The contemporary society has a range of problematic ethical issues to discuss. Problems like abortion, gun control, human cloning, animal rights, the death penalty, and others often turn on heated debates as the legislature will be influenced by public opinion and how the one or the other side effectively presents the issue. Of these problems, I would like to focus specifically on issues associated with stem-cell research, in particular on its therapeutic applications in which stem cells are used in the treatment of various health problems. I deliberately leave out reproductive cloning because it is associated with a different range of issues.
The best argument in favor of this therapeutic use is that stem cells obtained through research can rescue human lives and alleviate many problems that incapacitate people and make their lives intolerable. Stem cells can be applied to reproducing unhealthy tissues or organs that fail, causing disruptions in the body. As a result of new technologies, cancer patients could get a new chance as their affected organ could be replaced with a new one. The same is true for those who suffered a heart attack as the damaged part of their heart could be replaced with new tissues.
patients could get a new life as well. The enormous breakthroughs in medical care that would not otherwise be possible have become the most important argument in favor of stem cell research.
However, there is also a strong opposition to the continuation of the trend. The opponents are worried about the moral repercussions of killing embryos that inevitably die when their stem cells are used for research and practical treatment of diseases. Although these embryos are artificially constructed, they are nevertheless considered human beings, and as such should not be killed for the benefit of others. Use of human material is believed to be ruinous to conventional morality that will suffer from such abandon of the law not to kill.
A brief look at the above arguments reveals that it matters whether a person is addressing the issue from a deontological or teleological perspective. The deontological view emphasizes the existence of certain core principles that are universal (i.e. apply to all) and are not to be violated under any circumstances. An individual has to base one’s decision-making on the need to comply with universal rules. The teleological perspective, in contrast, posits the link the consequences of actions and their morality. An example is utilitarian ethics in which what is good for the absolute majority is moral.
Thus, the argument that it is wrong to continue with stem cell research because embryos will be killed is deontological. It is no accident that stem cell research is opposed by Christians who follow one of the Ten Commandments that explicitly prescribes: “Thou shalt not kill.” As this rule is taken to be absolute, no deviation from it is to be tolerated, no matter what the consequences are. Instead, rules that prohibit killing serve as a starting point for every decision to be made and as such have to be endorsed each time.
The argument concerning the need to save human lives even at the cost of embryo destruction is teleological. This case is also utilitarian in the sense that it favors a decision that benefits the maximum number of individuals. In fact, it does not only serve patients who will see their lives saved and improved through the application of innovative medical technologies. It will also benefit their relatives and friends who will be happy to see their loved ones return to normal life. Therefore, the sum of benefits outweighs the sum of negatives, and on teleological grounds, stem cell research has to be supported.
On my side, I agree with the teleological position. Perhaps the reason is that I am not inclined to take things for granted, and therefore will in many cases question ideas and beliefs. If I had strong core principles that would specify the necessary course of action, in this case, I would most likely be governed by them and embrace the deontological perspective. However, on my side, I believe that we should adopt the course of action that will save the lives of millions of people. From the psychological viewpoint, the adult patients who are threatened by death are more important because they are fully socialized personalities who have forged strong ties with society. Their contribution to the development of society is important, and therefore their lives have to be saved even if the cost is as high as it is.
In my view, passively observing the sufferings of people while one knows that they can be helped with stem cell research is immoral. Sympathy is a deeply ingrained quality in a human being that can defy conventional morality with its fixed norms. Many people, for instance, can pull the trigger when they see someone tortured by agony which will die in a few minutes anyway. To me, reducing pain and suffering is equally important, because for many it is better not to live in pain than to live with constant pain.
Besides, concerning the deontological argument that rules out murder, because it is wrong per se, I would note that human society is being hypocritical here. The same people who argue against stem cell research because it is morally wrong often endorse wars that lead to the same result – death of people. War has never occurred without casualties, be it soldiers or civilians, both in most cases. However, no nation has yet banned any military activities. This raises doubts as to how strong the deontological foundation for the negation of stem cell research is and whether people are not simply using it as a pretext to block progress.
Anyway, stem cell research remains a highly controversial issue. The direction in science that can supposedly promise salvation to millions of sick people around the world is often stemmed because of moral considerations. However, if the world embraced a teleological attitude toward this issue, many people would receive hope.
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