Monty Hall Morality:
Our Ethical Obligation to Harvest Organ-Donor Clones

Cloning — By on January 25, 2007 at 12:30 am

Last week Story Landis, the interim chair of the National Health Institute’s stem cell task force, testified before the U.S. Senate on President Bush’s policy restricting federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Landis opposes the current policy and declared that “science works best when scientists can pursue all avenues of research.”

If the cure for Parkinson’s disease or juvenile diabetes lay behind one of four doors, wouldn’t you want the option to open all four doors at once instead of one door?

Landis’ utilitarian view of ethics–the dominant view in the biomedical research community–seems to be some sort of “Monty Hall morality”: If the potential for a cure lies behind any door, then we not only should open that path of research but should have the government fund it to the full satisfaction of the grant-writing researchers. Even if, like embryonic stem cell research, the potential for cures is more science fiction than science fact, we should throw open all doors – even if it means throwing obvious moral intuitions out the window.
Landis would, I presume, disagree with my moral qualms about killing human embryos since such entities are human beings but not human persons. Very well. Perhaps I should set aside my moral repugnance, follow the logical conclusion of this line of reasoning, and concede that we should follow all “avenues of research”, including the one in which we harvest the organs of non-person clones.
If embryos (and certain fetuses) are not persons, and therefore are not entitled to either legal rights or moral concern, then we can use them in potentially creative ways. For example, in his forthcoming book, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice, Francis Beckwith asks a question that logically follows from this view:

[W]hat would be wrong in a developmental biologist manipulating the development of an early embryo-clone in such a way that what results is an infant without higher brain functions, but whose healthy organs can be used for ordinary transplant purposes or for spare parts for the person from which the embryo was cloned?

For a supporter of abortion or embryo-destructive research* the only logically consistent conclusion is that there is nothing inherently immoral about creating human clones for spare parts. In fact, we could argue that we have a moral obligation to create organ-donating humans clones.**


Before this case can be made, though, we must deal with the counter-arguments that could be given against the position that the human clone has some sort of intrinsic dignity:

Counterclaim #1: It is morally wrong because the infant is entitled to her higher brain functions.

Response: As Beckwith notes, under this view the non-person infant cannot have rights (including entitlements) unless one has interests (and interests presuppose desires), and neither the pre-sentient fetus nor the resulting post-birth infant has interests (because she has no desires). Therefore, the infant could not arguably be harmed because of its lack of capacity for consciousness.

Counterclaim #2: Whether they are a “person” or not, it is morally wrong to kill a human being in order to harvest them for “spare parts.”

Response: There are three responses that could be made to address this point:
(1) We are not necessarily talking about killing the cloned infant. In fact, it would likely be beneficial to keep the being alive since all of the parts will not necessarily be needed until hte being was fully developed.
(2) We already destroy human embryos (non-person humans) in order to harvest there parts and the morality of that action has not been conclusively settled.
(3) We harvest organs from humans that are “brain dead” so why should we not take them from beings that were never conscious?
Once we get past the emotion-based qualms against such a medically useful procedure, the justification for its implementation becomes self-evident. Some would even argue that we have a moral duty to create cloned infants (or grow them to the adolescent or adult stage of development) in order to harvest their organs. The utilitarian moral calculus is obvious: the organs would be beneficial to a “person” (the human patient) while doing no moral or legal harm to the non-sentient “donor” (the human clone).
Indeed, the justification for this position has been asserted ad nauseum in the embryonic stem cell debate so it hardly needs defending here. As is readily acknowledged by pro-choicers, only a moral monster would withhold such life-saving treatments for the sake of “non-persons.” But we are not monsters. We are science-loving, cure-seeking Americans. That is why we should support—and have the Federal government fund—research for organ-donor clones.
*In reference to those who hold this view, Beckwith uses the term Anti-Equality Advocates (AEA). As he notes, “AEA is a term of art that refers to a particular sort of prochoice advocate, one that concedes substantial identity of the fetus to its post-natal self but nevertheless argues that intrinsic dignity is an accidental property acquired post-natally. Therefore, this particular sort of prochoice advocate denies that all human beings are equal (in the Lincolnian sense of equal before the law; or equal insofar as being moral persons).”
**For the sake of brevity, I’ve limited the discussion to the creation of human clones. Technically, the developmental biologist could manipulate the development of an early embryo that would otherwise be aborted in order to grow her (it?) to the point where the organs could be used for transplantation. Women could use their “choice” to choose to carry the newly disabled nonperson to term in order to sell it for spare parts. The abortion debate might even become moot if unwanted pregnancies could be turned into an entrepreneurial opportunity.



  • Enigma

    Nope, there’s no real problem with it. If i recall, Robert Heinlein suggested this exact scenario quite some time ago.
    The important point is, of course, not weather the clone is human, but weather it is a person. Not all humans are people, and not all people must necessarily be human. There’s no problem if the clone never develops higher brain functions, the real sticky area comes in when someone decides they want to develop clones that are merely mentally “impaired” to some degree, and so controlable as cheap or slave labor.

  • g-u

    isn’t it only “logically consistent” to think there is “nothing inherently immoral about creating human clones for spare parts” when one adopts the premise that “human embryos … are human beings ….”?
    if you’re of the opinion that an embryo hasn’t yet reached the status of being a living human being, then what is inconsistent with thinking cloning humans to be immoral?
    this post seems to be a re-phrase of the same old abortion argument.
    personally, i don’t disagree with the sentiments of abortion, but legal training has lead me to believe more civil rights are just about always a good thing.
    and, as an old law professor used to say, consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

  • Enigma

    I don’t think many people would disagree that an embryo is human, or even that it is a unique, individual human. What most would say is that that embryo, though human, is not a person and that makes all the difference.

  • George

    I’m sure Landis is a very nice guy, but this particular quote sounds like it could have come from Josef Mengele. Chilling, actually, that some people think that way.

  • ucfengr

    What most would say is that that embryo, though human, is not a person and that makes all the difference.
    So in essence, it is a majority vote that transforms a “human” with no rights into a “person” with rights.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Landis’ utilitarian view of ethics–the dominant view in the biomedical research community–seems to be some sort of “Monty Hall morality”: If the potential for a cure lies behind any door, then we not only should open that path of research but should have the government fund it to the full satisfaction of the grant-writing researchers. Even if, like embryonic stem cell research, the potential for cures is more science fiction than science fact, we should throw open all doors – even if it means throwing obvious moral intuitions out the window.
    If it is more science fiction than science fact then no ban is needed. Grant requests for stem cell research will not be able to compete with grant requests from more promising areas.
    Problem with your scenero; if you created a ‘infant’ that does not have a brain then you have not created an infant but a set of organs. Imagine you instead had several vats, one would have a heart growing inside of it, another kidneys, lungs and so on. The only difference between that and your scenero is that you have everything together in one container and I have everything in different containers.
    As you pointed out organs are harvested from living but brain dead humans. I have never heard you object to this so I assume you do not consider it immoral. If a brain dead human has ceased to be a person then why would a brainless human be one?
    ucfengr
    So in essence, it is a majority vote that transforms a “human” with no rights into a “person” with rights.
    No I think Enigma was just pointing out what most people believe. That doesn’t make them right just because they may be a majority but it doesn’t make them wrong simply because you declare that they are.

  • ucfengr

    No I think Enigma was just pointing out what most people believe.
    If that’s what he was doing, he did it in a very enigmatic way, but really I think he and you are overstating the case. Even in the case of Terri Schiavo, where most people supported letting her die, I doubt many would have supported using her for medical experiments or having her stuffed and hung on her husband’s wall. Very few would have supported stripping her of her “personhood” even though she should have been an obvious case for it.
    That doesn’t make them right just because they may be a majority but it doesn’t make them wrong simply because you declare that they are.
    Where in my post did I declare Enigma or his ostensible majority right or wrong?
    Just as an aside here is another gem from enigma:
    “Not all humans are people, and not all people must necessarily be human.”
    WTF does this mean? I mean I understand the “not all humans are people” part. People have been “depeopleizing” humans for millenia to justify all sorts of horrible crimes, but what is this about “not all people must necessarily be human”? Sounds like he wants to expand the definition of “personhood” to some non-human species, while at the same time restricting it from some members of the human species.

  • ucfengr

    if you created a ‘infant’ that does not have a brain then you have not created an infant but a set of organs.
    Fortunately I think this is a scenario that will never happen. The logistics involved in maintaining a large pool of brainless humans for organ transplant or even medical experimentation would be prohibitive. Imagine providing nursing and medical care for several million humans who are incapable of doing anything for themselves. Not only do you have to feed and clean them, you have to figure out a way to maintain a certain level of fitness as well, the human body is not built to be sedentary. How good would a heart from a person that has done nothing but lay in bed for his entire life be for transplant? Not very, I imagine.

  • giggling

    Boonton:
    “If it is more science fiction than science fact then no ban is needed. Grant requests for stem cell research will not be able to compete with grant requests from more promising areas.”
    Good point. But I don’t think it’s worth killing thousands of people to give scientists/funders who have already demonstrated ethical and scientific stupidity time to figure out their ignorance through the force of the market. It’s just a personal preference of mine.
    “Problem with your scenero; if you created a ‘infant’ that does not have a brain then you have not created an infant but a set of organs.”
    In reality though, we’re talking about infants who do have brains but which are undeveloped. The lack of brain development for Landis (and I presume you?) means they do not qualify as persons.
    My questions for you would be:
    1) is there a threshold of higher brain functioning that qualifies one as a person with rights,
    2) how would you determine that threshold theoretically and practically/empirically,
    3) how would society decide which threshold of higher brain functioning qualifies one as a person?
    With respect with the last point, would you be comfortable with a majority of people of higher intelligence/brain functioning/development deciding that stupider, less refined etc people are not persons because they cannot do higher math, distinguish between 24 different wine flavors, have friends, make rational decisions, appreciate art and music, see colors, have a sense of humor, and have 1,000+ other capacities of life?
    After all, they aren’t really “living” since their lack of capacities for enjoying life restricts their personality, which restricts their ability to make choices with all of the true knowledge/experience at the disposal of higher, better persons.
    In comparison, they aren’t really persons. And if there is a majority of higher, better persons who decide the relatively undeveloped are not persons, we might as well harvest their organs. In fact, we actually have a moral obligation to harvest their organs because we would get so much more out of their organs than they would.

  • brandon

    To take Landis literally as you quoted her (maybe out of context), she negates one of the left’s other biomedical causes: no harmful research on animals. I’m sure she doesn’t really support “opening all four doors at once,” she’s just using rhetorical flair, right? For other outrageous scientific studies also come to mind, having to do with Nazis, Stalinists and their ilk.

  • Alan McCann

    It is interesting how definitions like “person” or “human” are bandied about in these discussions as if they are scientific (by the secular scientific community’s definition) rather than religious/metaphysical claims.
    It is categorically impossible for there to be a “humanity meter” or a “personhood meter” without making such claims.
    So-called scientific thinking people, when it comes to discussing when life begins, quickly abandon their empirical worldview yet call it science and accuse those who are truly the scientists of forcing their religion on others.
    Upside-down world.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    If that’s what he was doing, he did it in a very enigmatic way, but really I think he and you are overstating the case. Even in the case of Terri Schiavo, where most people supported letting her die, I doubt many would have supported using her for medical experiments or having her stuffed and hung on her husband’s wall. Very few would have supported stripping her of her “personhood” even though she should have been an obvious case for it.
    Perhaps but that’s a different issue entirely. I doubt many would approve of me having JFK’s body dug up, stuffed and mounted on my wall but that’s not because doing so would be killing a human person. They would acknowledge that JFK is already dead.
    Schiavo’s case was more difficult. I do not think she had died so she was a legal person. If I had stormed into her hospital room before she died and shot her I should have been charged with murder, no simply descrating a corpse.
    I think her case was more akin to a patient refusing treatment. Death was the end result but that’s fundamentally different than, say, giving a lethal dose of painkillers with the intent to purposefully cause death. Of course there was another whole issue over whether a husband can make such a decision for a wife who couldn’t speak for herself AND whether or not there were aspects to that particular case that would justify voiding her husband’s decision making authority etc.
    After all, they aren’t really “living” since their lack of capacities for enjoying life restricts their personality, which restricts their ability to make choices with all of the true knowledge/experience at the disposal of higher, better persons.
    You are assuming a ‘brain level’ test is on a continuing scale as opposed to being binary. Think of getting your drivers license. You had to meet various requirements such as getting at least 10 out of 12 questions right on the written test but if you got 11 or 12 out of 12 questions right you didn’t get a better license. It was the same license. Likewise if you meet the test for personhood then you’re a person, if you happen to be three times what the test requires you are not three people!
    Here I would set the bar very low so that probably even an infant born with Schiavo’s level of brain activity would be considered a person. As we pointed out, Joe’s hypothetical infant grown without a brain would not even meet this test of personhood.
    Now keep in mind my point, no one here seem to object to this brain test when we are going in the other direction. No one here seems to be saying brain death is not the same as person death even though other aspects of the human body may continue to live…even for long periods of time. If losing your brain is a proper test for determining whether you left this world why isn’t it proper for determining whether you’ve made it in yet!?

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Good point. But I don’t think it’s worth killing thousands of people to give scientists/funders who have already demonstrated ethical and scientific stupidity time to figure out their ignorance through the force of the market. It’s just a personal preference of mine.
    Hmmm where was this supposed stupidity demonstrated? I’m hardly convinced Joe’s posts arguing that EST research is a dead end demonstrates the stupidity of actual scientists who conduct research on embryonic stem cells. Does this mean Bush is stupid for even allowing money to be wasted on the few lines of embryonic stem cells that already exist or research on embryonic stem cells that are obtained through means that do not require the destruction of the embryo? You’re so keen on this science you really can speak with authority on it?

  • http://www.sufficientscruples.com Kevin T. Keith

    Others have already handled the obvious response to Beckwith’s scenario (i.e., that his proposal is in fact not objectionable, and has already been discussed favorably by many ethicists; it remains unlikely for technical, logistical, and financial reasons however). I’ll just add, first, that something precisely like his scenario is exactly what we do with brain-dead organ donors, whose bodies are maintained alive for some period to allow organ harvesting – a process few find objectionable; and, second, it is, ironically enough, embryonic stem-cell research that will eventually make Beckwith’s scenario unnecessary by allowing us to generate single organs in-vitro. All Beckwith has done is succeeded in demonstrating that his intuitions are no grounds for moral policy.
    This caught my eye, however:
    ["Anti-Equality Advocates"] is a term of art that refers to a particular sort of prochoice advocate . . . [who] argues that intrinsic dignity is an accidental property acquired post-natally
    I would guess, and hope, that there is no reasonably knowledgeable pro-choice advocate who would say any such thing. “Intrinsic” properties cannot be acquired (they’re intrinsic). There are certainly many who argue that moral standing is acquired well after conception, and possibly after birth, but an implicit foundation of that argument is the perception that moral standing, or personhood, is not intrinsic. It’s a simple distinction, but an important one, and one no serious philosopher I’m familiar with mistakes. I’m not impressed by Beckwith’s silly name-calling, especially since he can’t properly describe what it is he’s actually calling those names, which appears to be an empty category anyway.

  • The Raven

    “So in essence, it is a majority vote that transforms a “human” with no rights into a “person” with rights.”
    Basically, yes. At one level, you are correct, ucf. In ancient times, we had citizens and slaves. In fact, it’s only been slightly over a century that we ceased making such distinctions here. Slavery is still common elsewhere in the world. A slave, by definition, has fewer rights than his or her owner.
    When did America’s slaves gain full human rights? They acquired them the moment the majority of citizens decided that doing so was proper. To be blunt: There are no intrinsic human rights. Arguing that there are suggests that social systems are not human constructs – but they are. Our laws, our morals, our decisions about what is proper, all of these things are the result of collective agreement and the exercise of reason.
    If we, as a society, decide that cloning brainless organ donors is a good thing to do, then we’ll do it. But that kind of decision isn’t made in an hour. Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest, Never Let Me Go, is about a group of children at an English boarding school in the near future who, at some point, come to the realization that they are being raised as replacement organ donors for their clone parents. In his novel, the children are cloned with fully functioning brains.
    This is part of the conversation. So many people read this book and discuss it. We discuss issues like this, and abortion, and research, right here ourselves. And over the course of time, eventually a general consensus arises on such things and we proceed with them. With respect to ESC research, we see the argument playing out on the national stage. Michael J. Fox was invited to the SOTU address principally to represent those Americans who wish this type of research to be funded and allowed to proceed with federal backing. The senators and congresspeople in attendance took note.
    As a thought on Terry Schiavo, by the way, it occurs to me that there’s a difference between a brain-dead adult and a brainless embryo: the adult has a past, a network of relationships, and an ownership trail of meanings created and interpreted – and this is part of what invests a person with person-hood.

  • ucfengr

    When did America’s slaves gain full human rights? They acquired them the moment the majority of citizens decided that doing so was proper. To be blunt: There are no intrinsic human rights.
    In other words, might makes right.

  • The Raven

    “In other words, might makes right.”
    In the case of the American Civil War, erm, yes. In the case of women’s suffrage, no. It is broad-based agreement that eventually confers rights. Getting that consensus, however, is not necessarily a peaceful affair. Always better when it is.

  • http://mysticchords.blogspot.com/ John Salmon

    Broad-based agreement may confer rights, but it doesn’t create them. Yes, it takes a degree of social consensus to move forward-the civil rights laws of the 60′s would never have happened if opinions hadn’t changed first….culture is always more important than politics. But the right to vote, to assemble peacefully, etc., existed long before those laws were enacted.
    Besides, Raven, the scientists who want to pursue these research “innovations” couldn’t care less about public opinion. They want to be able to go down any alley they choose.
    To do so, bogus notions of personhood, pitted against “beinghood”, must be created and reinforced. As others have stated, to do this is to move well beyond the bounds of science, and into metaphysics.

  • brandon

    Raven:
    In the case of the American Civil War, erm, yes. In the case of women’s suffrage, no. It is broad-based agreement that eventually confers rights. Getting that consensus, however, is not necessarily a peaceful affair. Always better when it is.
    You really need a civics lesson. Or what would be classically known as a philosophy lesson.
    Rights (however they exist or come to exist) are protected by government by violence. In the case of our government (being controlled by the people), if the people decide what rights exist and what don’t, might makes right.

  • The Raven

    “if the people decide what rights exist and what don’t”
    Yes, that’s more or less the process. For instance, right now, we’re in the middle of a national debate over the idea that gay people have a “right” to be married, if they desire to be and are qualified to be (i.e., not already married to other persons, etc.).
    There is no violence involved in the illumination or negation of the “right” under discussion. Either they will have it – as Massachusetts decided – or they will not. The discussion here takes place on the Internet, in your paper’s op-ed pages, in the churches (viz the Episcopalian defections), on television, in the movies, in literature, in art, in courtrooms.
    So here we have an example of the non-violent construction of consensus, leading to the description and understanding of what such a “right” might entail. This is a case of majority rule, but I wouldn’t term it an exercise of “might.” If you do, then we’re merely exchanging a point of semantics.

  • Bryan K Mills

    You’re missing the point.
    The discussion may be non-violent now. But if the majority makes a decision, and I reject it and resist it long enough, eventually men with guns will show up to make me comply.

  • brandon

    Raven:
    There is no violence involved in the illumination or negation of the “right” under discussion. Either they will have it – as Massachusetts decided – or they will not. The discussion here takes place on the Internet, in your paper’s op-ed pages, in the churches (viz the Episcopalian defections), on television, in the movies, in literature, in art, in courtrooms.
    I think you misundertand the nature of “having” rights. To have rights means guarantee (notwithstanding some exceptions). Guaranteeing a possession usually entails employing violence-violence to the will of those who would deny possession of said article. If the guarantor is weak, a stronger will imposes upon it.
    It’s the old “because I said so” idiom. A bunch of people say it is so, and voila! it is, and, in your marraige example, they have the power of the commonwealth to enforce their view. The view has ceased to be merely opinion; it is a right ensconced in power.

  • Darwin

    Landis did the cause of stem cell reseach no good with that comment.
    The bottom line with Stem Cell Research, as with any research, is do the benefits of that research outweigh the harm that will come form it?
    For example, if we knew that by experiementing on weeds might lead to a cure for cancer, we have to weigh the benefits with the killing of all those weeds (I’m in favor of killing the weeds in this scenario…though I suspect there would be a few who say, “Save the weeds.”
    What’s being argued over hear is whether the loss of “life” that results from stem cell research is so morally wrong as to prevent the research.
    Of course it’s not. It’s not even close. But I suspect those who oppose Stem Cell research know this. However, they’ve found in Stem Cell research an odd way to promote their notiion that life that is valuable begins at conception.
    Yet, you don’t see anti-Stem Cell folk up in arms over Invetero Fertilization, a process that creates many a zygote that will eventually be discarded. IVF would be a much more righteous ground in which to toil if your concern was saving life post conception. But they don’t focus on that.
    Why don’t they focus on that? Because thousands upon thousands of folks have become pregnant that way. You’d have lot’s of folks saying to the Anti-IVF folks, “What are you crazy???”
    The same sort of words can and should be shouted at the anti-stem cell folks for their grossly obnoxious stance over stem cells.
    There is a good reason why a large majority believe stem cell research should continue: people are generally rational. It’s the same reason the majority of people understand that abortion should certainly be legal at least in the first couple of months.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Yet, you don’t see anti-Stem Cell folk up in arms over Invetero Fertilization, a process that creates many a zygote that will eventually be discarded. IVF would be a much more righteous ground in which to toil if your concern was saving life post conception. But they don’t focus on that.
    This is, of course, what makes this debate so absurd. The embryos used in stem cell research come from IVF clinics that literally will flush them down the drain. Even with a full fledged research program with ample funding there will still be thousands of fertilized eggs that will be flushed by IVF clinics.

  • Enigma

    Just as an aside here is another gem from enigma:
    “Not all humans are people, and not all people must necessarily be human.”
    WTF does this mean? I mean I understand the “not all humans are people” part. People have been “depeopleizing” humans for millenia to justify all sorts of horrible crimes, but what is this about “not all people must necessarily be human”? Sounds like he wants to expand the definition of “personhood” to some non-human species, while at the same time restricting it from some members of the human species.

    With that statement i was basicly leaving the door open for there to be non-human people, aliens for example, or individual AIs, things of that nature. With the part about not all humans being people, i was not referring to the “dehumanization” of specific groups as had happened in the past and been used, as you quite rightly pointed out, as an excuse (although not the actual reason) for horrible atrocities. I was speaking more along the lines of not considering a small cluster of cells to be a person. Be it a fetus or a severed finger, it would be genetically human and yet not a person. Even a fully grown individual who has no higher brain function, though they are genetically and structurally human, is not a person. That’s the sort of point i was going after. It isn’t the genetics or the gross anatomy that make someone a person, it’s the mind of the individual.
    And while i wasn’t suggesting that it is majority vote that instils rights, Raven did make a good point that even if you beleive we have inherent rights, force is still required to defend them.

  • giggling

    Boonton:
    “You are assuming a ‘brain level’ test is on a continuing scale as opposed to being binary.”
    No, I’m assuming a “brain level” test’s binary scale determining whether someone is a person or not can slide over time depending changing opinions. Which is exactly what has happened…..
    Therefore, my point still stands. It seems to me you would be fine with evolving definitions of persons depending on how much of a capacity for experience/higher brain functioning. It seems to me you would be fine with society one day deciding people who can’t experience certain things or have a lower level of intelligence being dehumanized.
    If you wouldn’t be fine with that, how would determine what level of capacity a human would need to count as a person, and would it simply change over time or is there an actual argument for that seemingly arbitrary distinction/line.
    Hmmm where was this supposed stupidity demonstrated? I’m hardly convinced Joe’s posts arguing that EST research is a dead end demonstrates the stupidity of actual scientists who conduct research on embryonic stem cells. Does this mean Bush is stupid for even allowing money to be wasted on the few lines of embryonic stem cells that already exist or research on embryonic stem cells that are obtained through means that do not require the destruction of the embryo? You’re so keen on this science you really can speak with authority on it?
    EST research clearly isn’t dead, and no one would say that. It’s still being funded in ignorance when it’s simply true that adult stem cell research is making progress in actually treating diseases, and more ethical means of deriving stem cells are in the works. Why would you spend the money trying to overcome the significant scientific obstacles inherent in keeping EST cells non-malignant AND change public opinion on its immorality when adult stem cell work?
    It’s because you’ve been convinced somehow that funding this will result in miracle cures more cost-effectively than AST, and no one I know is saying that.
    But no, I’m not an expert in that I can’t cite the studies off the top of my head. If you want, I’ll try to dig up the research for you.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    No, I’m assuming a “brain level” test’s binary scale determining whether someone is a person or not can slide over time depending changing opinions. Which is exactly what has happened…..
    It can ‘slide’ if the test is set very high. However I believe I stated that I would even consider Schiavo’s barely functioning brain to have probably been sufficient to pass the test. I’m not proposing a test requiring someone to score 800+ on the SAT! Once achieved little short of brain death could probably end personhood IMO.
    Therefore, my point still stands. It seems to me you would be fine with evolving definitions of persons depending on how much of a capacity for experience/higher brain functioning. It seems to me you would be fine with society one day deciding people who can’t experience certain things or have a lower level of intelligence being dehumanized.
    And what would you propose instead? On one of the previous threads I pointed out that if the test is whether a person has a soul then you get caught in an endless shouting match of unprovable assertions. You are also probably more vulnerable to accepting the dehumanizing of people who should not be dehumanized since some will assert that certain people do not have ‘souls’ which would imply they could be treated less ethically. Pointing out that such people have as much intelligence as you or I would be no defense since you are making it clear you do not want intelligence to play a role in defining personhood.
    Again I’ll point out that no one has yet to object to the fact that we use brain death as a test of whether or not you have left this world. Why would it therefore be wrong to be a test of telling when you enter it?
    EST research clearly isn’t dead, and no one would say that. It’s still being funded in ignorance when it’s simply true that adult stem cell research is making progress in actually treating diseases, and more ethical means of deriving stem cells are in the works. Why would you spend the money trying to overcome the significant scientific obstacles inherent in keeping EST cells non-malignant AND change public opinion on its immorality when adult stem cell work?
    It’s because you’ve been convinced somehow that funding this will result in miracle cures more cost-effectively than AST, and no one I know is saying that.
    But no, I’m not an expert in that I can’t cite the studies off the top of my head. If you want, I’ll try to dig up the research for you.
    I never asserted that EST will result in any miracle cures. All I pointed out was that if the science is as formidable as you state then no ban is needed. Proposals for adult stem cell research and other types of research would be able to beat out EST based proposals therefore the problem is solved.
    Perhaps you missed it but in one of the previous threads I pointed out that the ban will actually cause more EST research if the science does not pan out. Why? Because in response to the ban states and private groups have been setting up funds dedicated to EST research. Since these funds are dedicated to one type of research they are insulated from competition from proposed from outside the field.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    WTF does this mean? I mean I understand the “not all humans are people” part. People have been “depeopleizing” humans for millenia to justify all sorts of horrible crimes, but what is this about “not all people must necessarily be human”? Sounds like he wants to expand the definition of “personhood” to some non-human species, while at the same time restricting it from some members of the human species.
    How would we answer the question of whether or not a member of a non-human species was or wasn’t a person? Over on the forum a while ago I tried to start a thread on the show Battlestar Galactica. In that story the humans are on the run from a species of robots they once created but have now turned on them. The robots have learned to make themselves appear almost perfectly human and appear to have real personalities including the ability to disagree with their fellow robots, betray them, and do a host of good and bad things. Quite often story lines develop around cases where humans capture a robot and debate what to do with it. Often their answer is to dehumanize it, torture it, or kill it. Their answer to ethical objections is that they are machines and no matter how much they may seem like a person they are just machines. In one episode two officers intervene to stop one of their superiors from raping one of the robots in custody. As they are on trial they are bluntly told “you can’t rape a machine”.
    Those here that advocate a type of brain test would have no difficulty. A machine or non-human species that appeared to meet the test would have to be treated ethically. There would be little room, IMO, for justifying inhumane acts.
    On the flip side what would those who advocate some other type of test do? Since having what seems to be a ‘personality’ isn’t what makes a person a person then non-humans with personality could be written off as some type of soulless animals who could be treated as one pleases. In fact, what would they make of a person who claimed some group of humans like Jews or Blacks may have what seems to be personality but are not really persons? Since intelligence, brain function etc. are not part of the test it does no good to counterclaim that they are ‘like us’ in those regards. No it seems to me that the religious side here is just as open to finding justifications for dehumanizing behavior given the right circumstances.
    I understand that a high level test can lead to absurd conclusions. If the test requires that you be able to write 200 words without a spelling mistake I may gain and loose my personhood several times a day! But no one ever said the test for personhood should be so ambitious.

  • The Raven

    We don’t have to look to aliens or robots to see this question in action, however. Let’s consider the case of our nearest evolutionary cousins, the chimpanzees.
    Vocal communication? Check.
    Awareness of surroundings? Check.
    Awareness of self? Check.
    Tool-making ability? Check.
    Cultural transmission? Check.
    Emotions? Check.
    Intelligence? Double-check.
    Most importantly, these creatures appear to exhibit empathy – they have consideration for others and care about the welfare of others. Not to the degree that humans possess, but they are primates and exhibit primate characteristics.
    So we consider chimpanzees to have enough person-hood that we now forbid them to be carelessly injured or used in unethical ways. I personally do not think they should be locked in small cages and used for experimentation if such activities lead to their injury or suffering. If we’re trying to observe their behavior and we treat them well, that’s OK.
    Roughly speaking, an adult chimp is roughly on a par with a 3-year-old human child in terms of personness.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Raven,
    What some are getting at here is the nature of your test:
    Vocal communication? Check.
    Awareness of surroundings? Check.
    Awareness of self? Check.
    Tool-making ability? Check.
    Cultural transmission? Check.
    Emotions? Check.
    Intelligence? Double-check.
    This may be fine for the question of whether chimps (or robots or aliens) as a species deserve to be considered capable of personhood but it does open up doors for abuse when you apply it to individuals. There are many humans who lose some or all of those traits for periods of time or who lack them altogether. Does that make them suddenly ‘non-persons’ even though they still are alive?
    Perhaps what is needed is a two step test. The above is fine for screening whether a species is fit to be considered capable of personhood but a much lower test would then be applied to determine if an individual was a person.

  • The Raven

    Boonton: Is there not a directionality to personhood? That is, once acquired, removal is nearly impossible short of all-out brain-death. There seems to be universal agreement on that score. The Schiavo case was emblematic of this and rested on the question of whether or not the patient was in a vegetative state.
    As I’ve mentioned before, much of personhood is rooted in a person’s history, the relationships they’ve formed and the meaning they’ve created in life. All of this is taken into account when we talk about “a person.”
    In discussing embryos and blastocysts and such, we have none of the above. There is life, cellular division, certainly. Yet none of the functions that are observed even in chimpanzees (which is why I brought that up) are seen in the embryo. The quality of personhood is, I suspect, some kind of shorthand we use for something that is actually somewhat different in reality.
    In other words, it may not be testable in and of itself, but some of its effects – its traits – may be separately testable. We don’t yet quite know how to test for Alzeimer’s Disease, for instance. All we can do is rule out everything else until it’s the final explanation. Speaking of Alzeimer’s, does not this disease give us an example of an illness that destroys the individual while leaving his personhood intact?

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    The Schiavo case was emblematic of this and rested on the question of whether or not the patient was in a vegetative state.
    True, and it was also about whether or not her husband could refuse care on her behalf even if it would result in her death. That’s what it was mostly about. If she had been able to speak and said “I don’t want a feeding tube” I doubt even pro-lifers would have called it murder if doctors declined to force one in her. No one really argued that she wasn’t a person or that she could be actively killed although some pro-lifers like JOe set that up as a strawman.
    The quality of personhood is, I suspect, some kind of shorthand we use for something that is actually somewhat different in reality.
    I would say what you described earlier, a persons history and relationships might be included in a person’s personality or just the person. Personhood, IMO, donotes a quality that essentially means what we first think of when we hear the phrase ‘living human beign’. We think of something that is:
    1. Alive
    2. Has or is capable of having a human mind.
    By #2 we probably mean something that seems to experience the world as we experience it. We set the bar very low, though. Being naturally egotistical we like to think of ourselves as superior so we imagine many other human beigns are not as cool as we are. So even though a child or person with a mental disability does not bring our level of intelligence to bear in experiencing the world we still include them as having personhood.
    I think pro-lifers have a point with the argument that we are better off erring on the side of personhood than against it. So even for those with severe brain injuries we hold out hope that maybe they are still capable of having a human mind if given the proper treatment or time to recover or maybe they are experiencing the world as we do but in a manner that is too faint for us to detect.
    However you can only stretch the argument for prudence so far. If someone’s head was chopped off and destroyed but his lower body was hooked to life support it would be pretty tough to listen to an argument that maybe he had a human mind or might recover it! I think this pro-life argument could be effectively used to question very late term abortions and it does leave the boundary line fuzzy but it only goes so far. There is no plausible way to stretch this argument to say that single or a few celled organisms have a human mind or are capable of it.*
    * Capable means at the present time. A person in a coma is capable of having a human mind in the same way a boat in dry dock is capable of sailing. It does not mean ‘in the future IF a set of various things happen’. A tree is not capable of sailing just because it can be chopped down and formed into a raft!

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    I thought this letter send to Scientific American particularly insightful:
    Editors:
    The June 2004 issue of Scientific American featured a pair of articles on embryonic stem cell research.
    The editorial entitled “Stem Cells: A Way Forward” dealt with the subject of embryonic stem cell research. In telegraphic terms, what the article said is that scientists in the US are laboring under restrictions their counterparts in other countries are not, consequently, we in the US are in danger of other countries getting ahead of us in this area and consequently of losing billions in revenue. This danger could be eliminated, the editorial goes on to say, if the US adopted a set of ethical standards that would allow American scientists to go ahead and do what they believe they must in order to pursue their research in a more evenly yoked manner.
    I am disturbed by this article on more than one account, but chiefly because it ignores completely the most damning objection to embryonic stem cell research, which is that an embryo is a human being. From this point of view, what the editorial states is that we could make a lot of money if we were allowed to do unfettered experiments on human beings.
    I won’t deny that lack of human testing complicates matters. Cancer researchers, for instance, are not allowed to induce cancer in human subjects in order to study therapies in a controlled way and have had to rely on experiments done on mice. There is no doubt constraints such as this have held back research efforts by years, perhaps decades, yet there is no an outcry from the scientific community for these constraints to be removed because we can more easily recognize our fellow members of homo sapiens when they have grown beyond a certain developmental stage. Simple humanity prevents the desire to perform life-depriving experiments on our fellow man.
    This is not an absolute, however, as there were scientists who, not all that long ago or all that far away, performed experiments on those they considered untermenschen. Indeed, there were those within our own country who allowed syphilis to go untreated among some black, illiterate sharecroppers just in order to see what would happen.
    It is somehow easier to dehumanize those who are in someway different than one’s self. The African Americans who were subjects of the Tuskegee Experiment were of a different skin color than most of the scientists studying them, those who were studied by the Nazis in the concentration camp were of a different ethnic heritage, and those who the embryonic stem cell researchers wish to study are from a different developmental stage.
    The editorial was a companion to a scientific article in the same issue by Robert Lanza and Nadia Rosenthal which is entitled “The Stem Cell Challenge.” This details many of technical issues that are confronted in embryonic stem cell research, and in a sidebar to this article, Christine Soares echoes of the editorial and details the political obstacles to progress. She relates the story of Douglas A. Melton, a scientist whose two children have type-1 diabetes, a disease for which stem cell research promises a cure. Melton has created 17 new embryonic stem cell lines and used private funds to do so, thereby doing an end-run around government regulations.
    This raises a question that some have asked me when I voice my opposition to using embryos for research, “What if one of your children could be helped by this? Wouldn’t you want to be able to use an embryo then?”
    The answer to this is much simpler than those who ask the question seem do realize. Indeed, it is “Yes,” but the full answer is perhaps more than my interrogators bargain for. To save the life of one of my children, I would have no problem with the dismembering of unwilling adults. Indeed, if one of my children needed a heart, I wouldn’t mind pulling one beating from someone’s unwilling chest, but one of the purposes of the law is to tame such emotional reactions.
    The question is not the depth of emotion or the worth of the cure but rather the value of human life. One human should not, without his or her consent, be destroyed for the use of another.
    The editorial is honest enough to put the real face on what is behind the push for embryonic stem cell research, and that face is on a green, rectangular piece of paper. There is money to be made because no one wants to die. However, let us not lose sight of the fact that eventually we all will die regardless of the crimes science commits in service of trying to delay that inevitable end.
    - Bobby Winters

  • http://diabetesnaturalhelp.com/blog/?tag=diabetes click here

    1944 The city manager of Grand Rapids, Michigan announces that the Michigan State Department of Health is planning a long range experiment with fluoridated water and that Grand Rapids was selected as the location for the experiment. The city commission approves a motion to fluoridate on July 31, and decide it is to begin in January 1945, despite the warning issued three months earlier by the American Dental Association. Grand Rapids becomes the first city in the United States to conduct this experiment. It…