Kant’s rejection to human embryo research DISPROVED! (April 2010)

This is a blog post from April 2010. This video aims to disprove that Kantian ethics is against human embryo research.

Genetic Engineering

Types of Genetic Engineering

In this video I explore – somatic-cell gene therapy, germ-line gene therapy, enhancement genetic engineering (designer babies), eugenic genetic engineering, animal genetic engineering, gm crops, embryo cloning, reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning.

Ethical Responses

In this video I look at what would Natural Law, Utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, Situation Ethics and Christian Ethics say to the different forms of genetic engineering.

As Christian Ethics is so varied I have not included it in the table below 

 

Natural Law

Utilitarianism

Kant

Situation ethics

Somatic-cell GT

☺ Fulfils precept to live

☺ Produces greatest good for greatest number

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Germ-line GT

☺ Again helps fulfil purpose of life and reproduction

☺ Produces greatest good for greatest number

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Enhancement GT

☹ Against God’s design and doesn’t seem to have a purpose.

☺  Makes people happy

☹ It doesn’t make other ‘that’ happy

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Eugenic GT

☹ No purpose in editing God’s design

☺/☹ Depends on the   situation 

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

GM crops

☺ Help solve problem of world hunger which helps to also fulfil the precept of life.

☺ Solving the problem of world hunger outweighs any costs

☺ Imperfect duty to make people happy 

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Animal GT

☺ Humans have dominion over animals so nothing wrong with using them to fulfill the precept of life.

☺ Produces greatest good for greatest number

☺ Kantian ethics is based on the ability to reason so using animals to fulfil imperfect duty is not a problem.

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Embryo cloning

☺ Life is scared so this would be a NO.

☺/☹ Depends on the   situation 

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Reproductive cloning

☹ No purpose in editing God’s design

☺/☹ Depends on the   situation 

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Therapeutic cloning

☺ Helps fulfill purpose of life – to live.

☺ Produces greatest good for greatest number

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Sanctity of Life & Abortion

What is the Sanctity of Life (SoL) argument?

The SoL argument states that human life is valuable in itself. According to SoL all life is worthy of RESPECT and REVERENCE and is intrinsically worthwhile. This implies all life is equal and we have a duty to protect it.

Ties with Christianity…

Christians sometimes use this argument to found some of the their ethics (particularly medical ones) because ‘the body is the temple of the holy spirit’. Within Christianity, however, views are divided between the strong and weak SoL argument.

The strong SoL

The strong SoL principle is sometimes known as the pro-life argument, which begins by asserting God is the creator of life, God created us in his image and likeness (Imago dei doctrine). We are different from animals as God blew into Adam’s nostrils not any other animals. The incarnation reaffirms the view that humans are different and that this ensoulment, unique to humans, begins at conception. Abortion then is immoral as God created life and only He can destroy it especially where human beings are concerned because they have a soul.

Further evidence for the strong SoL principle can be found in Exodus ‘Thou Shalt not murder’. Book of Job ‘God gave life, so he can take it away’.

The Weak SoL

This principle is more common within the Church of England.

The principle does not begin by asserting claims about God but rather recognises, there have been advances in medicine hence why the strong SoL argument is no longer suitable. They say that abortion is an extraordinary means (not something which happens all the time) hence can justify terminating a pregnancy. Further evidence to their approach is Jesus’ teaching of love and compassion. 

The Church of England will use this principle when dealing wit situations of rape or where there is threat to the mother’s physical or mental self.

Evaluation

Strengths

– It values all human life, promoting equality and human dignity.

– (Strong) Clearly states that abortion is incorrect in all situations. (Weak) The criteria of rape, damage to mother’s physical or mental self is arguably a clear method of working out whether abortion can be morally acceptable.

– Avoids ‘group’ pressure and power e.g. aborting all disabled babies

– A secular version of this principle (parallels with Kant) can be formulated which suggest that love and compassion should be given to all life and hence should be protected.

– Weak SoL combines all forms of Christian teachings.

Weaknesses 

– Equality – surely some forms of human life are more valuable than other e.g. Mother Teresa’s life is more valuable than Jack the Ripper. 

– It is a difficult and demanding to adhere too, for example, we cannot justify spending money on fertility treatment when we know the elderly and the sick can benefit from the money. Arguably, the theory is not meant for the real world and global politics.

– Strong SoL principle clashes with Jesus’ teachings of love and compassion.

– Weak SoL principle – Any situation can be argued that the pregnancy affects the mothers mental or physical self. Difficult to know true intentions of people.

– Isn’t quality of life more important than sanctity of life?

– If the Imago dei doctrine is wrong, which according to Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection is, then so is the SoL principle.

– Peter Singer accuses advocates of SoL of specieism aren’t all life forms equal not just humans.

– Argument cannot cope with conflicts e.g. where only the mother or the child can survive.

– Outdated – not practical for a world where world population is exponentially growing.

– If we are made in the Image of God can we not destroy life like God?

The Status of the Embryo

AS Ethics 

The Status of the Embryo and Abortion

The status of the embryo is extremely important when exploring the morality behind abortion because it implies whether abortion is an act of murder or not. There are several suggestions of the status of an embryo:

  1. Personhood 
  2. Natural Law/Christianity
  3. Aboriginal People
  4. Ensoulment 
  5. Science (viability)
  6. Kant
  7. Judith Jarvis Thomson

Personhood – Life begins when develop into a person

Personhood essentially suggests that when a human being is a person acts such as abortion become murder otherwise they are acceptable. This is a secular approach to medical ethics and is a subjective one too (that is perhaps one of its problems). 

Mary Anne Warren was an American writer and philosopher who died last year (2010). She put forward a criteria and said to be a person you don’t have too meet all the criteria but at least a few and because a foetus does not meet any of it, abortion is not murder because the foetus is not a person.

Criteria

  1. Consciousness – foetuses are not aware of objects and events external or internal to the  being and are not capable to feel pain.
  2. Reasoning – Foetuses cannot solve new and complex problems
  3. Self-motivated activity – they are not capable of activity independent to genetic or direct external control 
  4. The capacity to communicate – the foetus does not communicate
  5. Self-awareness – babies are not aware of themselves.

Furthermore, she rejects the idea  of the foetus as a potential person, a being which would develop these characteristics. She said predicting the potential person a foetus would develop is difficult and there remains a chance it would still not meet these criteria and hence using this argument does not work, she said following a criteria is better

Conclusion: Abortion is acceptable as a foetus is not a person

Evaluation

Problems:

  1. Even young babies are not self-aware.
  2. Later foetuses have the ability to feel pain and communicate by kicking.

Responses:

  1. But they have the ability to communicate and engage in reasoning.
  2. There is no evidence for this and it is arguably just a perception of the mind.
  3. Sperm has the potential to be a person yet no-one sees it as a human its the same with a foetus.

Natural law /Christianity

The tradition Roman Catholic view is the life begins at conception so abortion is absolutely always wrong. Furthermore, the Sanctity of Life argument is used to demonstrate this.

One of the primary precepts in Natural Law is life hence we have a duty to protect and abortion goes against this and again is deemed incorrect.

Natural Law only permits the act of abortion (although it is not discussed as abortion) when we have to use the principle of double affect. When two actions conflict a second criteria is used in Natural Law and that is (i) the action must not be immoral and (ii) the intentions must be good. So if a pregnant women discovers she has cervical cancer the doctor may terminate the pregnancy by performing a hysterectomy because performing a hysterectomy to protect the women’s life is not immoral and the doctors intention is not to kill the foetus but rather save the mother. This would be fine for those who subscribe to Natural Law.

Evaluation

Strengths

-By using the Sol principle and clearly saying life begins at conception, ethic is straightforward and clear.

-Allows flexibility as well as a clear cut approach.

Weaknesses 

  • If a pregnancy will lead to unhappiness on the mother’s part and there is a threat of depression etc as this is an unwanted baby then sure the principle of double affect would kick in and suggest that abortion is fine with the intention of protecting the mother.
  • If you do not accept that life begins and conception and Christian teachings then this theory is not one worth abiding by.
  • Again we can argue against this using GE Moore’s naturalistic fallacy just because abortion is wrong or life begins at conception it doesn’t mean we ought to not do it or abortion is wrong.

Aboriginal people

Aboriginal people believe life only begins once a person is named. A name is what distinguishes a person from a bunch of cells so unless the foetus is named abortion is arguable acceptable.

Ensoulment

This links to the Christian belief that ensoulemt happens at conception so life begins at conception and any form termination is immoral as it is killing. 

St Augustine, another theologican offers another way to approach this matter. He suggests that when the embryo ‘quicks’ i.e. starts to move, the embryo has been ensouled so any point after this (after 16/17 weeks) makes abortion murder but before that it is fine.

Science – Viability

The embryo isn’t even viable till 24-weeks so the mother has greater rights than the embryo and should be able to grant an abortion before this point. The human fertilisation and embryology act, suggests that after 14 days when the primitive streak begins to appear the foetus is now a human in its own right.

Kant

Kant has no clear opinion on the this matter but supporters of Kantian Ethics argue that the embryo is a potential human and hence the same ethical reasoning should be applied when looking at humans so abortion is wrong.

Judith Jarvis Thomson

Thomson puts forward an analogy

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. … To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.’  – taken from Wikipedia

But you still have the choice whether you want to do this or not, not to give a choice would be violate your human rights – so the same way not to offer abortion would be to violate your human rights.

Some points:

  • The foetus is not a separate individual like the violinist it is a part of the women’s body.
  • Isn’t the choice with contraception not abortion?
  • Would unplugging the violinist be the same as killing him? Is an abortion the same as killing?

Ethical Responses to Euthanasia

Utilitarianism

Act: Bentham would use the hedonic calculus to work out what the right thing to do is. Often in cases of euthanasia the pain is so great that Bentham would be for it as euthanasia is produces the greatest good for the greatest number.

Rule: Mill would agree with euthanasia because he held firm beliefs in the sovereignty of individual. He would however, look at each situation individually, e.g. Thomas Hyde who has the same condition as Steven Hawking ALS  would say that even though the body is dead the brain isn’t which is a higher pleasure and so the act of euthanasia would not be acting on the GHP.

 Singer – Singer was very much in favor of the QoL argument saying we should replace the outdate SoL principle with 5 new commandments:

  1. All humans do not possess equal worth
  2. We should take responsibility for out actions
  3. By saying humans are greater than animals we are committing specism 
  4. Bring children only in this world if they are wanted
  5. Respect a persons wishes to live or die

The last commandment particularly forces us to accept euthanasia as a morally permissible act.

Kant

In order to work out Kant’s response to the ethics concerning euthanasia we must explore how they would fit in with the three formulations of the Categorical Imperative.

1. Universalization

It would be absurd to say it is logical to universalize a law such as ‘I should help X die’ as that would imply that everyone is being helped to die. A claim like ‘ I should help X die if they are in  terrible pain and request to do so’ makes more sense if you are a Kantian and wish to embrace euthanasia. The problem is euthanasia is essentially form of suicide [assisted] and Kant gives the example of suicide being a perfect duty – something we should in no circumstances do.

2. Means to an end

By committing euthanasia we may be using the ill patient as a means to an end so we may be using it to cut costs, use the medical equipment etc for someone else, to be free of constantly visiting the hospital etc and Kant would say this is wrong. Some scholars however argue that euthanasia uses a person as an end in themselves because one is respecting their wishes. However, the problem is Kant clearly states that suicide is an immoral act and lists it as a perfect duty.

3. Kingdom of ends.

Here Kant says we should as though we were making the maxims into laws of nature and obviously euthanasia could not be a law of nature because it is unnatural and hence immoral.

Natural Law

Natural Law follows similar principles to the SoL principle. One of the primary precepts is to live – life the supreme good. This implies that secondary precepts which are absolute can be formed such as do not kill or commit suicide. As euthanasia is clearly a form of killing or suicide then Natural Law ethicists would be against it. However, it isn’t as absolute as Kant because the principle of double effect exists. If you overdose a patient with morphine with an intention to reduce pain and suffering but the by product is death – this can still justify euthanasia.

Situation ethics

A Christian God is personal one hence each situation should be looked at personally bar an legal rules and regulations. In many of these situations the most loving thing to do is to commit euthanasia and hence euthanasia can be accepted as a situation ethicist.

Religious Ethics

Bible

    • Job “God gives and God takes away”
  • Countless passages on SoL 
  • The body is the temple of the Holy Sprit 

All these hint towards a case against euthanasia

Catholicism

They see abortion and euthanasia as murder and hence it is immoral.

They believe in the strong SoL principle.

Church of England

    • Weak SoL
  • Recognises that in some situations it is necessary

Salvation army 

Direct challenge to Mill because they believe in the sovereignty of God.

 

Deontological and Teleological Ethics

Deontology and Teleology are two specialist terms used to separate ethical theories. They difference between deontology and teleology, is in essence, the same as the difference between absolutist and relativist theories.

Deontology: This means the same as absolute. The ethical systems are based on some form of a rule system. Following a deontological system such as Kant, Natural Law or some forms of Christian ethics means that the moral thing to do is one that does not change from situation to situation. For example, according to Kantian ethics it will always be wrong to lie even if it saves someone’s life. This is because consequences are not taken into account and the universal law does not change.

Teleology: Teleological theories are the same as relativist theories. They state that the moral thing to do is one which will change from situation to situation because the consequence of an action is sovereign. Ethical systems like Utilitarianism and Situation ethics voice this belief. They suggest that lying can only be moral if it results in the most pleasure for the most people (Act Utilitarianism) or the most love towards the most people (Situation Ethics).

Below is a video outlining this and some key strengths and weaknesses: