Here I’m going to give the best argument for embryonic stem cell research that I can think of. Keep in mind that stem cell research is something the Catholic Church, and all persons of goodwill, endorse and promote – it is only ‘embryonic’ stem cell research which is opposed precisely because the embryo is destroyed, and thus a human person is killed. Perhaps we could say that human person has been sacrificed in the name of science and medical progress. However, one would then be liable to confuse the case at hand with the classical moral question “can we kill Peter to save Paul” which would be deeply misleading. To date there are absolutely no medical advances which have come about by embryonic stem cell research – it doesn’t even show promise. All of the advances have been in adult stem cell research. The question has thus become “can we kill Peter to see what will happen?” Yet, the United States government, for one, has seen fit to fund, and make a public ordeal about funding, embryonic stem cell research. Given that there is no good medical argument for the preference of embryonic stem cell research, what good arguments could there be. In what follows I present a moral argument for embryonic stem cell research, and I will then argue two things: first, that we should be morally outraged at embryonic stem cell research, and second that it is the far removed progeny of nominalism.
- Any promotion of such things as abortion will greatly increase the quality of life overall of all in our society.
- Embryonic stem cell research tacitly promotes a disregard for the kind of human life which abortion also targets; thus embryonic stem cell research helps to promote abortion.
- Increasing the quality of life overall in our society is a morally good thing
- Embryonic stem cell research is a morally good thing
If this is the best argument for embryonic stem cell research, then we really should be morally outraged at the United States government under Obama – along with all of the doctors and scientists who have gone along with, or promoted, or participated in, embryonic stem cell research. This seems evident to me precisely because abortion is the killing of an innocent human person who really does intrinsically have a legal right to life. For somebody to argue to the contrary, they must entertain a very odd, and probably incoherent concept of a human person. Instead of believing that human personhood is defined by ending in simples (that is, some immaterial atom), that person must be willing to entertain some kind of ‘bundle’-theory. However, if a person says that personhood is defined by physical composition, then we can point out that there is not a single cell in their body which belonged to them a decade ago, and yet the person they identify as themselves existed a decade ago (for conversations with people over the age of 10). If people, alternatively, locate the root of personhood in the amalgam of memories and temperaments which characterize them, then what of the person who has amnesia – when Susie has amnesia, is she Susie anymore? Yes, she is – the whole medical diagnosis is predicated on the idea that she is Susie, since if she isn’t, then nothing is ‘wrong’ with her; Susie is just dead. If people say instead that we have a right to kill human beings so long as they feel no pain, and it doesn’t contribute to the overall pain to pleasure ratio (and perhaps that it must also contribute to the overall pleasure to pain ratio) then what of cannibals killing a homeless person who has no significant attachment to another human person (will not be missed) in that homeless man’s sleep? Thinking through these kinds of questions makes it clear that we all naturally entertain the belief that, upon analysis, human personhood must end in simples to satisfy our moral intuitions apprehended in our moral experience.
These thought experiments, however, do something very useful; they show us that in order to justify the logic of abortion, one must deny that human personhood is defined according to the soul (and immaterial simple atomic substance). This is the intellectual progeny of Nominalism – mereological nihilism is just an extreme form of Nominalism. To see this, we can ask ourselves the following question: “can the mereological nihilist believe in human persons if she can’t believe in chairs, dogs or planets?” Indeed, can the die-hard Nominalist believe in human persons? I am tempted to agree with the Nominalist when and where she says that inanimate objects do not themselves have ‘substances’ even though we can speak of them as ‘subjects’ related to predicates (because there is no substantial form, and thus no substance). However, it is quite another matter to say that there are no substances – even in the composition of property-things like ‘mountains’ there must be substances – even composite objects must end in simples. Nominalism, coming from William of Occam, is itself a morally unhealthy philosophical perspective – quite apart from its incoherence when pressed and analyzed. I think that it is Nominalism, in one form or another, which lies behind the ideology justifying embryonic stem cell research, and the abortion enterprise. Once one abandons the natural belief in substances (‘things’), one naturally naively accepts that there are not human persons in the classical sense, and this paves the way for new definitions, and new atrocities.