Academic journal article Ethics & Medicine

Embryonic Stem Cell Research: A Legitimate Application of Just-War Theory?

Academic journal article Ethics & Medicine

Embryonic Stem Cell Research: A Legitimate Application of Just-War Theory?

Article excerpt

The Problem

There is an apparent antinomy currently present within mainline political and social conservatism that, for a variety of reasons, is continually overlooked and eschewed as obsessively abstract. Tacit dismissal of the problem will no longer suffice should those adversarial to conservative views co-opt Just-War thinking in order to destroy nascent human life in the name of health and wellness. The problem runs like so. Usually, conservatives are the first to recognize the gruesome necessity of war in order to bring about a world free from menacing nations and bellicose autocrats. Conservatives have also, with great ardor, been the advocates for the most fragile amongst us-the unborn. These are surely noble principles; however, in the skillful hands of those antagonistic to this conservative philosophy, much havoc can be unleashed. Conservatives in public discourse need to be prepared should someone make the following argument.

(1) Innocents die in war.

(2) Non-Pacifists believe that there are some ideals (i.e. self-defense, human rights, stability, etc...) worth fighting for at the expense of innocents.

(3) Health should be added to that list of ideals.


(4) Therefore, it is not contentious to declare War on disease and sacrifice tens, hundreds, or even thousands of potential persons/embryos to that just cause.

While some may chortle at this idea, I am not so sure that the argument is as ingenuous as it initially appears. The goal of this article will be to determine whether or not embryos can be killed in a war on disease, according to Just-War Theory. If it is found that Just-War Theory permits the destruction of embryos in the name of Health, then social conservatives must either accept, for the sake of consistency, experimental embryo killing or become pacifists.

It should be noted that the embryonic stem cell research that I have in mind is the sort that terminates embryos specifically held for experimentation and research of those embryos locked away in fertility clinic iceboxes.1 After defining the Just-War Theory relevant to this discussion, I will argue that (1) Just-War Theory cannot be applied to the practice of destructive embryonic stem cell research, and (2) if we take human rights seriously, no embryo can have its rights abridged for the sake of someone else's happiness or health.

What is Just-War Theory?

Defining Just-War Theory

Given the space restraints on an issue burgeoning with innumerable moral conundrums, some philosophical expediency must be practiced in order for the issue under consideration to be made intelligible. There is no textbook on Just-War Doctrine where one may simply leaf through the pages and say "A-ha, I told you that conflict X was unjust and that conflict Z is without a doubt just!" The reason for this is two-fold. Just-War Theory is a river of thought fed by many streams. The West and Christianity at large are not the only contributors to Just-War thinking. Lenin and other Marxists invented a robust Just-War Doctrine that was in line with an alien ideology, and the corresponding theory is not even conceivable unless one has fully converted to the tenets of communism. The second reason for the ongoing contentiousness of Just-War Theory is that the theory is in a continual state of flux. Each time a new military technology is unleashed or a hitherto unseen conflict breaks out, Just-War Doctrine must adapt and bring itself into congruence with the situation at hand (Miller, p.268; O'Connor, p. 168).

This is not to say that a reliable, reasonable, and cogent explication of JustWar from the Western tradition is always beyond our reach. After culling the thinking of prominent Just-War theorists, the below doctrine of Just-War was pieced together. However, before stating and examining this doctrine, a little historical contextualization may be helpful.

Augustine held that if a war is to be considered just, the cause motivating the use of violence must be allowed by God. …

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