Finding Common Ground: Resolving the Controversy that Surrounds Stem Cell Research
The extensive debate over ethics of stem cell research provides a number of differing points of views. Most of these take potently opposing sides in either justifying or rejecting stem cell research thereby enhancing the dilemma faced by the common man in understanding the issue. The politics of human stem cell research has also added to the impasse with protagonists and opponents using time worn cliches and tactics to sustain their arguments.
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Lebacqz and Young supplement this debate by providing somewhat parallel yet opposing perspectives.
While Lebacqz justifies stem cell research based on the concept of respect which is due to an entity be it living or non living, Young seeks to view the same from an ethical rather than a moral perspective. Thus authors Karen Lebacqz and Ernle Young contemplate the wide gap between acceptance and objection to human stem cell research. Lebacqz believes that it is possible to respect embryos and embryonic tissue by adopting an atypical approach. This can come about by treating a tissue as an entity with value.
Lebacqz states, “I speak of respecting embryos and embryonic tissue, because the creation of embryonic stem cells involves use of an early embryo (blastocyst) from which particular tissue (inner cell mass) is derived and manipulated. ” Lebacqz defines respect by alluding to the definition provided by Downie and Telfer in, Respect for Persons. Respect for Persons provides an ends based rather than a means based view of deference. Respect is thus an end in itself rather than a means to gain advantage for the person offering veneration. Lebacqz also adds, “Having respect involves ways of thinking and feeling as well as ways of acting. In order to sufficiently respect another person, you must exercise empathy. It is important not to inflict anything on that individual that you would not be willing to accept for yourself. However, Lebacqz admits that there are some differences between a fully developed human and an embryo. For instance, embryos lack self-determination and rational will. Thus applying similar norms to an embryo as that applied to a fully developed human is contentious and sparks many passionate debates. To overcome this deficiency, Lebacqz provides other methods of offering respect than those that could be applicable to embryos.
These include the type of value offered to non-persons, sentient beings, plants, and ecosystems. In her essay, Lebacqz thus illustrates how the definition of respect is mutable as it relates to various things and concepts. Lebacqz thus provides a three pointed approach to justify stem cell research to include respect, empathy and valuing it as being part of the overall ecosystem. Ernle Young on the other hand argues that difference in perspective arises because of differential between ethical and moral arguments on stem cells.
According to Young morality is, “An attempt of individuals, or of groups, to live out in daily attitudes and actions their visions of the highest good. ” Morality is commonly associated with religious tradition. In contrast ethics “employs a common public language in justifying assertions about prescribed or proscribed attitudes and actions. ” Ethics adopts a more universal and secular academic approach or legislation while morality is exclusivist thereby narrowing opinions to traditional positions. Young believes that the gap between morality and ethics is the main cause of debate in society over stem cell research.
In her essay, Young refers to the need to respect an individual’s moral view in accepting the argument on stem cells research. It is important to respect morals and opinions of people of different religious backgrounds. In order to do this, it is imperative to find a common language between groups which can be achieved by replacing moral reasoning by ethical thinking. Therefore Young suggests a secular rather than a pious attitude in viewing stem cell research thereby broadening the argument to a more congruent and contemporary universalistic approach.
Rights of non persons are a common thread in the writings of Lebacqz and Young. By attempting to explain these privileges both writers bring more focus to the argument even though their views are diametrically opposite. Lebacqz uses animal rights as an example. Lebacqz explains, “If respect is restricted to rights (along the model of respect for autonomous persons), the difficulty becomes specifying what constitute appropriate animal rights. However, it is not necessary to use rights language to see animals as deserving of respect. In contrast, Young feels that this sentiment can be taken too far. Specifically, Young criticizes Schweitzer’s philosophy regarding all living things. According to Schweitzer, every living organism has full and equal moral status. Young explains that this “makes brushing one’s teeth as problematic as killing flies, cockroaches, and mice, or even members of our own species. ” Young believes the flaw in this line of reasoning is in the assumption that all living things have a will to live.
Then there is the issue of more abstract concepts and their relationship to respect. Lebacqz and Young both mention human consideration for ecosystems. They both establish that sentience alone is not a criterion for deserving respect. Once again, Lebacqz mentions the concept of value in regard to ecosystems. Lebacqz explains, “First there is the independent value of creature and the ecosystem itself. ” Therefore, the struggle seems to be finding a value system that acknowledges the individual commodity of stem cells, while respecting their importance in the web of life.
While both authors make strong points, the overall argument may appear unconvincing to many. According to both Lebacqz and Young the goal is to find a method that allows the existence of stem cell research for the betterment of humans, while finding a common moral ground that respects individual beliefs. The essence of the argument on stem cell research thus lies in placing it in perspective with reference to benefit to humans as well as the overall organic eco system.
Once this is established as a truism, fostering the idea should be possible by taking a combination of the ethical argument suggested by Young and empathy and respect towards non persons indicated by Lebacqz. Given that stem cell research is an evolving scientific phenomenon which has yet to acquire critical mass; it is believed that once sufficient evidence of its relevance is available adoption of rights, ethics and empathy based approach will lead to its common acceptance. Till such time believers and skeptics will continue to raise numerous arguments to prove their respective points of views.