Taught by Dr. Jacques Mistrot
What Does Ethical And Moral Scientific Research Look Like? Part II
This video is the second part of a two-part class by Jacques Mistrot about stem-cell research. In the first part
, Mistrot explains the proposed scientific and therapeutic uses of stem-cell research. In the present part, Mistrot relies on the fundamental moral teachings of the Church to determine whether this research is morally acceptable.
Mistrot argues that since embryonic stem-cell research involves the intentional destruction of human life in its earliest stages, it is always immoral. It is commonly objected to this argument that embryos are not yet human beings. This objection takes four different forms, corresponding to different understandings of personhood.
The first objection is based on a functional understanding of personhood. It is argued that since embryos lack some of the abilities possessed by adult human beings, e.g. since they cannot think or communicate, they are not human beings. To this objection, it is answered that none of the above-mentioned abilities are essential to being human, as is demonstrated by the fact that mentally impaired adults who cannot think or speak are nonetheless human beings.
The second objection is based on potentiality. It is argued that since there is a low likelihood of an embryo implanting and surviving until birth, it is not a human. The premise that humanity is based on likelihood of survival is false, however, as is demonstrated by the fact that a community at high risk of being killed by a storm are still human beings.
The third objection is based on size. Since the embryo is so small, the objection goes, it cannot be a human. It is obvious that this objection fails, since it has the absurd consequence that adults are more human than children, or even than shorter or thinner adults.
The fourth objection is based on age. It is argued that embryos are too young to be considered human beings. To this objection, it is sufficient to notice that it produces a similar absurdity as the third objection. If its premise were true, adults would be more human than children, and older adults would be more human than younger adults.
The proponent of embryonic stem-cell research can concede that the embryo is a human being but argue that it is nonetheless morally acceptable to kill it, on the utilitarian grounds that the research could have net-positive consequences. This same reasoning, however, could be extended to justify numerous atrocities such as Nazi experiments on Jewish people, if the medical results had saved more people than were killed. Such practices were clearly unjust, however, and they would have been unjust even if they lead to discoveries that saved millions. Therefore, the argument fails.
Dr. Mistrot graduated Magna Cum Laude from Baylor College of Medicine in 1968. He interned and trained in general surgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and trained in thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at the U. of Minnesota Hospitals in Minneapolis and the Children’s Medical Center, Boston. After 25 years of active practice, he retired in 1998.
Since retirement, Dr. Mistrot has been involved in the area of bioethics and in 2006 organized a course in Catholic bioethics. This course was approved by Bishop Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh in 2008.
In 2007, Dr. Mistrot was certified by the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Health Care Ethics. He has also been involved in medical mission work throughout Central America since his retirement. He is married with six children and is a member of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Raleigh.