Korean scientists recently announced that they cloned 30 embryos and extracted stem cells from one of the clones. The scientists employed therapeutic cloning, a technique aimed not at producing a human, but at harvesting stem cells, which have the potential to generate every type of cell in the body. Researchers believe that stem cell research could provide significant advances in combating disease.
Scientists everywhere marveled at the possibilities of tinkering with the raw material of life. The ability to regenerate cells, they tells us, represents one of those great leaps of scientific revolution that propels us forward.
Far less consideration seems to be given to the moral implications of creating life simply to destroy it. Each embryo these researchers harvest and dissect has a unique genetic code. That means they are using their scalpels to tear not at a random collection of cells, but at a genetically complete human being. This is no different from, say, abortion or murder.
As CMA Executive Director David Stevens, M.D., said to the New York Times, "Many injustices and horrors have been foisted on individuals and society in the name of science. But to duplicate a living human being for the sole purpose of exploitative research and destruction is singularly morally unconscionable. To do so when morally acceptable research -- the use of adult stem cells -- is already producing tremendous therapies for patients -- is unthinkable."
Scientists seem comfortable with this. "We've taken the first step toward what we hope will be a whole new era of medicine," proclaimed biologist Michael West on CNN's Late Edition. "It's been called regenerative medicine. The idea is to be able to give replacement cells and tissues, like the way we repair a car when it's broken,"
That's very clinical of West. I would however suggest that there are some things in this life that we ought not to be so clinical about, some things that cannot simply be reduced to right angles, such as destroying human life. Murder is murder-whether it happens in a lab or on the street. We cannot allow the allure of stem cell research-of endowing man with God like power over nature--blind us to the inherent indignity of treating embryos like objects. Nor should we ignore the fact that plucking eggs from women and using them for experiments is inherently exploitative.
Then there is the inevitability of therapeutic cloning leading to human cloning. Attempts to clone the world's first animal were fraught with error. Most of the test subjects died. Others developed chronic diseases and disorders, some of which did not become apparent until months or years after they were created. Subjecting humans to the same cloning procedure would amount to using babies as guinea pigs. That is appalling.
The practice of human cloning also opens the Pandora's Box of genetic engineering. Would one's worth be determined pre-natally, based on the combination of one's genes? It would be tempting for parents to try to make their children perfect in the lab room. Would an engineered person lack the humanity that is defined by our imperfections? Would human cloning give rise to genetic discrimination, from individuals as well as insurance companies? What if a clone was created simply to gratify a parent's memory of their deceased child? Could such a person ever truly feel a part of the family? Of society? Even worse, unscrupulous government could employ human cloning to create a menial class of servants, or to employ other forms of social engineering. (The Nazis showed us how notions of an institutionalized master race can quickly lead to atrocity.)
In the aftermath of World War II, with the experiments conducted by Nazi scientists fresh in everyone's mind, the international community adopted the Nuremberg Codes which specifically prohibited the use of human experimentation without consent. It is time for the international community to gather again, and to issue a comprehensive ban on all human cloning. Science can never be allowed to supersede the sanctity of human life. On such maters, there can be no room for compromise.