Thursday, November 18, 2010

The limits of pragmatic arguments in the stem cell debate

Pro-lifers argue that we should not conduct biomedical research that requires the killing of human embryos (human beings at the earliest stage of their development), but rather should focus on research that is ethical and life-affirming. It is increasingly clear -- as Chuck Colson explained recently -- that every scientific objection to our position has been answered.

Advocates said that embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) was more therapeutically promising than its alternatives, but only ethical adult stem cell research has produced treatments for patients. Advocates said that only ESCR could provide us with pluripotent stem cells, but then scientists developed induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which have all the same potential benefits but are more efficient to use. Now scientists have gone further and -- still without using embryos -- converted skin cells directly into blood cells, bypassing the pluripotent stage and the difficulties it has always posed (for embryonic stem cells).

But as Colson points out, "[ESCR] scientists' first impulse is to say they still need life-killing embryonic stem cell research. ... Why?"
Could it be that this argument isn't ultimately about science, which involves carefully looking at the evidence? The evidence is clear, and is becoming ever more clear by the day. It's really about worldview, and the ... worldview so prevalent among scientists today says that human beings are simply clumps of raw material to be exploited for the greater good. ...

That's why we will never win this argument simply offering pragmatic responses. Such arguments have their place, of course, but we have to help people see the moral implications of their worldview.

And that means showing them why killing innocent human life is always wrong, whatever the latest scientific breakthrough says.
ESCR could cease altogether on pragmatic grounds (because it has become scientifically obsolete), but if our society still views early human life as mere raw material we may use as we wish, then we've still got a problem.

The moral argument will always have to be made in order for the rights of every human being to be safe and secure.