Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Embryonic stem cell research presents an easy expected value problem. An expected value problem is one for which two or more values or outcomes are weighed, when each has a likelihood of occurring. Expected value problems are solved by converting all variables to the same unit of measurement and multiplying each outcome by its likelihood.

Comparing only like terms, we have:

Decision = Prob(life-threatening diseases cured)(number of cured people) - (1)(number of embryo lives destroyed in research)

... where Prob(X) represents the likelihood of X occurring, on a scale from 0 to 1.

So we're being asked to balance the hypothetical cure against the definite death. Roll the dice that some person could be cured by taking the life of another, without that other's consent.

The doctor is correct. When the probability of a cure for some life-threatening disease gets high enough, the number of lives saved will outweigh, in a grisly fashion, the number of lives destroyed to save them.

I ignore the easy straw man argument, that embryonic stem cells have the "potential" to keep aging actresses on screen longer and prolong the careers of aging athletes. But what of old age generally? What if embryonic stem cells hold the fountain of youth?

It's the same expected value. To do the research to find out whether such is possible, human beings have to die.

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