The Corner

Kinsley’s Misconceptions

Michael Kinsley has added a wrinkle to his arguments for embryo-killing research. He says that killing embryos in the course of research is no different from killing innocent Iraqis in the course of fighting the Iraq war. Here’s the new wrinkle:

[A] philosopher [usually] pops up at this point and says that the crucial difference is a matter of intentions. Terrorists purposely target innocent civilians. We try hard not to kill innocent civilians, even if we know it can’t be avoided. They’re worse, even if our score is sadly higher.

But are stem cells any different? Stem cell researchers don’t want to kill embryos. They know that the deaths of embryos are a consequence of what they do, and they think that curing terrible diseases is worth it — just as President Bush thinks that bringing democracy to Iraq is worth it.

It’s a bad analogy, because it misunderstands the role of “intent” in the philosopher’s argument. Killing the embryos isn’t a side-effect of the researchers’ actions; the act of killing them is the means to the researchers’ end. In the case of a just war fought justly–and obviously I’m leaving aside the question of whether the Iraq war qualifies–innocent civilians’ deaths are neither the ends nor the means to the end. That is, assuming victory is a morally laudable goal in a war, targeting civilians as a way to win the war isn’t morally permissible. You can’t justify it by saying, Well, we don’t want to target the civilians; if we could win the war without targeting them, we would, but we can’t win it without doing that, so we’re going to do that.

The analogy would work in that case (as, I have argued, it works in the case of Hiroshima). It would be like embryo-destructive research, which is why it would be wrong.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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