Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Tue Mar 10 2009 - 16:15:47 EDT

& mine below them.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: David Opderbeck
  To: George Murphy
  Cc: John Burgeson (ASA member) ; David Campbell ;
  Sent: Tuesday, March 10, 2009 1:34 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

  Responses below.

  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 12:58 PM, George Murphy <> wrote:

    1) Why should a "precautionary principle" invoke precautions against the possibility that a human person is being destroyed & not be concerned with precautions against the possibility that people will continue to suffer from illnesses & injuries that might be healed as a result of ESCR?

  I never said that shouldn't also be a concern. As with the precautionary principle in environmental ethics, the question is whether there is some probability, even if small, that an action taken will have effects significantly more deleterious than the harm the action is seeking to prevent. Just about everyone will agree that it is immoral to conduct medical research on human subjects involving the subject's certain death, even with informed consent; and just about everyone will agree that it is immoral to conduct medical research involving any significant risk of death on infants, regardless of the parent's informed consent.
  No, you didn't say the possibility of failing to heal injuries &c shouldn't be a concern but you invoked the precautionary principle because of the possibility of harming a human person & said nothing about the other possibility.

  If the moral status of a human embryo is uncertain, there is some probability that embryonic stem cell research will result in the great harm of taking human lives for research purposes. Under the precautionary principle, proponents of the research would have to show a near certainty that the proposed research would succeed in producing an even more substantially beneficial result -- something that cannot under any estimation presently be shown.

  I.e., you've arranged it so that one would have show certainty (how near is near?) of tremendous benefit to outweigh any possibility, no matter how small, of damage.

  & significantly you leave out my point #3 - i.e., you seem unwilling to engage in the kind of examination of your assumptions about the status of the embryo that I suggested.
    2) Of course an embryo is a potential person. A seperated ovum & sperm is also a potential person. The stirring of desire in a husband & wife is a potential person. How far do we take this?

  No, a separated ovum and sperm is not a potential person. The potentiality for personhood only exists when a zygote is formed. Neither an ovum nor a sperm can individually mature into a person. There is a morally significant, qualitative difference between a zygote and an individual ovum or individual sperm.
  I said "a separated ovum & - not or - sperm." I.e., the 2 must be considered together but be physically separated. Perhaps I should have been more explicit about that.

  Now David said previously, "I personally find destructive human embryonic stem cell research morally horrifying, particularly when cell lines are harvested from embryos cast off by the IVF industry." This seems strange to me, suggesting as it does that research on embryos produced for IVF is worse than that on embryos produced solely to be destroyed for research. It makes sense only if "the IVF industry" is immoral, which may well be what David means.

  The problem here, as I see it, is that this research reinforces an industry that is essentially unregulated and, in my judgment, highly morally problematic.
  Why do you think it problematic? I have expressed concerns about the popularity of IVF & other fertility technologies myself but there are good and bad reasons for having reservations about them.

    But let's reflect on that a bit. One of the criticisms of IVF - & at the same time the reason why it can supply ESCR, is that "spare" embryos that will not be allowed to develop fully, are always produced in the procedure. But the same thing in fact happens when babies are conceived in the old fashioned way. We know now that a high percentage of conceptions are spontaneously aborted very early in pregnancy. (I've seen estimates of something like 80% but someone more knowledgeable may have a better number.) So traditional conception & IVF are not wholly different in this regard.

  I don't agree. Natural miscarriages result in the context of an intent to carry the baby to term. (Let's set aside for the moment the question of unplanned pregnancies, which gets into additional issues about the ends of sexuality, marriage, and the family). With IVF, the intent at the outset is to produce embryos that will have to be destroyed. Intent is critical to moral and ethical assessment of the conduct.
  Couples who are knowledgeable about early embryological development & go ahead & have intercourse because they want a child are doing that with the full knowledge that their actions are very likely to result in spontaneous abortions. Of course one can appeal to a principle of double effect here & say that it was not their intent to have those abortions but the same can be done with IVF. The difference is not so much in intent as in being explicit about what is going to happen. Of course there's some difference but it's one of degree, not a qualitative distinction.


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Received on Tue Mar 10 16:18:16 2009

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