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.**