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Moral and Legal Questions of Stem Cell Research
Stem cell research is an experimental, and research-based study as to methods of repairing the human body. By introducing stem cells into a damaged, or degenerating area of the body, the medical profession hopes to prompt the body to regrow healthy tissue, and repair the damage. Degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, or macular degeneration of a patient's eye retina are conditions in which the healthy tissues cease to function properly. There is no overt damage. There is not a disease which has physically destroyed the affected body part. But for varying reasons, such as old age, wear and tear, or reasons medical science does not yet understand, the affected body part simply ceases to function properly. Stem cells are the type of cells, which are more numerous in, but not limited to, human embryos. They are the building blocks of the blood and immune systems and potentially the nervous system, skin, bones, heart, endocrine organs, and other body tissues. Stem cells are noted as such, because during the human growth process, they divide to create the following elements of the blood and immune systems:
New red blood cells which carry oxygen.
New white blood cells used in the body's immune system for fighting infections
New platelets which help proper clotting of blood and healing.
Because of stem cells involvement in the process of healthy growing tissue, scientific and medical research is investigating what role, if any, stem cells can play in rebuilding damaged, and degenerative tissue.
The controversy revolves around the fact that these cells are most numerous in human embryos. In order to have a ready supply of stem cells, processes are being established to grow, and 'harvest' these cells from human embryos. Herein is the controversy. Is it morally, ethically, and legally proper to create life in one innocent being, and then destroy it in order to benefit another being? Is the embryo a being? If so, this argument leaves the exclusively legal realm, and must also be considered on the basis of moral and ethical principles. If the human embryo is not a being, but an unviable tissue mass, then growing and harvesting specific cells is neither a moral nor legal issue. In this latter case, the only laws needed to guide such research are those already in place, that govern the research and development of disease resistant cash crops, such as corn and wheat.
President Bush weighed into this battle last year, and signed into law a tightly limited endorsement of federal funding for research on stem cells taken from human embryos.
As a result of private research, more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist. They were created from embryos that have already been destroyed, and they have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely, creating ongoing opportunities for research.
I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for research on these existing stem cell lines, where the life-and-death decision has already been made."
The stage on which this battle is waged is a clear podium to investigate the differing perspectives regarding law, and how laws govern our society. Understanding these points-of-view aid the understanding of the arguments, and the motives behind those who approach this quandary from opposing corners of the political chess board. Understanding these view points also allows a deeper comprehension of jurisprudence, and how the motives of involved parties affect change in the legal system which guides the nation.
Natural law approaches legal issues as questions which descend from moral or divine law. In the questions it considers, natural law looks for the application of absolute and unchanging truth. Those who hold this view of jurisprudence often refer to the "Rule of Law." Laws are unresistant to change, if not unchanging, because they are based on moral truth. New situations which arise in the course of human events should be applied to this set of truth in order to determine right, wrong, and a legal course of action.
The debate over this view of jurisprudence is most clearly seen in the differing views of this countries legal system, particularly the Supreme Court. One group of justices believes that the Constitution is a static document. It is purposely open ended, so as to be applied to societal changes, and remain true to he vision, and purpose of the founders who crafted it. Indeed, the preamble to the Declaration of Independence clearly was written from the perspective of moral law when it declares that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Life, laws, and the rights thereof are a function of eternal rights, given to men from a source of divine law. This divinely revealed truth is not all encompassing; therefore men must interpret, and apply the revealed law to the situations it faces.
Legal positivism takes a small step to the left politically, and believes that while the legal system has its genesis in moral norms, the societal norms change over time. With the changes in social conscience, and as a culture accepts differing philosophical systems, the laws must also evolve, and adjust themselves to the current sociological state of the people. Using the above example, the body of justices which believe the Constitution is a 'living document' illustrates their view of jurisprudence. The crafters of the constitution could not have fathomed the direction of the culture, so they deliberately left the document vague, so it could be bent, molded and shaped to fit societal fluctuations. From this body of though, the concept of 'separation of church and state' was written into the constitution, as was the idea that 'a woman's right to her own body' is the constitutional basis for abortion.
Legal realism is another step to the left of legal positivism. This view of jurisprudence recognizes that laws will be established only in so much as they will be enforced. Laws that judges will not accept are not laws, and have no place in the legal code. From this perspective, lawmaking is the process of evaluating the social conscience, and designing a code that assists men toward the goals and pursuits that it has already embraced. Legal realism believes that laws are essentially amoral, as mankind is responsible for its own moral compass.
The concept of secular humanism which swept into the educational process during the 1970's is the everyday outgrowth of such a viewpoint. Secular humanism states that men are responsible for determining their own destiny, without responsibility to a divine law, a higher power, or each other. As each person seeks his or her own good, achieving the society's corporate good will be an unconscious byproduct. This belief has sown, and harvested disastrous consequences in our culture over the past 30 years. Divorce, drug and child abuse, violence in the home, marketplace, and schools have all increased exponentially since our society has slowly accepted this opiate. If I am not responsible to others for my actions, then I am the sole determinant of right and wrong. Enacting these desires into law is only a formal process by which organized society is guided.
The final step in a descent toward anarchy is the jurisprudence of critical legal studies. This system of belief holds that law is in itself a fraud. Laws are only the means by which people groups gain, assert, and hold power. This system exercises the process of lawmaking in the court of public opinion. If a group op people shout something long enough, and loud enough, then this group should get what it wants, and their desires should become law.
A contemporary example of this viewpoint is the recent dispute over the 2000 presidential election. With one state in question, one party energized its devotees, the media, and legal system claiming they were defrauded. Their process of 'recounting the ballots' was in effect the process of disallowing legal ballots, and counting illegally case ballots. Each time a group of ballots were counted, if the numbers were not sufficient to tip the scales, the defrauded party insisted that the rules for accepting ballots be changed again, and the ballots be counted again. Be the time this issue reached a court which was willing to take a socially and politically unpopular position, the entire country was in an uproar. The Supreme Court ultimately decided that the laws which were in place prior to this election were the laws which would decide the results. The threatening cries of the militant political party clearly believed that the jurisprudence of critical legal studies would rule the day. They were incorrect.
In regards to the issue of stem cell research, groups from all four quadrants of jurisprudence have their own perspective. From such, each has begun a course of action that will inevitably have a hand in shaping…[continue]
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