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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 4, 1998

Bioethics and Medical Ethics

Dieter Birnbacher
Pages 7-12

Embryo Research as a Paradigm of Ethical Pragmatics

Research on the human embryo is one of the most obstinately controversial issues of international bioethical debate. There has not been enough of a consensus on this issue to allow for more than a formal compromise within Europe. I argue in this paper for a pragmatic approach to the problem which accords priority to "want-regarding" considerations but does not fail, as most utilitarian approaches do, to give due weight to the "morality-dependent harms" caused by the practice of embryo research to those rejecting it from other than want-regarding principles. I suggest that in deeply controversial bioethical issues a consistent want-regarding perspective should be prepared, under certain narrow conditions, to make pragmatic tradeoffs between the inherent merits of the practice in question and the averse emotions of the public. These conditions are that the averse emotions are widespread, felt to be of existential importance, and stable under additional information, and that the costs in terms of reduced freedom and foregone humane progress do not seem excessive.

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