Human cloning has begun, but now it must become illegal
Earlier this year, scientist Dr. Shoukrat Mitalipov reported in the academic journal Cell, that for the first time in history, human embryos were successfully cloned. The procedure called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) which was used 17 years ago for Dolly the Sheep was recently applied successfully to human cells for the first time in history. Dr. Mitalipov described the procedure:
“One way to do it is to take skin cell from dental nucleus. To make a stem cell, we have to have a compatible cytoplasm. We know that actually from animal studies that eggs — actually the cytoplasm has this capacity to basically to turn any cell nucleus that we put inside into stem cells. The procedure is called somatic cell nuclear transfer. We perfected in the past, this procedure in the monkey model. It’s non-human primate. It’s very close to humans. We were interested if we could use now this technique to apply to human eggs.
Other scientists had tried the process with human cells but were unsuccessful. Mitalipov’s purpose was to create stem cells that might be “compatible if we transplant these tissues back into the patient.” Although scientists and physicians have already seen many productive uses of stem cells from adult cells on patients, there has yet to be successful cures with embryonic stem cells.
Most major media corporations covered Mitalipov’s discovery, but ethicist Wesley J. Smith says that some of the reports were misleading, for the reports suggested that this procedure was not really human cloning. The vast majority of the scientific community agree that a new embryo is a distinct entity. However, some utilitarian ethicists while recognizing the embryo’s humanity, deny that human embryos (or later fetuses and sometimes newborn infants) have the status of “personhood” until some time later. In reply to the Wall Street Journal’s recent article announcing the human cloning, titled, “Experiment Brings Human Cloning One Step Closer,” Wesley J. Smith replied:
“They explicitly created a human clone! That’s what SCNT cloning does; creates a cloned embryo. A cloned embryo–like a natural embryo–is an individual organism, a member of its (in this case, human) species. Once the SCNT is done, the cloning is over. After that, the question becomes not whether to clone, but what to do with the embryo that was created through the cloning process. These scientists destroyed the embryos and derived stem cell lines.”
The official publication in Cell that describes the procedure and refers to “SCNT embryo’s” as actual “embryos” throughout the article.
Dr. Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society told NPR shortly after the announcement of human cloning, “There are already 60 countries in the world that have laws on their books banning human reproductive cloning, and this prohibition is also in a number of international agreements.” She said, “But in the U.S., we have not managed to put such a law on the books at the federal level.” Although Mitalipov wants to use this procedure to get stem cells only, rather than allow the embryo to be implanted, grow and eventually be born, there are several major ethical concerns about human cloning.
Those who demand to keep legal the rights to clone human beings may seem open to the freedom of scientific progressions, but often commit several fatal fallacies. One common rhetorical mistake made many in favor of human cloning is that they often insert an imaginative “religion verses science conflict” into their arguments. It goes like this, someone will oppose the legality of human cloning, and the scientist or legislator, while appealing to “separation of church and state,” accuses those in opposition of cloning as being “people of faith who are anti-science.” In reply to this accusation, the issue of cloning or destruction of human embryos is emphatically not an issue about religion, but it certainly is an issue about ethics. Some people accuse those who believe that humans have dignity at conception, as being oppressive towards the progress of science. But science can be used for noble or it can be used for evil purposes. Science can be used to cure diseases or it can be used to create atomic bombs or used for genetic manipulation that will treat humans as mere material objects. Science does not just act in a vacuum. Rather it is people who decide how to apply scientific methods to human beings. The Catholic Church has consistently urged increased support and awareness for the advancements in adult stem cells to alleviate human suffering, but not research that involves destroying another human embryo. Dr. Micheline M. Matthews-Roth, professor at Harvard Medical School, says, “We know from embryology that a new life begins with the formation of the zygote, the cell formed from the union of egg and sperm in fertilization – this is scientific fact, not religious doctrine.”
Many who argue in favor of human cloning hold that a relativistic utilitarian system of ethics is objectively true. Utilitarianism is the fashionable ethical system in some academic circles, popularized by Peter Singer, of Princeton University. Utilitarianism estimates the end results, hoping for the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. This philosophy often emphasizes futuristic results that are merely speculative while neglecting virtuous acts right before us. Dr. Matthews-Roth says, “So, do you really want to use a bad means to get to a good end? In other words, killing a growing human to cure somebody else. That’s the basic line. That’s no philosophy, that’s science. If you kill a growing human, you take that blastocyst, you break it open, you’re killing a growing human.”
John Stonestreet, co-host of BreakPoint Radio shares another concern that many Americans have. He says, “Tragically, the attention given to embryonic stem cells has obscured the far greater therapeutic potential of adult stem cells.” Stonestreet talked about a young lady named Elizabeth Lobato, a 14-year-old girl diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as “brittle bone disease,” when she was only ten months old. This young lady has experienced tremendous progress through adult stem cells that strengthened her severely fragile bones and was invited to the Vatican to be celebrated the Second International Vatican Adult Stem Cell Conference. Many in the scientific community are excited about the incredible results that have come from adult stem cells and really believe that the controversial, risky and expensive procedures of human cloning to get stem cells should be made illegal.
Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth concludes: “I encourage the use of adult stem cells, because no one is killed in the process of obtaining them. Also, since adult stem cells will come from the person needing the transformed cells, they will present no rejection problems, nor do they form teratomas.” Now is the time to make stronger efforts to expand adult stem research and efforts, but pass legislation that makes the cloning of human embryos for stem cells illegal.