Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Tue Mar 10 2009 - 11:01:38 EDT

I don't think the ethical issue is quite so simple, Burgy. For example, if
one is agnostic on the personhood of a human embryo, as you and probably
most other people are, or if even those who say "no" here have to admit some
uncertainty, then the precautionary principle comes into play. Curiously,
the same people who strongly assert the precautionary principle as a
backstop for global warming mitigation often completely blow it off when it
comes to embryonic stem cell research (and vice versa!).

Also, the options aren't just the polar "person vs. non-person." Many
opponents of human embryonic stem cell research argue from "potentiality."
If embryos are not "persons" in a full sense -- e.g., if personhood relates
to existing cognitive functions -- they are at least "potential persons."
In such a case, one mode of ethical analysis might be to weigh the
potentiality of an embryo's personhood against the potentiality of the
research program. The result of such an analysis is not by any means

Finally, all of the above assumes that a consequentialist ethic is
necessarily the right and only appropriate kind of ethical analysis to
employ in this case. Why? Many ethicists would argue that
consequentialism ends up being incoherent, and therefore favor deontological
and/or virtue perspectives -- a position with which I'm quite sympathetic.

David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Director, Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology

On Tue, Mar 10, 2009 at 10:47 AM, John Burgeson (ASA member) <> wrote:

> Doug posted, in part: "public policy should be based on scientific
> facts not ideology.
> I think this is an awful statement. It's a false dichotomy.
> Scientific "facts" don't make public policy; they form a necessary
> informational base, but every action based on that knowledge also
> requires a moral/ethical/ideological decision."
> I don't see it as "awful," but a simple factual statement. If one
> takes it to mean "based ONLY on scientific facts," then, of course,
> I'd agree that it is "awful." I'd probably use a stronger term.But it
> does not say that.
> Relative to the stem cell issue, it really boils down to the question
> "does a frozen embryo have personhood -- a soul?" For those asserting
> "yes," the issue is clear; stem cell research is immoral. For those
> who assert otherwise, stem cell research in morally OK.
> Having read a lot on this, I tend toward the latter position, but I do
> NOT claim certainty. I don't know that any of us can claim certainty
> on the issue.
> It is a classic case that whichever side of the issue you choose, you
> run the risk of doing harm (or not avoiding harm).
> jb
> On 3/10/09, David Campbell <> wrote:
> > Yes, in the case of embryonic stem cells there is little disagreement
> > about the science, and the self-identified "scientific" policy is
> > merely one ideology among many.
> >
> > In other cases, such as environmental or evolution, there is denial of
> > the science that could be described as disagreement about the science.
> > Nevertheless, even in such cases, science is still descriptive.
> > Science cannot be morally prescriptive, as that is outside its scope.
> >
> >
> > --
> > Dr. David Campbell
> > 425 Scientific Collections
> > University of Alabama
> > "I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
> >
> > To unsubscribe, send a message to with
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> --
> Burgy
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Received on Tue Mar 10 11:02:09 2009

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