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May 2015 Policy Study, Number 15-4


Embryonic Stem Cell Research Is Morally Wrong


Section II



Richard Werner offers what is called an analogical argument supporting ESCR. Let’s explore the following three questions. 1) What analogy does Werner use to support his view? 2) What rights does an embryo have? 3) What ontological status does the embryo have? 


The analogy Werner uses to support ESCR compares the brain-dead person with the embryo. He writes,


Michael S. Gazzaniga, director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College, argued that in using embryos for research, scientists should regard them the way doctors look upon organs for transplant. When a patient is brain-dead, he said, his organs are harvested. Like the brain-dead patient, Dr. Gazzaniga says, the embryo also lacks a brain.[11] 


In this comparison, Werner discovers compelling support for ESCR.


Werner argues that the two are the same in a very important sense, and thus ESCR should be allowed. His argument is as follows:


Premise 1: Only human beings with brains have life.
Premise 2: Neither brain-dead humans or embryos have brains.
Conclusion: Therefore, neither brain-dead humans nor embryos have life.


Thus, premise 1 is that a brain is the sine qua non for mental life or rationality.[12] Because mental life is the most important kind of life one can have, it is the fundamental prerequisite of a human life.[13] Premise 2 may be contested by saying that brain-dead humans do have brains, but they don’t work. Werner would point out that a brain that doesn’t work is no different from having no brain at all. Thus, if Werner’s premises are true, his conclusion seems to follow. What rights for brain-dead humans or embryos follow from the fact that they have no life?


Werner thinks it is clear that a dead human being does not have the same rights as a person who is alive. A dead human being, because they are dead, no longer has a right to life. Because the brain-dead human is indistinguishable from an embryo, the embryo also lacks a right to life. Further, because we can use the organs of a brain-dead human and can experiment on a brain-dead human for research, so too should ESCR be permitted. This is because the moral status of a human being changes upon death.[14]


Additionally, an embryo has the same ontological status as a brain-dead human.[15] Because a brain-dead human is no longer a full-fledged person, neither is the not-yet-sentient embryo. However, because the dead human being has some rights, the embryo is entitled to the same rights, but not more. Like a dead human, the embryo can be used for research but cannot be defiled for fun.[16]




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