Paquin: Bad politics, bad ethics

Suppose that a group of astute scientists claims that certain types of experimentation hold great promise. The scientists present strong evidence suggesting that the success of the experimentation could lead to significant improvements in procedures including, but not limited to, organ transplantation, antibiotic application, burn treatment and vaccination. In many ways, in fact, the potential of such research seems limitless. The catch? The experimentation will frequently result in the torture, mutilation, and death of its subjects.

Now, as many have already, perhaps, noted, the type of proposal I am hinting at is no mere thought experiment. It is, unfortunately, a chilling historical reality: the proposed experimentation was devised and carried out in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany during the 1940s (see the proceedings of the Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals). Today, should a neo-Nazi advocate for the return of such experimentation, we would be unimpressed by appeals to the great “promise” such experiments hold for modern science and impatient with arguments concerning the employment of the German scientists in question. Rather, we would condemn such human experimentation without qualification, noting that the acts in question are repugnant violations of human dignity artificially masked by the term “science.” All but the most hardened consequentialists would be more than a little frustrated by any further attempts to justify the proposal.

Likewise, I am more than a little frustrated with the arguments made in Friday’s article, “Stem cell ruling blocks scientists.” The article suggests, among other things, that opponents of embryonic stem cell research wish to use “backwards-looking and bureaucratic federal policy” as a means of depriving victims of macular degeneration of their sight and scientists Lawrence Rizzolo and Yibing Qyang of their jobs. Such claims, of course, are patently false. Opponents of embryonic stem cell research do not wish to halt medical advancement any more than opponents of Nazi experimentation wish to squelch the employment of German scientists. On the contrary, we argue that embryonic stem cell research is bad politics and, more importantly, bad ethics.

On a political level, Royce Lamberth’s federal court ruling was hardly a matter of bureaucratic red tape. Rather, it was the product of sound logic and hermeneutics. The Dickey-Wicker Amendment is unequivocal in its language, prohibiting funding for all “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death…” In light of this, the claim that it is still acceptable to fund research necessitating the destruction of human embryos as long as the researchers don’t destroy the embryos themselves seems more than a little ridiculous. It is comparable to arguing that I am not responsible for murder because, instead of killing the victim myself, I hired an assassin to do my bidding. Let’s not kid ourselves, then: Human embryos are being destroyed precisely because the foreseen research necessitates and incentivizes such destruction.

I would be remiss, though, in suggesting that there is nothing more at stake in this debate than political consistency. On the contrary, embryonic stem cell research is a grave affront to human dignity, and the biological facts bear this out. A human embryo possesses the complete genetic makeup characteristic of human beings. It is a genetically and functionally distinct organism and is biologically programmed to develop into a mature human being. Indeed, given a suitable environment, it will do so. The respective state (frozen or unfrozen) and origin (cloning or natural conception) of the embryos change none of these truths. Embryonic stem cell research, then, destroys a complete, though developmentally immature, human being, not merely a “clump of cells.”

In response, advocates of embryonic stem cell research frequently concede that an embryo is a human being while claiming that it is not, in fact, a morally relevant “person.” Yet, this line of thinking alone should give us pause: Perhaps the founding dogma of our country would be more suitable if it read that “some” men are created equal? Regardless, arguments aimed at excluding embryos from moral consideration fail decisively. Should human infants, for example, be similarly excluded from moral consideration because they, also, lack any rational capacity distinguishable from that of most animals? By no means.

Throughout the twentieth century, we’ve witnessed unspeakable atrocities committed by those whose consequentialist ethics regard the weak and vulnerable as less than human. Let us stop repeating these errors.

Stephen Paquin is a senior in Silliman College and a member of Choose Life at Yale.


  • donmargolis

    While neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Mr. Paquin’s comment, I would like to give the few remaining open-minded persons on this subject in America, some truths on this subject which you will never read in the Washington Post nor hear from any professor at Yale (and especially MIT) who wishes to keep his job.

    Why embryonic stem cells will never make it out of the lab and into the bodies of sick Americans:

    Reason 1: Quite frankly, there is no need.
    Dr. Bernadine Healy, M.D., in her article in the March 4, 2009 U.S. News & World Reports: “There is a markedly diminished need for expanding these [embryonic stem] cell lines for either patient therapy or basic research. . . . Even as the future of embryonic stem cells has dimmed, adult stem cell research has scored major wins evident just in the past few months. . . . To date, most of the stem cell triumphs that the public hears about involve the infusion of adult stem cells.”

    Reasons 2 & 3: Embryonic Stem Cells are bad medicine.
    Embryonic stem cells have their drawbacks. They cause tumors (2) and they may be rejected by the patient’s immune system (3).
    To date there are a lot of guesses, but no successes, as to how to combat these inevitable results.

    Reason 4: Real Scientists really prefer to research Adult Stem Cells.
    It’s kind of the “Field of Dreams” branch of science based on the hypothesis that “if you build it, they will come.” How well does that work? Just ask ES Cell International (ESI), a company established in 2000 in Singapore, which was the most embryonic- stem-cell-friendly country in the world. ESI built tremendous facilities and gave jobs to almost any Western ESC researcher who wanted one. But, in 2007, down hundreds of millions of dollars, they did what Wall Street did in 2000 – they chucked embryonics into the trash bin as “unworkable.” Alan Colman, ESI’s chief executive at the time of its demise, reasoned that “the likelihood of having products in the clinic in the short term was vanishingly small” and admitted to “a tinge of disappointment.” Today there are hundreds of thousands of square feet of unused stem cell lab space in Singapore.

    Reason 5: induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSC)
    Even the most respected pioneers of embryonic stem cell research, Dr. James Thomson (U.S.) and Dr. Shinya Yamanaka (Japan), independently reached the conclusion in 2006 that it was preferable to re-direct research to development of induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSC).

    Reason 6: Follow the Money, not the Profiteering Scientists
    Geron (GERN) stock: $75 in 2000, $1.95 in 2008 until Wall Street, seeing Obama about to win, started its own profiteering, ripping off investors to the tune of $43,000,000. See “Geron Marches On” in RSCI’s March 5 2009 Special Newsletter:

  • theantiyale

    *” Let’s not kid ourselves, then: Human embryos are being destroyed precisely because the foreseen research necessitates and incentivizes such destruction.”*

    Valid hypothesis, Mr. Paquin. Where is the evidence?

    As to “Choosing Life”:

    [link text][1]

    “ . . . Paul Ramsey’s euthanasia argument regarding a person’s unique process of dying, if inverted, becomes a satisfactory way of dismissing abortion advocates. Thus,the very respect (as Christians) that should prevent us from ‘wrestling with the Almighty, with no holds barred, for the [wanted or unwanted] dying man’ (Ramsey, Paul. *The Patient as Person*, p.131) should also prevent us from wrestling with the Almighty, with no holds barred, for the [unwanted] generating man.

    To suggest that a man’s unique process of coming to death (degeneration) is any more sacred than his[/her] unique process of coming to life (generation) is illogical.

    If you accept the *tabula rasa* theory of human existence, the act of sacralizing the process of degeneration but not the process of generation, places value in the consciousness’ history-of-sensations (the ‘marks’ on the *tabula rasa*) not in the process itself. It is Hitler’s BEING or Charles Manson’s BEING that is sacred to religious thinkers, not their ‘personality’ “.

    Paul D. Keane M. Div. ’80, M.A., M.Ed.

    [1]: “Sex and Abortion, 1976 Yale paper, PK”

  • Bryce

    Well done, Mr. Paquin.