Views on Stem-Cell Research

            (1) In Michael Sandel’s article “Embryo Ethics—The Moral Logic of Stem-Cell Research”, Sandel supports the idea that a blastocyst-stage embryo is not one of us, and by that he means that the embryo does not possess the basic human rights that we do. To support his point, Sandel draws on an analogy. Sandel suggests that a blastocyst-stage embryo is no more a human with rights as an acorn is an oak tree. Many oppose the use of stem-cell research using the reasoning that every human was once an embryo, thus embryos are the beginning of personhood. Though it may be true that all humans were once embryos, it does not follow that embryos are human. Analogous to this, though every oak tree was once an acorn, acorns are not oak trees.

            In Robert P. George and Patrick Lee’s article, “Acorns and Embryos”, they counter Sandel’s argument and analogy by poking holes in it. George and Lee believe that Sandel left out an important part in his analogy, the development process of childhood and the teenage years, which George and Lee believe would be analogous to an oak sapling. George and Lee argue that the loss of a sapling would have the same sense of loss as an acorn. Saplings are often killed in order for others to flourish, and by the analogy, the two writers believe Sandel suggests that killing children or teens to allow others to benefit would be justified. George and Lee also believe that Sandel’s analogy suggests that society would value the beautiful, majestic person over an old, ugly one, as they would an oak.

            George and Lee take Sandel’s analogy a bit far, however. They seem to be taking his analogy extremely seriously merely for the fact of their disagreement. No stable-minded person would agree with Sandel if he were to suggest that killing children were justified, even if it benefits others. George and Lee again take the analogy too far by suggesting Sandel regards beautiful, young people as better than old or ugly people. Sandel does not mean for his analogy to be taken so seriously, he does not even harp on it for too long in his article. He merely wants to point out that though humans develop from embryos, it is not transitive that embryos are humans, just as it is not transitive that acorns are oak trees.

            (2) Sandel argues that if opponents of stem cell research truly believe that very early embryos are persons with basic human rights, they should not only attempt to take away federal funding, but also make it completely illegal. Though George W. Bush did prohibit federal funding for research on embryonic stem-cells, he did not seek to ban such research or prohibit scientists from participating in it. Sandel questions why, if people who hold such views truly stand behind what they say, do they not seek to illegalize embryonic stem-cell research?  In addition, Sandel proposes the idea that the loss of an embryo is much different than the loss of a person. He believes people do not mourn the loss of embryos or fetuses as they do that of a developed human, or even a baby. He points out that there is a great number of embryos lost merely in natural fertilization, up to fifty percent, and believes that people treat this loss of embryos much differently than the loss of embryos through stem-cell research, though they are physically the same thing. Sandel puts forward that perhaps those who hold the opposing view to his do not feel as strongly as they suggest.

            George and Lee greatly disagree with Sandel’s approach in this argument. In regard to Sandel’s idea that those who oppose stem-cell research do not care enough to attempt to get it completely forbidden in the U.S., George and Lee simply answer that they do care. They do wish to someday have embryonic stem-cell research completely prohibited, however, believe that the prohibition of the use of federal funds to support it is good enough for now.

            Considering Sandel’s second approach, George and Lee argue that there are many reasons as to why people do not mourn the loss of embryos as they do developed humans or babies. First of all they state that in many cases what is lost is not actually a human embryo, and is truly just a not fully fertilized egg. They go on to explain that miscarriages or loss of embryos are not mourned in the way humans are because there was no time to bond emotionally with the human. George and Lee believe that “someone’s status as a human being possessing dignity and intrinsic worth in no way depends on whether anyone would grieve for him or her after death” (George and Lee 713). Thus, George and Lee still hold the belief that embryos are humans.

            (3) George and Lee believe that to be a person, or human, one must have a rational nature, not merely sentient as Sandel argues. They believe personhood is not an accidental characteristic, because this suggests it is something a person could lose. Rather, George and Lee support the idea that all humans are rational in nature, thus qualifying as persons even as embryos.

            The two believe that for a single cell to have the basic moral status that adults, or even newborns have, it must be a fertilized egg. They do not believe an egg or sperm to have this status because to them, “to be a complete human organism, a human being, the entity must have the epigenetic primordial for a functioning brain and nervous system” (George and Lee 713). However, they argue that the loss of many unsuccessful pregnancies do not qualify as the lack of a person because many are due to incomplete or defective fertilizations, and do not meet their criteria of a human.

            (4) Though George and Lee seem to have their facts straight, their argument is rather opinionated and flawed. There are two major ways of countering their claim that a blastocyst is “someone” with basic human rights. Firstly, these two suggest that a blastocyst is rational in nature. This claim is rather ridiculous, as a blastocyst is merely a group of cells. To suggest that a group of cells possess a rational nature and the moral status a human does is ludicrous.

            A second argument could be made that the status of a persons rights truly does depend on accidental characteristics. Certainly a person in a coma would not be able to make rational decisions, nor would a senile elderly person. Though, yes, they are rational beings in nature, it is difficult to argue that a senile elderly person or someone in a coma is not going to be treated differently than a healthy adult. Even children are treated differently, and it is due to their accidental characteristics. George and Lee believe personhood does not depend on accidental characteristics, but it really does. Babies, children, teens, and adults all have different given rights, and these rights are based on their accidental features. George and Lee’s argument for personhood as an embryo is greatly flawed, and very opinionated.


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