Thesis: Despite both utilitarian ethical theory and deontological ethical theory can be applied usefully to the issue of stem cell research. I shall argue that utilitarian ethical theory is preferable, because it is most consistent with the considered moral judgments and can give most reasonable answers to the issue.
The paper deals with the area of philosophical inquiry and discussion referred to as “ethics” or “moral philosophy.” As suggested by these terms, the primary focus of this inquiry area is about issues that emerge in moral or ethical situations, situations that pose questions regarding what we should or ought to do when the issue is not strictly a self-interest matter, but of right or wrong .For this case the issue is on controversy surrounding stem cell research. There are attempts to try to put some clarity of thought to the issue: This is to clearly define the language used to discuss it, to reveal the inference forms that underlie our thinking about it, and to justify and determine principles that can give guidance in solving these issue through bringing into consistency the best intuitions and thoughts on these matters.
Background on Stem Cell Research
Stem cell research has emerged to be one of the major issues dividing the religious and scientific communities around the globe. There is one central question with regards to the core of the issue: ”When does life begin?” (Kristen et al, 313).To obtain reliable stem cells, either scientists need to use already conceived embryo or else clone an embryo using a cell from the patient body and a donated egg. Either way, scientists must destroy the embryo when harvesting an embryo’s stem cells. Despite that embryo may only have 4-5 cells, some religious leaders argue that destroying it is same as terminating human life. Inevitably, the issue is in the political arena. (Kristen et al, 313).
Congress passed a rider to the federal appropriations bill in 1996, referred to as Dickey-Wicker amendment. Representatives Roger Wicker and Jay Dickey proposed abolishing the federal monies use for any research where a human embryo is destroyed or created. Federal monies are a primary funding source for stem cell research. Since then the amendment has been renewed every year.
President George W. Bush, in 2001 restricted further the federal stem cell research. Bush stated in an executive order that federal funds may only be employed for research involving already established (only 22 cell lines) human embryonic stem cell lines. This restricted researchers from generating more embryonic stem cell lines for research.
In 2009, an executive order issued, was issued by President Barack Obama to expand embryonic stem cell research. Obama’s administration permitted embryonic stem cell research federal funding following conditions applied: The cell line was among the 22 cell lines that existed during the Bush administration or was generated from discarded embryos after the procedures of in vitro fertilization. The embryos donors were not paid in any way. The donors were fully aware that the embryos could be used for research purposes before giving consent.
The political debate
However, in political terms, at the heart of debate on stem cell is a battle over abortion but it’s with a twist. Yes, the cells are from embryos. And with regards to religious orthodoxy, an embryo is considered to be life. Infact, some pro-life advocates have not objected employing stem cells for research to what was done by Nazi doctors during World War II ( Maureen et al,29). But also the embryo cells hold great promise for many sick patients with their families. Furthermore, several embryos might otherwise be discarded unceremoniously. There are high political stakes, and those involved in the debate are obliged to review their position.
Embryonic stem cells that come from the inner blastocyst (fertilized egg after four days of conception) are controversial ( Maureen et al,26). But while several pro-life advocates remain firm in their opposition to embryonic cells use for research, others including scientific community are in favor of research funding. High-profile activists, such as actor Michael J. Fox, with Parkinsons disease, appeared before subcommittees of congressional claiming that stem cell research should continue.
The scientific debate
We exactly don’t know what stem cells can do for us; however, we do know that due to the fact that stem cells are undifferentiated, scientists may prompt them to whatever cell type. The cells can as well replace sick or damaged cells in an injured patient or in a patient with degenerative disease. The question is; where are scientists obtaining these cells? Until of recent, it was known that majority of various stem cells employed in research were obtained from embryos discarded (or excess) stored at in-vitro fertilization clinics. If potential parents make a decision of not having more children, they may be requested by scientists working with stem cells to donate embryos not needed for research.
For the method that is most controversial, stem cells can be pulled from aborted fetuses by scientists. This can be after providing signed consent by the patient who previously decided to terminate her pregnancy. This is the most often highlighted procedure considered by pro-life activists who object stem cell research.( Maureen et al,28). For pro-life advocates, the moral cost of undertaking stem cell research supersedes any potential benefits. However, for scientists, the likelihood is both bewildering and awe-inspiring. Nobody denies the stem cell debate moral dilemma.
Background on Utilitarian Ethical Theory.
The utilitarian ethical theory is established on the capacity to predict action’s consequences. According to a utilitarian, the choice which gives the greatest benefit to the majority is a correct choice ethically. One benefit of this ethical theory is that the utilitarian can compare similar predicted solutions and a point system is employed in the determination of more beneficial choice for the majority. This point system gives a rationale and logical argument for every decision and enables an individual to employ it on a case-by-case context (Postema et al, 56).
There are two utilitarianism types, rule utilitarianism and act utilitarianism. In act utilitarianism, an individual performs the acts which benefit the majority, regardless of societal constraints like laws and personal feelings. However, rule utilitarianism, is concerned with fairness. Hence takes into account the law. A rule utilitarian aims to benefit the majority but through the most just and fairest means available. Therefore, additional rule utilitarianism benefits are that it values justice as well as at the same time it includes beneficence (Ryan, 125). However, similarly to other ethical theories, both rule and act utilitarianism consists of numerous flaws. Inherent in both are the flaws related with future prediction. Despite persons can employ their life experiences to try to predict the outcomes, there is no one who can be sure that his predictions will be true. This can result to unexpected outcomes, hence it will make utilitarian appear unethical as time passes due to his choice never benefited the majority as he predicted (Ryan, 126).For instance, if an individual lights a fire to warm his friends, then later the fire burns down the house resulting from the soot in the chimney caught on fire, then now it seems the utilitarian chose an unethical decision. The outcome of unexpected house fire is taken to be unethical due to it never benefited his friends.
Another assumption to be made by utilitarian is that he has the capacity to compare several forms of consequences against each other basing on similar scale. However, material gains comparison like money against intangible gains like happiness is not possible because their quality varies to such a bigger extent (Ryan, 129). Another failing that is found in utilitarianism is that it never allows supererogation existence. In other terms, persons needs to constantly behave so that the majority benefit despite the danger related to an act (Ryan, 127).
As noted above, act utilitarianism is strictly concerned with maximum good achievement. With regards to this theory, the rights of an individual might be infringed upon for the sake of benefiting a greater population. In other terms, act utilitarianism always is never concerned with beneficence, justice or autonomy for a person if the individual oppression results to the solution that benefits a majority. Another instability source within act utilitarianism is experienced when a utilitarian encounters one variable conditions set and then experiences suddenly a change in those variables that makes her original decision to be changed. This indicates that an act utilitarian may be good to you at one moment then dislike you at the later moment due to the change of variables, hence no longer beneficial to the majority (Ryan, 124).
Background on Deontological Ethical Theory
The deontological theory states that persons need to stick to their duties and obligations when evaluating an ethical dilemma. This implies that an individual will follow her or his obligations to benefit another person or society because what is taken to be ethically correct is upholding one’s duty (Freeman, 10). For example, often a deontologist will follow the law as well as keep his promises to a friend. Very consistent decisions can be made by a person who follows this theory because will be based on the set duties of an individual.
Deontology gives a basis for special obligations and duties to particular people, like those within one’s family. For instance, an older brother obligation may be to protect his little sister in crossing a busy road. This theory as well acknowledges those deontologists who exceed their obligations and duties, referred to as “supererogation” (Ellis, 859). For instance, if a train is hijacked and is with full of students and the demand of the hijackers is that one person should have to die in order for the rest to live, an individual who volunteers to die is exceeding her or his duty to the other students, hence supererogation act.
Despite deontology has several positive attributes, it also has a number of flaws. One weakness with this theory is that there is no logical or rationale basis for deciding the duties of an individual. For example, a decision can be made by a businessman that it is his duty to be going for meetings on time. Despite this seems to be a noble duty, it is not known why the person decided to make this his duty. A similar scenario explains two other deontology drawbacks including the fact that duties of a person conflict sometimes, and that deontology is never concerned with other people’s welfare. For example, how is deontologist supposed to drive if he must be in the meetings on time and time is running late? Is he needed to speed, to uphold the law by breaking his duty to society, or is he required to arrive late to the meeting, to be on time by breaking his duty? This conflicting obligations scenario neither leads us to a clear resolution that is ethically correct nor does it protect other people’s welfare from the decision of deontologist. Because deontology is not based on each situation context, it never gives any guidance in a complex situation where there is conflicting obligations (Ellis, 860)
Application of Act Utilitarianism
In the avoidance of confusion, it is critical to clarify different issues which can be addressed from a utilitarian perspective. One of the issues, which is the primary focus in this paper, is the sensible moral value determination of an action in a moral situation which is controversy on stem cell research. This is a moral obligation question that is appropriate in deliberation: What is the right action among all alternative actions to perform in stem cell research controversy (moral situation)? From the act utilitarianism perspective, the answer is;The right action is the only one which will give the best probable consequences, as discussed earlier.
Another different question that probably can be addressed from the perspective of act utilitarian is, moral responsibility: Is a moral agent morally accountable for the action already performed by him; is it logical to praise or blame the agent for their action. For instance, President George W. Bush, in 2001 restricted further, the federal stem cell research or Obama’s administration permitted embryonic stem cell research federal funding. Basing on this, will they be responsible for their decision? The basis for such judgments will be considered in some greater detail.
However, it should be noted here that from an act utilitarian perspective it is fallacious to determine the agent’s moral responsibility based on unavailable information present at the time they made their decision. However, it would not be fare to put blame on a moral agent for the consequences he/she could not probably foresee. Consequently, to determine moral responsibility from the perspective of act utilitarian it is crucial to make a judgment basing on available information at the time, and such a judgment made may be so different from the one that might be made from the privileged hindsight standpoint of what action was the right one to take. For instance, considering Stem cell research dilemma, it might be probably consistent upon act utilitarianism to come up with a judgment on hindsight that it is wrong to destroy embryo cells for the sake of stem cell research, but that the scientist need not to be blamed for taking the wrong action since they can’t foresee the ultimate action’s consequences. Now, with regards to moral deliberation issue, what must a moral agent do when he/she encounters a moral dilemma? The act utilitarianism answer is that the moral agents is required to do what is (basing on all available information and evidence) in their best judgment, the moral agent determines an action that is morally right, the action that will result to the best consequences for all. Therefore, moral judgment is a risky action. It is not possible to be sure in a given perfect foresight, of what the action’s consequences will be. Still, we predict constantly the action’s consequences, and it is believed that the reasonable predictions can be made basing on past experience.
Invariably, due to the relative prediction uncertainty, moral judgment from the perspective of an act utilitarian includes considering the relative consequences’ probabilities of our actions. In certain cases, in the presence of accurate statistics, the probability mathematics can give a precise way of handling these issues. Hence, if a state legislature is considering whether to pass a bill that supports stem cell research, statistics indicating embryo destruction rate from the embryo donation as a function of the legal embryo donation can be used in the determination of the probability that the life cut short in embryo donation will increase by a certain amount if the donation limit is raised.
In several moral situations, accurate statistics is not available; in this case, a moral agent will be required to rely on intuitive, less precise sense of probabilities (Frankena, 10). Despite intuitive probabilities assessments are imprecise; still they can be made reasonably basing on evidence available of past experience. It is sensible to judge, for instance, that the probability is greater to have lettuce available for purchase in the grocery than to say, imported Camembert cheese. Whether or not precise probability calculations are possible, derivative obligation is posed by act utilitarianism upon any moral agent to seek any and all evidence or information available that is relevant in the determination of the possible one’s action’s consequences, and consider in a conscientious and serious manner.
Application of Rule Utilitarianism
Rule utilitarianism widens the focus of ethical discussion and moral deliberation considerably when it is compared to act utilitarianism. The major concern here is not the limited consequences of specific acts of a person’s moral agents, but the long-range and more encompassing consequences of social practices viewed by all moral agents in the society. Hence the idea is not what will take place if I do this and this, but what will result if everybody as a rule did this and this, as compared to other accepted practice forms. This moral issue (Stem cell research) raises a complication that may need attention when applying rule utilitarianism. In today’s society, several persons believe, on the basis of traditional ethical perspective or religious convictions that human life is sacred. In such a case, to take or terminate any human life, even in brain death cases or embryo destruction is morally wrong. Individual with such views may be greatly aggrieved or distressed if passive euthanasia or embryo destruction for stem cell research were permitted in such cases. Must the rule utilitarian consider such moral sentiments as one probable negative consequence of allowing passive euthanasia or embryo destruction in such cases? What is strange with this issue, definitely, at this issue, it is that, sentiments are ones that result from moral perspective on ethical issue under consideration.
It is not possible for a rule utilitarian to consistently rule out the consideration of any negative impact of certain rule implementation or practice in the society. Due to this, a rule utilitarian is restricted by their position to even take into the account the moral opinions of persons who might be opposed to such implementation. However, the crucial point to take into account from a rule utilitarian viewpoint is that it is not only the immediate implementation’s consequences of a particular social practice that should be considered, but also the long-range consequences. Moral opinions normally change with time, and usually, they change following major changes in social practice and policy. In the past, prior to the establishment of women’s economic and political rights, several men, and infact, some women, had a belief that women need not be given equal rights in society as a matter of moral principle and traditional practice. No doubt such individuals were greatly disturbed by the gradual women’s rights advancement in society. But over time, such attitudes have considerably diminished. Today, few believe that it is objectionable morally for women to have same role in society; this is contrary to most individuals who are against women equal rights as it is a social injustice. And few may deny that the social and economic opportunities now open to women have benefited the women’s lives, and society as well. Thus history provides us better reason in believing that when reasonable changes in social practices and policies are instituted, any negative feelings that may arise as a result of conservative moral perspective are relatively short-lived than those which are long-term benefits. Basing on this, concerns on negative moral opinions significantly diminish in rule utilitarian ethical evaluation. In summary, with regards to this rule utilitarianism, it should be noted that several points considered above regarding act utilitarianism application apply in a equally to rule utilitarianism application as well. Also, as with act, in rule utilitarianism, predictions uncertainties must be dealt with inevitably, but in this case predictions regarding the impact of the social institution of rules. Also, in utilitarianism, such
Uncertainties need to be dealt with through weighing the relative probabilities of uncertain outcomes. The rule utilitarian will as well presume that such assessments can be made sensible, because lawmakers evaluate routinely the probable institution’s outcomes of socially adopted rules. In rule utilitarianism application, as with the theory’s act formulation, the moral deliberation aim is to make the most intelligent and informed assessment of outcomes possible and moral decisions will be based on this assessment.
Application of Universal Law Formulation
First it is required to note a clear distinction between utilitarian theory and Kant’s theory: Kant argues that moral judgments made can be with greater certainty as compared with any utilitarian may consistently claim. This can be due to; as discussed earlier, utilitarian moral judgment is based on factual judgments regarding future consequences of current actions, and such judgments can’t be made with certainty. On the other hand, Kant denies the idea that action’s consequences are morally appropriate, hence moral judgment doesn’t rely, with regards to his theory, on the prediction’s uncertainties. In fact, Kant claimed that moral judgment was a priori judgment instance, meaning, judgment that can be justified “prior to” or independently of empirical evidence, just as we normally believe that no empirical evidence is required to know
that “2+2=4” is true. Hence, is not required to know anything empirically about where or when a a certain act will be performed, or what will be the consequences of the act, to offer a moral action’s evaluation.
But despite moral judgment is not based on Kant’s empirically known facts, in Kantian theory there is one major factual issue which should be resolved for the sake of determining the action’s moral value. This is all relevant and sometimes, complex issue of maxim formulation of the moral agent’s action, because it is the maxim which determines action type that a moral agent does or should do.
Kant gave no particular guidelines on the way one need to describe an action in the maxim form as moral judgment basis, but reasonable and clear guidelines can be made.
First, because maxim is an action’s rule adopted by the moral agent, it is supposed to be formulated normatively, but not descriptively, as an action guide. Hence, formulation of any maxim can be in a general form “I (or ‘one’) should (or ‘ought t o’) do such and such.” (Simpler and acceptable alternative to this form is critical, “Do such and such.”) This may seem to be strange, because as seen earlier, the maxim descriptively determines what the moral agent does or should do.
Deontologists lack a lot of rules. In some situations, this offers a fair amount of freedom. Because their rules require or forbid only particular actions, other actions are there for them. A deontologist will never say, “It is good to preserve the rain forest.” After all, rain forest preservation all concerns consequences and this is not what a deontologist base on. So the deontologist will chop away the forest and not feel guilty for the act. Deontologists may say, “respect the world God gave us” and to respect the world may need rain forest protection but that may not be the reason why deontologists did so. The conflicting obligations scenario neither leads us to a clear resolution that is ethically correct nor does it protect other people’s welfare from the decision of deontologist. Because deontology is not based on each situation context, it never gives any guidance in a complex situation where there is conflicting obligations (Ellis, 857).
In conclusion, deontologists are persons who freely decide to accept particular constraints and who choose what is right basing on the nature of the act itself. Some establish particular rules such as do not kill, keep your promises etc. and some follow God’s commandments or Kant’s categorical imperatives. They never evaluate consequences as a rule and in other cases they find themselves in very complicated situations. This is in contrary to utilitarian ethical theory that is established on the capacity to predict action’s consequences. According to a utilitarian, the choice which gives the greatest benefit to the majority is a correct choice ethically. One benefit of this ethical theory is that the utilitarian can compare similar predicted solutions and a point system is employed in the determination of more beneficial choice for more people. This point system gives a rationale and logical argument for every decision and enables an individual to employ it on a case-by-case context. It is not possible for a rule utilitarian to consistently rule out the consideration of any negative impact of certain rule implementation or practice in the society. Due to this, a rule utilitarian is restricted by their position to even take into the account the moral opinions of persons who might be opposed to such implementation. Therefore, despite both utilitarian ethical theory and deontological ethical theory can be applied usefully to the issue of stem cell research. It is clearly evident that utilitarian ethical theory is preferable, because it is most consistent with the considered moral judgments and can give most reasonable answers to this issue. Philosophy can be of help in identifying the range of ethical conversations, methods and value systems which can be applied to a certain problem. But after clarifying these things, every individual is supposed to make his/her own personal decision on what to do, and then respond appropriately to the consequences. Uncertainties need to be dealt with through weighing the relative probabilities of uncertain outcomes. The rule utilitarian will as well presume that such assessments can be made sensible, because lawmakers evaluate routinely the probable institution’s outcomes of socially adopted rules.