When Readers Comment (1/15/08)

In response my book review of Russell Korobkin's Stem Cell Century, John Thacker responded:

The sad fact of the matter is that Korobkin may have identified the moral premise underlying Bush Administration policy generally, not just for stem cell research. A similar moral premise seems to be at work to justify CIA rendition.

Hmm, does that mean that it was also a moral premise underlying Clinton Administration policy, since the Clinton Administration also performed CIA rendition?

More generally, the philosophical principle that one need not "refuse to benefit from the fruits of bad acts perpetrated by others" is one that certainly has been debated and can continue to be debated. Suppose that the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments had produced useful data about syphilis that could save other lives. Would it be acceptable to incorporate that data into treatments for syphilis, or must one completely "refuse to benefit from the fruits" of those bad acts? NASA in particular and space research in general benefited from Wernher von Braun and the experiences of the V-2 combat rocket-- and certainly there was criticism of the US for benefiting from the fruits of the Nazi war machine. How much knowledge or complicity of the bad acts is enough until it is too much, and one becomes an accomplice?

Yes, it is morally unacceptable to benefit from bad acts when accepting the benefits encourages further bad actions. The fundamental contradiction in the Bush administration's logic is that they say that they want to limit the destruction of embryos, but their actions in accepting the benefits encourage further destruction. A similar issue is in play with CIA rendition and torture. They say they would like to limit it, but they really want the information so their actions are encouraging it.

This distinguishes it from the situation with the Tuskegee experiment. If the experiment had resulted in a cure, it would be morally acceptable to use it because at the minimum it would guarantee that no further experiments with syphilis would need to take place.

This in my opinion is a good standard: to what degree does benefiting encourage further wrong behavior?

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This in my opinion is a good standard: to what degree does benefiting encourage further wrong behavior?

Data should be independent of the researcher. We don't say the conclusions are bad because the scientists obtained them by unethical experiments. Don't we use data obtained by Nazi experiments on hypothermia? Yet Dr. Mengele is rightly seen as a monster by moral standards.

There are also multiple ways to obtain data; encouraging students of science to find ways of designing ethical experiments from the start can also help reduce the view of ethics as a roadblock, rather than an imperative condition of any experiment.

I think being sure that the _researchers_ do not benefit from their actions (Through legal action and professional sanctions) should provide enough incentive for the majority of researchers. Knowing that an experiment might result in jail time instead of a Nobel Prize would probably be enough incentive for most individuals.

With the possible exception of Girl Genius sparks.

The fact that there might be good information obtained from an experiment, such as the Tuskegee syphilus experiment, still does not in any way diminish the moral reprehensibility of it. Same with the hypothermia experiments. The same information could have been obtained using ethical means.

The fact that there might be good information obtained from an experiment, such as the Tuskegee syphilus experiment, still does not in any way diminish the moral reprehensibility of it. Same with the hypothermia experiments. The same information could have been obtained using ethical means.