Gavagai Goulash: Growing Organs for Food

Think 17 (15):61-70 (2007)
Recent advancements in stem-cell research have given scientists hope that new technologies will soon enable them to grow a variety of organs for transplantation into humans. Though such developments are still in their early stages, romantic prognosticators are hopeful that scientists will be capable of growing fully functioning and complex organs, such as hearts, kidneys, muscles, and livers. This raises the question of whether such profound medical developments might have other potentially fruitful applications. In the spirit of innovation, this paper examines the ethical ramifications of a spin-off technology that has just begun being considered by scientists and enthusiastic entrepreneurs: animal organs grown, independently of their host animals, for food. Most importantly, this paper presents the homegrown organs market as a philosopher's Gedankenexperiment come true. By comparing three of the primary arguments against the use of animals for meat production -- Peter Singer's Utilitarianism, Tom Regan's Kantianism, and Cora Diamond's non-cognitivism -- this paper proposes that the case of organs grown in a laboratory for food further accentuates the point that the critical moral difference between an animal and a slab of meat lies in the way in which the animal interacts with us, not in specific attributes or values intrinsic to that animal. It suggests that our main impetus for not eating, and even for protecting, animals ought to be grounded in our sense of who we are, in our own practical identity as ethical agents, which develops over a long course of interactive interrelations with human and non-human others.
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