The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Friday, September 09, 2005


Stephen Green rants against stem cell research limitations:

I understand why pro-life people are so upset by fetal stem cell research, but let's get something straight here. If there's a woman out there considering an abortion, her decision will not be based on the promise of medical research. The fact that some fetuses can (or rather, could) be used, is perhaps the only positive thing to come out of a very bad situation. But anyone who thinks there's an army of women getting themselves impregnated then gleefully having abortions for The Cause… well, the person who thinks that is an idiot. Not to mention a misogynist of the most cynical sort.
Now that we have the pertinent
Forbidden Issue out of the way, let's get to the meat of the matter on stem cells – fetal or adult.

Despite Mr. Green's claim to "understand why pro-life people are so upset", his straw man clearly shows the opposite. People may make a considered moral choice not to participate in or abet an ongoing evil; and Mr. Green does not even mention this consideration. He continues with a plea to self-interest:

The meat is: The very future of this country.
... We won't stay rich in the 21st Century by drilling more oil in Alaska or wherever – that's so Early Industrial. We won't do it by building better cars, a relic (still useful, but still a relic) of the last century. We'll stay ahead of newcomers like China the same way we overtook our European competitors over the last 100 years: By seizing what's new, and pursuing it freely and fearlessly on a large scale.

I would ask Mr. Green to stop for a moment and consider what morality might mean. In particular, he should consider that trying to live a moral life sometimes means that we refrain from doing things, even things that would serve our best interests. A moral argument that can be undermined by a plea to self-interest is not moral at all, but merely an argument of convenience.

Mr. Green's advocacy of more aggressive stem-cell research shows that his moral qualms, if he holds any, are in this case subservient to self-interest. There is nothing really wrong with that: this is a difficult and ambiguous question, and Mr. Green's position is completely defensible. However, his choice of argument shows a profound ignorance of the very concept of what it means to hold a moral position.

Coinciding with self-interest does not make the immoral moral.