When I was a child, I once got lost in the woods. At first I just walked straight ahead, thinking I would eventually come to a clearing. However, the undergrowth became more tangled and I got scratched up, even took a fall or two. I realized what I had to do was retrace my steps and find out where I strayed from the path.
Something similar has happened to our society. We have gotten ourselves into an awful tangle and perhaps it is time we consider retracing our steps to see if there is a way out.
During the last week of November 2001 a Massachusetts lab called Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) announced it had created embryos through cloning. They hope to eventually use such embryos to grow replacement parts. If you need a new liver or kidney, they will extract the genetic material from one of your cells and inject it into an ovum. Of course, the embryo – which in this case would be your identical twin – would have to be destroyed so you could obtain the replacement organ. This process has a soothing name: therapeutic cloning.* (As opposed to reproductive cloning which they say would never do.)
Even if we accept a moral distinction between therapeuatic and reproductive cloning, does anyone believe we can draw the line at the former? The Monday after ACT made its announcement, Clonaid, which operates a secret lab outside the United States, said it had created cloned human embryos before ACT.** Clonaid, unlike ACT, wants to use its embryos to impregnate a woman and thus to reproduce a fully developed human clone.
How have we gotten into this tangle? About twenty-five years ago, in England, doctors produced the first “test tube baby.” She was beautiful and soon many couples followed the same path. What formerly was considered an extreme dehumanization (remember Brave New World?) rapidly became an accepted practice in Western society. However, the fact something is generally accepted does not make it right. In vitro fertilization separates babies from sex - and in the process destroys the sacred meaning of marriage. Once a person accepts that separation, is there any ground for objecting to cloning another human being?***
But something else paved the way for separating babies from sex. In the late fifties, pharmaceutical companies began to market the birth control pill. With its promise of marital bliss, Americans embraced the new technology and the rest of the world followed our lead (for developing nations, birth control became a central part of their U.S. aid package). The Pill made it possible to separate marital love from procreation in a way never before imagined. This separation of sex from babies paved the way for acceptance of what was once considered repulsive: the conception of a child in a petri dish. To move from in vitro fertilization to cloning requires - from a moral point of view - a very small step.
Now that we seeing where reproductive technology is taking us, is it not time to rethink its assumptions? Sometimes the only way out of a tangle is by retracing ones steps.
*Also know as Clone and Kill
**See What is Behind Clonaid? (January 5, 2003 - written after their claim of bringing a cloned human to birth.)
***I have had discussions with people who think in vitro fertilization is wonderful, but who are repulsed by the idea of cloning a human being. When I ask them what is the difference, they can only respond with an emotional argument - it just "feels" different. Unless feelings are based on careful reasoning, they are quite susceptible to change - and manipulation.
Human Cloning -- Just a Matter of Opinion?
Cloning News (U. S. Catholic Conference)
Official Vatican Response to Cloning of First Human Embryo
The Ethics of Cloning
Cloning Doctor Attacks 'Criminal' Pope
Stem Cell Research: Teaching of Bible & Catholic Church
Interview on Birth Control
Erickson V. Bartell Drugs
Abortion and Pro-Choice
Science and the Catholic Church
A Novelist tackles cloning
Clone & Kill in South Korea
Rathergate: Dan Rather's use of forged documents & CBS anti-Catholicism
Dr. Leroy Hood - Institute Systems Biology: Cloning & Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Pictures of Institute for Systems Biology
Good Friday Service for Life vs. Dr. Leroy Hood's Support of Cloning & Embryonic Stem Cell Research