Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Strong Do What They Will . . .

In a TAC symposium, Jeffrey Hart writes, inter alia:
As an exercise in the use of the “moral imagination”—a term coined by Burke—let us cut through verbiage to concrete fact: if you had a child with Type I diabetes, a devastating disease, and I said I had a few cells that would cure her, would you turn this offer down?
No, I would not turn them down. Come to think of it, if someone were to offer me Jeffrey Hart, I wouldn't turn it down either. Proving . . . what? That perhaps I am not the best person to weigh the life of a stranger against the well-being of my own daughter? That the "verbiage" (Hart's derisive term for moral argument) about "a few cells" (Hart's dismissive phrase to describe a human embryo) might be all that stands in the way of our committing a terrible injustice?

Seriously, Hart reminded me of Thucydides, in The Melian Dialogue:
. . . you know as well as we do that, when these matters are discussed by practical people, the standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel and that in fact the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept.
I am not without sympathy for the Athenian view as expressed above. Specifically, it nicely approximates, as the title of my blog should imply, my own view of foreign policy: that abstract morality is no substitute for power, and the will to use it. But let's be honest: Hart's moral position is to, in fact, reject moral reasoning in favor of family sentiment.

So okay: an embryo is not likely to stir our sympathy and fellow-feeling as the fully developed person for whom Hart and others propose to sacrifice it. Fair enough. But the tradeoff Hart proposes is speculative. In fact (and readers are encouraged to correct me if my information is wrong or out-of-date), Hart's "few cells" will not cure diabetes or anything else. The actual achievements of stem-cell therapies have all used adult stem cells. So what is really at stake is the desire of researchers and pharmaceutical companies to be unencumbered by moral considerations in their pursuit of the next grant or fortune.

I don't think I want to go where this road will lead.

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