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View Diary: South Korea Makes Significant Advance in Stem Cell Research (210 comments)

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  •  why not? (none)
    What exactly makes you draw the line at zygotes?  I find that rather arbitrary.  I think we should wait until the neuroscientists figure out consciousness and then decide what constitutes a human mind and what does not.  My feeling -- and several cultures, in their practices, support this -- is that the answer will be that babies between 1 and 2 start acquiring the unity of thought that defines us as humans.  But then again, chimpanzees almost certainly possess a form of this, yet we keep them locked up in zoos.  And many animals we slaughter probably have this too (I eat them ... but I am just saying that the logic of that moral bright line is kind of ridiculous).  I am not advocating killing babies (though many cultures find infanticide perfectly acceptable), but I would only draw the line at birth because it is a convenient place and avoids any risk of killing a 'conscious' human.  In my mind, there is NO WAY that the human is 'conscious' at birth: the cortex, for one, is in such a messy state at that point that that would be unbelievable.  

    I, for one, think it is perfectly feasible that we will see the day, in many of our lifetimes, when we direct tissue growth for replacement.  Many diseases involve loss of function of specific cell classes -- diabetes, Parkinson's, etc.  Others entail loss of function of entire organ systems -- kidney or liver failure -- and patient lists are long and nasty to live on.  While the former group will probably be remediable with non-embryonic stem cells, therapies that generate entire intact organs may require accelerated formation of embryos (clones, mind you), killing most of the embryo, and raising the necessary organ in a minimal environment.  To me this is moral -- indeed, I think if this technology were available, asking someone to live their entire lives on immuno-suppresive drugs with someone else's donated liver/kidney v. having a genetically identical organ is much more morally disgusting.

    My peace.

    •  Your solution has more problems than solutions. (none)
      Not only are you encouraging infaticide (if science can figure out exactly when a person achieves whatever you decide is "consciousness"), but also the killing of mentally incompetent people.  The fact that other cultures do this is irrelavent--other cultures also find infant rape acceptable, and in fact beneficial.  Besides, what makes you think that consciousness (if you could ever hope to find a testable scientific definition of that) is the defining human characteristic?  People can temporarily lose the ability for coherent thought--does that make them temporarily non-human?  Of course it doesn't.  

      I am all for stem-cell research, but saying that the ability to have higher cognitive function is a prerequisite to human rights is going too far.

      "Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve." George Bernard Shaw

      by Shygetz on Fri May 20, 2005 at 05:14:13 AM PDT

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      •  and the alternative ... ? (none)
        I said I would draw the line at the moment of birth -- because it, in my mind, guarantees that NO fully conscious being will be killed.  I would simply add the caveat that beings that have been born and have the potential to reach full consciousness at any point (this is to exclude brain dead people, who should be allowed to die if their relatives so choose, according to my view) have 'human rights'.  

        And you are correct -- as my post clearly indicates with its reference to animals -- that non-humans probably posess consciousness.  It is quite clear that much of what we call morality is rather arbitrary.  That said, I do think it is a real moral dilemma to ask the question of whether consciousness implies rights.  Because I think it is should eventually be demonstrable that, for instance, insects, fish, etc., lack it, and that higher animals (birds, mammals ... reptiles perhaps? ... octopus?) have it.  By "consciousness" I mean the thing(s) that eventually are shown to be the components of neural processing that give rise to the ability to have coherent sense of perception as well as perceived existential temporal continuity.

        All I'm saying is, being a scientist, I like to have my morality spelled out in terms that actually make sense.  Because in my view, saying "you cannot kill humans" means no abortion, no euthanasia, and I think intuitively both make sense.  I am just trying to devise a way to rigorously define a morality which is self consistent where these are allowed, and I would hope the morality has intuitive appeal because the purpose is not to construct moral bright lines to satisfy certain conditions, but rather to construct moralities so that the emerging rules explain the reason those 'certain conditions' have such appeal in the first place.

        Sorry if I offended you.

        •  I'm not offended. (none)
          It's just that I don't think that using the presence of consciousness as you or anyone else defines it is an acceptable way to determine who gets rights and who doesn't.  As you put it, you would only draw the line at birth because you can be certain no fully consious human is killed.  However, if science develops a biophysical test for consciousness, then infaticide would become tenable by your logic.  Humans (and most creatures that nuture their young) are hard-wired to be anti-infaticide.  Therefore, your argument, when taken to its conclusion (only things that have a consiousness deserve human rights) would lead to something that is intuitively untenable to most humans.  In addition, if taken to its absurd conclusion, temporary losses of the ability to have coherent sense of perception as well as perceived existential temporal continuity would lead to a temporary loss of human rights, leading to a burgeoning industry in drunk-hunting.

          You would be better off saying that anything that is human that has reached some physical milestone of prenatal development (brain stem formation, whatever) deserves human rights.  That way, you prevent infaticide (which the VAST majority of humans find untenable) but preserve the right for an abortion early during pregnancy.  Just because it is linked to a physical developmental process and not a social construct like consciousness does not make it less valid--indeed, since it can be more easily defined, it may make it a more valid line, and it can maintain the right to elective abortion (at least until very late in the pregnancy).  For euthanasia, you don't need to redifine human rights, just expand them.  Any human has the right to assisted suicide.

          Part of the difficulty in the abortion debate is that humans are biased to value reproduction coutesy of millenia of evolution.  Any argument for abortion has to take into account that it is fighting against a truly hard-wired protective response towards children and reproducing women.  

          "Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve." George Bernard Shaw

          by Shygetz on Fri May 20, 2005 at 08:12:16 AM PDT

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          •  true ... (none)
            I guess I am just trying to grapple with this issue -- I think it is very important and your comments are well appreciated -- that is, what is the essence of human-ness.  Specifically, what of that essence do we wish to defend and protect.

            There was actually an interesting study done where they looked at grieving for various ages -- it turns out that when children of an extremely young age die, there is little grieving.  When children well into reproductive age die, there is also somewhat less grieving.  But children that are several years old (if I recall over 4 or 5) upto adolescence elicit the most griving when they die, across societies.  So I don't know if infanticide really is so horrific to so many -- some African culture (I want to say the !Kung) will kill a baby immediately if it is malformed, etc., and this practice is relatively common (if we look at the % of cultures that practice it, as opposed to the % of people, since a culture most people are concentrated in a few cultures).  

            Your thought process raises an interesting point though -- do we define morality based on what our evolutionary psychology has constrained us to define morality as?  Surely, this is the wellspring from which modern morality originates.  But is this the right way to define morality (i.e., on the basis of natural "psychological" responses to situations)?  Or is there really a way we can have a "positivist"/scientific morality with well codified principles, often in agreement with this instinctive morality, but sometimes, when the instinctive morality gives rise to contradictions, using other guidelines?

            •  Scientific ethics? (none)
              I don't think it's possible.  Ethics often requires people to place value on unmeasureable things.  In order to have an empirical ethics system, one would have to get everybody to agree to a "value" for everything (i.e. any human life is more important than any non-human life; any human property is more valuable than any non-human life, but less valuable than any human life, etc.) to serve as your founding postulates.  After that, you could pretty easily come up with an ethical system that satisfies formal logic.  The disagreements seem to occur most often in how we assign value to things (e.g. some people believe that a fetus has equal value to a human life, and more value than a woman's right to privacy; some do not).  Without agreeing on the initial postulate (value system), I think the best we can hope for is an internally consistent ethical system that agrees with our inborn values as much as possible.  And I think that we do have ethics that go against our evolutionary heritage (for example, male monogamy); there has to be a compelling reason to go against biology, however, or else our inborn prejudices will tend to win out.

              On another note, it's been a long time since my last anthropology class, but I seem to remember that infaticide and forced euthanasia was pretty much exclusively confined to societies with highly limited resources.  This phenomenon is also seen in non-human animals; however, no one can say that we currently live in anything approaching that kind of "highly limited resource" situation.

              "Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve." George Bernard Shaw

              by Shygetz on Sat May 21, 2005 at 07:14:15 PM PDT

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