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.