Nevertheless government can also hamper the Free Market. In the same way Moral philosophy can hamper Utilitarianism. I would argue that the connection between Free Market and State and Utilitarianism and Moral philosophy aren’t unrelated. John Stuart Mill argues that tradition is the default moral philosophy that directs Utilitarianism but that some people can look beyond tradition and be led by an actual moral philosophy, that these people are inventors in the same way as entrepreneurs in the business world. They often fail and thus show the way not to go but that some succeed and cause a large impact. People over time catch on and are influenced by them in turn. Utilitarianism is in effect an evolutionary moral philosophy, and the main questions in the system are in fact political, thus On Liberty serves to ask questions about how to foster a society where men are free to achieve the most, and free to judge of the various competing systems. On liberty ask how to create an Athens that doesn’t kill Socrates.

"It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides."(ch 2 Utilitarianism: What Utilitarianism Is.)
But then On liberty deals with how to prevent stagnation, the tyranny of a sort of good enough for "us" conservatism. John Stuart Mill hopes that the moral economy will grow.

I don’t really have time nor would anyone have patience to read work on this subject, but it is my understanding of Utilitarianism that it was ment to coopt all other moral philosophy. So that a man could be utilitarian from any starting point.In essence by combining On Liberty and Utilitarianism one ends up with the idea that Utilitarianism is really just a lose structure, that it is hopped will point and guide people to refining tastes and a more thinking attitude, because in the end depite the duties impossed as a consequence of arguments one can not arbitrarily assign value or weight to said arguments and must let them float on the market for thinking people to deliberate about. Indeed higher levels of ethics, move away progressively from rule based utilitarianism and involve increasingly higher amounts of positive benevolence, representing instead a personal ideals that can only exist when left to a person’s own individual choice and development. In essence On Liberty then concludes that the central question in ethics has to do with the question of what is voluntary, which has to be worked out with extreme caution because while rule based utilitarianism has its merits when it comes to government coersion on its behalf it can become noxious to liberty. Thus duty not to interfere with another person’s choice is all that any society should demand (Coercively). Of course misinterpreted this does/can lead to often times silly legal decisions as Clarence Thomas points out. But by in large there is a lot of very interesting stuff in Utilitarianism especially when read with On Liberty and I would defend it any day against a charge of socialism or fascism.

The idea that utilitarianism coopts or "samples" other philosophy seems at once inconsistent with the fact that it is offered as an alternative to moral philosophy or the philosophies of natural right and natural law, and the fact that it has the real potential to conflict with these philosophies. Using the current discussion as an example, Catholic/Thomistic moral philosophy suggests that it is not right to do wrong to do right. Accordingly, they conclude that in vitro fertilization and embryonic stem cell research are impermissible. Utilitarianism would balance the negative to the embryos versus the positives to society, and based on this calculus most utilitarians come down in favor of in vitro and stem cell research. The calculus may be different if utilitarianism adds a side constraint prohibiting destruction of human life--including embryonic human life--no matter how large the potential social gain. But under such a formulation, utilitarianism is little more than a cost-benefit overlay to the operative moral philosophy.

The issue is not whether the procedure is used to acheive pregnancy (invitro does, embryonic stem cell research does not). The problem is that BOTH create embryos outside the womb and use them without regard for their basic humanity. Stem Cell research destroys life for "science" while invitro creates "extra" embryos (as far as I know) which are then discarded once pregnancy is acheived. Either way, it violates the sanctity of human life, it is murder. Genetically, there is no difference between that embryo and you or me. We just have been allowed to develop normally.

Is there any genetic difference between you or I, on the one hand, and a brain-dead patient, on the other? Yet virtually everyone accepts that those who cease to emit brainwaves can be taken off life support. Is that murder as well?

Catholic/Thomistic moral philosophy suggests that it is not right to do wrong to do right.

Doesn’t Just War theory claim precisely the opposite?

John: Good question. I’m not sure what signs doctors use to medically determine death. However, once death has occurred, there is a genetic difference: my cells are still alive and the dead person’s are not.

If you do not agree that life begins at conception, where would you say it begins?

John: First I must concede that I am talking as an outsider on questions of Catholic moral doctrine (I used the example predominately because the Catholic Church has been clear on the question, and clearly breaks with proposed utilitarianism position on the debated question). That said, the "wrong" generally associated with war is the taking of life. But taking life itself is not always wrong: murder, or the wrongful taking of life is a moral evil. Thus, taking a life in self-defense when it is necessary to save your own is not "doing wrong to do right," but rather is not a “wrong” to begin with. My sense, such as it is at 1:40 in the morning, is that just war theory suggests that the taking of life under a set of circumstances which constitute a “just war” is not wrongful killing, and therefore it is not a situation of doing wrong to do right. To obsess over this detail is to miss the forest for the trees: the point was that utilitarianism does not perfectly inculcate competing moral theories, because some competing moral theories set absolute bars on certain activities which utilitarianism subjects to a cost-benefit calculus. To the extent that utilitarianism uses a moral theory as a side-constraint, such a bar dwarfs utilitarianism to the point that it looks like a gloss informing the moral theory, because the moral theory is setting the vital parameters.

But can we not take any human activity and assign it two different names--one for the justifiable version and the other for the unjustifiable one? We can claim that murder is always and under every circumstance wrong, but that doesn’t solve our problem--we still have to decide whether a killing is a murder or a case of self-defense.

In other words, I am not clear that Christianity as commonly practiced sets "absolute bars on certain activities"--the Church merely gives these activities different names in cases where it believes them justified. Christian ethics, like utilitarianism, establishes a hierarchy of values in which, in practice, it is always acceptable to commit an act that in any other case would be considered evil, in order to prevent something more evil from taking place.

The only real difference I see between Christian ethics and utilitarianism is the ultimate good. For the former it is salvation, hence it was acceptable to torture or execute heretics because it was more important to save their souls than their bodies. For the latter it is human flourishing (or, if you prefer, happiness) in the here and now.

John: By suggesting that the ends of Christian moral philosophy and the ends of utilitarianism are different, you essentially proved the points which I was trying to make to Mr. Lewis: there are distinct differences between moral and utilitarian philosphy; it does violence to the theories to pretend that utilitarianism inculcates any and all of moral philosophy while retaining utilitarianism’s original form; and (I would add), the calculus of utilitarianism isn’t superior in the room it leaves for "judgment"--unless some version calculating the minimax now passes for judgment.

Problem of blogging at 2 am -- I meant maximin.

I agree with Mr. Alt on Catholic moral philosophy, which is vastly different
from utilitarianism, because as he rightly shows, utilitarianism tries to argue that something is moral simply if it is of benefit to more people than it hurts, but Catholic moral philosophy attempts to understand the objective reality of good and evil actions. Mr. Moser does have a point when he mentions the "more evil," but it belies a deeper truth. The application of the natural law and objective reality of actions has to deal in the real world where principles sometime conflict - i.e., preserving the sanctity of life versus the injunction never to murder, and only to take life at all for grave reasons (e.g., death penalty or just war theory). This is not always easy to do of course, but a wisdom and prudence instilled by reason (and in Catholic terms, hopefully through prayer, the Holy Spirit, and the Magisterium of the Church, and a deeply-informed conscience) are to help us on our way to discern right action. As a Catholic, I think I’ve got this right. Charles Rice’s "50 Questions on the Natural Law" is about the best resource I’ve ever seen to explain the Catholic position. He’s a law prof at Notre Dame if you’re interested.

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