Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Tue Mar 17 2009 - 12:56:18 EDT

David -

The "certain level of ...mental function" that I (& others) have suggested is anything above zero. I.e., I would be happy to say that once the brain, or any neural structure, begins to form, the embryo should be considered a person. It seems to me that with this criterion there is no question about the personhood of those with Alzheimers, the comatose, &c. Part of the rationale for this is the parallel with the criterion of brain death at the end of life - which means whole brain death, not coma, vegetative state, &c.

Having said that, I'm sympathetic with the 3 concerns you note at the end of your post.


----- Original Message -----
From: "David Campbell" <>
To: <>
Sent: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 12:12 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

> Scientific data don't really help unless there is first some sort of
> agreement on a definition of personhood that includes some
> scientifically measureable parameter. Having a certain level of
> intelligence, mental function, etc. is far from satisfactory-how do
> you test it equitably for everyone? what about those unable to
> respond clearly (too young/some sort of mental or physical
> incapacitation/asleep/thoroughly foreign culture)? etc.
> Although there is a degree of process involved in conception itself,
> it is the only point at which a firm division can be made between
> something that can eventually become an adult human and something that
> cannot. Certainly it would be hard for the secular advocates of
> unlimited abortion to claim that a miracle occurs somewhere around
> birth to transform an embryo into a human.
> Paleontology does raise a number of interesting speculations regarding
> Neandertals, etc., but the question of their spiritual status is
> purely academic and not a matter of practical ethics.
> Utilitarian arguments run into trouble quickly-would it not be a
> medical benefit to distribute a utilitarian's organs among multiple
> needy recipients, akin to Monty Python's suggestion? ("We've come for
> your liver.") Similar scenarios are quite easy for the "We must allow
> any sort of scientific experiment to take place" line. Yet the
> popular and scientific literature is overwhelmingly dominated by the
> claim that embryonic stem cell research is justified by the potential
> medical benefits (exaggerated) and the potential for scientific
> discovery. No doubt there is potential for medical benefits, though
> (1) there is no evident reason why embryonic stem cells would be more
> beneficial than other types now available, (2) the ability for
> unlimited growth into several types of tissue is also a property of
> many cancer cells, which should make for caution in using them-there
> may be reasons why the body is not already using existing stem cells
> in these ways, (3) advocates of embryonic stem cell research make it
> sound like a guarenteed panacea.
> --
> Dr. David Campbell
> 425 Scientific Collections
> University of Alabama
> "I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Tue Mar 17 12:57:01 2009

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