Sago Boulevard

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Worst Kind of Utilitarianism

The debate over embryonic stem cell research typically revolves around the moral status of this small collection of cells. Most supporters of government funding for research argue, often cogently, that an embryo is not a human life in the conventional sense. This implies, of course, that they believe that if an embryo were a full-fledged human life, there would be something wrong about destroying it in the name of science.

T-Steel, however, taking utilitarian ethics to its extreme, argues that we ought to be willing to sacrifice some lives in order to save others. Science will suffer, he argues, "because of our unwillingness to sacrifice for the many." He asks rhetorically, "Do some of us actually think medical research is going to be clean? Do some of us actually think there won't be life lost in the pursuit of better life?"

In short, yes. Killing a life to save a life is still murder. No, "the needs of the many" do not outweigh "the needs of the few". Our Bill of Rights is the most prominent of example of this. I'm not sure how far T-Steel is willing to take his own position. Should we kill an innocent person and harvest his organs in order to save five others? Should we be willing to sacrifice our lives (or the lives of our loved ones) in the name science? Should we encourage the practice of Nazi-style medical research? It may be true that science and medicine may advance further if we threw ethics out the window. Psychologists and neuroscientists, for example, may make important discoveries about the human mind if they weren't bound by moral considerations in experimenting. At a certain point, though, it's not worth it.