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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Thought Experiment Reboot

After some good discussion, I think my thought experiment about a gas company manufacturing and marketing cyanide gas for human-killing is unfair. Part of my confusion resulted from my poor understanding about human embryonic stem cell research.

In human embryonic stem cell research, a human embryo is first created and then its stem cells are extracted, resulting in this human being's death. The extracted human embryonic stem cells, however, can continue to grow and replicate in a lab setting. This phenonemon, "a family of constantly dividing cells," is a "stem cell line." (from Wikipedia). Research companies can then obtain a stem cell line from the first company. I suppose it is kind of like buying a bit of yeast from an existing batch of someone's original recipe, which you can use to grow your own yeast.

So, it appears that Jackson Labs and its customers grow and experiment on human embryonic stem cells. However, it is probable that they are not actually creating a human embryo and extracting its stem cells. Instead, they are obtaining already-created embryonic stem cells from another source. Therefore, Jackson Labs and its clients are not actually killing human embryos.

And that is where my thought experiment is unfair. For the gas company, its clients are in the business of human-killing and the gas company produces a product which is tailored for this human-killing. For Jackson Labs, its clients are NOT in the business of embryo-killing. Instead, they are in the business of experimenting on cells from an already-killed human being. They are one step removed from the immoral act of killing an innocent human being. I concede my thought experiment is flawed.

But that doesn't mean that Jackson Labs is out of the woods. Far from that. Experimentation on human embryonic stem cell lines, even if they are obtained from someone else, is still highly unethical. My criticisms of Jackson Labs and my concerns about Monaghan's sale of land still remain.

Here is my next attempt for a thought experiment. Suppose a biotech company, BioCo, produces and markets a special compound that helps with the experimentation on human corpses. BioCo tests its product and experiments on human corpses itself at its facility. Though BioCo and BioCo's clients don't kill any human being themselves, they do obtain all of their human corpses from another source. Is BioCo acting ethically? I think not.