Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ethics and Science in Stem Cell Research

Because of the recent commitment of our president to stem cell research, there has been much discussion about science and ethics. Our president suggested that stem cell research was not to be determined on an ideological commitment, but on the "facts of science".

While I believe that science has added to our quality of life, science should not function without a proper ideological frame, which are the ethical questions. Many on TV, radio and in the paper were talking about the struggle between science and ethics. Science does not answer any "moral question", it just "works". But, should our society condone anything that "works"? Pragmatism is the road to expediency, but not the road to wisdom.

Stem cell research holds much promise for those who suffer from many diseases, so this area of research would breed much "good". The ethical questions are based on questions that cannot be solved quickly, if at all, and only divide all of us along ideological lines. So, why attempt to answer any ethical questions when science's expediency in meeting human need is of primary importance? Isn't human suffering something that we all should be committed to? But, at what costs?

I have written before about the questions concerning genetic research, and some of the same questions apply to stem cell research. Who will determine when an embryo has become a separate life? And how will that be determined? Will each case pose the question and allow the individual woman the choice, such as we do with organ transplants? Is the embryo to be viewed as an "organ", part of a woman's body, that might give life to another? Organs must be taken from the donor while the donor is alive for the organ to be fully functioning. Our state license bureaus ask us whether we want to be an organ donor when we get our driving lincense. If we agree to be an organ donor, then we are giving our living consent for our organs to be used for a 'greater purpose" of saving another life. Is this wrong to allow the individual a choice? I don't think so.

Many religious believe that to give any person the right to choose is a "sin" against God, since God is the giver of life. But, when does God give life, at the moment of conception? at the moment of birth? at the moment of the heart-beat? at the moment of brain waves? at the moment of viability? When? These questions are not easily answered.

I think more importantly is who will determine when life "happens", as the political realm must remain "free" for choice, otherwise, we have political or religious authorities determining for the individual what is "best". Either way, we will be setting up our public forum for ideological war. Personal decision is of utmost importance, such as we allow with organ donation. This personal decision should not be made without all information, or deep reflection, as we must be convinced in our own minds. The separation of Church and State is commenable in this arena as well.

No comments: