Just because we can do it, should we?

In a recent presentation at the St. Thomas More Society banquet in Ottawa, Dr. Margaret Somerville, head of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, said the rapid development in new reproductive technologies requires a slow-down of the pace to consider the following questions: How are ethics and law interacting and where are we going?

We have a power no previous generation has ever possessed, the power to intervene and alter the essence of human life. In some ways, scientists have taken over something that previously belonged to God and it  forces us to rethink how we think about life, Dr. Somerville said. These new technologies, in particular research on human cloning, open up the possibility of designing humans. That potential  demands that we ask critical questions: What must we not do with our new science? Are some of the possibilities opening up inherently wrong?

If the techniques involved are inherently wrong, then we must not do them, she stated, no matter how much good might result. We tend to overemphasize the benefits of technological advances, and underestimate the negative outcomes. 

Dr. Somerville explained the two types of cloning research, reproductive and therapeutic. Reproductive cloning  attempts to reproduce a child identical to the cell donor. Therapeutic cloning attempts to clone a cell and manipulate the clone to differentiate and produce organs for transplantation.

Human therapeutic cloning involves intentional destruction of human life, Dr. Somerville stated. Both lines of research rely on the use of human embryos in the very early stages of development, which has led to the intense, ongoing debate on the moral status of human embryos. Opponents of the research say  the human embryo has the same moral status as any human person. Those who support the research argue that the embryo has special moral status, but not yet the same status as the rest of us.

Dr. Somerville mentioned Professor Peter Singer, bioethicist at Princeton University, who claims that any entity that does not have a sense of self-awareness or of its history, such as a newborn baby, does not have the same human status as a fully self-aware human being.

To alleviate ethical concerns over the research and make the technology more acceptable, cloning advocates have manipulated the language to try and overcome ethical difficulties. The human embryo at the very beginning of development is called a "pre-embryo" or referred to as "human embryonic stem cells."

"If a stem cell is not an embryo, do prohibitions on embryo research apply?" Dr. Somerville asked.

Therapeutic cloning opens up the possibility of genetic enhancement and dis-enhancement--gene-rich people and gene-poor people. It commodifies human embryos and shows disrespect for the transmission of human life. As well, cloning is asexual reproduction, which damages the dignity and meaning of human sexuality.

In closing, Dr. Somerville said we need to do "science in ethics time rather than ethics in science time." Science time is immediate. It wants everything done now, as quickly as possible. However, we cannot formulate community ethics with the same degree of speed. She suggested that we rely on the core value of respect for life, and in particular for human life, and that we act to promote and protect the human spirit.

The new reproductive technologies and cloning show a profound disregard for the dignity of human life.The technology relies on the manipulation and destruction of multiple embryos. Cloning modifies the very nature of human beings and undermines the meaning of life itself. These new interventions reduce human beings to laboratory objects to be manipulated and then discarded.  

Action Life Online Article