Monday, March 9, 2009

Stem Cell Research

Congratulations to President Obama for reversing George W. Bush's absurd restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

William Saletan at Slate is concerned we're going to lose our souls over this stuff. He shouldn't worry too much; there's no serious moral problem with this research, because a complete genetic code is a necessary but not sufficient component of humanity. That means that embryos are not people. They're not proto people. They're human genetic material, but they are not human beings.

An embryo lacks agency. It lacks self awareness. It lacks the capacity to experience pain. Insects are more capable of suffering than a human embryo. Moreover, these embryos, leftovers from in vitro fertilization, lack the necessary circumstances to ever become human.

An embryo outside a womb contains a recipe for humanity, but, in the same way that semen expelled in a condition where procreation is impossible, or an ovum expelled from the uterus through menstruation, it this genetic material does not exist in a context where it can become a person.

Even if the embryo were inserted into a hospitable uterus, it is more likely to die than to develop. The embryos that may be used for stem cell research would never have become people.

While there is room for argument over the point in development in which a fetus becomes an entity with moral significance, it's unreasonable to place that point at the moment the sperm and the egg fuse, especially where that occurs outside the human body.

The exaltation of morally insignificant genetic material is a rhetorical position that allows people of certain ideological persuasions to oppose recreational sex, contraception, fertility treatment and abortion.

These 'pro-life' individuals are perfectly willing to forego cures for terrible and deadly diseases to avoid making a rhetorical compromise. If anyone is missing a soul, it's them.

If my soul is in danger, it's because I've eaten the flesh of animals raised in hellish conditions and slaughtered for my consumption. It's because I've purchased products manufactured in foreign factories where wages and conditions are dismal. It's because I've gone about my business while the horrific genocide in the Sudan has raged unchecked.

All this stuff is worth losing sleep over. Tiny bundles of cells in petri dishes are of absolutely no moral concern.

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