Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More Thoughts On Stem Cells

My previous post had already gotten longer than I wanted, so I decided to put these thoughts in their own post.

Let's engage in a though experiment, of if we're feeling fancy, a "Gedankenexperiment". For the sake of argument, let's suppose it can be clearly shown there is absolutely nothing morally objectionable -- nothing even "morally questionable" about embryonic stem cell destruction.

Supposing this, here's the question: Should the government be funding embryonic stem cell research?

I claim no and for two entirely separate reasons.

For my first reason, I'd like to invoke Dale Frank's recent (excellent) essay "Morality and Politics". To fund anything, the government has to first come up with funds. To do that, they tax. And why do you and I pay taxes? Coercion. Mr. Frank, please explain:

As a normative statement of morality, I have no quibble at all with the idea that wealthy people should devote a significant portion of their income to the poor. I would heartily approve of private citizens involving themselves in a campaign to encourage the wealthy to support single mothers, fund programs for at-risk inner-city kids, or devote some of their income to any of a thousand worthy causes to help the less fortunate. Those who agreed to provide that funding would be performing a virtuous act.

But virtue, to be virtue, requires free will. The moment I put a gun to a rich man's head, plop his checkbook down and tell him that I will not leave until either his signature or his brains are on that check, his acquiescence is no longer a matter of virtue. He has simply been robbed, even if I take that check and distribute the money to widows and orphans.

The preferred tax policy of the left, of course, is a graduated income tax, whereby the more money you have, the more you are coerced into giving to the government. They get to choose how much money to take from you—irrespective of your wishes—because they believe that taking your money against your will is a moral act, as long as the the money is given to someone they consider more deserving. Moreover, in pursuit of that end, they require you to keep detailed financial records, which they reserve the right to inspect at any time, to ensure you're giving them all the money they demand.

They consider obtaining money by force, in order to distribute it as they please, to be a moral political solution. This, from the people who are constantly telling us that "you can't legislate morality", when that is precisely what they are trying to do.


Given that all government relies on coercion, it seems to me that the only ideology with any claim to morality is one that reduces government coercion to the smallest possible amount, and leaves the citizenry both economically and morally unhindered to make their own decisions


In my view, the more coercive a government is, the less moral it is. The only legitimately moral acts of government are to protect the individual citizen from force or fraud, and to protect the citizenry as a whole from foreign aggression. Once a government goes beyond that, for any purpose, it becomes increasingly immoral, because it increasingly becomes a tool for one group of citizens to use force on another group. And it doesn't matter if you're grabbing money at gunpoint to give to widows and orphans, or jailing pornographers for corrupting the morals of our children; it's still morally illegitimate, because the ends do not justify the means.

So the lofty goal of funding research to, say, cure Alzheimer's, is actually immoral because it's done by coercion. Give yourself some time to think this one out. And, April 17 might be a good day to set aside time to think it through.

Moving on to my second reason, let's expand our thought experiment to even accept that government funding of research is a hands down "good thing" and wholly moral. Perhaps we can even go so far in our thought experiment to agree the government has a responsibility to work towards curing Alzheimer's. Well, at this point, the government has a several options in the realm of "stem cell research": adult stem cells, cord blood stems, and embryonic stem cells.

It seems reasonable to suggest that, with our mandate of responsibility to cure Alzheimer's, we should choose the type of stem cells with the most likely chance of success.

To quote Wikipedia:

To date, no approved medical treatments have been derived from embryonic stem cell research.


There is a technical problem of graft-versus-host disease associated with allogeneic stem cell transplantation


Moving from the Wikipedia article on embryonic stem cells to that on adult stem cells:

Adult stem cells are being developed for use in treatments for a variety of human conditions, ranging from blindness to spinal cord injury. Since adult stem cells can be harvested from the patient, potential ethical issues and immunogenic rejection are averted.

If you are a libertarian or even just a pragmatist, tell the Congress not to fund embryonic stem cell research.

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