Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration Part VIII: Religious Human Sacrifice

Imagine that a solar eclipse strikes the nation. Under the guidance of its religious leaders, the government immediately starts to round up people to be sacrificed. The idea is that, once enough people have been sacrificed, the gods will be appeased, and the sun will return. They conduct these sacrifices with assembly-line efficiency. People are lined up, prepared for the sacrifice. laid out on the altar, their chests are cut open, their beating hearts removed, the body and the dead organ are removed from the altar, and the line just keeps moving.

The Manhattan Doctrine advocates something very much like this, only far deadlier and never-ending. It would be more like the scenario above if the priests then say, "We can never stop this ritual sacrifice because, the instant we do, God will take away the sun again, this time for good."

So the line keeps moving, in perpetuity.

The death and suffering that the authors of the Manhattan Declaration are calling for, and that they insist the government help them in providing - is the death and suffering brought about by illnesses and injuries that may be treatable using embryonic stem cells or that would come from embryonic stem cell research.

They are not cutting open the chests of living individuals and pulling out their beating hearts. That would be a quick and merciful death compared to what the authors of the Manhattan Declaration require of us. They require a a slow and lingering death, or even that their sacrificial victims continue living with missing limbs, paralysis, an inability to recognize one's surroundings, a body that does not respond to simple commands of movement.

They would fill the whole world with stories of people enduring these effects, and claim that it is all done for the greater good - to appease their god, who would be angry if we took steps to potentially cure or treat these illnesses and injuries.

Keep in mind, the people who lined up the sacrificial victims so as to cut out their beating hearts to appease their gods did not think of themselves as brutal murderers. They thought of themselves as great benefactors to society doing great deeds. However, the fact is that they did not provide society with any benefit. They provided society with death and suffering that rational minds could have avoided.

Today, with issues such as embryonic stem cell research, the magnitude of the death and suffering they inflict on the world for no good reason has increased by orders of magnitude. The ancient human sacrifices were Sunday picnics in comparison to the global sacrifice certain religious leaders today are demanding.

One may argue that we have a duty to respect their beliefs and refrain from raising questions or objections. In fact, the morality requires that we condemn any who should raise questions or objections so such a widespread practice of human sacrifice. It is not 'politically correct' to question another person's religion no matter who or how many they would maim or kill in the practicing of that religion.

Yet, if anybody deserves our concern it is the victims of this human mega-sacrifice, not its perpetrators. Our first order of concern should be with those who end up dead or disabled for life, not with those who would who insist that the death and suffering be allowed to continue indefinitely.

The major charge that one would make against me is that I am begging the question. The advocates of all of this death and destruction are, in fact, preventing murder by sparing the use of innocent lives. Innocent people ought not to be sacrificed even for the achievement of such noble ends as saving lives and preventing illness.

Yet, they are "sparing the use of innocent lives" in the same sense that the religious leaders in my illustrative example are "sparing the sun". In other words, they are not as a matter of fact saving any innocent lives in any morally relevant way, just as the tribe in the illustrative example was not saving the sun. Instead, they have been driven to set of absurd beliefs that have driven them to commit mass murder and great suffering for no good reason whatsoever - for the sake of a wholly imaginary benefit that exists only in the minds of those calling for death and suffering.

As I mentioned yesterday, embryonic stem cells have no desires. This means that they have no interests and they cannot be harmed in any morally relevant way. What we may legitimately do to an embryonic stem cell is no different to what we may do to a skin cell, a fingernail, or a lock of hair. The pretense that these entities have moral worth is a myth. It is a myth that the myth makers say makes it necessary to engage in human sacrifice on a massive scale.

Once those cells are organized into a being that has beliefs and desires, the situation changes. Now they are the objects of desires that we all have many and strong reasons to promote - aversions to killing and to doing harm to another human being, including one who is either permanently or temporarily suffering some mental or physical deficiency. A lump of cells without desires is just that - a lump of cells. It has no reason to act, and it has no reason to promote or inhibit any particular attitudes in us.

Think of this as your best friend sits in a wheel chair as a result of a spinal cord injury, as grandma sits in the hospital unable to recognize the grand children that come to visit her, or the cancer victim suffers the fatal destruction of an organ that cannot be replaced or removed. These are the people that some religious leaders have demanded be offered up as human sacrifice to their God.


Unknown said...

I have been musing on this whole desire idea over the past day. It is very interesting and I understand that you have developed a whole morality theory based on it.

In regards to this post in-particular, I was wondering if you would extend this line of logic to say that it would be morally permissible to somehow prevent the brain in a developing child from being able to formulate desires. If this was possible, would it then be ok to grow the child into a physically fully-fledged human in order to use their organs etc.?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Ah, this is a very good question.

Note that desirism (desire utilitarianism) is primarily concerned with evaluating desires, not actions. It is not an intrinsic value theory that looks to the intrinsic wrongness or rightness of certain types of conduct. It looks at the value of desires for or aversions to that conduct.

A person who looks upon such an entity grown without a brain to be used for organs cannot perceive directly that the individual is without a brain. A person without a brain, and a person with a brain, would appear the same.

We have very many and strong reasons to promote in people an aversion to treating people with brains in this way. That is to say, it is a good thing that people who would look upon such a situation with an emotional sense of sympathy for that 'person', and an aversion to that situation.

In allowing this to happen, are we going to have to somehow suppress this emotional response to what appears to be the sight of an individual in peril? What will this do to the response to the sight of people actually in trouble? In order to lessen our aversion to these cases, are we going to need to lessen our aversion to real suffering?

Even if it is possible to separate our aversions in these two cases so that we can preserve one while weakening the other, how easily can it be done? It may take a great deal of work, at which point we will need to ask whether the huge costs of separating our passions in this way is worth the benefit.

Ultimately, I do not know the answer to your question. Desirism says that it is not possible to do morally relevant harm to an entity without desires, but it also gives us reason to worry that allowing harm to certain entities without desires requires de-sensitizing people to triggers that prevent harm to entities that have desires. And that would be bad.

Eneasz said...

Hello Alonzo.

Considering the vast amounts of good that such organ-farming could produce, I think it would be important go forward with such a project if it were feasible.

There could be some half-solutions to the problem you raised. If we had enough control over the development of a body to prevent a viable brain from forming, presumably we could make other developmental changes that would be purely cosmetic in nature and not effect the organ quality. Perhaps suppress the formation of a face, or induce the skin to form into scales? Things that would differentiate the organ-body from a human for anyone who had to work with them.

This probably wouldn't be completely effective, and might not even be possible. But there are a fair number of professions that cause those who work in them to become desensitized to the pain of others. Working in a slaughterhouse can have this effect. Working as a soldier can have this effect. Both are important jobs that we cannot simply eliminate, and thus we must accept a certain level of risk of desensitization. I would think growing organs for people who are dying would be as worthy of the risk as the others mentioned.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Considering the vast amounts of good that such organ-farming could produce, I think it would be important go forward with such a project if it were feasible.

I am not certain as to how much good would be done. For one thing, it would amount to the task (and expense) of keeping a brain-dead body alive until such point as its organs were needed, with each organ extracted substantially increasing the cost of keeping the other organs alive.

Other processes considered for stem cell research involve injecting stem cells into damaged organs and have the stem cells grow to replace damaged tissue - though growing end transplanting entire organs is in the cards.

[T]here are a fair number of professions that cause those who work in them to become desensitized to the pain of others. Working in a slaughterhouse can have this effect.

Which is an argument, in desire-utilitarian terms for shutting down the slaughter houses - if they tend to promote desire that tend to thwart the desires of others or inhibit desires that tend to fulfill the desires of others.

Working as a soldier can have this effect. Both are important jobs that we cannot simply

We can eliminate the slaughter houses. On the issue of eliminating soldiers, it seems reasonable to argue that whoever does not eliminate soldiers will enslave those who do, so the existence of soldiers is a necessity. "Ought" implies "can", and "cannot eliminate soldiers" implies "it is not the case that one ought to."

I would think growing organs for people who are dying would be as worthy of the
risk as the others mentioned.

We are not actually talking about growing organs. We are talking about growing brainless humans for the sake of harvesting their organs. There would be no objection to growing a liver or a patch of skin. In fact, the greater simplicity and lower cost of growing organs would argue against going further and growing otherwise whole brainless people.

Eneasz said...

Very good points. I retract my earlier position.