Winter 2005

Reasonable Doubts. A Reply to E. Christian Brugger

Adrian J. Walker

"Schindler, and not Brugger, is the real Aristotelian here."


E. Christian Brugger devotes a considerable portion of his essay “ANT-OAR: A Morally Acceptable Means for Deriving Pluripotent Stem Cells. A Reply to Criticisms”2 to responding to David Schindler’s critique of the OAR proposal in the pages of Communio.3 Brugger singles out for particular rebuttal Schindler’s claim that supporters of OAR have not yet given us sufficient assurance that the procedure would not produce human embryos. As Brugger reads him, Schindler is demanding more evidence on this score than he can reasonably ask for. His interrogation of OAR, lacking any sound scientific or philosophical foundation, rests instead on an irrational, ultimately dualistic unwillingness to let the physical evidence garnered in laboratory experiments decide whether OAR produces embryos or not:

It is absurd to claim that an entity is a human organism when it expresses itself neither materially nor temporally in ways characteristic of human organisms. As I said, this is dualist; it denies discernibly human material characteristics to something human; the entity looks, expresses itself, and behaves like a pluripotent stem cell; it does not express itself in a way characteristic of a human organism, nor does it have any peculiarly human organismic behavioral characteristics; but it just might be informed by a human soul. This is like claiming that a human soul might be trapped inside a stone. If we can distinguish between any cell and a zygote, we should be able to distinguish between an ANT-OAR cell and a zygote.4

Brugger boils Schindler’s position down to this: there are serious grounds for thinking that OAR produces embryos even if the OAR product “looks, expresses itself, and behaves like a pluripotent stem cell.” Unfortunately, Brugger is setting up a straw man here, for Schindler’s actual contention is precisely that the OAR product does not and cannot look and act like a pluripotent stem cell in at least one decisive respect: its coming into being. For if we compare OAR with SCNT, Schindler insists, we find that OAR uses exactly the same event—exactly the same fusion of an enucleated egg and a somatic cell nucleus—that SCNT uses to clone a human embryo. What Schindler is really asserting, then, is that, even if the OAR product looks and acts more or less like a pluripotent stem cell in other respects, its coming into being looks and acts sufficiently like the coming into being of a human embryo to raise serious questions about OAR. Far from asserting that physical tokens in general are irrelevant to distinguishing embryos from stem cells, Schindler is simply insisting that there is one physical token that trumps all the others in the particular case of OAR: has the new entity come into being in a sufficiently human species-specific way? In the following essay, I would like to restate and defend Schindler’s reasons for thinking that OAR supporters have not yet ruled out a Yes answer.



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1. I would like to thank Dr. W. Malcolm Byrnes for invaluable criticisms of an earlier draft of this essay. Of course the claims I express here, as well as the mistakes I might make, are mine, and not Dr. Byrnes’s.

2. E. Christian Brugger, “ANT-OAR: A Morally Acceptable Means for Deriving Pluripotent Stem Cells. A Reply to Criticisms,” Communio 32, no. 4 (Winter, 2005): 753–769.

3. In particular, Brugger is replying to David L. Schindler, “A Response to the Joint Statement, ‘Production of Pluripotent Stem Cells by Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming,’” Communio 32, no. 2 (Summer, 2005): 369–380.

4. Brugger, “ANT-OAR: A Morally Acceptable Means,” 766–767. Emphasis original.