>I’d call it the Dred Scott Syndrome.
Paul Greenberg has written an editorial arguing against destructive and manipulative embryonic stem cell research and in favor of the veto by President George Bush of HR 810.
The next ethical ridge to be crossed would then loom ahead: If it’s permissible to experiment on embryos destined to be destroyed, why not on terminally ill patients, or prisoners on Death Row, or, well, the list would surely grow.
The case for embryonic experimentation isn’t dubious just ethically but scientifically. To quote Robert P. George, a law professor at Princeton who served on the President’s Council on Bioethics:
“Researchers know that stem cells derived from blastocyst-stage embryos are currently of no therapeutic value and may never actually be used in the treatment of diseases. . . . In fact, there is not a single embryonic stem cell therapy even in clinical trials. (By contrast, adult and umbilical cord stem cells are already being used in the treatment of 65 diseases.) All informed commentators know that embryonic stem cells cannot be used in therapies because of their tendency to generate dangerous tumors.”
All of which leads Professor George to suspect that the clamor for embryonic stem cell research isn’t really about using these early-stage blastocysts but exploiting more fully developed embryos, say those 16 to 18 weeks old, when the stem cells would be less likely to grow out of control.
Slate magazine’s resident bioethicist, Will Saletan, outlined just such a program not long ago in his five-part series “The Organ Factory: The Case for Harvesting Older Human Embryos.”
Why harvest? Why not go on to manipulate and create post-natal children of humans who are not “persons”? Why not go forward toward a C. S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man in which, since we are enslaving our children of the future without their consent anyway, we create stunted, yet useful, growing and self-replicating non-person humans?
How much consciousness is necessary, and how do I measure your consciousness on my scale, Peter Singer’s scale, or Genentec’s scale? Where’s the arbiter when we divide humans into persons and non-persons, and why should I let any creature live free if I’m smart enough to enslave them? The person begins at fertilization – any tech in any in vitro lab can discern whether or not fertilization has occured within hours. (In fact, the axes of the embryo are set at penetration of the oocyte by the sperm, and those axes are persistent throughout development.)
That same tech can tell you that if the first cell division is poisoned or if there is contamination of the blastocyst, that the embryo’s functions stop and implantation will fail. Or, perhaps the embryo can be humanly modified to follow a pre-determined tack.
Why not train children to be our slaves, or use technology to grow slaves who can accept nothing more than training?
If there is action based on immediate emotional responses to empathy, I can understand that a person without time and full knowledge will make decisions that favor the more developed human over the less developed human.
However, in the case of legislation about the deliberate creation of extracorporeal human embryos, destructive or manipulative embryonic cell research, and elective abortion, the empathy should be guided by knowledge and planning.
Very soon, as this article shows, we will have to make laws to deal with whether or not our children of the future who are not Homo sapiens are actually “human.” We will have to determine whether they can ever be “persons,” just as Justice Taney had to decide about Dred Scott – after all those responsible for his being in the US had never intended him or his children to be persons, either.
What about the children of the children of the future? Will they be human, objects of empathy or not-human-enough? How much self-interest will there be, then? How many horrors are we to allow? Low IQ infertile sex slaves, specialized and fertile harvest models, or chattel designed for mining on earth or for life in space stations
Lois McMaster Bujold’s Falling Free is a story about similar genetically modified humans. There’s the old standby, Brave New World – why not Deltas and Epsilons? Or the cloned “students” in Never Let Me Go? (Also available in e-book form here.)
How, rather than human parentage will these decisions be made? Will these children of the future need to pass some test for consciousness? Will they need to be within 2 standard deviations of “person” genes, phenotype, ability to hire a lawyer?