Human Exceptionalism

Nobel Prize Scientist Supports Human Cloning

James Watson, the co-discoverer of the DNA double helix demonstrated that just because one is a brilliant scientist, that doesn’t mean he or she is also a good ethicist.

And now, we have another example: Sir John Gurdon, who won the Nobel Prize for early work on cloning frogs, has come out in favor of human reproductive cloning. From the Daily Mail story:

‘I take the view that anything you can do to relieve suffering or improve human health will usually be widely accepted by the public – that is to say if cloning actually turned out to be solving some problems and was useful to people, I think it would be accepted,’ he said. During his public lectures – which include speeches at Oxford and Cambridge Universities – he often asks his audience if they would be in favour of allowing parents of deceased children, who are no longer fertile, to create another using the mother’s eggs and skin cells from the first child, assuming the technique was safe and effective.

‘The average vote on that is 60 per cent in favour,’ he said. ‘The reasons for “no” are usually that the new child would feel they were some sort of a replacement for something and not valid in their own right. ‘But if the mother and father, if relevant, want to follow that route, why should you or I stop them?’

I don’t know why so many scientists take such a crass utilitarian view of things, but let’s unpack this for a moment. First, polls show overwhelming opposition to reproductive cloning. Be that as it may, note how Gurdon doesn’t appear to care about the impact on the future cloned child of being a “replacement.” Only the feelings of the parents matter. This is in keeping with the growing belief that people not only have the right to a baby, but to have a baby by any means they want, and indeed, the baby they want–in this example, custom manufactured.

But let’s dig a little deeper. What kind of experiments would it take for reproductive cloning to be “safe?”  Here’s how biologist and stem cell researcher, David Prentice (now with the Family Research Council). put it back in 2003 when I interviewed him for my book Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World:

Scientists would have to clone thousands of embryos and grow them to the blastocyst stage [one week] to ensure that part of the process leading up to transfer into a uterus could be “safe,” monitoring and analyzing each embryo, destroying each one in the process.  Next, cloned embryos would have to be transferred into the uteruses of women volunteers [or implanted in an artificial womb].  The initial purpose would be analysis of development, not bringing the pregnancy to a live birth.  Each of these clonal pregnancies would be terminated at various points of development, each fetus destroyed for scientific analysis.  The surrogate mothers would also have to be closely monitored and tested, not only during the pregnancies but also for a substantial length of time after the abortions.

Finally, if these experiments demonstrated that it was probably safe to proceed, a few clonal pregnancies would be allowed to go to full term.  Yet even then, the born cloned babies would have to be constantly monitored to determine whether any health problems develop.  Each would have to be followed (and undergo a battery of tests both physical and psychological) for their entire lives, since there is no way to predict if problems [associated with gene expression] might arise later in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, or even into the senior years.

Does that sound moral or ethical to anyone?  It is manufacturing human life and then treating it as if it were nothing more meaningful than potter’s clay.

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