Two of the most brilliant ethicists in the United States have answered one of the most partisan.
Robert P. George and Gilbert Meilander, in the National Review On Line, have answered Michael Gazzaniga’s New York Times discussion on embryonic stem cell research.
You’ll remember that Gazzaniga’s editorial, published in the NYT last week, called for more embryos to disassemble for stem cells and gave us a synopsis of his criteria for human personhood. That criteria would exclude protection for many adolescents, much less toddlers and children who are already given such protection by law.
Gazzaniga, after declaring ” It is the journey that makes a human, not the car,” belittles most of us with his further comments on personhood:
In his State of the Union speech, President Bush went on to observe that “human life is a gift from our creator — and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.” Putting aside the belief in a “creator,” the vast majority of the world’s population takes a similar stance on valuing human life. What is at issue, rather, is how we are to define “human life.” Look around you. Look at your loved ones. Do you see a hunk of cells or do you see something else?
Most humans practice a kind of dualism, seeing a distinction between mind and body. We all automatically confer a higher order to a developed biological entity like a human brain. We do not see cells, simple or complex — we see people, human life. That thing in a petri dish is something else. It doesn’t yet have the memories and loves and hopes that accumulate over the years.
On the other hand, George and Meilander do not belittle, there’s no diminishing of the worth or intelligence of those who disagree with them or who would make 7 out of 17 in a vote some sort of mandate. They give a reasoned and philosophical answer:
As a people we Americans are committed to the equal worth and dignity of every human being — and, hence, every member of our community. When we ask whose good counts in the common good, we seek to answer that question in ways which include the weak, the incapacitated, and the vulnerable — not in ways that narrow and constrict the number of those to whom we are obligated and for whom we should care.
If that is the political commitment of this country, several things follow. We will not casually suggest that becoming a human being depends on development of various capacities over time without attempting with rigor and seriousness to define and describe the point at which this actually happens — the point at which we have among us another one of us whose good should count in the common good. It will not do simply to opine blithely that “it is the journey that makes a human” without offering any serious description of when that journey begins or ends.
It will not do to opine that a living human embryo of the sort all of us once were (which Gazzaniga prefers to characterize as “that thing in a petri dish”) cannot be a member of our community, entitled to the same protections as the rest of us, unless and until it has acquired “the memories and loves and hopes that accumulate over the years” without offering any serious discussion of what this means for newborns, for those afflicted by retardation, and for those suffering from dementia.
It will not do to opine that the distinction between body and brain is decisive for determining whose life should be protected without even considering whether the living and developing human body ought not elicit from us a kind of reverence and respect that would keep us from simply using it in the service of our goals, even praiseworthy goals.
Against this call for reason and consideration, there is a near-out-of-control rant on blog.bioethics.net. But forget “comments” on that site – it’s a waste of time due to the censureship and slow “moderation” that the editors and pseudoeditors of the “American Journal of Bioethics” have imposed on their (emotionally incontinent, as in this post) blog.
>Sadly this "editor" best epitomizes his own attitude towards his reader with these words:"I will spare you the effort of reading their essay, ever so worthy of its placement in The National Review. Their points are three."Well thanks, boss, for thinking for me! You are so smart and all.I'm surprised that he is an editor, let alone for an ethics journal. His antics don't pass muster for high school academics. That is truly sad. Is he really an editor, for an ethics journal?
>That's probably Glen McGee, the editor of the Journal http://blog.bioethics.net/2004/09/what-is-this.html and an instructor for the Medical School and Director at Albany Med School's Alden March Bioethics Institute. http://bioethics.org/institute/faculty/profiles.php?first=Glenn&last=McGee
>"Most humans practice a kind of dualism, seeing a distinction between mind and body." If I read correctly, the author uses this to establish that we assign higher levels of importance to beings with more sophisticated minds, minds that are an aggregate of experiences. But this is simplistic, and somewhat absurd, and I think the attitude is a learned one – didn't we begin to separate the mind and body only recently, with the advent of social sciences?It would require a lot of time and interaction for each human being to identify the others using this standard. I don't imagine the higher order primates use this technique to differentiate between living and inanimate objects, and like and unlike kinds. Every person we meet would have to be evaluated for memories, loves, and hopes to determine whether he or she is a living human being, or just a clump of cells, before we would know how or whether to interact. That just doesn't work in the natural world. We are social creatures who need each other for survival, and time is often of the essence. We have to be able to recognize fellow members of our own species much more readily than that, and we do. I thought I heard once that we tend to "see" facial features in random patterns, probably because we are always looking for more creatures like ourselves.I think this is borne out in our behavior and in research. Our tendency is to be non-violent with each other, per Lt. Col. Dave Goodman in his book "On Killing," wherein he demonstrates that even individual men in war will pass each other by without violence if the opportunity presents itself.
>And he is involved in an academic program that confers a degree in bioethics? This is scary.All the more reason to thank you for your efforts on this blog. I really do get a lot out of what medical professionals have to say on so many ethical issues. It is important to remember that they are not the only source knowledge, or rather their scientific knowledge isn't the only source of knowledge. My compliment to you and some other medical professionals is that you recognize and respect that difference. Keep up the challenge.
>Thank you, both, for your reading and great comments.Raindrops, I keep saying that we can't create our ethics by each circumstance, and certainly not by how we act in times of crisis or stress. These are just times that we learn whether we are practiced enough in doing right. (Now, go tell McGee. It may take a few hours for your post to show up. But he needs to know we're out here!)