GERON Corporation is carrying out research injecting embryonic stem cells into the spinal cord of a man with spinal cord injuries. The hope is that new nerve tissue will grow and repair the spinal cord. The company’s stock rose over five dollars a share today, which is no surprise given the revolutionary nature of this research.
However revolutionary such research is, embryonic stem cells are removed from human embryos in a process that kills the embryo. This is, as I have argued in another post, the taking of innocent human life–and human personhood cannot be separated from the human organism. Now a utilitarian in ethics who focuses on “the greatest good for the greatest number of people” (or “for the greatest number of sentient beings,” depending on the utilitarian) most likely would support this research if in fact it leads to helping patients with spinal cord injuries. Such patients might be able to recover from paralysis and walk again. Many Americans, who tend to think in both utilitarian and pragmatic terms, will support embryonic stem cell research if it leads to therapeutically useful results. Should this procedure work, parents of paralyzed children will demand its use. Some of these parents may be those who previously opposed embryonic stem cell research. Supporters of the research will ask, “What if your wife or husband, mother, father, or child couldn’t walk? Wouldn’t you want this treatment for them?” As with another morally problematic procedure, solid organ donation from “brain dead” individuals, the majority of people in pro-life circles may change their tune and support embryonic stem cell research. There will be a few hold-outs who, like me, believe that goodness is not dependent on consequences, but I predict they will be very few. I hope that if embryonic stem cell therapy turns out to be successful that I am wrong about the pro-life community surrendering to utilitarianism. But given their past performance on the issue of brain death, I am not optimistic.