September 28, 2006

The Juice of Humanness

Richard Dawkins' blog discusses embryonic stem cell research, and while he hs nothing particularly earth-shattering to say, and repeats without coming anywhere close to citing an argument that has been made (um, by us, with an extensive response by Gil Meilaender in the Hastings Center Report, a response in which he basically calls us Nazis), he does make some pretty Dawkins-like comments about moral standing of embryos relative others, so if you are anything like the rest of my Dawkins-loving friends, you'll find it interesting that he refers to objections to embryonic stem cell research as "fundamentally un-evolutionary:"
...partly a mystical reverence for humanness, as though all cells of Homo sapiens are suffused with a divine essence, some sort of sacred juice called Homsap, which no other species possesses.* Such a notion is fundamentally un-evolutionary. At what point in the line of descent from the common ancestor we share with chimpanzees, was the divine essence first injected? If you set aside what it will eventually grow into, there is no important difference between a human blastocyst and that of any other mammal. So we are left with the fact that human blastocysts, which can feel nothing now, have the future potential eventually to develop into beings that are capable of human suffering, human loves, hates and fears, human consciousness. It seems to me an inadequate basis for an ethical decision. Even if you disagree, you should surely at least consider the relative moral status of an Iraqi or Lebanese whose capacity to suffer is not just potential in the future, but here and now in the present.

If you ask me whether I care more about the destruction of a blastocyst, which theoretically has the potential to develop into a conscious human being, or the painful killing of an adult cow in an abattoir which has already reached its full potential, my answer is not in doubt. If I see a terrified cow about to have its throat cut by a Jewish or Muslim slaughterman who insists, purely for religious reasons, that it must be fully conscious when the knife hits, I want to intervene on its behalf. If I see a human blastocyst the size of a pinhead about to be flushed down the drain, do I want to intervene on its behalf? Oh come on, get real."

[hat tip: Rob Baird]

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