Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Morality Monday (Wednesday Observed) Part I

Note that this post is quite long and has been divided into two posts.

Last week, Bush vetoed a bill that would have lifted his previous moratorium on funding with federal money any new embryonic stem cell lines. The rationale is easily understood: it is wrong to take a human life in order to save another. So the question is, do you agree? Another interesting question is, does Bush himself even believe that?

For me, the answer to the first is a strong disagree. As for Bush, his actions on certain front-page issues over the past five and 7/10 years seem to suggest that even he recognizes that sometimes the value to be gained from sacrificing a human life outweighs the value of preserving that life. After all, Bush certainly thinks that the value of removing Saddam Hussein from power was greater than the value of a single American soldier’s life. In fact, he clearly thinks the benefits are greater than thousands of American soldiers’ lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian lives. As Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback would point out, these lives were embryos once.

To me, the question is strongly reminiscent of the age-old (or at least as old as trains) ethics question that goes something like this: A train is quickly approaching a group of ten people who are standing on the track, unaware of the approaching train. There is no way these people could move off the track before the train hits them. But right before the group of people is a track-switcher-thingy, which, if switched in time, would redirect the train onto a secondary track on which a single individual stands. You are the only one who can reach the switch in time to save the group of ten by condemning to death the single individual. Not knowing anything about the individuals involved, would you throw the switch?

Same question as the stem cell issue, except that the stem cell question gives you a tiny bit more information about the individuals involved. The embryos, we know, have the potential to develop into a living, breathing human being. So let’s apply the information involved in the stem cell debate to the train track hypo. Instead of one person on the secondary track, let’s say there is one embryonic stem cell laying right on the track like a penny. So now if you throw the switch, ten fully developed human beings will live and one embryonic stem cell will be destroyed. If you do nothing, the stem cell will continue to develop and will eventually become a human being. Now what? Do you throw the switch? What if there’s only a fifty percent chance of the embryo developing into a post fetal human?

My answer to the first train question is that I would throw the switch, so naturally the answer to all following questions is to throw the switch and save the numerically greater group. But the stem cell issue isn’t quite so clear cut. There is no guarantee that embryonic stem cell research will ever save a single life. So a more apt analogy (Apt I say!) might be that if you throw the switch there is a sixty percent chance that the ten people will live, a one hundred percent chance that the embryo will be destroyed, and a forty percent chance that all ten people and the embryo will be destroyed. Well now it looks a little sticky. How can we decide now that there is some uncertainty in the world? After all, the only sure way of preserving at least a single life is to not throw the switch, thus preserving the embryo. But wait!!! Even if you don’t throw the switch, there is fairly good chance that the embryo will be naturally destroyed by one of many other factors prior to ever developing into a post fetal human!


Blogger warm fuzzy said...

I say, flip the switch!

Great post-- Morality Mondays make me happy.

12:24 PM  

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