Monday, March 09, 2009

Obama Ends Stem Cell Ban

Bush poured money into Iraq with little hope of progress, Obama is pouring money into recovery efforts that I worry are similarly doomed. Just as I was starting to feel a sense of deja vu for an administration that seems detached from all the positions I consider compelling, Obama ends the ban on stem cell research.

I consider the end of this ban as a no-brainer good decision for the benefit of humanity, up there with moving to an opt-out system for organ donation [PDF], or eliminating the penny. But I grew up Catholic, so I understand some might be reluctant to jump on the stem cell research train.

Here's the basic equation of stem cell research: we can sacrifice some stem cells to one day save many adult human lives.

Some argue that the research is not likely to lead to scientific advances that improve the human condition, and others argue that these stem cells were bound to be discarded if not used anyway. I'm setting those arguments aside to consider the basic question: is it morally acceptable to trade stem cells for human lives? I think it is morally obliged.

Suppose you on a Special Forces team, and one day you burst into a room where a mad scientist is about to press a button which will kill everyone in the town of Eudora, KS. Many of these people will die prolonged deaths where they lose control of their nervous system slowly over time. You are about to shoot the scientist, but then he cackles, and says, "You can't shoot me, I have a jar of stem cells around my neck! If I die, the glass will shatter and they will die too!" Based on your briefing for the mission, you have zero doubt that what he says is the truth.

I posit that not only is it morally permissible to kill the scientist, but anyone who refuses to do so subscribes to an utterly barbaric moral code.

Just imagine Spider-Man swinging down from a bridge where the Green Goblin says, "Which will it be, superhero, Mary Jane Watson, or a bus full of stem cells!?!" There is no drama in that scene. Why not? Because it's not a meaningful moral dilemma.