Bioethics: March 2008 Archives

Fetal Skin Cells

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Jay Watts, in the midst of saying a lot of other things, argues against using the skin cells from aborted fetuses for research. I'm not convinced that there's a strong pro-life argument against this practice, though. What follows is my comment on Jay's post:

I think we need to separate the following acts:

1. Taking skin from a dead human being in order to save thousands of lives.
2. Killing someone in order to save thousands of lives by using their skin.

There might be general moral disagreement over 2 among different ethical theories, but I don't think most views have problems with 1 unless they assume the libertarian premise that people's body parts shouldn't be used without permission, even if the person is dead. I generally share that premise when it comes to something on the level of whole organs, but I don't think it's a big deal if the government scrapes some skin off me without my permission after I die and then uses it for saving thousands of lives.

So what's different with abortion? The only difference I can think of is that these fetuses are being killed immorally, even if it's legal. But suppose it were even illegal. Once you allow what I allowed for in 1, it shouldn't matter if I happened to have been murdered or if I died of a disease in the hospital that no one was morally responsible for giving me. So why should it matter with aborted fetuses?

I'm not seeing a strong pro-life argument against this except maybe on consequentialist grounds, and that would only be because people might improperly draw the wrong conclusion from allowing this to the view that the killing itself was justified. But is that a good enough reason to avoid saving thousands of lives?

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