Monday, March 9, 2009

President Obama Confuses Politics with Ethics

Editorial Comment

By: Dr. J. P. Hubert

In his White House announcement and executive order today reversing the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) the President left the door open to possible federal funding of human cloning for biomedical research (CBR) while indicating that cloning to produce children (CPC also termed reproductive cloning) will remain unfunded and given the largely negative public reaction to the very idea--one presumes illegal.

Human Cloning Not Controllable:

President Obama speaks as though human reproductive cloning and cloning for biomedical research are completely different. However, the first step in human cloning (the creation of a blastocyst) is the same in either case. As a result, there is no practical way to prevent human reproductive cloning once widespread federally funded human cloning for biomedical research is underway despite President Obama’s claims to the contrary (policing the process of blastocyst creation would be virtually impossible).

Human Cloning for Biomedical Research is Legal Now:

At present, it is legal in the United States to create cloned human embryos for biomedical research. Moreover, there is at least one private company (Advanced Cell Technology, [ACT]) currently engaged in that endeavor albeit privately funded for-profit.

Utilitarian Calculus vs: Traditional Moral Analysis:

From a traditional moral perspective, human cloning for any purpose is immoral as is any kind of embryonic stem cell research (human embryo’s must be killed in order to obtain the ESC’s--given current technology). Should it ever be possible to do so without killing the embryos—it would be morally licit to remove their stem cells only if any potential benefit accrued to the embryo in question (the embryo from which the cells were taken) exceeded the risk. It would remain morally illicit to utilize them for other persons and or purposes.

Those who embrace Utilitarianism like President Obama and the other advocates of ESCR and cloning for biomedical research (CBR) find nothing inherently wrong with killing human embryos and therefore deem it completely acceptable (in fact extremely useful) to do so as a “means” to the end of promoting ESCR. Presumably they do so believing (incorrectly) that human embryos are not actually but only “potentially” human beings or because they believe that since embryos do not resemble post-natal human beings—they are not--inherently valuable/to be protected as are other human beings. The former represents an error in analysis of the relevant and undisputed biological data, the latter an error in (illogical) intellection (size, shape, etc are irrelevant to the issue as can be seen in the case of triple amputees and other seriously physically disabled persons).

Most advocates of ESCR and CBR are unwilling to engage in a discussion of either the biologically or philosophically relevant issues—presumably because they are aware that their position on these matters will fail to pass intellectual muster. Nevertheless many advocates who recognize this reality (one assumes that some have the requisite analytical ability) continue to advocate for ESCR and CBR. This would appear to represent a Utilitarian calculus in which for them, the “means” employed are simply not relevant to the “end” desired even if the “means” in question are clearly morally illicit (it is never morally licit to intentionally kill an innocent human being) by traditional moral standards. That however is the nature of Utilitarianism as a “philosophy” of right and wrong. It does not recognize the object rationally chosen, “means” or proximate end, only the effect desired. Given that a legitimate moral philosophy must come to grips with an honest analysis of "means" vs: "ends", Utilitarianism is not really a moral philosophy at all in the traditional sense. Rather it is a political philosophy in which a tyranny of the majority can be foisted on the minority. In Utilitarianism the “principle of utility” is purposely allowed to circumvent all other concerns. While it has been around for over a century, only recently has it become the clear reigning ethical (immoral) philosophy in the United States and much of the developed West.

False Arguments:

In listening to ESCR advocates and commentators who opined after the post-executive order signing ceremony--several vacuous arguments were advanced. One completely absurd example was proffered today by Congresswoman Diane DeGette of Colorado (who by the way refused to answer the question of whether human embryos should be considered actual or potential life), is that since the embryonic stem cells which are derived by killing embryos might someday be helpful in preventing or treating dreaded diseases, it is really "pro-life" to kill them for this purpose. From the perspective of the embryonic human being who is killed, nothing could be further from the truth not to mention that there is no evidence in humans whatsoever, that ESCR will ever produce a clinically relevant treatment for disease. Moreover, results in animal models have at best been inconclusive and fraught with untoward side-effects .

Integrity not Politics in Science:

President Obama is correct to insist that integrity in scientific research is paramount and that the results of same not be adulterated or otherwise “spun” in order to advance certain political goals. However, his administration’s claims about ESCR represent an unfortunate example of that very problem. The hype with which today’s announcement and executive order were made regarding the purported efficacy of ESCR was excessive in light of the actual data available. Moreover, the extremely important results which have been obtained with Adult Stem Cell Research (ASCR) to date were completely ignored. This appears to have been a carefully calibrated political calculation.

Traditional Morality Removed from Scientific Research/Utilitarian Calculus:

The President reasons that it is high time to remove politics from science while engaging in that very practice himself. More to the point, what he really advocates is the removal of all traditional moral precepts (as found in the Aristotelian/Thomistic synthesis also know as the golden-rule ethic or the equality of life ethic) from the practice of scientific research; replacing it with a Utilitarian calculus where expediency is allowed to trump all other considerations. In so doing he would effectively eliminate the possibility that desperately needed moral clarification will take place--despite claiming that his administration will be extremely careful to proceed in an ethical (read Utilitarian) manner. The point--one fears--is being missed by the vast majority of Americans who are unaware that Utilitarianism has replaced traditional morality as the reigning ethical (immoral/amoral) construct in the US. It is becoming more and more common-place to find examples of "exigent circumstances" (through the application of a Utilitarian ethic) whereby innocent human beings are being legally killed in the United States (particularly at both extremes of life). The President's executive order and request for Congress to pass legislation compatible with it represent a further descent down the slippery slope which began over 30 years ago in the United States. Whether we like it or not, as Americans, we're all Utilitarians now!