The big news Sunday wasn't war in Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters in Konduz were beginning to surrender to Northern Alliance forces. Nor was it holiday travel, military tribunals or the fact that Democrats are still bottling up President Bush's judicial nominees (which should be a major story). Instead, the talk of the Sunday morning news shows was that scientists at Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) in Worcester, Mass., had created a human clone. You can read the U.S. News & World Report story here. On "Meet the Press" this morning, Dr. Michael West, president of ACT, emphasized that they were not planning on creating a cloned human being -- yet.
"And indeed, there is nothing to prevent people right now in the United States from doing that, except for one major point, and that's that the Food and Drug Administration, by law, regulates the reproductive uses of cloning, so that they would be breaking regulations with the Food and Drug Administration if you tried to clone a human being today," West said. A complete transcript of the interview can be found here.
There is a regulation that would stop the cloning of humans. I feel very relieved now. I guess that "The Boys from Brazil" was just way-out wacko science fiction.
No, these scientists don't want to make cloned human beings, instead they are using these embryos, referred to as "preimplantation embryos," to create stem cells with the same genetic code as the afflicted person, so that there is no worry about rejection when the cells are implanted in the body. The use of the term "preimplantation embryos" is very interesting, and we have Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to thank for prominent use of the term. When stem cell research was being debated on Capitol Hill earlier this year, Sen. Hatch, a pro-lifer, came out in favor of the research because, according to his (twisted) logic, an embryo isn't a human being until it resides in a woman. This theory that whether something is human or not depends on it's location is curious. Are human beings in space still human beings? How about human beings in the oceans' depths? That where we are located changes the status and worth of our life is a troubling concept.
Logically, life must begin at conception. I have heard of no persuasive argument for another time at which "life" could begin. At conception, that one-cell organism has within it all of the genetic material necessary to become a human being. Given time and sustenance, that cell will grow up to be a human. Not a pig, not a giraffe, not a flower. A human being.
In my college speech class a young woman and myself ended up on different sides of the abortion debate. One of this woman's better arguments (and this is saying a lot) was to liken human reproduction to that of a chicken. The comparison is silly on its face, but that didn't seem to faze most of the "pro-choice" people in the room. Her argument was: When we have eggs for breakfast, we say we had eggs, not chicken. When we have chicken for dinner, we don't say we had eggs. Likewise, a fetus isn't a human, otherwise we wouldn't have two different words for it. This argument is stupid. Baby -- human or not? Toddler -- human or not? Teenager -- human or not? Adult -- human or not? Senior citizen -- human or not? That people actually thought that this was strong argument just shows a lack of critical-thinking skills.
Others suggest that life begins at birth. I don't buy the theory that a pair of scissors is what makes us human. Yes, after the umbilical cord is cut, the baby is definitely separate from its mother. Pro-choice proponents suggest that because at that point the child is no longer dependent on its mother for sustenance, it's a human being. Unfortunately, that baby is still dependent on its mother (or someone) for sustenance for at least a few more years, and many, including my parents, would argue that the number of years is closer to 18.
What these scientists are doing is creating human life for the purpose of dicing it up for spare parts. It is ethically and morally wrong on its face. But that doesn't stop scientists from trying to justify what they are doing.
"If you ask the average person, they will tell you (embryos are) a tiny little person with buggy eyes," says West. "But, in fact, these are just a few reproductive cells, not much different than eggs or sperm. They are the raw materials of life, but they are not a person." Most scientists agree. During the first 14 days after an egg is fertilized, the group of cells is known as a "preimplantation embryo." In nature, the majority of these pass from the body without ever attaching to a woman's uterus and developing further. If one truly believed that these were individual human lives being lost, argues Ronald Green, director of the Ethics Institute at Dartmouth and chairman of ACT's bioethics committee, then this should be considered a huge public-health crisis, and there would be a massive medical campaign launched to save these "lives."
-- U.S. News & World Report
What "most scientists" apparently don't recognize is the difference between themselves and God (or nature if you prefer). When these embryos do not attach to the woman's uterus it is nature taking its course. When scientists decide that these embryos are good for spare parts, they are making a decision about who lives and who dies. If you were to implant these embryos into a woman and wait nine months, there's a possibility that you would have a baby.
I hope that science eventually finds a cure for diabetes, Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries. However, scientists should not be creating and destroying human life in order to ensure that Christopher Reeve walks again.
Luckily, there appears to be good news from the two senators interviewed on "Meet the Press," Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., both said that it was very likely, after a lengthy debate, that the Senate would ban human cloning.