Solomon

General Bioethics — By on January 2, 2006 at 2:14 am

[Note: Several months ago, I used John Rawls '



  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Since a policy that prohibits embryo destruction would not affect anyone behind the veil, Solomon dismisses those people related to the members who voted against the measure. For the others, he offers them an opportunity to reconsider before the policy is

  • http://semperreformanda.wordpress.com Zach

    I find this post very interesting. I actually used variations of the veil of ignorance arguing against embryo destruction my senior year of high school. I suspected others have made similar arguments (I never fancied it very original) but I haven’t seen any until now.
    As for your illustration, I don’t think it is much of an “intuition pump”. It seems to do nothing but add pathetic (as in pathos) support for one side of the debate. Boonton’s addition makes it somewhat better — bringing the discussion out of the realm of cold indifference and into a hypothetical situation where all sides are engaged and concerned.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    What if we applied it to premarital sex? Suppose I showed you a host of people behind the veil who will be retroactively eliminated if premarital sex was vigerously banned.
    The analogy breaks down when you consider what actions you are comparing. Killing an already existing being and preventing that being from existing are so completely different that a valid comparison cannot be made.
    Of course you could argue that some people you know for a fact were conceived safely within marital bounds but so what? We know that even if the most liberal policy on embryo destruction/research was adopted pleny of embryo’s would not be destroyed!
    Probably true, but I don

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    The analogy breaks down when you consider what actions you are comparing. Killing an already existing being and preventing that being from existing are so completely different that a valid comparison cannot be made.
    But you have gamed the question. The so-called benign dictator has already decided that the embryo is an already existing person so killing the 35 year old ‘embryo’ is no different than killing the three week old one. But if this is the case why is the dictator calling for a bioethics panel to come up with a policy?
    That

  • http://inkan.blogspot.com pgepps

    Joe, I don’t think Rawls’ argument works the way you want it to, here.
    Rawls is introducing a hypothetical alternative to the fictional “state of nature” of Locke and Hobbes. He intends that we consider the effects on a variety of different people *in ignorance* of our personal place in such a state of affairs, as if our Benign Dictator were calling us to rule on a world he was about to create, into which we would be introduced “at random” (for purposes of our knowledge, anyway). Rawls point was that the consensus arrived at by such a discussion would most closely describe our moral intuitions–and, possibly, true social justice?–with the minimum of self-interest and bias.
    By introducing people we *know*, you’re prejudicing the experiment.
    Now, as it happens, I think the Rawlsian answer here would be *wrong*. That is, if I were to engage in the Rawlsian thought experiment, I would reason thus:
    1) if any person who I happen to hypothetically know should be destroyed as an embryo, neither I nor they would ever know it, therefore there is nothing gained or lost, relationally;
    2) if I, myself, happened to be introduced into the world as an embryo to be destroyed, I would never know it, nor would anyone who might hypothetically have known me, otherwise; therefore there is nothing gained or lost, relationally;
    3) given the absence of any harm that I or anyone else could know was a harm (from this detached perspective), the presence of harms that might be mitigated by the destruction of the embryos would incline me to support a consensus in favor of their destruction.
    Now, as I said, I think that is the wrong answer. Using Rawls’ logic, though, and factoring out your attempt to use an emotional bias to tamper with the thought-experiment, I come up with exactly the wrong answer.
    Why is it wrong? It’s wrong because Rawls’ approach is designed to maximize the sphere of subjectivity within a working intersubjective consensus-making procedure. In many respects, it is admirable, but it doesn’t work here, because the embryo has no subjectivity which is not attributed to it by others. Removing it from the sphere of real relations, therefore, also removes the constraining power of Rawlsian dialogue. This is, BTW, a part of the general rhetoric of science, too–and, like that rhetoric, it is good in apples-to-apples situations (haves vs. have-nots, quanta vs. ether), and often worse than useless in apples-to-nebulae situations (organic tissue vs. living beings, data vs. information).
    Second, related, problem, is that the intersubjective discourse Rawls conceives of excludes some subjects. Principally, what if we took into account that God’s subjectivity is likewise at issue in all such intersubjective discourse? Those who think this can’t be done are, ipso facto, incapable of participating in the same discourse as those of us who think it must be done.
    When we allow for God’s presence in the discussion, then subtle and non-excludable forms of relatedness come to the fore. Our intentions, the judgments of value we make, with regard to our desire to preserve the life of some at the expense of the lives of others–these become subjects of scrutiny, and the question becomes something more reflexive, like,
    “Which would you rather be? the embryo destroyed for research, or the person so fearful of death or discomfort that you consider thousands of future lives a worthwhile trade?”
    Advocates of progress and scientific experimentation like to talk about “the children” and “the future,” but their actions clearly demonstrate that they are quite willing to sacrifice any future not vividly imagined as present in order to defer the presence of death and disease.
    Who is more “a child of the future” than a just-fertilized embryo? (a new Christian, that’s who! but let’s stick with one polemic at a time?)
    And who is more “a relic of the past” than someone whose life is devoted to the Sisyphian task of erasing it?
    Cheers,
    PGE

  • Tim L

    Boonton said
    “On the other hand imagine the other group were lead to a different room with a different veil. As the veil is drawn back they are showed all the people that would have been important had embryo research been permitted. Perhaps it would have been that great professor who would have inspired you to have done better than you did but you missed him due to his premature death from diabetes complications. Perhaps your first marriage wouldn’t have failed because you would have married your ‘true love’ had she not died of a fluke illness six months after birth.”
    This is only an argument if you believe the lie that embryonic stem cells are needed. The facts are (I”ll find them for you later if you need) that non-embryonic stem cells have been much more productive in research than embryonic stem cells.
    Non-embryonic stem cells will do the same with your concerns above as embryonic stem cells would.

  • Eryk Zimmerman

    Behind the veil is an argument for valuing some human lives over others. The intrinsic dignity every human being is not to be found here. It should make no difference whether the embyo grows up to be your best friend or your tyrant boss or someone you know nothing about–they have the same right to life.

  • Tim L

    Eryk,
    Stop it and let us argue! ;-)
    Tim L

  • Larry Lord

    Joe
    “Keep in mind that a few hundred years ago someone could have said the same thing about their being an ethical difference in killing a white man and killing a black man, since a person of color was not considered a “person.

  • Larry Lord

    Boonton
    “When the last atom was assembled? When the ‘fertilization’ happened in the simulation? If so what would the ethics be of destroying the ‘embryo’ right before the last atom or in turning off the computer before fertilization?”
    Oh, c’mon, Boonton, now you’re being silly!

  • Larry Lord

    Here’s a li’l hypothesis:
    A building is burning down. You’re a firefighter.
    You run into the building and you see the following
    1) a thermos filled with a 1000 human embryos
    2) a cage with ten really cute golden retriever puppies
    3) a crib with a born baby on life-support that is in a permanent coma and is expected to live no more than 1 year
    4) an adult black man with a broken leg and a tatoo that reads “Screw Jesus, Long Live the Crips.”
    You can only save one of the four. What do you do and why?

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    A very good post pgepps, a few points:
    Second, related, problem, is that the intersubjective discourse Rawls conceives of excludes some subjects. Principally, what if we took into account that God’s subjectivity is likewise at issue in all such intersubjective discourse? Those who think this can’t be done are, ipso facto, incapable of participating in the same discourse as those of us who think it must be done.
    Rawl’s thought experiment is not as subjective as it first appears. A masochist or gambler might very well answer that they would like to live in a society where 10% get all the wealth & rights and 90% all the abuse. But the question isn’t what type of gamble any particular person would be willing to take but ‘what is fair’ given that a person will not know ahead of time where he will end up.
    Rawls developed his theory in light of this objective analysis. One can develop an ethical system on this basis without any consideration to an individual person’s subjectivity.
    Now bringing God’s subjectivity into the mix adds a serious complication. How do you know what God wants? Suppose, just for the hell of it, God wants the sadistic system of 10% get everything and 90% are slaves. What are we to make of it? Pretend such a system is good ’cause a sadistic God thinks it is?
    Fortunately we only have to worry about such a question as a hypothetical. Jesus summed up God’s thoughts on the ideal human ethical system with the rule that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Which basically seems very compatable with Rawls’s ‘justice as fairness’.
    Now pgepps makes a good point, Tim L makes a crappy point:
    This is only an argument if you believe the lie that embryonic stem cells are needed. The facts are (I”ll find them for you later if you need) that non-embryonic stem cells have been much more productive in research than embryonic stem cells.
    The facts are that it is unclear whether non-embryonic stem cells will be more orless productive than embryonic ones. It is also unclear that embryos will not be necessary even when the research is done (say to grow replacement tissue or organs). No one can really know but as an ethical question you are raising a stupid point. If embryonic research isn’t going to produce anything then it shouldn’t be done for the simple economic reason that energy and time should only be spent on promising research. But that’s a pretty mundane point and since we are entertaining an academic style discussion here shouldn’t we address the more difficult issue where embryonic research may produce good results that would either be impossible or much more difficult to achieve .
    Rawls theory would prohibit working on embryos IF they are persons. But it can’t tell us whether or not they are persons.
    However, IF they are persons it does tell us a lot more than prohibiting research. If they are persons then doesn’t society owe them as much medical research & care as any other group? It would seem like Rawlsian ethics would tell us that not only should embryos not be subject to research but should receive a fair portion of R&D in order to save them from miscarriages…even if this would result in an increase in birth deformaties and defects.

  • ex-preacher

    Suppose that behind the veil we also find:
    1. Adolf Hitler
    2. Josef Stalin
    3. Mao Zedong
    4. Pol Pot
    5. Idi Amin
    6. Saddam Hussein
    7. Judas Iscariot
    8. Jeffrey Dauhmer
    and
    9. A person never born who would have brutally tortured and killed everyone in your family.

  • Eryk Zimmerman

    A group of weird college kids kidnap a pregnant woman and have a bull session: they tell her that she has to choose between the life of her unborn child and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Only one of them will live. (Abu is tied up on the floor). This sort of thing happens all the time, it’s the cause of most real-life abortions, so it’s just the kind of relevant plausible scenario you’d expect in an intelligent debate on the right to life.

  • http://ssbg.wordpress.com/ Jim Taylor

    Your argument is great. It is not an argument to prove a moral point such as killing an innocent human is wrong. It is am attempt to get people who don’t want to see fertilized cells as humans to come around to think of them as humans. As in a soccer game with our children we want the referee to call fouls that match our views that are tainted by what outcome we want, people can see a fertilized egg as a human or not a human depending on what outcome they want. Your argument does not convince people who do not believe in right or wrong but it could get those who believe in right or wrong to look at a fertilized egg as having a worth which we believe is because of God’s love for them. Great job. I appreciate your posts. JT

  • Larry Lord

    “Your argument does not convince people who do not believe in right or wrong”
    Ad hominem!!!! Ad hominem!!! Ad hominem!!!!

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    But such people confronted by such a stunt in real life are unlikely to be convinced. They are likely to switch their votes ’cause they don’t want the dictator to kill their loved ones. In other words, Jim, you side can hypothetically win by blackmailing the other side. Not such a great argument when it is put in that cold but accurate light, is it?
    At this point I should point out that there seems to be two schools of thought regarding human personhood here. One is the ‘moment school’ and the other is the ‘process school’.
    The moment school states that personhood happens at a specific moment. Today that is usually fertilization but in ages past it was quickening (when a baby’s kicks can first be felt, thought by some to be the moment when the soul enters the baby’s body).
    The process school sees it as a process that begins very far away from a person (say sperm and egg) and moves towards more and more of a person.
    Most biological events are processes. For example, going from a youth to an adult is recognized as a process even though we set an arbitrary age (18) as a dividing point out of legal necessity. Most of us will acknowedge that a 17 yr 11 month old is hardly a child and an 18 yr 1 day old is hardly a fully mature adult. Even events that used to be though of as moments (such as ‘death is when the heart stops’) are now seen more as a process.
    I feel the moment school has some difficulties, some of which I’ve posted here already. I also feel that part of the problem with just about all abortion debates is that the sides don’t really realize that there’s two different schools of thought on this and they end up banging their heads against walls ’cause they talk past each other.

  • Eryk Zimmerman

    “The moment school states that personhood happens at a specific moment.”
    Every child of human parents is a human being. There are no genetically human non-humans, and we cannot speak of basic human rights if some humans are excluded.

  • http://inkan.blogspot.com pgepps

    Boonton, I think you’re using “subjectivity” in a somewhat different sense than I have in mind, so perhaps I wasn’t clear.
    “Objective” knowledge is knowledge alienated from the knower by an abstraction of “grounding.” It is the speculative device by which we simulate access to “things as such” by naming some things as axiomatic (empirical frame-of-reference, causality, what-have-you) and differentiating between things related to the “ground” and things unrelated. The very notion of objectivity is itself an intersubjective phenomenon–it exists in human discourse only as a rhetorical convention, but only insofar as we do not recognize it as such. This is the problem with “objective news” and “objective science”–they can be what they are only insofar as they continue to be unaware of their true nature.
    Subjectivity is the rootedness of the known in the knower, intersubjectivity the overlap of various spheres of subjectivity, objectivity the alienation of the known from the knower.
    Rawlsian “Fairness” is precisely maximizing the scope of subjectivity within an intersubjective discourse (which is generally thought to be most important where the discourse has “real world application,” as here). It really amounts to an attempt to re-state Locke in a discourse which has since been influenced by Kant, Mill, and phenomenology.
    It’s very useful for taking up certain themes of human interaction and examining them, much like science is very useful for taking up certain themes of human experience and devising explanations for them. Done properly, both of these use a certain intersubjective “frame,” one that can be conceived of as “objective” in its rhetoric, albeit equivocally so, to allow the knower to more thoroughly “own” the known.
    The problem for a Christian entering a Rawlsian discourse, though, is that the Christian believes God has revealed Himself, and that God’s understanding of the interrelations “behind the veil” are more thorough than ours. Even assuming we could achieve the utterly impossible hypothetical “objectivity” behind the veil, alienating ourselves utterly from our knowledge of society, and pass through the thought-experiment into a more fully realized conception of society, the knowledge would still be only so exhaustive and fine-grained as our capacity for experiencing and understanding it. Christians, however, believe that God’s knowledge is exhaustive; that, as Creator, moreover, His “subjectivity” corresponds exactly to what we hypothetically construct as “objectivity”–that is, His interaction with the nature of things is determinative, such that His (un-grounded and immediate) knowing *is* “the way things are.”
    Revelation, then, alters the nature of intersubjectivity. We are not only responding to other adult human knowers, with whom by interactions including language we believe we share certain knowns, but with a God whose claims are far different.
    Revelation alters the fabric of our decision-making, too. While you’re right that “love your neighbor as yourself” is the number 2 on the all-time greatest hits list, the interpretation of that requires something other than the de-historicizing “objectifying” rhetoric of Kantian imperatives.
    We will have to consider that relations which, in a constrained modern notion of empirical experience, are external behaviors, manifested “forward” and remembered “backward,” and measured by a reasonable person’s ability to quantify the benefits/harms incidental to such mutually-affecting behaviors–that is, we do stuff to each other and we judge it by what we see–that such relations are, in fact, a great deal more complex; that they involve the suppressed as well as the experienced; and that they are often quite as meaningful in orderings not conditioned by causation. In other words, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio…”
    When we grapple with this complexity, it becomes important to shake of the hubris of modernism, progressivism, and science reaching beyond its bounds.
    I cannot say that it is inconceivable to me that there is some difference in moral status between a recently-fertilized egg and a six-week old unborn baby and a newborn. I rather think there may be. Such a difference might be a “threshold” difference (and even a process of becoming must be rendered visible to decision-making by some “threshold,” unless you are willing to defer all decisions endlessly), or it might be a difference on the order of the difference between an accomplished artist and a gas-pumping redneck, i.e., a measure of the relative “value” of the life in some psychological or social perspective.
    What I do know is that the gas-pumper and the artist are alike protected by a prohibition against the taking of human life that does not apply to a murderer. I also know that the newborn baby’s life is more like the gas-pumper’s or the artist’s than the murderer’s, because the relevant distinction concerns the demonstrated disposition to end human life unnecessarily. So I conclude that adult humans and newborns, with exceptions for murderer-like ones, are protected by a prohibition against taking human life.
    If I can regress that far, though, then is parturition really the sort of thing which creates a moral distinction of the murderer-exception sort? No, of course. Nor is the distinction of the fully-realized / self-actualized / socially useful person sort going to get me where I need to go–unless we really think that weeding out the losers is a good policy. Maybe we all have our days (I surely do), but we know better, and kick that jerk back in the closets of our minds.
    So in or out of mommy, we’re still looking for a threshold, of some sort, since the qualitative measures aren’t the sort of principles we want to use to decide who lives. The only threshold I see that works it the threshold before which there is no somatic continuity with the baby/child/adult, and that makes it conception (I think scientific precision might make this implantation).
    Now, if you suggest that I’ve misunderstood, that there is a threshold, then by all means–we can discuss that. I may be persuaded.
    God didn’t say, “life begins at X hour from the introduction of sperm to egg.” He said, “Don’t murder,” i.e., don’t take the life of non-killers.
    Until, however, some convincing threshold is introduced, or a convincing case is made (this is starkly unlikely) that the embryo / baby distinction is more like, say, the enemy soldier / civilian distinction than the artist / gas-pumper distinction, I fail to see how we could justify our behavior if we destroyed “maybe living beings” them in large numbers. In some exigencies, perhaps, we might make that call–but laboratories are not those exigencies.
    I contend that the critique of the rhetoric of “future” reveals a key crack in the ideological structure which underlies the progressive, scientistic thrust of one side of this debate.
    Cheers,
    PGE

  • Kaffinator

    PGE – I really like where you’re going with the “moral threshold” idea. But as you note, we would need to agree on one. Most pro-lifers (and I consider myself pro-life) seem to arbitrarily say “conception” and then narrowly define conception as “the point where an egg is fertilized with a sperm”. Yes that is one (of many) discontinuous steps but why choose it in particular?
    After all, its quite possible that a couple trying to conceive will cause an egg to be fertilized but, for whatever reason, the egg does not implant into the uterine wall, resulting in: fertilization but no baby. Must we call this manslaughter?
    For an even better case, what about an ectopic pregnancy, in which the fertilized egg implants in the wrong place? This is a life-threatening situation for the carrying female. Again, a fertilized egg but no possibility of successful gestation.
    Perhaps the moral threshold should be “the point at which automatic, natural processes would allow an infant to be born if left unimpeded”. This would continue to define abortion of a viable fetus as tripping the threshold, while allowing other reasonable cases (such as the ones I mentioned) to be considered below the threshold.
    Of course this threshold WOULD allow for the morality of some embryonic research. That’s where the argument leads me anyway, and I don’t really have an a priori position.

  • Tim L

    Boonton,
    How fortunate of us that you are here to discern what is good and what is crap.

  • http://inkan.blogspot.com pgepps

    Kaffinator, we seem to be in very similar positions. Here’s where I come out on it, presently, and subject to a compelling and morally intelligent argument to the contrary:
    1) it is obviously not manslaughter of any kind when someone’s procreative efforts are prevented by circumstances beyond their control. They were unsuccessful in giving/preserving life, not successful in destroying it.
    2) I am currently most persuaded by the view that implantation is the best “threshold,” as the best explanation I have heard suggests that even when the egg is fertilized, i.e. capable of development, the actual process of development forward (as opposed to preparatory mingling of the heretofore separate donations) doesn’t begin until implantation. Further argument could persuade me otherwise, though; I am self-consciously a layman in this area.
    3) I am open to the possibility that a wide variety of research and contraceptive decisions might depend upon how we determine the “threshold,” and I do not believe divine revelation or moral intuition answer the factual question, here.
    4) I am not open to the possibility that a moral decision which disregards or devalues the humanity of any member of the species based on qualitative distinctions *among* such members, or false exigencies, are acceptable. Therefore, I find the proponents of this sort of research are to be opposed, presently, for the tendentious logic of their position–even if, under careful examination, or when speaker with cooler heads, we might find some common ground for future agreement.
    5) I also urge those who address these issues (embryo-destroying research, abortion, contraception) to consider the related issues of our intentionality toward living beings, and of our own being-towards-death. I think these things are also areas where the tendentious logic of the advocate may turn an otherwise acceptable (in some cases) practice into an evil to be opposed.
    Let me back off to a simpler proposition. I am not opposed in principle to contraception, but I think I would have to discuss carefully with my [hypothetical future] wife how our attitudes toward our [hypothetical future] children and our relation to each other are affected by our decisions about engineering child-free sex. I hope we would arrive at a morally sound, relationally acceptable consensus–and if that consensus involved fewer flings and no contraception, I hope I’d be able to accept that.
    If I didn’t hope so, don’t you think I’d have to admit I was morally unserious about marriage, children, and life?
    Cheers,
    PGE

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Every child of human parents is a human being. There are no genetically human non-humans, and we cannot speak of basic human rights if some humans are excluded.
    A sperm cell by itself is clearly human but not even the most radical of pro-lifers will consider it a human beign.
    How fortunate of us that you are here to discern what is good and what is crap.
    Sorry Tim L, I don’t claim to be perfect at discerning what is good but discerning crap is pretty easy. Do you disagree that your point was pretty crappy? I provided you with several reasons why your point was crappy and neither you nor anyone else has posted any disagreement with me on that point.
    pgepps;
    “Objective” knowledge is knowledge alienated from the knower by an abstraction of “grounding.” It is the speculative device by which we simulate access to “things as such” by naming some things as axiomatic (empirical frame-of-reference, causality, what-have-you) and differentiating between things related to the “ground” and things unrelated. The very notion of objectivity is itself an intersubjective phenomenon–it exists in human discourse only as a rhetorical convention, but only insofar as we do not recognize it as such. This is the problem with “objective news” and “objective science”–they can be what they are only insofar as they continue to be unaware of their true nature.
    I have to admit your argument here is a bit beyond me and I suspect the problem is more with me than you (unlike, say, Gordon’s more difficult arguments that I suspect are just complicated because he is confused).
    Subjective to me means dependent upon an individual person’s point of view. Whether Coke or Pepsi tastes better, for example, is mostly dependent on the person doing the deciding & few would argue there is an ‘objective’ answer to this. Whether 2+2=4 or whether an object on earth falls at an acceleration due to gravity of about 32 feet per second squared is not subjective.
    Rawls’ experiment removes the subjective element by stripping the individual of any knowledge of where he will end up in society. He doesn’t really ask the individual what type of society he would perfer, he asks what type of society is optimal. It’s a bit like saying which dinner has a cheaper hamburger if you are stripped of the knowledge that your best buddy works at Dinner A. The obvious answer is any society that is fair to the worst off members is obviously the most just option
    The experiment idea is not a vote either so even if you include what you think are God’s preferences in the mix there is no question of ‘how many votes does God get versus Eunis down the street’. If God wants something unjust (say for you to kill your first born son as a ‘sacrifice’) then God wants something unjust just as the guy down the street that wants to kill you because you painted your house a really obnoxious color wants something unjust. But this leads to a harder question of is God good because he is just or does God’s very nature define justice?
    Also Rawls does not seem to exhaust all possibilities for ethical behavior. Rawlsian ethics would appear to confirm that it is just to outlaw theft but it doesn’t tell us that it is just to mandate that people donate 15% of their income to charity. Yet many Christians and others would say this is a moral goal that people should try to accomplish even while conceeding it should not be a mandate by government. In other words, you can have Revelation add to the ‘bare bones’ ethics of Rawls.
    So in or out of mommy, we’re still looking for a threshold, of some sort, since the qualitative measures aren’t the sort of principles we want to use to decide who lives. The only threshold I see that works it the threshold before which there is no somatic continuity with the baby/child/adult, and that makes it conception (I think scientific precision might make this implantation).
    If I’m reading you correctly, you’re basically saying that since there is no obvious threshold the best place to put the marker is at the point where continuity terminates. In other cells will not be considered human up until the point right before fertilization. Here’s a question, as you know can happen when a fertilized egg splits and develops into two seperate embryos. No one considers twins to be one person but two different individuals. However from what I’ve read of research here (and I’m clumsy here so forgive me if I make some errors), the following are possible:
    1. When an embryo is about eight cells big, it is possible to take a single cell out without harming the embryo and using that single cell to mine for stem cells….or in the case of invitro-fertilization to keep that cell as a ‘spare stem cell’ in case the child should need it in the future. Yet that cell, if it should happen to implant in the womb, would develop into a full grown baby twin. Should the seperated cell be considered a unique human life upon seperation or should it just be considered ‘donated tissue’?
    2. With adult cells, researchers are able to ‘push them back’ to become younger stem cells. Even to push them back far enough that they would, if implanted in a womb, develop as a baby twin (or clone). At what point does the donated skin cell turn into another unique human beign?
    3. A Rawlsian implication of considerng embryo’s human is that embryo’s should have the same access to medical care and research as any other human. Since many unborn babies die ‘naturally’ as miscarriages isn’t there an ethical duty for society to spend a fair amount of its research dollars trying to prevent that? I have had it explained to me that miscarriages are often the body’s way of rejecting an embryo that has some type of defect. But isn’t it unethical for us to embrace this as ‘nature’s wisdom’ while we spend billions to fight the same ‘wisdom’ of nature as it kills much older embryos with diseases like cancer and diabetes? Even if this means a dramatic increase in children born with serious birth defects, even children born doomed to early deaths doesn’t ‘treating embryos as equal’ also require us to treat them equally in our efforts to put off death & disease?

  • Larry Lord

    A building is burning down. You’re a firefighter.
    You run into the building and you see the following
    1) a thermos filled with a 1000 human embryos
    2) a cage with ten really cute golden retriever puppies
    3) a crib with a born baby on life-support that is in a permanent coma and is expected to live no more than 1 year
    4) an adult black man with a broken leg and a tatoo that reads “Screw Jesus, Long Live the Crips.”
    You can only save one of the four. What do you do and why?

  • Larry Lord

    Seriously: does ANYONE here grab the thermos and let the black guy fry to a crisp?

  • http://www.takeanumberplease.blogspot.com Bonnie

    If one is going to say that Joe

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Bonnie,
    First the problem with Joe’s argument is not that it is an emotional appeal but that it assumes its own conclusion. It assumes we all agree embryos are people so if its ok to for strangers to be killed then how could someone honestly object to someone they care about being killed? The issue is that we all do not agree on that point (as does half of Joe’s hypothetical bioethics panel).
    Boonton, I

  • http://inkan.blogspot.com pgepps

    Bonnie–
    Note I didn’t say the whole thought-experiment was *based* on an emotional appeal. However, Joe did “fix” the outcome which, in a more likely Rawlsian scenario, would not have come out his way (or mine! remember, I *agree* with Joe–mostly–on the issue at hand!) without introducing precisely those prejudicial factors which Rawls intended to exclude.
    The Rawlsian game is not useless, but it doesn’t guarantee good results. Joe’s “intuition pump” metaphor is a good one.
    Boonton–
    I’m gonna have to leave it at this. The technical knowledge required to finally decide this is beyond me, and in a few cases seems to be beyond any publically-available scientific knowledge, so I’m stuck with describing the parameters of the decision, and taking a tentative position.
    Re your points:
    1) I am uneasy with this, particularly by what I think is elided by your term “mine.” I think it’s not the likely state of affairs for medical science for some time to come, though, and the methods that are under consideration seem to be quite a bit less pristine than you describe. There’s a difference on the order of the difference between a cruise-missile “decapitation” strike and the bombing of Dresden, I think.
    More narrowly, I see no immediate objection to extracting tissue from a human for that human’s good. If that human is a child, then the parents would have the right within reason to make judgment calls about it. Taking tissue samples for research seems to present a more problematic “informed consent” aspect, but you may be able to make the case based on parental-consent and some sort of compelling interest.
    That a cell “if implanted” would develop, does not, to my current understanding of human development, mean that a non-implanted cell *is* developing. I am open to correction in either direction on this point, and I think perhaps we will all need to consider what means are at hand for answering these questions. I suggest that researchers really should be prioritizing these answers, rather than engaging in advocacy which prejudices our consideration of the question. It is that advocacy which tilts me in favor of “No!”
    2) My understanding of the current science is that this is *not* actually possible. I’d be interested in a reliable source on the matter.
    Assuming (as I see no reason not to) this is or may become possible, at the moment my answer would be, “when, in fact, they do implant them.” If I am mistaken concerning the science on this point, then I would need to be instructed about where the relevant threshold lies.
    My point is that science ought to prioritize determining these boundaries in a manner sufficiently clear that we can proceed without making social “is this life worth more than that life” choices where there are no real emergencies.
    3) I begin and end by stating that Rawlsian logic gives the *wrong* outcome, here, IMHO. I think your extrapolation is a bit too programmatic, though–certainly in any economy, and especially in any emergency case, there is a necessity of *mitigating* harms, not a possibility of *eliminating* them–of performing, if you will, triage. We are constrained by the possible, but we ought also be constrained by what is possible without being dismissive of living humans.
    ———————–
    2 passing notes, then I’m done for this post:
    a) sperm is “human” in the adjectival sense, just as one can speak of “human feces” or “human saliva.” In the same sense a sperm cell is a human cell, as is a red blood cell, etc. However, at some point we no longer have “a human cell” but we have “a human.” That threshold is what we need to be carefully seeking.
    b) with regard to LL’s (I can’t *believe* I’m acknowledging that pompous gasbag’s existence) anticipation of my point about triage, this is not even hard: the tattoo guy just has a broken leg, so I say “follow me!” and do my best to save the baby. Heck, with one good leg and two arms, why on earth would he be sitting around a fire waiting to be saved? Try harder if you want to get all Kum-ba-yah, folks.
    Cheers,
    PGE

  • Kaffinator

    PGE (#22) – if “implantation” is the medical term to describe “the point at which automatic, natural processes will [produce] a human child” then we agree. “Life” therefore does NOT begin at conception–and we need not accuse people at fertility clinics, or doctors who abort ectopic pregnancies, or embryonic cell researches, of murder due to their actions. Of course this does not resolve them of other moral responsibilities.
    You mentioned contraception — in principle, I don’t know anyone who is opposed to all methods of contraception. Even Roman Catholics are just fine with “rhythm” methods. They are all methods that allow some sort of sexual activity but somehow prevent a viable sperm from reaching a viable ovum and implanting in the uterine wall. In general if you have determined that it is OK to decide not to add children to your family then any method of contraception that permits marital intimacy ought to be acceptable. How one reaches consensus with one’s partner is another question of course.
    Regarding qualitative distinctions among members of the human family…I notice nobody has answered Larry’s hypothetical. He captured this question in his distinction between #3 and #4. I would pick #4 pretty much without question. Does this mean I am making a qualitative distinction and “devaluing” the infant?
    -Kaff

  • Larry Lord

    pgepps
    “with regard to LL’s (I can’t *believe* I’m acknowledging that pompous gasbag’s existence)”
    Yeah, I’m real pompous, Mr. “Locke and Hobbes.”
    I find it fascinating that rather than choose of the alternatives in my hypo you simply invented your own. How convenient!
    Here’s my theory, pgepps: you’re ashamed of what you would do under those circumstances and your shame prevents you from answering the question.
    I’d use the thermos to bash in the brains of the puppies and the baby so they wouldn’t burn alive, then I’d rescue the black guy with the broken leg.
    Why?
    Because I’m a human being just like the black guy.
    It’s that simple.

  • http://inkan.blogspot.com pgepps

    Kaff–
    “Implantation” is when the fertilized egg adheres to the uterine wall. It’s my understanding that this is the most medically intelligible threshold for my hypothetical about “somatic continuity.”
    And, while this probably does leave open some things which I might prefer, as a matter of policy, to forestall or prohibit in the current environment, I don’t (subject to correction) think that consequence would change my view. I should be happy to find that there was some reasonable middle between what otherwise seem to be unbridgeable gaps between different camps.
    re LL’s hypothetical–uh, I chose #3 because the man can help himself (I’ll do what I can, but…) and the baby can’t. The thermos is almost certainly not salvageable, and the puppies–well, I’d help ‘em if I could, but they won’t keep me awake at night.
    It’s triage–one sorts the beyond-help, the won’t-make-it-without-help, and the needs-help-but-can-make-it. If one is trying to maximize the human life savings, that’s how one does it–of course, for those of you more interested in scoring cheap rhetorical shots, I can recommend several biological procedures more likely to amuse you and your little brains.
    Cheers to those who’ll take it, up yours to those who won’t,
    PGE

  • Larry Lord

    pgepps on puppies
    “I’d help ‘em if I could, but they won’t keep me awake at night.”
    Wow. Heartless.
    Their cries will haunt me for the rest of my life.
    Of course, pgepp will have to live with watching and listening to that poor black guy fry to a crisp after a beam fell on his head while he tried to drag himself out of the house.
    He was destined to discover a cure for pedophilia, had he survived.
    And the baby you “rescued”? I told you it was on life support. It died in your arms shortly after you escaped the fire.
    Good job, pgepps.

  • Larry Lord

    pgepps
    “However, at some point we no longer have “a human cell” but we have “a human.” That threshold is what we need to be carefully seeking.”
    Is an adult woman a “human”?

  • http://inkan.blogspot.com pgepps

    Y’know, Joe, it would be easier to have a real conversation, here, if you’d exercise your prerogative to boot trolls.
    People whose metric for moral intelligence is hypersensitivity to the hypothetical screams of hypothetically black hypothetical men who hypothetically and spontaneously have hypothetical beams falling on their hypothetical heads–people who think it is “pompous” to have read Locke and Hobbes (uh, in high school, actually) before engaging in a discussion of Rawls–people like that have nothing to add to this conversation. Or any other, s’far as I can tell.
    You would be more “fair” to those of us who might otherwise be regular readers and interlocutors to boot them, I think. Besides, you owe it to yourself. You’ve been far more than tolerant.
    Take care,
    PGE

  • Larry Lord

    pgepps
    “People whose metric for moral intelligence blah blah blah”
    Yeah, you’re not pompous. Keep telling yourself that.
    I can’t believe you let that poor guy burn alive. His tatoo offended you. That was the clincher, wasn’t it? That seems petty to me.

  • Rob Ryan

    “You would be more “fair” to those of us who might otherwise be regular readers and interlocutors to boot them, I think.”
    Gee, pgepps; if you don’t like Larry, scroll on past! That’s what I do when I’m confronted with some cut-and-paste manifesto that merely reiterates positions stated often and rarely defended. I would lose some interest if Larry were gone; at least he’s pithy. Joe might get a two-for-one on the deal, but it wouldn’t enrich the discussion any. I think Larry is important as a counterbalance to the more acerbic evangelicals who comment here.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Actually Larry’s hypothetical is perfectly valid. for all of pgepps eloquence he basically resorted to fighting the hypothetical (asserting that the thermos was ‘unsalvageable’) to get out of following thru on the implications of his argument.
    As for banning people, I can live with the likes of Gordon and Terrance, two people who deserve to be banned here before anyone else does. You can live with Larry.
    Besides, let’s face it, Joe isn’t that impressive as a judge. I’ll give him credit, he is like the weakling in HS who insists on staying in the weight room lifting more than he can really bear. In the long run it will do him good but at the moment I couldn’t trust him to enforce any banning policy in a bipartisan manner.

  • Tim L

    Although I don’t agree with an idea of a ban (but Joe can do what he wants to his site), I’m with pgepps.
    I haven’t been around much because it is getting very tiring to be around people that show and have complete disdain for others.
    “the ever wise” (whatever) and LL should be rather ashamed of themselves. I guess that is impossible though when any behavior can be rationalized out in the spirit of relativism.

  • Eric & Lisa

    I think it is a real shame that Joe doesn’t ban people from here. Most people on this site really add to the discussion and make reading the comments very interesting.
    Then you run into about 30 messages between LL and Mumon and it isn’t only useless but generally very insulting and vulgar. They completely bring down the discussion and add almost nothing useful.
    I suppose if they added more useful information to the comments section and less trolling it would be worthwile to keep these two thugs around. But right now it’s at about 95% trolling at 5% contribution to the discussion.
    But this is Joe’s site and since he has decided to put up with them I suppose the rest of us will have to also.

  • http://mumonno.blogspot.com Mumon

    Eric & Lisa :
    Funny, but I have the same feeling about you, especially after you ask for someone to be banned for simply pointing out that they would hypothetically send a living, breathing, human being to death, for “moral” reasons. This after I just watched “The Pianist,” and was reminded yet again of Nazi atrocities.
    People wonder how it could happen there.
    I wonder how long before it happens here.

  • http://mumonno.blogpost.com Mumon

    That should read for ” simply pointing out that another would hypothetically send a living, breathing, human being to death, for “moral” reasons.”
    I’ve been to Warsaw. Your concept of “pro-life” would justify state-sponsored genocide. Indeed, how many Iraqis have died now?

  • http://inkan.blogspot.com pgepps

    It’s easy enough to expose the idiocy of the hypothetical, folks.
    Simply stipulate that it’s my Louis Farrakhan’s baby and my (WASP) father with a broken leg. I still prioritize the baby over the able-to-help-himself adult male. The irrelevant information is the red-herring, here, and any reasonable person would be ashamed to use such folly in an argument.
    I called Joe on introducing a bias factor into his model, but LL’s whole discourse here has consisted of nothing but puerile provocation.
    But the really smart thing to do would have been to shut my danged mouth and never, ever, acknowledge the existence of the fool.
    Later,
    PGE

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    “the ever wise” (whatever) and LL should be rather ashamed of themselves. I guess that is impossible though when any behavior can be rationalized out in the spirit of relativism.
    Speaking of the spirit of relativism. Isn’t it interesting that people jumped on me for implying jd was a fool but no one actually said he wasn’t foolish?
    I suppose if they added more useful information to the comments section and less trolling it would be worthwile to keep these two thugs around. But right now it’s at about 95% trolling at 5% contribution to the discussion.
    Hmmmm, and of the 5% contribution anyone care to guess how much of it is made up of Eric & Lisa posts?
    But this is Joe’s site and since he has decided to put up with them I suppose the rest of us will have to also.
    Well I do tolerate people like Terry & Gordon (not to mention you). At least your tolerance for me gives you a shot at learning something. I think its more than a fair bargain.
    Simply stipulate that it’s my Louis Farrakhan’s baby and my (WASP) father with a broken leg. I still prioritize the baby over the able-to-help-himself adult male. The irrelevant information is the red-herring, here, and any reasonable person would be ashamed to use such folly in an argument.
    I called Joe on introducing a bias factor into his model, but LL’s whole discourse here has consisted of nothing but puerile provocation.
    Notice how pgepps still is fighting the interesting part of LL’s supposedly ‘worthless’ hypothetical? What about the thermos filled with 1,000 frozen embryos. He wrote that off as ‘unsalvageable’, never explaining what he meant by that. Notice how when I asked him to assume that the thermos would remain cool enough so that the embryos could be transported to a safe institution after rescuing he totally ignored the hypothetical again….or shall I say tried to distract by concentrating on the much less important part about choosing between the injured man and the baby on life support.
    It’s easy enough to expose the idiocy of the hypothetical, folks.
    It’s easy enough to write off hypotheticals because they are usually based on extremly unlikely sceneros. They are useful for prompting tough questions that get at the core of the issue. The only person who has stopped contributing here is pgepps.

  • Don

    Fascinating posts, pgepps, though I, too, am not keeping up with everything you

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Why would the destiny of the embryos matter? Suppose the man was on death row, scheduled to be killed in a week. If you consider the embryos to be human, even if their destiny is research they would almost certainly be alive longer than a week.
    On the other hand, my instincts are to rescue the baby before the man (I missed the part about the baby being on life support and presumably terminal if removed). I can’t quite say why though. Perhaps the old “women and children first” ethic. Perhaps a sense that the man had a life (even if short) while the baby still has a life to look forward too.

  • Don

    Why would the destiny of the embryos matter?
    There is no perfectly defensible choice (though there is an indefensible one – apologies to the puppies). I agree with pgepps that

  • Don

    p.s. I am well aware that accepting even once the calculation “best choice = maximum quality of life saved” puts me on a slippery slope. Such as, would it then also be better to slaughter an innocent child to provide organ donations to ten other children who will otherwise soon die? My answer to that is a firm

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    I notice that there’s a pattern of denegrading the life of the frozen embryos. Here’s another case. In the first Spiderman movie, the Green Globlin gives Spiderman a similiar hard choice. He drops a cable car filled with people as well as Spiderman’s favorite girl. He wants him to choose to save either the dozens of people in the car or someone who he has a crush on. What wins out? The selfish instinct to protect your own or what appears to be the moral choice to save as many lives as possible. The first Superman movie also had such a conflict. Both movies allowed the hero to fudge the choice and do both.
    If you take the positions being advocated here seriously, isn’t the thermos just like a cable car filled with 1,000 people? Could you let those people die in order to save any other single person? Isn’t trying to guess the ultimate fate of those people in the thermos rather like Spiderman noting that the people in the cable car are old and likely to die soon anyway?
    To be fair, Superman in his movie made the hard choice…opting to save the millions of people before he tried to save Lois Lane.

  • http://inkan.blogspot.com pgepps

    C’mon, Boonton, you don’t need to play the wide-eyed naif, here. You know full well that it would be perfectly possible to present a hypothetical that wasn’t intentionally loaded so that LL could (as he did) make the accusation that the “real reason” was somehow shameful. I gave my decision, and I gave my reasons, and I decline to consider the trolling and taunting legitimate. I am irritated by it, and I cannot be pleased that anyone would deliberately allow their site to be used that way.
    You *modify* the scenario in an attempt to make it worthwhile, while suggesting that I am “fighting the hypothetical” (which I reserve the right to do if it’s an abusive framing of the issue). Just examining my own early comments would have yielded examples of my reasoning which could have been drawn out more openly.
    Now, I have clearly stated that the examination I was talking about was one where no exigent circumstances apply. I take the laboratory, or the committee room, to be precisely such places. If they are not, I require persuading on the point.
    A fire is clearly a different set of circumstances altogether, and asking what a reasonable person’s judgment would be in the scenario is asking a very different question than asking what our policy should be where the question is research whose costs and benefits remain to be seen–especially given that we’re still debating in what terms we should evaluate “costs” and “benefits” where lives and life sciences are involved.
    I stand by my decision. If you stipulate that I have a whole lot of knowledge which I don’t about what is possible, it is conceivable that the other person you are hypothesizing might do something different. That’s OK. I regard the moral judgment, here, to be one of saving as many lives as possible; the prudential judgment of what is possible and how best to achieve that is going to be heavily conditioned by experience and knowledge.
    I maintain there is still a difference between choosing among lives when we must, and choosing in the dark to build maybe-life with the intention of certainly destroying it.
    And I maintain there is a massive difference between triage, recognizing that it is possible to make mistakes or misjudgments, but making them while attempting to *minimize* loss of life; and attempting to dismiss the possibility that what was lost is life at all, or erecting an a priori principle that, because it is more convenient to destroy something, it shall not be considered life.
    That is what I see advocates of certain forms of research doing, and I continue to oppose that ideological blinkering of our society, and shall continue so even though I am convinced that there is more “middle” to this issue than many advocates on either side, including Joe and (I think) you, are prepared to admit.
    Oh, and at what point did Joe’s Rawlsian paradigm drop off the charts? Oh, yes, that’s when some boor or other decided that naming the philosophers we’re discussing is “pompous,” but arrantly asserting one’s own unsupported opinions shouldn’t be called such.
    I liked it when we were sorting through the issues. I’m quite unwilling to continue the hectoring, badgering sort of discourse that already ruined WildNet, Usenet, and a whole bunch of other fora.
    Be well,
    PGE

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    C’mon, Boonton, you don’t need to play the wide-eyed naif, here. You know full well that it would be perfectly possible to present a hypothetical that wasn’t intentionally loaded so that LL could (as he did) make the accusation that the “real reason” was somehow shameful. I gave my decision, and I gave my reasons, and I decline to consider the trolling and taunting legitimate. I am irritated by it, and I cannot be pleased that anyone would deliberately allow their site to be used that way.
    The only person trolling here is you. An honest, if convoluted, hypothetical was presented. Are hypotheticals often a bit strange and unrealistic? Sure. Does that mean they are useless? Hardly.
    You *modify* the scenario in an attempt to make it worthwhile, while suggesting that I am “fighting the hypothetical” (which I reserve the right to do if it’s an abusive framing of the issue). Just examining my own early comments would have yielded examples of my reasoning which could have been drawn out more openly.
    I don’t believe I did. I inititally didn’t notice the part about the baby being on life support and said I would choose to save the baby. The logic of your arguments, though, would appear to make not choosing to save the thermos unethical. You invented the idea that the thermos was somehow ‘unsalveagable’.
    It’s fine to modify a hypothetical if it improves it (and Larry’s original is hardly perfect). But fighting the hypothetical is when you modify it so as to get around the moral choice. The interesting choice here is to choose between rescueing what many consider to be human beigns (the baby or the man) and what many consider to not be humans (the thermos). But if you consider the thermos to be human beigns any decision other than saving it means letting a thousand die in order to save one.
    I maintain there is still a difference between choosing among lives when we must, and choosing in the dark to build maybe-life with the intention of certainly destroying it.
    A fair enough answer but is it acceptable that we let things be as ‘maybe-life’? While the fire hypothetical is melodramatic there is a real life analogy where if some ‘maybe-life’ things are not life then declining to research on them can very well result in very real lives not being saved. Is this good?
    I liked it when we were sorting through the issues. I’m quite unwilling to continue the hectoring, badgering sort of discourse that already ruined WildNet, Usenet, and a whole bunch of other fora.
    Indeed but I’m abused on this blog as much as anyone else relative to their contributions. Such is the human condition.