Monday, August 30, 2010

Is it Wrong to Kill One Person on the Chance that Someone Else Might Benefit?

"Stem cell research" has been in the news quite a bit lately. And, being discussed online. A familiar line is that caring, noble scientists are being thwarted by uncaring, ignorant religious people.

There's actually something to that claim.

What's the Big Deal With "Embryonic" Stem Cells?

Medical researchers have a fairly good reason for wanting to kill babies and chop them up. "Embryonic" cells are easier to grow than those found in adults - according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And they're pluripotent - able to grow into any sort of tissue.

Quite convenient, both ways.

According to the National Institutes of Health:
"...Human embryonic and adult stem cells each have advantages and disadvantages regarding potential use for cell-based regenerative therapies. One major difference between adult and embryonic stem cells is their different abilities in the number and type of differentiated cell types they can become. Embryonic stem cells can become all cell types of the body because they are pluripotent. Adult stem cells are thought to be limited to differentiating into different cell types of their tissue of origin...."
("Stem Cell Basics," Stem Cell Information, National Institutes of Health)
Here's the last sentence in that paragraph, with emphasis:
"...Adult stem cells are thought to be limited to differentiating into different cell types of their tissue of origin...."
("Stem Cell Basics," Stem Cell Information, National Institutes of Health)
Rephrased, with somewhat less lofty terms: 'it's easier to grow stem cells we've taken from murdered babies: and besides, we think adult stem cells probably wouldn't be quite as useful.'

Sounds disgusting, when I put it that way. Particularly the "we think" part.

But quite a few folks in America are convinced that it's cruel and heartless and uncaring to not chop up babies - on the off chance that someone who's older and better-looking than the victims of this research might, maybe, benefit.

(Adapted from foonote 1, (August 23, 2010))

Isn't It Okay to Kill Somebody, if Somebody Else Will Benefit?

I've discussed the ethics of experimenting on human beings, from a more secular point of view, in another blog:

"A Lesson from Nürnberg: Get Informed Consent Before Experimenting on People

"The so-called Nürnberg Code was supposed to give physicians guidelines about how to use people as guinea pigs. It didn't work quite as well as might have been hoped.

"After the code was set up, America saw a number of more-or-less well-publicized lapses:
  • "Tuskegee syphilis experiment (1932-1972)
    Black men in in Macon County, Alabama, who had syphilis weren't treated
  • "Harold Blauer (1952)
    Mr. Blauer went to the New York State Psychiatric Institute for treatment of depression, was dosed with mescaline derivatives supplied by the U.S. Army Chemical Corps: then he killed himself
  • "High oxygen to premature infants (1953)
    Premature babies were exposed to high levels of oxygen: the doctor knew that it would probably cause blindness, and noticed their eyes swelling, but kept up the treatment anyway
  • "Injections of cancer cells (1963)
    Doctors wanted to know if cancer cells would thrive as well in patients who were debilitated by something other than cancer, as they did in debilitated cancer patients, so they injected cancer cells into patients who didn't have cancer - without telling them.
    • "Ironically, this non-consensual research was done at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital. And: "Two years later, the American Cancer Society elected the principal investigator to be their Vice-President."
  • "Hepatitis in retarded children (1964+)
    The Willowbrook State Hospital in New York injected severely retarded children with hepatitis virus: as 'a vaccine against hepatitis.' True enough, survivors of the disease had an immunity.
  • "Cincinnati radiation experiments (1960-72)
    Blacks, again, and this time exposed to high radiation. For the U.S. military.

    "Without their consent.
    "Source: "Nonconsensual Medical Experiments on Human Beings" (copyright 1997 by Ronald B. Standler)

"What's Going on Here?

"Although half of the cases that Mr. Standler mentioned involved the American military, half didn't. I don't see these excesses of experimental enthusiasm from the fifties and sixties - or the current scandal at the VA - so much as a military problem, as a medical one...."
(Another War-on-Terror Blog (June 17, 2008))
As the survivor of a medical experiment, I can't say that I'm 'unbiased' about using human beings as laboratory animals. I've written about that before:
All of those cases I cited in the other blog, of course, involve experiments on people - human beings. Or, rather, people who are now recognized as "people." It's not all that long ago that folks whose ancestors came from Africa, or children who weren't as bright as the 'average child,' weren't, quite, "people." Not important people, anyway.

As for soldiers? Well, as long as they're not related to a member of Congress or somebody else important - - - I like to think that's changing: but the little SNAFU with Chiantix is almost current events.

Back to chopping up babies to get their stem cells. One excuse is that 'they're going to be killed anyway, so why not use the bodies of these little unpeople.'

The matter of whether or not it's okay to use research and materials that has already been done is - a bit complicated. I've discussed that before. (October 26, 2009)

Harvesting People Who Get Killed Anyway: A Hypothetical Situation

Here's a hypothetical situation. I want to emphasize that I do not support the sort of thinking that might result in this - again, hypothetical - situation.
'Scientific Progress Thwarted'
What if someone with letters after his name said that he thought that maybe he'd find a cure for something, if he could just slice and dice the bodies of Hispanics that show up along the Mexican border?

He wouldn't kill them himself: he'd just tag along with whoever was helping them get across the border. And if some of the cargo just happened to die along the way: he would be all caring and scientific, and see if maybe something nifty could be made from the leftover parts.

Disgusting? Yes, certainly. Illegal? Probably. Immoral? I think so.

Unthinkable? Considering that lobotomies seem to be coming back into vogue, I'm afraid not. I've discussed that in another blog.

Would putting a stop to 'harvesting' Hispanic immigrants be thwarting 'medical research?' Actually, yes. But I think that sort of research would be wrong, and should be stopped.

Even if maybe something useful could be found, if it continued.

I'm such a bleeding heart that I even think it would be wrong if members of Congress were killed for their parts.

That's because I recognize that folks who try to get into America are people: and so are members of Congress.

I also think that human beings are people, no matter what age they are.

"The End Justifies the Means:" NOT

As a practicing Catholic, I'm not allowed to kill someone and take the person's wallet - even if I give half of the take to charity. Committing an evil act so that something good can be done is, simply, wrong.
" 'An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention' (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). The end does not justify the means."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1759)
A counter-argument is that the babies that get cut up for their stem cells would be killed anyway: but I don't think that hypothetical chap tagging along with the human smugglers was very nice - and I don't think that arranging to collect the pieces after babies 'just happen' to be killed is very nice, either.

Even if maybe there might be something useful found in the mess.

Related posts:


Left-Footer said...

Sorry I missed this yesterday.

Absolutely in agreement. Our right to life (including the right of the unborn) is not contingent on the perceived need of a third party for bits of us.

This would justify cannibalism: Pat Buckley's blog here reprts Chinese restaurants (in China) offering 'fetus soup'.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Thanks for the comment. After living in America for about a half-century, little surprises me - disgusts, yes; surprises, no.

Too bad.

Thanks for the good words.

The 'doing evil that good may follow' argument has been used quite a bit, since word got around about what people look like before we're born.

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