Thursday, December 09, 2004

Why bioethics is all the rage

I'll tell you why: people are idiots, and generally incapable of understanding hypotheticals. Give them a hypothetical that's designed to isolate a particular intuition or issue, and they immediately either respond to the hypo's real-world plausibility ("but that can't happen!" they protest, brows furrowed in a futile attempt at comprehension) or rework the boundaries of the hypo in a way that effectively destroys its purpose. This was especially obvious in law school. By the midpoint of college, most of the kids had speciated into their various fields, so I was taking philosophy classes with other people that understood how philosophy worked, and how hypos were supposed to work. In law school, though, I was plunged back into the world of overly-literal people that couldn't grasp hypotheticals.

Hence the public's fascination with bioethics: here we have real-world problems that effectively isolate moral intuitions, without the cognitive burden of imagining that things could be other than they are.

All that exposition for this article (via Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost, whose take is well-worth a read) in slate about a novel solution to the stem cell debate. The solution basically creates an embryo, but the scientists manage to turn off the gene that enables the stem cells to differentiate. It creates an embryo that is only able to reproduce its blank stem cells, which are incapable of differentiation.

The cool thing is that it crisply splits two previously conjoined ethical issues: possession of human DNA, and potential to turn into a mature person. The blank embryo has the former, but not the latter. Kinda neat, really. There are tons of interesting things about this procedure and the discourse surrounding it, but those'll have to wait; this is already getting too long.