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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Peter Singer Knocks Down Straw Men in Weak Pro Cloning Column



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I have never been that impressed with the thinking of Peter Singer, although he is probably the most famous philosopher/bioethicist in the world. This article by Singer in the Australian about the Hwang scandal is a case in point.

For example, Singer trots out the old nonsense that cloning makes the human embryo essentially worthless because, well, let's let him tell it:

"Proving the possibility of cloning from the nucleus of an ordinary human cell would transform the debate about the value of potential human life, for we would find that potential human life was all around us, in every cell of our bodies."

The idea here is that since any cell could conceivably be used to create an embryo, and since many people oppose destroying embryos because of their human potential, then since every cell is a potential human life, this somehow disproves the belief that a human embryo has intrinsic value because it is human. But this is mere sophistry. A cell is just a cell, whether used in cloning or not. At most, each somatic cell would be the moral equivalent of sperm--which again, is just a cell. Scientifically, a cloned embryo is a different thing altogether than a mere cell: It is an integrated human organism, which many believe gives it a distinct moral status. Hence, contrary to Singer's assertion, learning to clone will not change this perspective at all.

Here's another weak argument: Singer quotes President Bush as opposing therapeutic cloning because each human life is as unique as a snowflake. "If it is the uniqueness of human embryos that makes it wrong to destroy them," he writes, "then there is no compelling reason not to take one cell from an embryo and destroy the remainder of it to obtain stem cells, for the embryo's unique genetic potential would be preserved."

But of course, that is not why President Bush or others oppose cloning. Otherwise, they wouldn't object to murdering identical siblings, who are the world's only true clones. Indeed, it isn't the genetic uniqueness that makes it wrong to create embryos for the purpose of destroying them to cloning opponents: It is treating human life, even nascent human life, like a commodity, a mere crop to be harvested.

Singer is adept at making straw men to knock over, and employs this technique throughout his column. The truth is that Singer believes that all unborn human lives and newborn infants have no right to life or bodily integrity because they are not "persons." Indeed, he is the world's foremost proponent of infanticide. Hence, under Singer's theories--and he does hint at this in this piece--it would be acceptable to create a cloned embryo, gestate it to the fetal stage, and abort it in order to harvest its organs. Heck, he would justify bringing a cloned baby fully to birth for that purpose. Unfortunately, many readers of this piece may not know the depth of the consequences of Singer's utilitarian mindset.


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