Ethics Articles

Articles: Reproductive Technology


>> = Important Articles; ** = Major Articles


>>From Aliens to Cloning (EFC, 030400)

Genes For Sale (000000)

Decoding The Genes

Stem Cell Research (Wikipedia, 030000)

The President, the Prime Minister, the Pope and the embryo (National Post, 000921)

The Case For and Against Stem Cell Research (Foxnews, 010000)

Robert P. George on the president’s bioethics council’s report (NRO, 020716)

Reproductive and Genetic Dilemmas: New Medical Advances Challenge Christians (EFC, 021200)

Highlights in the history of cloning (Foxnews, 021227)

All About Eve: We don’t need clones (NRO, 030103)

New England Journal of Politics: Medical Journal crosses a line (NRO, 030731)

Stem Cell News That Isn’t Fit For Print (Weekly Standard, 031203)

Embryonic Stem Cells Research (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 030000)

What’s In a Name? When it comes to cloning, just about everything (WS, 040223)

The Brave New World of Cloning—Part One (Christian Post, 050613)

The Brave New World of Cloning—Part Two (Christian Post, 050614)

The Brave New World of Cloning—Part Three (Christian Post, 050616)

The Brave New World of Cloning—Part Four (Christian Post, 050616)

The Moral Education of Physicians—Why It Matters (Christian Post, 051108)





>>From Aliens to Cloning (EFC, 030400)


A growing movement claims that aliens began human life on earth and that eternal life is obtained through cloning


Thanks to radical plans and announcements about human cloning, a Canadian franchise of a controversial new religious movement is getting world attention. The Raelians are in the news.


Scientists, politicians, ethicists, academics and religious leaders all over the world suddenly are taking Rael, their leader, very seriously. Raelians proclaimed that the first cloned baby was born on Dec. 26, 2002, a stunning announcement that led to 30 million hits on their web site in one day. The subsequent media hunt for “Clone Baby Eve” (with DNA proof to be provided) paused in January after a whirlwind of political protest and legal threats.


The Raelian Movement traces its origin to Dec. 13, 1973 when Rael (Claude Vorilhon) claims that he was contacted by an extra-terrestrial named Yahweh Elohim. Vorilhon, then a French journalist, describes Elohim as about four feet, with long dark hair, almond shaped eyes, and olive skin. He is said to have told Rael, “We were the ones who made all life on earth; you mistook us for gods; we were at the origin of your main religions. Now that you are mature enough to understand this, we would like to enter official contact through an embassy.” The alien creature is said to have emerged from a UFO near Clermont-Ferrand in central France.


Raelians believe that humans are not created by God or random evolution but by a team of super-scientists who used DNA to create humans in their image. Humanity’s fall is related to forbidden scientific knowledge being passed on to some early humans. Rael’s mission is to provide the true message to the world and create an embassy in Jerusalem that can serve as a landing base for the extraterrestrials. Rael first advanced his message through an organization known as MADECH, founded in 1974.


Rael claims that the extraterrestrials took him to their planet on Oct. 7, 1975.


He told his followers that during his 1975 visit to their planet that he had sexual encounters with six female robots. It was also on that visit that he was introduced to cloning. The movement developed a Clonaid Program, directed by Brigitte Boisselier, and believes that human cloning represents the path to gaining eternal life.


According to Rael, the space creatures also taught the same message to Moses, Buddha, Muhammad and Jesus. However, that revelation got scrambled and distorted through history. For example, Jews and Christians believe that Elohim is one of the names of God in Genesis when actually it should be translated “those who came from the sky”—a clear reference to the UFO aliens.


The movement claims some proof for its ideology in the crop circle fad, claiming that many of the circle designs look much like the Raelian symbol. Their web sites link to other UFO sites and to the most popular crop circle web pages. They also have a strong antipathy towards Roman Catholicism, using very harsh language to call on the United Nations to investigate the Vatican for systemic abuse of children.


The Raelian movement’s fame is almost exclusively related to their obsession with human cloning. While their religious claims are usually dismissed or mocked, their scientific pursuits on cloning are taken very seriously. Clonaid CEO Brigitte Boisselier, has a double doctorate in chemistry and worked for 12 years in a respected French chemical firm before moving to Quebec to work with Rael.


Boisselier announced the birth of “Eve” at a Florida news conference on Dec. 27. The scientist said that the baby, born the previous day, weighed seven pounds and was created through the use of DNA from the skin cells of the mother, an American citizen. U.S. journalist Michael Guillen was supposed to be given proof of the cloning but Rael stopped the verification procedures in early January. A Florida judge has ordered a Clonaid executive to appear in court to answer questions about the baby in question.


Understandably, most people see Raelian faith as bizarre. Furthermore, their ambition to incorporate human cloning into their religious practice is alarming. However, we should defend the civil and religious rights of Raelians, despite the group’s controversial and eccentric views. They deserve the full protection of international law, like all humans.


One aspect Christians can easily understand: in the big picture, Rael’s 60,000 followers are clearly searching for meaning and transcendence. Though his spacecraft theories are irrational, there is nothing strange about the group’s longing for eternal life, a hope that can be anchored in Jesus.


James A. Beverley is professor of theology and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto.


Raelian Web Sites


* Home Page

* Raelian UFO museum

* Clonaid: the cloning company


Cloning: Details and Ethics Web Sites


* The Roslin Institute

* Dolan DNA Learning Center

* American Journal of Bioethics

* U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics

* The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity

* The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada


The Raelian Movement: Questions & Answers


1. What does Rael think of himself?


Rael believes that he is the Messiah awaited by Old Testament Jews. He even claims that high-level rabbis in Israel have privately recognized his messianic status but the government refused to cooperate and accept Jerusalem as the embassy base. As a result, Rael states that Israel lost its chance for peace.


2. Why do Raelians want to establish an embassy for the space creatures?


Rael claims that the extra-terrestrials or Elohim do not want to scare humans by an unexpected visit. When planet Earth prepares an embassy for them then they know they will have “free air space and an official welcome.”


3. Why does the Raelian movement claim to be atheistic? They use the term atheist with reference to their objection to traditional views of God. Their religious devotion is directed toward Rael, his mythological claims, and his deference to modern science.


4. Why have Raelians called for a boycott of products from France?


They object to the French government’s bigotry against new religious movements, a claim that has real validity. They also make the bizarre claim that the French secret service was behind the deaths of members of the Solar Temple. Members of the group actually took part in a well-orchestrated mass-suicide in Switzerland, France, and Quebec in 1994 and 1995.


5. Has Rael written any books?


He wrote The Book That Tells the Truth in French in 1974, followed by his best-seller Extra-Terrestrials Took Me to Their Planet in 1976. He has also authored Let’s Welcome Our Fathers from Space (1979), Sensual Meditation (1980), and the more recent Yes to Human Cloning.


6. What is the prevailing scientific attitude to human cloning?


Most scientists, including Ian Wilmot who cloned Dolly (the famous sheep), are opposed to human cloning because of health risks and a belief that it is morally wrong. However, Italian embryologist Dr. Severino Antinori has announced plans to clone humans. The United States government is currently considering legislation banning human cloning.


7. What are the details on Dolly?


Dolly, the first cloned sheep, was born on July 5, 1996 as a result of research carried out by Ian Wilmut and other scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh. Dolly was cloned after 277 attempts. Dolly has since given birth to five lambs, conceived in the normal way. In early 2002 Dolly was discovered to have arthritis but is in general good health.


8. What is the Canadian government position on cloning?


The House of Commons has passed second reading to Bill C-13 “An Act Respecting Assisted Human Reproduction” which bans human cloning. The Bill currently reads: “No person shall knowingly create a human clone, or transplant a human clone into a human being.”


9. Where does one find Christian reflection on cloning and bioethics?


The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, based in Bannockburn, Illinois offers impressive resources from a Christian perspective. John Kilner (Ph.D. Harvard), the Center’s President, addresses major issues in bioethics in a series of edited volumes. The Center also provides good material on its web site (see Internet Resources sidebar). James C. Peterson’s work Genetic Turning Points (Eerdmans) is a comprehensive study of the ethics related to human genetic intervention.




Genes For Sale (000000)


When her sister decided to have her breasts removed this year, 36-year-old Ellen Young began to wonder if she should do the same to ward off the cancer that had claimed both her mother and grandmother. It was also the first time she began to consider taking a genetic screening test for breast cancer.


“It was chilling, and it made me think that I needed to reassess how I felt about the test,” she said. “But I knew that there isn’t a 100 percent link between testing positive and eventually contracting cancer.”


The lack of certainty behind current genetic screening tests is what ultimately convinced Young (who asked that we not reveal her real name) to opt against taking one and to choose, instead, to continue regular breast examinations.


Soon, however, Young may have more options.


When a private company announced last month that it plans to decipher all the genes in the human body in less than three years, jaws dropped throughout the medical community. This was a project that, under the National Institutes for Health, was slated to take at least 15 years.


If the private company’s claims prove true, scientists will soon have data at their fingertips that will greatly accelerate research in genetically engineered medicine. The prospect even lends hope that Young could have access to definitive screening tests before she turns 40.


But there’s a catch. The way the patenting system is now structured, key genetic information could land in the hands of only a few companies. And that could drive up costs of genetic wonder drugs and tests to excessive levels.


“Companies will be able to just crush out the competition,” said Arthur Caplan, an ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania.


“This could be the Microsoft of genes.”




Decoding The Genes


Decoding all the genes of the human body has been a priority of the NIH for more than seven years. Under the National Human Genome Research Institute at the NIH, scientists have so far painstakingly picked apart and read just 3 percent of the 3 billion units that make up the 100,000 genes inside the human body.


Rick Wilson, co-director of the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University, explains the process this way: The human genome resembles a set of encyclopedias, with each chromosome representing one volume of the set. To decode the genes — the so-called pages — scientists must break them down into even smaller units — words and letters — to decipher the sequence of the gene.


“What we’re essentially doing is starting with pages, so we know how each one of the pages relates to the whole volume and how one volume relates to all the other volumes,” Wilson explained. “And then we focus on the letters and words on each of the pages.”


The process is slow, but the payoff is well worth the work.


Right now, scientists only understand about 1 percent of human biology and how it relates back to the genetic code. But by decoding the genes, we can learn about the structures of every protein, every enzyme, every hormone that signals receptors throughout the body. Basically, decoding our genes would provide an effective guidebook to the human body — crucial information when it comes to diagnosing and treating disease.


The NIH’s genome project is due to wrap up by 2005. For a couple of geneticists, that’s not soon enough, so they’re setting out to find this genetic gold mine on their own.


The question is, if they succeed, who will own the knowledge?




When Craig Venter and Mike Hunkapillar announced last May that their new company would outpace the government effort and sequence the human genome in three years at a fraction of the cost, they picked up some new critics.


Some doubted Venter’s work; others, his motives.


“The data will be incomplete and the quality will be fairly low,” said Wilson, who works under the NIH genome project.


It’s true that Venter’s gene sequencing methods, developed at his Maryland-based Institute for Genomic Research and teamed with new technology from Perkin-Elmer Applied Biosystems, will pick out only parts of DNA buried in the mass of genes inside the human body. But just about 5 percent of our DNA contains useful information, and Venter claims his approach will dig out those essential pieces.


If the company is successful, some foresee the beginnings of a monopoly.


“Venter understands it’s important to share information,” said Caplan. “But does he want to make money? Yes.”


Venter says it’s not a gene monopoly he’s after, but information. In fact, he plans to publish all the company’s findings on the genome. By immediately publishing their work, Venter and colleagues intend to make the base knowledge of the human genome unpatentable.


“We’re using 200 to 300 million dollars of our own company’s money and we’re going to give the data to the public for free,” he said. “What’s wrong with that?”


Still, Venter can afford to feel somewhat generous since the data they plan to build within five years represents just the beginning of what will become a massive and possibly very profitable database. The human genome itself will not be immediately applicable to medicine because while every gene will be decoded, scientists will not yet know which genes serve which function.


But by building computer software to navigate their human genome database, Venter hopes their company will be able to identify — and patent — important genes responsible for disease. Those finds would be invaluable to medicine and to pharmaceutical companies eager to develop and market new, effective drugs. And Venter isn’t the only one after them.


In fact, a lot of this vital genetic information has already been fetched and is sealed in the hands of a few private companies.




Imagine owning a patent on gold.


Whenever a gold necklace or watch or ring is sold, you take a cut in royalty payments. Prices for gold items might also become steeper, since the sale price would include the royalties paid to you.


Now take that scenario and switch gold for knowledge of a human gene that lends vital clues to curing cancer, and the patent becomes even more valuable.


Ever since the Supreme Court ruled a genetically altered microorganism could be patented in 1980, scientists have been pushing the marker on what may be considered an invention. Despite protests that genes represent something more than intellectual property, the system is one already deeply ingrained in genetic research.


As Caplan said, “The cow is out of the barn on this one. Gene patenting has happened, it is happening, it will happen.”


Today there are already hundreds of patents on human genes registered at the U.S. Patent Office, including a patent on a gene that’s thought to contribute to obesity, on two genes possibly responsible for breast cancer and another that may play a role in baldness. That means for 20 years (the life-span of a gene patent), companies wishing to develop and market new drugs or tests using knowledge of these genes will have to pay the patent-holder a hefty sum for access.


The system, companies argue, is crucial for driving research.


“Who is going to spend the $300 to $500 millions of dollars to invest in research to find a gene if they don’t have a guarantee on sole use?” asked Venter.


Still, with genetic discoveries on the rise, some medical ethicists have searched for alternatives to the patenting system. For one idea they looked to another realm of science: outer space.




Just as no country or company can own rights to the moon, some ethicists argue that human genes and their discoveries should exist as public knowledge. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty declares no nation (let alone company) can own rights to any part of space and that its exploration must be used only “for the benefit of all peoples irrespective of the degree of their economic or scientific development.”


The same idea might work for genetic discoveries, says Rifken. Genes would remain in the public domain, and companies would be able to earn profits by patenting drugs or tests created from gene discoveries.


“Companies could still compete because they can patent the processes they’re using,” said Rifken. “They just couldn’t patent the genes themselves.”


Figuring out a gene treaty, however, could be a long, hard process. Congress would need to initiate the proposal and right now, as George Annas, the director of the Law, Medicine and Ethics program at Boston University says, “There’s nothing about patenting and genes in Congress at all and no one in Congress seems to care.”


In the meantime, Venter and others believe the best plan lies not in a radical proposal like a gene treaty but in holding gene patenting to a crucial standard. Rather than blindly applying for rights to a gene before understanding its function, he argues, scientists should be required to first learn how the gene might prove useful.


“If you know what the function of the gene is and what it’s useful for, then that’s a benefit for society,” he said.


While that would mean gene patenting would continue, Venter argues the promise genetic discoveries bring to medicine — and to people like Susan Young — far outweighs patenting fears.




Since scientists first developed two genetic screening tests for breast cancer just over two years ago, studies have found them to be far from accurate.


The two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, appear to play a definite factor in some, but tests for the genes miss entire other groups of women who test negative but still develop cancer. If, however, scientists can determine the genetic makeup of someone like Young and learn how it differs from the standard genome, they may be able to zero in on which genes play a factor in disease. Then they can tailor drugs and tests to her.


“With existing drugs, millions of people can take a drug and for a small number, it’s ineffective,” Venter said. “The future of medicine is to give you drugs specifically targeted to you.”


The price tag on the current breast cancer screening tests is already relatively high at about $2,400 a test. Once new genes are found and patented, the cost of better tests will inevitably creep higher. Still, for Young, peace of mind would be worth any cost. If there were a test with a 100 percent linkage, Young says she would “definitely take it.”


Venter says it’s just a matter of time.


“We’re going to have every single gene — the gene for breast cancer, for Alzheimer’s. It will be the first time in history when all genes will be known,” he promises. “All the answers will be there, then it will just be a matter of finding them.”




Stem Cell Research (Wikipedia, 030000)


Stem cells are cells which are not terminally differentiated and that are therefore able to produce cells of other types. Medical researchers hope they can be used to repair specific tissues or to grow organs from scratch. There are three types of stem cells: totipotent, pluripotent, and multipotent. A single totipotent stem cell can grow into an entire organism. Pluripotent stem cells cannot grow into a whole organism, but they can become any other type of cell in the body. Multipotent stem cells can only become particular types of cells: e.g. blood cells, or bone cells.


Adult stem cells


Stem cells can be found in adult human beings. Adult stem cells reproduce daily to provide certain specialized cells - for example 200 billion red blood cells are created each day in the body. Until recently it was thought that each of these cells could produce just one particular type of cell - this is called differentiation (see Morphogenesis). However in the past few years, evidence has been gathering of stem cells that can form in to several different forms. Bone marrow stem cells are known to be able to transform in to liver, nerve, muscle and kidney cells.


Adult stem cells may be even more versatile than this. Researchers at the New York University School of Medicine have extracted stem cells from the bone-marrow of mice which are they say are pluripotent. Turning one type of stem cell in to another is called transdifferentiation.


Embryonic stem cells


Stem cells which originate from embryos are seen to have the most potential because of their totipotent properties - they are able to grow in to any of the 200 cell types in the body. Embryonic stem cells can be obtained from a cloned embryo, created by fusing a denucleated egg-cell with a patient’s cell. The embryo produced is allowed to grow, and stem cells are then extracted. Because they are obtained from a clone, they are genetically compatible with the patient.


As well as having the largest medical potential, they are also the most controversial type of stem cell because their utilization involves the destruction of human embryos. Some people believe that these embryos are human beings, and therefore destroying them for any reason is effectively murder. This belief is also the basis for ‘Pro-life’ opposition to abortion. Many scientists defend the destruction of embryos citing all the medical benefits that it is possible to achieve with them, and saying that many would have been destroyed anyway. ‘Pro-life’ groups respond that it would be possible to achieve the same benefits from the use of adult stem cells - although most scientists agree that we are further from using these in the same way hoped for embryonic stem cells.


Another controversy in the use of embryonic stem cells is the use of therapeutic cloning. This involves the cloning of early embryos from which stem cells are harvested, providing a larger source of the cells. Many see this as encouraging human cloning, which they think could be dangerous or unethical.


Current treatments


For over 30 years, bone marrow stem cells have been used to treat cancer patients with conditions such as leukemia and lymphoma. These are detroyed in some chemotherapy treatments, but if they are removed before the process and then reinjected, the cells produce large amounts of red and white blood cells, to keep the body healthy and help to fight infection.


Since the 1980s stem cells have been taken from the blood instead of the bone-marrow, making the procedure safer for older people. Although normally scarce, the number of ‘Peripheral blood cells’ can be increased by a course of drugs, which release the stem cells from the bone-marrow. These are removed before chemotherapy, which kills most of them, and then re-injected.


Potential treatments


Research injecting neural (adult) stem cells in to the brains of rats can be astonishingly successful in treating cancerous tumours. With traditional techniques brain cancer can be almost impossible to treat because it spreads so rapidly. Researchers at the Harvard Medical School injected cells genetically engineered to convert a separately injected non-toxic substance in to a cancer-killing agent. Within days the cells had migrated in to the cancerous area end the injected substance was able to reduce tumour mass by 80 per cent.


Stem cells are also apparently able to repair muscle damaged after heart attacks. Heart attacks are due to the coronary artery being blocked, starving tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Days after the attack is over, the cells try to ‘remodel’ themselves so they can pump harder. However, because of the decreased blood flow this attempt is futile and results even more muscle cells to weaken and die. Researchers at Columbia-Presbyterian found that injecting bone-marrow stem cells in to mice which had had heart attacks induced in them resulted in an improvement of 33 per cent in the functioning of the heart. The damaged tissue had regrown by 68 per cent. Clinical trials in humans are hoped for by 2003.


Sources of stem cells


Blood from the placenta and unbilical cord of new-born babies is a useful source of adult stem cells. Since 1988 these ‘cord blood’ stem cells have been used to treat Gunther’s disease, Hunter syndrome, Hurler syndrome, acute lymphocytic leukemia and many more problems mostly in children. It is collected by removing the umbilical cord, cleansing it and withdrawing blood from the umbilical vein. This blood is then immediately analysed for infectious agents and the tissue-type is determined. Cord blood is stored in liquid nitrogen for later use, when it is thawed and injected through a vein in to the patient. This kind of treatment where the stem cells are collected from another donor is called allogenic treatment. When the cells are collected from the same patient they will be used on it is called autologous.


In fact, useful sources of adult stem cells are being found in organs all over the body. Research at McGill University in Montreal have extracted stem cells from skin able to differentiate in to many types of tissue including neurones, smooth muscle cells and fat-cells. These were found in ‘dermis’ - a layer of tissue beneath the skin.


In the same way that organs can be transplanted from cadavers researchers at the Salk Institute in California have found that these could be used as a source of stem cells as well. Taking stem cells from the brains of corpses they were able to coax them in to dividing in to valuable neurons. However whether they will function correctly when used in treatment has not yet been determined.


In May of 2003, researchers announced that they had successfully used embryonic stem cells to produce human egg cells. Spokespersons stated that these egg cells could be used in turn to produce new stem cells. If research and testing proved that artificially created egg cells could be a viable source for embryonic stem cells, they noted, then this would remove the necessity of harvesting human embryos. Thus, the controversy over donating human egg cells and embryos would be largely dismissed.


Legal situation


Due to the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cells, in November 2001 the US National Institutes of Health announced a list of 72 approved human embryonic cell lines which researchers are to be allowed to work with. However some scientists declared problems they had with the list - that some cell lines are less useful to work with than others. Also other scientists are not convinced that the list actually contains 72 different lines - they think some are derivations of a single line.


Controversy over ethical implications


Ethicists, philosophers, theologians and clergy are all very concerned with the ethical implications of stem cell research. In the U.S. many Christian groups have come out strongly against embyronic stem cell research as they view it as a form of abortion, which they see as murder. (Many of those opposing embryonic stem cell research advocate adult stem cell research as an alternative [1].) Jewish groups, of all denominations, have come out in favor of embyronic research, as they do not view an early stage embryo as a human being. Many Humanists, Unitarian-Universalists, and many Muslim clerics have come out in favor of stem cell research.


In spite of this and his own personal views on the subject, US President George W. Bush announced on August 9, 2001 that he would support federal funding of limited research on embryonic stem cells.




The President, the Prime Minister, the Pope and the embryo (National Post, 000921)


New scientific developments such as human therapeutic cloning mean that human embryos are now immensely valuable therapeutic tools and commercial properties. Are we justified in treating them as such -- that is, as commodities to be used to benefit the rest of us? In recent weeks, this question has been addressed at the public level in Britain, the United States and the Vatican. Canada has yet to take a political and public policy position on the acceptability of such research, consequently, the approaches taken in these other countries are of interest to us.


Is it inherently wrong to use human embryos simply as a therapeutic product? Or does the ethics of doing so simply depend on all the circumstances -- that is, nothing is inherently wrong; it all depends upon the situation? These two questions reflect two different approaches to doing ethics; the choice between them can have a crucial impact on our views about the ethics of using human embryos for research or therapeutic purposes. The main reason for this difference is that doing good is never a justification for doing that which is inherently wrong. In contrast, doing good can tip the balance toward ethical acceptability under a situational ethics approach.


If using human embryos as research material is inherently wrong, then we must not do it, no matter how much good might result. If, on the other hand, we take a situational ethics approach -- what is wrong depends on the circumstances -- then the long and impressive litany of goods that could come out of human embryo research -- for example, repairing severed spinal cords, finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease, creating organs and tissues for transplantation -- could justify the use of human embryos in such a way.


Good ethics depend on good facts. First, the scientific facts. Each cell of the very early human embryo is totipotential, that is it can form another identical embryo (a clone). By the 100-cell stage, the embryo has developed stem cells that are pluripotential -- that is, they can form any organ or tissue but not a complete embryo. Human therapeutic cloning research requires taking these stem cells from an embryo, which kills it. These stem cells can also be cloned.


Second, the moral “facts.” Some people oppose all research on human embryos -- they regard the human embryo as having the same moral status as the rest of us and, therefore, deserving of the same respect and protection. Others would allow some types of research -- they view the human embryo as having a special moral status that requires respect, but not (yet) the same respect as the rest of us. Many of the latter people would allow research on so-called “spare embryos” (those left over from in vitro fertilization procedures) but oppose creating embryos just for research purposes including cloning “spare embryos” to increase the supply of these. Some people who would not take stem cells from a human embryo would use such cells when provided by other researchers and would clone those cells. And yet other people regard the human embryo as no different from, for example, a human skin or liver cell. They do not, therefore, regard using human embryos for research or therapeutic purposes as raising moral or ethical difficulties.


The British expert committee on human embryo research has recommended that the legal ban on creating embryos for research should be lifted (at present research is only permitted on “spare embryos”) and that human therapeutic cloning research should be allowed.


Citing the great good that human therapeutic cloning research promises, U.S. President Bill Clinton has recently justified the National Institutes of Health taking a similar, although somewhat more restricted, situational ethics approach to human embryo research. Such research has, until now, been prohibited in any institution receiving funding from the U.S. government. This will be changed. Researchers in these institutions may not create embryos simply for research purposes or take stem cells from human embryos. But they may obtain stem cells taken by other researchers from embryos left over from in vitro fertilization and use these cells for research purposes.


The Pope, in contrast, has taken a principle-based ethics approach. He has condemned creating embryos for research or dealing with any embryo in a way not meant to benefit that embryo, and certainly those ways that would result in the embryo’s destruction. The Pope bases his stance on a religiously founded belief in the sanctity of human life and believes that using human embryos for research not meant to benefit them transgresses this value: It is inherently wrong and must not be done no matter how much good could come from it.


Could Mr. Blair and Mr. Clinton have agreed with the Pope about the inherent wrongness of human embryo stem cell research without resorting to religious belief? Can we hold such a belief in a secular society? I propose we can on the basis of honouring two values: We must not do that which contravenes either respect for life, especially human life, or respect for the human spirit. Human therapeutic cloning research contravenes both values. It involves a loss of respect for individual human life (the embryo that is killed); for human life, itself (we are using embryos as a manufacturing plant for therapeutic agents and then discarding the embryos, as The Gazette put it, as “industrial waste”); and for the transmission of human life (we are creating embryos for no other purpose than to use them in this way and, in doing so, kill them).


We must consider all the costs, physical and metaphysical, of our scientific and technological success. Often we take into account only the former. Amazing advances, such as the possibility of human therapeutic cloning, confront us with the most serious moral costs, which must be factored into our decision-making about the use of new technologies. How do we give a value to the moral and ethical costs of carrying out such research, especially when these costs are augmented by society passing laws to facilitate this research? How do we even talk about these costs in secular language? The majority of articles reporting on the human therapeutic cloning debate in the countries that are addressing the issue list prominently the therapeutic benefits that might come from this research, but few try to articulate the wider moral harms and ethical risks the research raises.


An old saying in human rights bears keeping in mind in deciding whether we should proceed with human therapeutic cloning: Nowhere are we more likely to do harm than when we are purporting only to do good. In such situations the good that we can do and our good intentions are such a powerful light that they can blind us to harms and risks that are also present. It is especially difficult to identify and take into account these harms when, as is true for human therapeutic cloning research, they are to the intangible, invisible realities of the human spirit and will be felt largely in the future, and the goods we seek are tangible, visible and immediate.


Finally, even if we take a situational ethics approach we must ask whether there are less ethically problematic ways to obtain the benefits sought through human therapeutic cloning. Further advances in science might provide means of doing so that do not involve the use of human embryos.


Margaret Somerville is Gale Professor of Law and Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University’s Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law in Montreal.




The Case For and Against Stem Cell Research (Foxnews, 010000)


The Case Against Stem Cell Research


Opponents of research on embryonic cells, including many religious and anti-abortion groups, contend that embryos are human beings with the same rights — and thus entitled to the same protections against abuse — as anyone else. They believe life starts at the moment of conception, when a sperm fertilizes an egg, since a distinct organism has come into being. Thus the destruction of an embryo is the destruction of a human life.


Anti-abortion groups also oppose research on stem cells derived from aborted fetuses. They reject the argument that since abortion is already legal and women will have them, that stem cells should be used from aborted fetuses because they would otherwise go to waste.


Pope John Paul II has offered one argument designed to address just these sorts of questions when he wrote:


“Experience is already showing how a tragic coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the womb, leading to accommodation and acquiescence in the face of other related evils, such as euthanasia, infanticide, and most recently, proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos, destined to destruction in the process. A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception until natural death.”


But other critics of stem cell research support research on aborted fetuses, since those fetuses are already dead, yet oppose the destruction of embryos, because they consider the embryos to be alive — or at least have the potential to become a human being.


Some groups that do not oppose abortion are uneasy about the prospect of studying tissues derived from aborted fetuses or discarded embryos. For example, the United Methodist church supports abortions rights, but opposes the research industry’s demand for embryos.


Many ethicists and scientists also oppose embryonic research. In a July 1999 statement, 100 bioethicists, scientists and legal scholars said they objected to embryonic stem cell research on the grounds that such research is both unethical and unnecessary.


Some of these critics argue that recent research showing that adult stem cells may be more versatile than previously thought, say scientists may soon be able to derive stem cells from adults.


Those who are opposed to this research also believe that their tax dollars should not go to supporting the research regardless of whether or not the research is permitted.


The Case for Stem Cell Research


Most critics of the embryo research ban contend that week-old blastocysts are not human beings, and that destroying those embryos does not constitute killing. At one week, embryos are merely a cluster of cells and not deserving of the protections afforded to others, they say. When conceived naturally, a blastocyst has not been implanted in the uterus by that time. Most scientists argue that an embryo is not a person until it is at least two weeks old, when it develops a so-called primitive streak, the first evidence of a nervous system.


A number of religious groups support embryonic stem cell research, and many Protestant sects and most Islamic and Jewish theologians also do not consider a young embryo to be a human being.


Some critics of an embryo research ban point out that funding is already permitted for research on more advanced, aborted fetuses. Advocates of embryo research say that the potential medical benefits of the research outweigh moral concerns about the embryo.


They worry that a ban might cut off scientific opportunities “to those most qualified to make dramatic advances towards using stem cells for the treatment of disease,” according to one group in favor of the research.


Further, supporters of the research argue that federal involvement would increase the pool of talented scientists who could study the cells, and thus accelerate the pace of the research.


Lifting the ban on research would also, they say, allow the government to gain better oversight of embryonic research; studies conducted with federal funds are subjected to rigorous peer review and ethical oversight, while private research need not follow such standards. Thus the oversight could lead to restricting research that lawmakers find objectionable, such as studies that attempt to create human clones, for example, although many supporters of stem cell research also favor cloning research.


Federal funding advocates say stem cell research will continue with or without government funding, and say that the government should regulate that research — especially since they believe information about advances in stem cell research should flow freely into the public domain.




Robert P. George on the president’s bioethics council’s report (NRO, 020716)


Q&A by Kathryn Jean Lopez


Kathryn Jean Lopez: What’s the most important contribution the bioethics council’s report on cloning makes to the whole cloning debate?


Robert P. George: First, the report calls for a prohibition of so-called “research cloning” for four years. If adopted by Congress, this moratorium would prevent the creation of cloned embryos to be destroyed in biomedical experimentation for a substantial period of time while we work to make the ban permanent. During that time, advances made possible by ethically sound biomedical research could quite possibly eliminate much of the appeal of creating human embryos (whether by cloning or other means) for purposes of destructive experimentation.


Second, the report dismisses the euphemisms and evasions on which the case for “research cloning” is built. For example, proponents of the creation of human embryos by somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) for purposes of research sometimes claim that SCNT is not cloning. Rather, they define “cloning” as the implantation of an embryo brought into being by SCNT into the prepared uterus of a woman (or into an artificial womb). This is a gross deception. (It is a deception that is, by the way, actually written into legislation introduced by Senators Kennedy, Feinstein, Specter, and others that fraudulently claims to ban cloning.) SCNT is a method of cloning; and the report treats it as such. Even more egregiously, some advocates of destructive embryo research have claimed that a human embryo produced by cloning is not human or not an embryo. They say that it is an “artifact.” The report demolishes this falsehood. The human embryo — whether produced by the union of sperm and egg or by SCNT or other cloning processes — is an embryonic human being.


Lopez: Are you at all disappointed with the final report released last week?


George: Like six of my colleagues, I would have preferred a report that recommended a permanent ban on all cloning. The four-year moratorium is certainly superior to no prohibition on research cloning, but even better would have been a call for a permanent ban on the creation of embryos — by cloning or otherwise — to be exploited and destroyed in scientific research. In my statement appended to the report (which was joined by Professor Alfonso Gomez-Lobo of Georgetown), I make the case for a permanent ban and criticize the leading arguments that were advanced against it by members of the council who wish to proceed with cloning for biomedical research. There are also powerful anti-cloning statements by Gilbert Meilaender, William Hurlbut, and Charles Krauthammer. All of us understand and share the desire to relieve suffering, conquer disease, and increase the sum of human knowledge; but I don’t think the pro-cloning forces have a leg to stand on — scientifically or philosophically — in denying that human embryos are human beings and, as such, worthy of a measure of respect that is simply incompatible with treating them as disposable “research material.” If Congress enacts the proposed four-year moratorium, we will during that time have a national debate about the moral status of human beings in the embryonic stage of development. That is a debate I welcome.


Lopez: How hard was it to get a majority of commission members to agree to the moratorium on “research cloning”?


George: Seven of us favored a permanent ban; seven others wanted no ban at all; three favored a four-year moratorium. The seven who wanted a permanent ban were willing to settle for recommending the moratorium in preference to no prohibition. Of course, different members of the council supported the moratorium recommendation for different reasons. One could say that our recommendation rests on an “overlapping consensus” among some people who oppose the cloning of embryos for destructive research under any circumstances, and others who believe that such cloning could be justified, but who hold that the case for it in the current circumstances has not been made.


Lopez: Is there anything then report does not address that you would have wanted it to?


George: The report was meant to be a report on cloning — not on every morally problematic issue of biotechnology. Considered as a report on cloning, it is reasonably comprehensive. The trouble is that the issue of “research cloning” cannot be addressed apart from the question of the moral status of the embryo. If human embryos are human beings in the embryonic stage of their natural development — and that is exactly they are — then what could justify treating embryonic human beings as objects to be exploited and destroyed for the benefit of others? We do not countenance the exploitation of human beings on the basis of race, or sex, or ethnicity. Why should we deny human rights on the basis of age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency? The report does not go deeply into these issues, but they really do need to be addressed. There is, in the end, no avoiding them.


Lopez: Can the council report ultimately be considered a victory for the anti-cloning forces? Doesn’t it just mean we have to re-debate the issue four years from now when the “promises” of cloning will be “closer”?


Goerge: The report is a victory, though our council fell short of endorsing President Bush’s call for a permanent ban on all cloning at this point. I agree with Richard Doerflinger of the Pro-Life Office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who says that it is remarkable that a body as diverse as ours could agree on a four-year moratorium. Four years is a long time in the field of biotechnology. Far from grinding to a halt, science will march on. As I said earlier, it is possible that researchers will find — indeed they are already finding — ethically legitimate ways to accomplish the goals that pro-cloning people said could only be achieved by destructive research on cloned embryos. One of the saddest things about this whole debate is the way that the pro-cloning lobby led many suffering people to believe that cloning, and cloning alone, holds promise of cures for the horrible diseases that afflict them. They hyped the promise of cloning while obscuring or denying the value of adult-stem-cell research, for example. Before any embryos were cloned and killed, truth was the first casualty.


Lopez: What if a moratorium doesn’t happen in Congress, which is conceivable? There’s no turning back once this technology gets going, is there?


George: Charles Krauthammer warns that if we cross the “moral boundary” into cloning embryos for research, “we will live to regret it.” Embryonic human beings will be routinely created, openly bought and sold, and freely destroyed. When promising lines of research emerge requiring the use of more fully developed human beings, embryos will be gestated to permit the extraction of body parts from more mature embryos and fetuses. People who today swear that they would never support research on embryos beyond the blastocyst stage (five to six days) will find themselves saying — rightly — that such limits are “arbitary.” Then they will call for them to be laid aside in view of the promise of research using more fully developed embryos and then fetuses. The appalling concept of “fetal farming” will lose its power to shock as the commodification of life leads us further into the abyss of the “culture of death.”


The only non-arbitrary principle is the one that says human beings — irrespective of age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency — may never be exploited and destroyed in research to benefit others. This principle recognizes the great truth that human life is intrinsically, and not merely instrumentally, valuable. It understands that human dignity is inherent, and thus it makes sense of the great principle of human equality upon which our nation was founded. It is our fidelity to this principle that is ultimately at stake in the debate over cloning.




Reproductive and Genetic Dilemmas: New Medical Advances Challenge Christians (EFC, 021200)


When Rick and Beth Hiemstra walked out the door of their Cornwall, Ont. home a year ago, for the first ultrasound of her second pregnancy, they had no idea of the trauma that was about to unfold.


Four hours after the Dec. 19 exam, their doctor told them their baby girl had “Trisomy 18,” a syndrome wherein the unborn child has three copies of the 18th chromosome instead of two. The baby had a 50 percent chance of being stillborn. If born alive, there was a 50 percent chance she would die within the first week, and a 90 percent chance she would die in five months. Only five percent live beyond their first year, according to data from SOFT (Support Organization for Trisomy 18, 13 and Related Disorders).


Hiemstra was given the option to abort. As Christians, did the couple really have a choice?




It was a clear winter day in January 1988 when 10 Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship members sat down to breakfast before going skiing in Collingwood, Ont. One of them prayed for God’s protection on the road. Then the group piled into a van. Half an hour later, the driver lost control and swerved into the lane of an 18-wheel truck. He and another passenger were killed. The impact, and her lap seatbelt, broke 19-year-old Geraldine Leslie’s back, paralyzing her from the hips down.


Stem cell research that uses human embryos may offer promising treatments leading to a cure. Should she accept a cure that destroys those embryos?




Elaine, Lori and Alexa all tried for years, unsuccessfully, to have a baby. Finally they looked into fertility treatments. There were many to choose from, including artificial insemination; drugs that stimulate the ovaries to release multiple eggs with each cycle; and extracting multiple eggs, fertilizing them outside the body and re-implanting the embryo in the womb (a process known as in vitro fertilization). There were also vexing ethical questions.


Should they use donated sperm or eggs, or even a surrogate mother? What if seven or eight eggs were to become fertilized? Would they need to abort some embryos to safely carry the rest to term? What should they do with the embryos that weren’t re-implanted in the womb?




These individuals are just a handful of the many Canadian Christians who have personally struggled with the hopeful and in many cases hard choices offered by advances in reproductive and genetic technologies. Some of the people profiled here have accepted greater amounts of technological intervention than others. But all of them have tried to remain faithful to their Christian beliefs.




For Rick and Beth Hiemstra it was a relatively common reproductive and genetic technology—the ultrasound—that presented them with an ethical dilemma: abort or carry to term a severely disabled child with a slim chance of survival.


“Our doctor told us the condition was incompatible with life,” recalls Rick Hiemstra, 32. Trisomy 18 babies commonly have difficulty feeding, irregular breathing, heart defects and seizures, among other complications.


“He never put pressure on us to have an abortion, but he made it very easy,” adds Beth, 33. An amniocentesis procedure was booked within two days to confirm the diagnosis. The results of the procedure were back in two weeks; normally the wait is four to six weeks. But the doctor wanted to give the couple time before the 22-week cut-off for a hospital abortion, in case they wanted to go that route. An estimated three in four couples do.


Not Rick and Beth. “Our baby was alive. That she would die eventually wasn’t a reason for me to take her life now,” says Beth.


Besides, anyone who gets pregnant risks having an unhealthy baby, she adds. “We decided we would keep and love any child we had.”


Says Rick, pastor of Wesleyan Community Church: “I believe life is a gift from God, and it’s not for us to make decisions to end life. Life is precious and has value because we were created by God. A life is a life. There is not a scale on which it’s measured.”


Still, the couple had to make difficult decisions about what kind of pre-natal and post-natal care they would request. Would they let their baby naturally miscarry if she showed signs of distress in the womb? Would they resuscitate her if she stopped breathing—and if so by what method and how many times? Would they feed her, and by what method, if she couldn’t do it herself?


In making their choices, they read up on the disease, consulted various disability organizations and talked it out till they agreed. It was a tough road.


“When you have different views on treatment, it’s your marriage versus your child,” recalls Rick. “We’re both happy,” adds Beth, “with the action we ended up taking, but it took a lot of negotiating to get there.”


Once they convinced each other, they had to convince hospital staff.


“One of the neonatal doctors said that after birth it would be kinder to let her die, that it was cruel to preserve her life because the baby would suffer with congenital defects,” recalls Beth.


Doctors said the same thing to Rick’s mother about his older brother, Jeff, born in 1969 with cerebral palsy. Though initially partly paralyzed and epileptic, today, thanks to treatment, Jeff walks, drives, plays basketball and has two college degrees, in computers and accounting.


With that experience in mind, Rick and Beth wrote to the hospital insisting that their baby receive the care she needed to survive.


“It is disquieting to know that our daughter will be delivered by a team of doctors that is prejudiced against intervening to save or extend her life,” the couple wrote. “We are seeking assurances that she will not be cut off from medical care simply because she has a poor prognosis.”


Even other Christians said it would be better for Beth to miscarry, or for the baby to die early so she wouldn’t suffer, and the couple wouldn’t have to raise a disabled child.


As evangelicals, we often seem to fall into the flawed theology “that God should take all suffering away and give us a miracle. Secular people recommend abortion to take suffering away. Everybody is uncomfortable with suffering,” observes Rick. “We evangelicals don’t believe there are worse things than suffering unless we’ve experienced suffering and know what God can do in our lives because of suffering. Death is worse than suffering.”


Rick and Beth’s daughter Mary was born April 25, 2002 by means of caesarean section after Beth noticed a lack of fetal movement. She had to fight for the procedure after being given the option to “go home and wait for Mary to die” in utero.


Mary lived for nine precious hours. Says Beth, “I would do it all again just to have those nine hours.”


In retrospect, both wish they hadn’t known her condition in advance. They’re not sure they’ll use an ultrasound if they get pregnant again.


“There was little if any benefits from knowing, because they couldn’t do anything to help her, and it meant they didn’t want to treat her,” says Beth.


Adds Rick: “It didn’t change the fact that we were not going to go through an abortion. We had five months of grieving the death of a daughter who hadn’t been born yet.”


Their experience makes them wary of technology and the choices it provides.




Geraldine Leslie is also wary of technology and skeptical about promises for a cure offered by stem cell research.


“I must say I’m not hopeful. When I was injured 14 years ago, they said in 10 years there would be a cure. Now they’re still saying, ‘In 10 years there will be a cure,’ “ says Leslie, 34. “I’m not holding my breath that it will happen in time to help me.”


Simply put, a stem cell is a primitive type of cell that can be coaxed into developing into most of the cells found in the body, such as blood, brain, heart tissue, nerve cells and bones. As such, stem cells offer the possibility of cures for such conditions as burns, cancer, diabetes, Lou Gehrig’s disease, heart disease, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injuries and stroke. The most controversial—and depending whom you talk to, the most promising—source of stem cells is from human embryos, usually left over from in vitro fertility treatments.


“I wouldn’t want a cure if it came from harvesting embryos, even if it means that slows research down. I believe life begins at conception and we shouldn’t end it,” says Leslie, who attends a Mennonite church.


At the same time, she struggles with the idea that the embryos are going to be destroyed anyway. “If they are going to be thrown out, is it better to put them to good use—except for my fear that that produces an industry to create them.”


Leslie, who is now married with three young children and living in Dundas, Ont., recognizes that it’s easier to reject controversial treatments the further she gets from her injury. “Right at the time of your injury you want it cured no matter how it happens. But by now, I’ve adjusted and moved on.”




Mark Pickup knows the journey Leslie has been on. In 1984 at age 30, with a wife and two young children, it became clear he was developing multiple sclerosis, a nerve disorder that ultimately leads to paralysis. Today Pickup, who lives in Beaumont, Alta., is virtually confined to a wheelchair and is losing movement on his right side. He too would refuse any cure that comes from embryonic stem cells. He even wrote to the federal parliamentary committee studying genetic and reproductive technologies to argue against any treatment that a large number of people wouldn’t be able to use for moral reasons.


“I would love to have my former function back, but not at that price,” says Pickup, who attends a Baptist General Conference church. “God said all human life is made in His image, not that some of us are made in His image. I am always dumbfounded that in 2002 we are still asking, ‘When does human life begin?’ We know when human life begins. We just don’t like the answer as a culture.”


Besides, there are alternatives, he adds. Stem cells are being harvested from umbilical cords, bone marrow, placentas, cadavers and adult tissue. Some researchers say embryonic stem cells are superior, because they can be manipulated into becoming any cell, and are more plentiful because they can be divided many times over.


But a group of researchers in Montreal have discovered a way to manipulate adult stem cells from skin and blood into different types of cells—and because the cells would have the same DNA as the patient, there is no chance of their being rejected (which is a risk for embryonic cells). Elsewhere, a University of Calgary biologist is researching ways to coax adult brain and spinal cord stem cells into reproducing myelin, the protective coating around nerves that is destroyed by MS. In 1999, stem cells from umbilical cord blood cured an Atlanta teen, Keone Penn, of his sickle cell blood disease.


So why do we hear about only the promising uses of embryonic stem cells? “It’s legitimizing the devaluing of life before birth, putting an altruistic framework around it,” argues Pickup.


He regularly speaks out on abortion, euthanasia and disability and has just founded Human Life Matters, a ministry that helps evangelical churches reach out to disabled and incurably ill people in their midst. “Evangelical churches do not deal well with disability,” he says. “Some of that dates to the prosperity gospel and the view that all disability is the result of sin or little faith. But that’s unbiblical. I have seen deliverance from even my condition. But God does not always deliver.”


Pickup says he has been more useful to God “disabled than abled.”


He is among a handful of evangelical individuals and groups that have spoken publicly on genetic and reproductive technologies. Those include the Christian Medical and Dental Society, Canadian Physicians for Life, Focus on the Family, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Their efforts have met with some success, says Bruce Clemenger, director of the EFC’s Centre for Faith and Public Life.


The federal government’s bill on genetic and reproductive technologies (which at press time had yet to receive third and final reading in the House of Commons), confers “special” status on the human embryo, though not full moral status, he says. “Bill C56 takes a middle position: you can’t create an embryo in order to destroy it, but if it is already created but is no longer needed, then it’s okay to conduct experiments that will destroy it, if that will help others.” The EFC has criticized this middle status, he adds.


The bill also restricts payments for surrogacy arrangements, bans the sale of sperm and eggs, and establishes a regulatory body that will draft rules governing specific genetic and reproductive technologies.




On the other side of stem cell research are people like Elaine*, Lori*, and Alexa*, who have used reproductive technologies, including in vitro fertilization. Each woman drew her ethical lines in a different place.


After three years of trying to have a baby Elaine, 32, chose artificial insemination and drugs to stimulate the ovaries to produce extra eggs.


A year passed. In vitro was the next step, but Elaine and her husband had misgivings.


“That was too much messing around with conception and human life,” she says. “The technique and the technology are so invasive. On top of that is the possibility that conception will happen, but embryos don’t get implanted, or they get implanted and then aborted.


“I also think it’s a waste of resources when thousands of kids around the world are without a home. We would have put the $10,000 into adoption instead of in vitro.”


In the end, the couple didn’t have to choose. Elaine got pregnant and had a baby girl in September 2001.


“We see prayer as a key element, not just the fact that we had these medical technologies. Our pregnancy was not just a scientific, chance thing,” says Elaine, who attends an Anglican church.


The couple are now trying for a second child, but they’re not sure if they’ll use any reproductive technologies again because of the emotional and physical toll: dashed hopes, depression, mood swings and other side effects from the drugs.




Lori and her husband tried for five years to conceive and went through numerous cycles of drug treatment, some costing $2,000 per month. She became pregnant several times but always miscarried. It became clear that Lori’s ovaries weren’t the problem, but her uterus. Should they consider a surrogate mother?


They knew immediately it wouldn’t be an option for them.


“We didn’t feel right about paying—even a friend or relative. And we wondered if God really wants that, even though there was a surrogate mother in the Old Testament, Abraham’s servant, Hagar,” she says.


With Lori approaching 41, the couple decided to end reproductive treatments. They are now considering other options, including adoption.


It’s been a difficult journey grappling with childlessness, says Lori, but one that is also full of grace.


“I was at a baby dedication and the person was saying that babies are a gift from God, so go out and multiply. I thought, ‘Okay, why is God not giving this gift to us?’ I still don’t understand,” she says. “I was told God blesses us differently. I play piano in my spare time. So I thought, ‘Oh great. I got the gift of music.’ I would rather have the gift of a baby.”


Still, the couple’s experience brought them closer to other couples in their evangelical church who are also struggling with infertility. They learned to lean on each other—and prayer—through it all.


“God does heal and has healed me greatly: via the prayer ministry, through others, and through readings like A Grace Disguised,” says Lori. (The book, subtitled “How the Soul Grows Through Loss,” is by Gerald Sittser, published by Zondervan, 1998.)




Alexa, 35, and her husband, both Catholic, already had an 18-month-old son when they started trying to have another child. Two years passed. A medical exam revealed extensive scarring and that her body was killing her husband’s sperm. She had an operation to remove the scarring, and then began drug treatments and artificial insemination.


Eight months and more than $10,000 produced only pain and disappointment. So they booked an appointment with the Catholic Children’s Aid Society, which handles adoptions. They also booked in vitro treatments.


In making their decision they educated themselves about the procedure through books and web sites, joined a fertility organization, consulted with close family members, and talked to their priest.


“I said my plan was to freeze any extra embryos, and have them all put in. Our priest said it was okay as long as all the eggs harvested were implanted and we didn’t abort any,” recalls Alexa. “Then we asked, ‘What about the masturbation?’ He said it is not ideal, but it is a minor sin and we can be forgiven of it.”


Meanwhile, Alexa’s husband, a physicist, reassured her that the odds of a multiple pregnancy were very low. “I was terrified we would have triplets. But I wanted triplets more than I wanted none, so I was willing to have triplets.”


Her first in vitro treatment, which cost $5,300 in addition to $2,000 for drugs, yielded nine eggs. Five were good enough to be fertilized. However, when Alexa returned for implantation, she was told that two had deteriorated and had been destroyed.


“That kind of bothered me,” she says. “They should have asked me. I went to confession about that. I feel that I wasn’t proactive enough and should have put my wishes in writing. The priest said yes, I should have, but that it was a minor sin.”


The three remaining eggs were inserted into her womb. (Most clinics won’t implant more than three to four eggs at a time to eliminate the need for selective abortion should all the eggs take.)


One egg was successful, and the couple had a daughter. Now they are pregnant again, without medical intervention.


“I wouldn’t do IVF again,” says Lori. “I think it is too much to ask of God. That was a big miracle to have that baby.”




Six stories. Six decisions. All of them share one thing in common: respect for the dignity of human life from conception. Techniques of genetic and new reproductive technologies are constantly changing and in many cases improving. In time, that may mean Christians no longer have to choose between life-giving treatments and the destruction of another human life in its earliest stages.


*For privacy reasons, some of the people interviewed for this article did not want their real names used. Names, places and identifying details have been changed where noted to preserve anonymity.


Marianne Meed Ward is a freelance writer in Burlington, Ont. She is deeply grateful to those who shared their personal struggles and joys for this article.




Highlights in the history of cloning (Foxnews, 021227)


1952: Scientists demonstrate they can remove the nucleus from a frog egg, replace it with the nucleus of an embryonic frog cell, and get the egg to develop into a tadpole. This “nuclear transfer” transplants an animal’s genes to an egg. The tadpole is a clone of the embryo that donated its nucleus.


1975: Scientists get tadpoles after transferring cell nuclei from adult frogs.


1986: Sheep cloned by nuclear transfer from embryonic cells.


1997: Scientists reveal Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from cells of an adult animal.


1998: More than 50 mice reported cloned from a single adult mouse over several generations. Eight calves reported cloned from a single adult cow.


2000: Pigs and goats reported cloned from adult cells.


2001: Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, Mass., says it produced a six-cell cloned human embryo, in research aimed at harvesting stem cells.


2002: Rabbits and a kitten reported cloned from adult cells.


Dec. 27, 2002: Clonaid claims to produce first human clone, a baby girl.




All About Eve: We don’t need clones (NRO, 030103)


Apparently, the day after Christmas, an alien-worshipping Canadian cult produced the first human clone. And how were your holidays?


I’m going to go out on a limb here: Something about this group is a little off.


According to the cult’s founder (a French sportswriter/racecar driver named Claude), he was on his way to work one day in 1973 when he was sidetracked by a spaceship on top of a volcano. Voluptuous female robots (this being France, after all) descended from the spaceship and told Claude the secret of life: We humans originated thousands of years ago when aliens cloned themselves to populate the Earth.


They told him this in perfect French. I’m not sure what this says about the aliens, but it says something about the French.


So Claude changed his name to Rael and, naturally, started a religion teaching his followers, the Raelians (sounds a little better than the Claude-ians), the holy gospel of aliens, cloning ,and voluptuous female robots. Eventually, the French had enough of this and the cult moved to Canada and started its own company, Clonaid.


Did the Raelians clone a baby? Let’s just say their credibility is a bit suspect. (News this morning that they lied about a promised DNA test further confirms that.)


But cloning is for real and human cloning is enough of a real possibility that the president of the United States felt compelled to comment on it during Christmas week. Bush called the claim “deeply troubling.”


These spacey followers of a French sportswriter want to live forever. The people who are financially supporting their company, Clonaid, are desperate infertile couples who want babies.


Unfortunately, human cloning is not the miracle answer to infertility. It is the distorted end result of a 20-year journey down the path of in vitro fertilization, frozen embryo warehousing, and surrogate motherhood.


Well-intentioned families have benefited from these methods by achieving parenthood but as the science progresses (or digresses), God is removed from the equation and mad scientists are allowed to play with the origins of life.


There is Clonaid’s claim that a human skin cell plus a woman’s egg plus a little electricity is all it takes to perfectly reproduce any and all human beings.


Then there is the hard fact that there are over 100,000 children in foster care in the United States alone waiting to be adopted. There are hundreds of thousands of other children worldwide who need loving homes.


While Rael was doing the Electric Slide with those voluptuous female robots aboard that flying saucer, I’ll bet God was creating the future parents of an adoptive child. Maybe this week He’ll show them that the reason they can’t conceive a child is that their child already exists. Then He’ll help them find and adopt that child, and provide that child with a home and loving parents.


Stranger things have happened.


— Susan Konig, a journalist, has just written a book, Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road (and other lies I tell my children).




New England Journal of Politics: Medical Journal crosses a line (NRO, 030731)


The political games played by promoters of human cloning among scientists and biotechnology boosters have really gotten out of hand. The most recent example of their misleading polemics and obfuscation can be found in an editorial in the July 17, 2003, New England Journal of Medicine, in which the editor-in-chief promises that the Journal will work to help defeat legislative efforts to outlaw human cloning for biomedical research (“Legislative Myopia on Stem Cells,” by Jeffrey M. Drazen MD.).


The editorial claims that it is “unreasonable to prohibit research” using the cloning process known as somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). (In human SCNT, the nucleus would be removed from a human egg. In its place, a nucleus taken from the cell of the human donor to be cloned would be inserted. The genetically modified egg would then be stimulated electronically. If the technique was successful, human embryonic development would proceed as if the original egg had been fertilized naturally.)


To prevent a pending legal prohibition on human SCNT, Drazen vows that the Journal will “make sure that legislative myopia does not blur scientific insight.” Toward this end, he promises that the “editors will do our part” to influence the political debate “by seeking out highly meritorious manuscripts” that extol the virtues and potential of embryonic stem-cell research and human SCNT. In other words, decisions to accept or reject articles for publication about these subjects will at least partly depend on the impact they are expected to have on the public debate. Indeed, the Boston Globe reported that the Journal’s “goal” in publishing these future articles will be that of “deterring political opposition to research.”


With this editorial pronouncement, the New England Journal of Medicine effectively ceased to be an objective scientific/medical journal — at least on the issue of human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research. In becoming so blatantly political, it has undercut its crucial role as a dispassionate and credible arbiter of reliable medical information.


This unfortunate development raises several crucial questions. If the editors of the Journal are intent on using its pages as a political jackhammer in the ongoing societal debate over human cloning, then how can we trust it to tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about SCNT, embryonic stem-cell research, adult stem-cell research, and related topics? For example, what if the Journal’s editors were to receive a credible paper describing a major adult stem-cell research advance — an advance that opponents of human cloning may see as a viable alternative to using tissues from cloned or natural embryos? No matter how accurate or well-written the report, would the editors still publish it, knowing that doing so might harm their stated political goal of legalizing human cloning for biomedical research? After all, early human trials have already begun using adult stem cells to treat conditions such as multiple sclerosis, spinal-cord injury, Parkinson’s, and heard disease — and the more quickly these advances move toward effective treatments for patients in need, the less urgent the embryonic stem-cell and cloning agendas will appear to Americans and their political representatives.


Or, what if the Journal received a manuscript reporting that an attempt to use embryonic stem-cell therapy in mice to treat, say, diabetes, had failed? Disclosing failures is as essential a part of the scientific process as touting successes.


Or, what if a submission for publication indicated that embryonic stem cells’ known propensity to cause tumors when injected into animals may be insoluble? What then? Publishing the article would unquestionably interfere with the editors’ wish to make research on embryonic stem cells legal and legitimate.


And how can we be assured, given the editors’ ideological zeal, that pro-cloning articles won’t be published as much for their potential political impact as for their bona fide scientific worth? The sad fact is that we can’t. Drazen’s blithe assurance that the Journal will only publish “meritorious manuscripts” favoring cloning and embryonic stem-cell research is no assurance at all. Why? Because, were the Journal’s policy simply to act in this area as it does in other fields — that is, publishing the articles that have the greatest scientific/medical merit — then there would have been no need for Drazen’s editorial at all.


Magnifying these credibility concerns is the editorial’s grossly inaccurate description of the science of human cloning. Drazen writes:


There are two distinct uses of embryonic stem cells. The first, for which there is no support among members of the scientific and medical communities, is the use of stem cells to create a genetically identical person. There is a de facto worldwide ban on such activities, and this ban is appropriate. The second use is to develop genetically compatible materials for the replacement of diseased tissues in patients with devastating medical conditions, such as diabetes or Parkinson’s disease. This is important work that must and will move forward.


It is hard to believe that the editor-in-chief of one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals would write that an “embryonic stem cell” could be used to create a “genetically identical person,” a reference to the birth of a cloned baby. Stem cells are merely cells. Implanting them could no more lead to a pregnancy than placing a blood cell or skin cell into a woman’s womb. Researchers could implant embryonic stem cells into women’s wombs from now until doomsday and it would never result in the birth of a “genetically identical person.”


Moreover, SCNT, the kind of human cloning promoted in Drazen’s editorial, does not produce stem cells per se: If successful, it produces cloned human embryos. If these cloned embryos could be kept developing for a week — which has not yet been accomplished — they could be dissected to procure embryonic stem cells. But these same cloned embryos could also be used to create a “genetically identical person” if implanted into a woman’s womb and gestated until birth. While a stem cell is just a cell, an embryo is a distinct, individual human life, albeit in a nascent stage of development. In the name of scientific accuracy and integrity in advocacy, Drazen should have made these important biological distinctions clear.


Which brings us to the essential moral point in this debate the importance of which many scientists just don’t seem to understand: Permitting research into human SCNT would allow researchers to create human life solely and explicitly for the purpose of destruction and exploitation, as if these human embryos were no more meaningful than a corn crop or penicillin mold. The majority of scientists may have no qualms about this, but the majority of the public apparently does. Opinion polls demonstrate that the American people — and indeed much of the world — is repulsed by all human cloning, whether for biomedical research or to produce children.


This opposition was reflected in the strongly bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives to outlaw human SCNT. If the companion bill in the Senate — authored by Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas and Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — is passed, President Bush will sign it and the U.S. will join nations such as Australia, Norway, Taiwan, Germany, and (soon) Canada in outlawing all SCNT human cloning.


Unfortunately, it would seem that the editors at the New England Journal of Medicine believe that the views of the scientifically unwashed have no place in this debate. Indeed, they and others in the biotechnology and medical communities seem to think that these issues are none of our business. How else to explain the overt politicization of science in recent years, a process that now threatens to undermine the scientific method and poison dispassionate professional discourse on the issue?


In recent years, science has become increasingly politicized, a trend that threatens to undermine the scientific method and poison dispassionate discourse. The New England Journal of Medicine has now added fuel to this already raging fire by transforming a highly respected medical journal into a tool for political advocacy. In doing so, they have undermined their own reputation for probity, credibility, and scientific objectivity — the very qualities the editors have tried to appeal to as they strive to defeat what they claim is an ignorant drive to outlaw SCNT human cloning.


— Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. He is the author of Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder. His next book will explore the science, morality, and business aspects of human cloning.




Stem Cell News That Isn’t Fit For Print (Weekly Standard, 031203)


The mainstream media is ignoring promising news about adult stem cell research.


by Wesley J. Smith


MEDIA BIAS is alive and well and busily promoting the brave new world. I personally experienced the phenomenon recently when I participated in an educational symposium in Frankfort, Kentucky (along with Drs. David Prentice and John Hubert). Our purpose was to provide empirical and moral support for pending state legislation that would outlaw human cloning in Kentucky. (Similar laws have already passed in Michigan, Iowa, North Dakota, and Arkansas.)


We spoke about regenerative medicine (using cellular treatments to repair injured or damaged organs), the science of human cloning (how mammalian cloning is accomplished), and the crucial moral issues raised by cloning humans, such as the potential consequences of treating the creation of human life as a matter of mere manufacture.


We also spent a great deal of time discussing the many advances being made in using adult stem cells as efficacious and morally non-controversial sources for regenerative medical treatments. Indeed, we devoted nearly one third of the more than two-hour event to contrasting the many exciting adult stem cell research breakthroughs compared with the relative paucity of embryonic stem cell successes and the virtually non-existent advances in therapeutic cloning research.


Adult stem cell therapy would be almost magical. (A good analogy might be the common practice of donating your own blood for later use in your own surgery.) Instead of taking drugs to treat degenerative ailments such as Parkinson’s disease or undergoing organ transplant surgery, if adult stem cell therapy works the way researchers hope, doctors would be able to harness the patient’s own

cells as potent medicine to rebuild damaged organs and body tissues. For example, a heart attack patient’s bone marrow stem cells might be extracted, proliferated in culture, and then injected back into the patient resulting in the heart restoring health to damaged tissue.


EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS are another potential source for regenerative treatments. But, we pointed out, unlike adult stem cell treatments, ES cells cannot be used in human studies because of two fundamental safety issues. First, they cause tumors in animal studies. For example, in one recent experiment, ES cells were injected into a mouse in the hope they would rebuild the animal’s damaged knee. Instead, the cells obliterated the knee by stimulating tumor growth. (More recently, an adult stem cell animal study successfully rebuilt joints without causing tumors.)


Second, using embryonic stem cells as a regenerative treatment--unlike adult stem cells--would introduce foreign tissues into the patient, perhaps stimulating the immune system to reject the tissues. “Therapeutic cloning” is supposed to get around this problem. The complicated procedure would involve the manufacture of cloned embryos of the patient who is to receive the stem cell treatment. The cloned embryos would be developed for one week to the blastocyst stage. At that point, they would be destroyed, and their embryonic stem cells harvested. (To date, researchers have been unable to successfully create cloned human embryos to the blastocyst stage.) These would then be proliferated in culture and eventually injected into the patient, the hope being that the tissues would not be rejected because the DNA from the cloned embryo and that of the patient would be nearly identical.




Embryonic Stem Cells Research (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 030000)


Five years later, stem cells still tantalize


In early November of 1998, when human embryonic stem cells were introduced to the world, the possibilities seemed astonishing.


“It is not too unrealistic to say that this research has the potential to revolutionize the practice of medicine and improve the quality and length of life,” then-National Institutes of Health Director Harold Varmus told a Senate hearing less than a month after Wisconsin biologist James Thomson reported his stem cell feat in the journal Science.


Varmus went on: “There is almost no realm of medicine that might not be touched by this innovation.”


Today, five years after the shy University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist published his succinct but earthshaking paper showing that stem cells—ephemeral, blank slate cells that occur at the earliest stages of human development—could be isolated, cultured and grown in apparently limitless quantities, enthusiasm is tempered.


The public cheerleading of Varmus and others, without a doubt, helped make stem cells a household word and set a high (and unrealistic) expectation that therapies for a host of debilitating cell-based diseases were just around the corner.


There is no doubt among biologists that embryonic stem cells have vast potential. There are no other cells that can perform the same biological feats as embryonic stem cells. They can morph into any one of the 220 types of cells and tissues in the human body. Nurtured in their undifferentiated state, they can proliferate endlessly in culture, and provide a vast supply of cells for research and, someday, therapy. And perhaps most importantly of all, they provide our only window to the earliest stages of human development and, after differentiation, access to more specialized cells that could vastly improve our understanding of the onset of cell-based diseases, and perhaps ways to prevent them.


But as Thomson himself emphasized in 1998, their glitziest application in the clinic—the tantalizing potential of transforming transplant medicine by creating large quantities of cells to treat debilitating diseases such as Parkinson’s, diabetes and ALS—would be a decade in the future under the best of circumstances.


“We went through this period of extreme hype and high expectations,” recalls Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the private, not-for-profit foundation that holds Wisconsin’s patents to stem cell technology. “Things seem to have settled down, but people still expect a lot, and we’re still in a tight political environment.”


Indeed, the politics of stem cells from the outset have been as far reaching as the technology itself promises to be. Extending from the Oval Office, where stem cells became the dominant domestic issue of the first eight months of the Bush Administration, to the other end of State Street, where a few state legislators remain determined to criminalize the research, the political dimensions of stem cell science have framed a national debate and influenced many aspects of how the research is done and funded.


According to Gulbrandsen, the administration’s decision to permit federal funds to be used for research on at least some stem cells lines—a decision heavily influenced by former Wisconsin governor and current Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson—was a turning point in the debate.


“Bush’s decision was a landmark decision,” Gulbrandsen says. “A lot of people don’t like it, but it was an ingenious political solution. That decision wouldn’t have occurred without Tommy Thompson there.”


Although wading through a political quagmire was difficult and sometimes painful for the retiring biologist Thomson, it was a necessary exercise.


“The first year or two (after first isolating the cells) were pretty much wasted due to politics,” says Thomson. “But since then we’ve done pretty well” in the lab.


The early flood of publicity, breathless in its descriptions of the medical and research potential of stem cells, Thomson feared, would set unrealistic expectations in the public mind. Lost in the glowing words, he says, are the hard and painstaking realities of basic science.


What are embryonic stem cells?

Embryonic stem cells are undifferentiated cells that are unlike any specific adult cell. However, they have the ability to form any adult cell. Because undifferentiated embryonic stem cells can proliferate indefinitely in culture, they could potentially provide an unlimited source of specific, clinically important adult cells such as bone, muscle, liver or blood cells.


Where do embryonic stem cells come from?

Human embryonic stem cells are derived from fertilized embryos less than a week old. Using 14 blastocysts obtained from donated, surplus embryos produced by in vitro fertilization, a group of UW-Madison developmental biologists led by James Thomson established five independent stem cell lines in November 1998. This was the first time human embryonic stem cells had been successfully isolated and cultured.


The cell lines were capable of prolonged, undifferentiated proliferation in culture and yet maintained the ability to develop into a variety of specific cell types, including neural, gut, muscle, bone and cartilage cells.


The embryos used in the work at UW-Madison were originally produced to treat infertility and were donated specially for this project with the informed consent of donor couples who no longer wanted the embryos for implantation.


In virtually every in vitro fertilization clinic in the world, surplus embryos are discarded if they are not donated to help other infertile couples or for research. The research protocols were reviewed and approved by a UW-Madison Institutional Review Board, a panel of scientists and medical ethicists who oversee such work.


Why are embryonic stem cells important?

Embryonic stem cells are of great interest to medicine and science because of their ability to develop into virtually any other cell made by the human body. In theory, if stem cells can be grown and their development directed in culture, it would be possible to grow cells of medical importance such as bone marrow, neural tissue or muscle.


The first potential applications of human embryonic stem cell technology may be in the area of drug discovery. The ability to grow pure populations of specific cell types offers a proving ground for chemical compounds that may have medical importance. Treating specific cell types with chemicals and measuring their response offers a short-cut to sort out chemicals that can be used to treat the diseases that involve those specific cell types. Stem cell technology, therefore, would permit the rapid screening of hundreds of thousands of chemicals that must now be tested through much more time-consuming processes.


The study of human development also benefits from embryonic stem cell research. The earliest stages of human development have been difficult or impossible to study. Human embryonic stem cells offer insights into developmental events that cannot be studied directly in humans in utero or fully understood through the use of animal models. Understanding the events that occur at the first stages of development has potential clinical significance for preventing or treating birth defects, infertility and pregnancy loss. A thorough knowledge of normal development could ultimately allow the prevention or treatment of abnormal human development. For instance, screening drugs by testing them on cultured human embryonic stem cells could help reduce the risk of drug-related birth defects.


How might embryonic stem cells be used to treat disease?

The ability to grow human tissue of all kinds opens the door to treating a range of cell-based diseases and to growing medically important tissues that can be used for transplantation purposes. For example, diseases like juvenile onset diabetes mellitus and Parkinson’s disease occur because of defects in one of just a few cells types. Replacing faulty cells with healthy ones offers hope of lifelong treatment. Similarly, failing hearts and other organs, in theory, could be shored up by injecting healthy cells to replace damaged or diseased cells.


Why not derive stem cells from adults?

There are several approaches now in human clinical trials that utilize mature stem cells (such as blood-forming cells, neuron-forming cells and cartilage-forming cells). However, because adult cells are already specialized, their potential to regenerate damaged tissue is very limited: skin cells will only become skin and cartilage cells will only become cartilage. Adults do not have stem cells in many vital organs, so when those tissues are damaged, scar tissue develops. Only embryonic stem cells, which have the capacity to become any kind of human tissue, have the potential to repair vital organs.


Another limitation of adult stem cells is their inability to proliferate in culture. Unlike embryonic stem cells, which have a capacity to reproduce indefinitely in the laboratory, adult stem cells are difficult to grow in the lab and their potential to reproduce diminishes with age. Therefore, obtaining clinically significant amounts of adult stem cells may prove to be difficult.


Studies of adult stem cells are important and will provide valuable insights into the use of stem cell in transplantation procedures. However, only through exploration of all types of stem cell research will scientists find the most efficient and effective ways to treat diseases.


What are the benefits of studying embryonic stem cells?

Pluripotent stem cells represent hope for millions of Americans. They have the potential to treat or cure a myriad of diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, spinal cord injuries and burns.


This extraordinary research is still in its infancy and practical application will only be possible with additional study. Scientists need to understand what leads cells to specialization in order to direct cells to become particular types of tissue. For example, islet cells control insulin production in the pancreas, which is disrupted in people with diabetes. If an individual with diabetes is to be cured, the stem cells used for treatment must develop into new insulin-producing islet cells, not heart tissue or other cells. Research is required to determine how to control the differentiation of stem cells so they will be therapeutically effective. Research is also necessary to study the potential of immune rejection of the cells, and how to overcome that problem.




What’s In a Name? When it comes to cloning, just about everything (WS, 040223)


ONE OF THE MORE DISTURBING hallmarks of the cloning debate has been the inaccurate and unscientific language used by cloning proponents to describe human cloning for biomedical research. There is a reason for this disingenuous approach to cloning advocacy. When cloning is accurately described as creating a new human embryo, the public overwhelmingly opposes it--whether the cloning is undertaken for research purposes or to create children. But when obfuscating terminology is employed to make it appear that only “cells” are created in a “therapeutic cloning” procedure, public support tends to grow.


As it turns out, this also holds true for scientists. A new survey of biotechnology researchers has just been released demonstrating both the political effectiveness of the pro-cloning wordplay and an appalling ignorance among the scientific community about what human cloning actually entails.


Here’s the story: Genetic Engineering News published the results of a survey taken by Isaac Rabino of Empire State College, State University of New York. Rabino asked U.S. and international biotech researchers about their moral attitudes toward human cloning and embryonic stem cell research. A total of 1,229 scientists and researchers responded to the surveys from the United States, and 408 from abroad. The results are fascinating: A large majority of these researchers actually oppose all human cloning! But these respondents are apparently so ignorant about what precisely is created through the cloning procedure, that they don’t know it.


As reported Business Wire, Rabino found that 92 percent of U.S. and 85 percent of international scientists advocate “therapeutic

cloning of human cells for replacement tissue.” Thus, Business Wire reported, “a majority of international scientists favor . . . the therapeutic cloning of cells.”


No surprise there. Yet, 73 percent of U.S. and 78 percent of these same international scientists “believe the creation of human embryos specifically for research purposes is ethically unacceptable.” This, of course, is the very action that results from therapeutic cloning.


There are two ways to create an embryo specifically for research purposes; sexually, e.g. fertilization, and asexually, e.g. cloning, as just occurred in South Korea. Indeed, embryos that come into being as a result of cloning cannot reliably be distinguished from those created through fertilization. Indeed, a cloned embryo, if not defective, would function in the identical manner as an embryo brought into being through fertilization.


I’m trained in law and even I know that. But apparently these international researchers trained in biology and other sciences are ignorant of the fact that the two activities quoted above, while differently described in the survey, constitute precisely the same act.


This is the scientific truth that pro-cloners dare not utter: Therapeutic cloning does not create tissues or cells. It creates a cloned human embryo. That’s the science and it is biologically indisputable. Once the embryo comes into being, there are no further acts of cloning. All that remains is deciding what to do with the nascent human organism that cloning has created.


If biotechnological experts are so confused about what human cloning actually entails that they answer questions about its morality differently, depending on how the question is worded, imagine the perplexity experienced by the lay public. Which is precisely why the cloning lobby refuses to tell the unvarnished facts about human cloning to the American people. They want to win and they are not about to let the truth get in their way.


Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.




The Brave New World of Cloning—Part One (Christian Post, 050613)


“I was convinced that there was still plenty of time.” With those words the author Aldous Huxley looked back to 1931, and the publication of his famous novel Brave New World. Huxley’s vision of an oppressive culture of total authoritarian control and social engineering was among the most shocking literary events of the twentieth century. But just 27 years after the publication of Brave New World, Huxley was already aware of his underestimation of the threat represented by modern technocratic society.


News that scientists had cloned an adult sheep from non-reproductive cells shook the scientific community, but prompted an earthquake of concern in the larger culture. The cloning of the sheep by Dr. Ian Wilmut’s team in Scotland raised a host of ethical, legal, and social issues which will take time to untangle. Yet, even as this reality began to sink into our cultural consciousness, further reports of the cloning of monkeys from embryo cells and attempts at human cloning raised the sense of ethical crisis.


The simple fact that an adult sheep had been produced through cloning was a graphic indication of the remarkable advances made in the field of genetics in recent years. The achievement of a cloned mammal -- genuinely cloned from a non-reproductive cell -- was thought to be years away. Yet Wilmut and his colleagues apparently moved the schedule ahead and achieved a genuine scientific breakthrough. In years since, researchers have cloned other animals, and a commercial venture now offers to clone your pet cat.


The proposed use of the cloned sheep and the impetus behind the experiment is pharmaceutical research, but this limited purpose is but a hint of the countless purposes to which the technology can be directed. “Dolly,” as the sheep was known, is the face of the future as the technology of cloning is advanced and applied.


What are the ethical implications of cloning animals? At first glance, this question appears no more complicated than related questions concerning animal husbandry and breeding. After all, selective breeding designed to enhance the quality of stocks and herds predates the development of genetics as a science. Once the basic patterns of genetic inheritance were observed, techniques intended to enhance genetic quality quickly followed.


Over the past two decades, this has exploded into international agribusiness, and most modern animals produced for human consumption bear the marks of some genetic intervention. Genetic enhancements such as the practice of “twinning” cattle embryos are now practiced wholesale in developed nations. But the arrival of “Dolly” and other cloned life forms represents an entirely new development toward the artificiality of animal life at the hands of human engineers.


According to the Bible, human beings are granted and assigned a dual responsibility by the Creator -- dominion and stewardship. Human beings, made in the image of God, are to exercise dominion and “rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” This extensive rule sets the human being apart from the rest of creation, and the other creatures.


This rulership is translated into the intentional use of animals to human ends and the elevation of human needs and purposes above all other creatures. But the dominion granted to human beings is not inherently ours; it is a delegated rulership. We rule over the animals by the authority of our Creator, and thus we will answer for our stewardship of our rulership.


What does this suggest about the issue of cloned animals? First, the acknowledgment of our delegated dominion should make clear that our rulership is limited. We are not to take the authority of the Creator as our own. Second, this principle of a delegated rulership should serve as a warning concerning the increasing artificiality of animal life at human hands. The increasing use of unnatural means of reproduction leads automatically to a sense of engineered life forms as human creations.


Put bluntly, we were not commanded or authorized to create new forms of life as extensions of our own designs and ego. Nightmarish scenarios of unforeseen consequences are easily imaginable. Further, the issue of cloned mammals also threatens the biodiversity God clearly intended as a mark of His creation. Cloned animals repeat the genetic code of the host animals, avoiding the necessary genetic mixing by natural reproduction. Performed on a wide scale, this could threaten to harm species, or even threaten their survival from disease. The development of “chimeras” mixing human and animal genetic material is a challenge that may threaten both animals and human beings.


The intricate questions of ethical means and ends revolve around every aspect of animal cloning. This is not a simple issue of a new genetic technology. The ethical issues of animal cloning are real and unavoidable. Without question, the development of cloning may provide advances in therapeutic technologies which will benefit human beings as well as animals. Nevertheless, the technology of cloning also raises the specter of transgenic animals -- crossing species and creating customized new animal forms. Again, the Christian worldview warns us that our stewardship and dominion of other creatures is to be exercised within limits imposed by the Creator. Many arguments on behalf of human “co-creation” with God are not biblically sustainable, and indicate creaturely over-reaching and hubris. Human beings are assigned responsibility for the care, use, and enjoyment of animal creatures, but we are not granted license for their mechanistic manipulation, transgenic innovation, or ruthless violation.


One need not accept the ideology of the animal rights movement in order to question the moral character of these new technologies which threaten the integrity of animal life. At the same time, abstract claims of the integrity of animal life cannot be posed in terms of ultimacy. The distinction between human beings and the other living beings is central to the biblical text. Spiritual value is assigned to human life in a sense that is totally foreign and alien to animal life. Animal life is certainly not without value, as attested by the “goodness” of animal creation by the verdict of the Creator. But animal life cannot be assigned the highest value, for such would be an inversion of the biblical hierarchy of value and moral responsibility.


Though the cloning of a sheep was the proof that cloning could be achieved, few thoughtful persons could keep their minds on the lamb. The cloning of human beings -- long limited to the domain of science fiction--now appeared to be an impending reality. Ian Wilmut accepted the fact that cloning humans would be possible. “There is no reason in principle why you couldn’t do it,” he acknowledged. Yet he added, “All of us would find that offensive.” That was not to last for long. In recent months, Wilmut has become an eager advocate of so-called “therapeutic” human cloning for application in embryonic stem-cell research.


The cloning of animals and the cloning of a human being are just differnt applications of the same basic technology. With companies offerring to clone your cat and scientists rushing to clone human embryos, how long will it be until some scientist decides to clone a human being -- and is successful?


Tomorrow: The Cloning of Humans and the Reproductive Revolution




R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.




The Brave New World of Cloning—Part Two (Christian Post, 050614)


Though the cloning of a sheep was the proof that cloning could be achieved, few thoughtful persons could keep their minds on the lamb. The cloning of human beings--long limited to the domain of science fiction--now appeared to be an impending reality. Ian Wilmut accepted the fact that cloning humans would be possible. “There is no reason in principle why you couldn’t do it,” he acknowledged. Yet he added, “All of us would find that offensive.”


Though his first statement remains to be demonstrated, his second statement is blatantly false. It is simply not true that all of us would find the cloning of human beings to be offensive. Indeed, an editorial published in Nature advised that human cloning “is likely to be achievable any time from one to ten years from now. Ethical constraints aside, there are even some rare genetic and medical disorders for which it would be a desirable way for a couple to produce offspring.” Bioethicist John Robertson agrees, adding that the cloning of a dying child or infertile adults might be morally justified. Others, such as John Fletcher, a former ethicist for the National Institutes of Health, assert that the cloning of a baby designed to provide a tissue-matched organ or bone marrow could also be justified. “The reasons for opposing this are not easy to argue,” Fletcher commented.


The claim that the cloning of a human being could take place in the next few years came as a surprise to the general public. The idea of cloning a human being was quickly championed by some of the more eager proponents of genetic technologies. Others were more skeptical, doubting that the difficulty of cloning a human would be comparable to cloning a sheep. Nevertheless, the technology is basically the same, and the achievement of a cloned human being is not likely to be far in our future.


This is an issue of immediate, urgent, and universal importance. The cloning of a human being represents a radical break with the human past, and with the established patterns of human life. The very possibility of human cloning is repulsive to many persons. Harold Varmus, director of the National Institutes of Health, suggested that the notion of cloning a human being would be “repugnant to the American public.” Harvard neurobiologist Lisa Geller, who admitted that she could make no ethical distinction between in vitro fertilization and cloning, nevertheless confessed: “I admit is makes my stomach feel nervous.”


The cloning of a human brings to mind the sterile, dehumanizing images of Huxley’s Brave New World, with its fertilizing rooms, decanting chambers, and embryo stores representing the technological perfection of artificial human reproduction. The reproductive revolution has already thrown a host of difficult ethical issues on the national agenda, but the genetic revolution is perhaps the greatest ethical challenge of the new millennium.


That nervous stomach to which Geller admitted is about all the secular worldview can offer in response to this issue. Having denied the existence and authority of God the Creator, all that remains for modern secularists is the artificial morality of an ad hoc ethic. Any opposition to cloning--human or otherwise--is merely arbitrary. Business Week was positively ecstatic about the possibilities of cloning, and stated editorially: “The world should embrace the biological revolution, not cringe from it.” Yet, incongruous though it may seem, the same editorial warned: “There is no question that the notion of individuals cloning themselves is not only repugnant but also raises important questions.” Clearly, Business Week’s embrace of the biological revolution is not unconditional--at least not yet--but their editorial opposition to human cloning appears merely arbitrary and superficial.


The possible development of human cloning raises a host of ethical quandaries. Who would be the “parents” of a cloned child? In an age of patented forms of life, could a cloned being be “owned,” at least in genetic pattern? Will parents seek to clone children in order to provide tissues, organs, or bone marrow for transplant into another child? These are but a few of the many pressing questions which will demand address. The secular worldview provides only tentative and provisional answers.


Does the Christian worldview offer a more substantial basis for the ethical evaluation of human cloning? I will argue that the Christian worldview alone can provide us with an ethical context and authority adequate to this task


The biblical creation account presents the creation of human beings as the pinnacle of God’s creative purpose. After creating the world and filling it with living creatures, God purposed to create human beings. The human creature--set apart from all other creatures--would bear the Imago Dei, the image of God. While the exact nature of the image of God in the human creature is not identified in detail, it clearly represents the spiritual character and capacity God established in us, and it sets the human creature apart from all other living beings.


Though the image of God in human beings has been corrupted by sin, it has not been removed, and this image is an essential mark of true humanity. Each human being is a special creation of God, made in His own image. Human beings share certain common characteristics and features, as well as a common form with specializations, but each is unique by the design of the Creator. The status of human beings as created beings, each unique but all bearing the image of God, establishes a foundation for theological understanding.


The fact that the precise character of the image of God in humanity is unknown to us does not mean that we have no general knowledge of its meaning. The Reformed tradition has identified knowledge, righteousness, and holiness as a triad of qualities representing the image of God. Each of these qualities establishes the human as qualitatively distinct from other creatures. Thomas Aquinas, the great synthesizer of the medieval tradition, defined the image of God as a function and capacity of human consciousness or intellect. This capacity exists in three stages, argued Thomas, rising from the potential knowledge of God, to the actual acknowledge of God, to the perfect knowledge of God. John Calvin tied the concept of the image of God to the human capacity to glorify God, but accepted that every part of the human being is marked in some sense by the image, even though it is corrupted by sin.


Herman Bavinck stated the issue clearly: “Man does not simply bear or have the image of God; he is the image of God.” He continues:


“From the doctrine that man has been created in the image of God flows the clear implication that that image extends to man in his entirety. Nothing in man is excluded from the image of God. All creatures reveal traces of God, but only man is the image of God. And he is that image totally, in soul and body, in all faculties and powers, in all conditions and relationships. Man is the image of God because and insofar as he is true man, and he is man, true and real man, because and insofar as he is the image of God.”


Thus, the biblical view of human value is rooted in the revealed knowledge that we are made in God’s image, and thus are image-bearers by our very nature. Bavinck’s reminder that this is essential to true humanity is echoed by Anthony Hoekema’s insistence that the concept of the image of God is the “most distinctive feature of the biblical understanding of man.” Without the knowledge of the divine image, man does not know himself for who he is.


This makes clear the decisive distinction between the biblical and secular conceptions of human nature and value. The naturalistic understanding of humanity central to modernity accepts no theistic referent of value. Human beings are cosmic accidents--the fortuitous by-products of blind evolutionary process. As James Watson reflected, he came early to accept Linus Pauling’s simple statement, “We came from chemistry.” Any value thus ascribed to human life is arbitrary and tentative, and necessarily self-referential. This explains why contemporary secular debates concerning the value or sanctity of human life are so inherently confused. We will ascribe value to ourselves by an act of the will. But, as the murderous twentieth century has shown, those who ascribe value to human life by an act of the will can deny that same value by a similar act of the will.


According to the biblical revelation, human beings, like all of creation, were created in order to glorify God. But humans were created with a distinct and unique capacity to know, reverence, worship, and glorify the Creator. He made human beings, male and female, of his own good pleasure, in his own image, and to his own sovereign purpose. Thus, human beings are not mere biological artifacts, nor accidental forms of life. The special, purposeful, and direct creation of every human being in the image of God is central to the Christian worldview. Modernity’s rejection and refutation of that revealed knowledge has set the stage for the rise of abortion, euthanasia, genetic manipulation, infanticide, and even genocide--all in the name of social responsibility and personal autonomy.


Tomorrow: Genetic Manipulation and the Eugenic Temptation




R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.




The Brave New World of Cloning—Part Three (Christian Post, 050616)


Since the rise of genetic knowledge, the eugenic temptation has always been with us. As Daniel Kevles notes, the desire to breed better humans goes back as far as Plato, though Plato had no conception that genetic knowledge would one day put that goal within human reach. Francis Galton’s term eugenics (literally, “good in birth”) is now a part of our cultural vocabulary, and the eugenic reality is on the front line of our cultural crisis.


The temptation to conceive human breeding in eugenic terms is powerful and, in one sense, virtually unavoidable. No thoughtful person would suggest or recommend casual disregard of genetic knowledge regarding, for example, inherited genetic disorders such as Tay-Sach’s disease. But the advent of genetic testing and the exploding knowledge of the human genotype present entirely new eugenic opportunities and ethical challenges.


The crusades of the early eugenicists were directed at limiting the reproduction of those persons or races considered “inferior” and the enhancement of the human species by the intentional breeding of those considered racially or individually “superior.” Eugenic experiments, movements, and theories were common in the early twentieth century in both Europe and the United States, and these often were presented as essentially hygienic and progressive in purpose.


Widespread knowledge of the eugenics-driven genocide of the Nazi regime pushed eugenics outside the pale of acceptable science and medicine in the western democracies--at least until the rise of the new genetic knowledge after 1953, and the identification by James Watson and Francis Crick of the molecular code of DNA. Now, the eugenic temptation is back, armed with knowledge and technologies unimagined by the Nazi doctors and their eugenic compatriots.


The Human Genome Project represents the Manhattan Project of human genetics, and will present humanity with the greatest ethical challenges of the coming century. Though this is seldom articulated or acknowledged in public, genetic testing currently available is used by some parents to decide if a developing fetus is worthy of life.


The ethical challenge of the genetic project is openly accepted by many scientists, including James Watson, who admitted that “the Nazis used leading members of the German human genetics and psychiatry communities to justify their genocide programs, first against the mentally ill and then the Jews and the Gypsies. We need no more vivid reminders that science in the wrong hands can do incalculable harm.”


Of course, Watson is convinced that his hands are “right hands” and contemporary geneticists deny any goals of racial superiority. Nevertheless, the eugenic temptations of the present are every much as ominous as those of the past, and potentially far more threatening, for knowledge denied the Nazi scientists is quickly setting the medical agenda.


As Diane B. Paul suggests, “over every contemporary discussion of eugenics falls the shadow of the Third Reich.” For this reason, some scientists argue that the contemporary issues of genetic knowledge and technique are not eugenic in character at all, for they are not linked--at least yet--to state coercion. This is a false distinction, for though the energy behind the new genetic technologies is not state coercion, it is just as focused on a hierarchical valuation of genetic quality.


The new eugenics is not driven by legal coercion, but by something more like consumer choice. Parents, putting themselves in a consumer posture, are demanding increased genetic knowledge in order to give birth to designer babies, complete with chosen eye color, gender, and anticipated dispositions toward athletics, intellectual pursuits, or other chosen qualities or attributes. Needless to say, these parents also demand that their fetus be free from identifiable genetic flaws or diseases. As John A. Robertson admits, the focus on “offspring quality” changes the very nature of human reproduction. Every pregnancy becomes “tentative” until genetic screens indicate that the fetus is acceptable. This scenario is not an anticipation of future possibilities in genetic medicine, but a realization of present realities. If the fetus is not judged to be of sufficient quality, it can be legally aborted at virtually any stage.


Robertson advocates this freedom under his proposed moral and legal principle of “procreative liberty.” As he argues, this libertarian principle can be applied to any reproductive situation, and state interference is nonexistent. Under the banner of “procreative liberty” we are free to employ any technology available in order to determine the quality of offspring desired. Those fetuses considered unfit are merely aborted without moral consequence or consideration.


Similarly, Philip Kitcher argues that having “left the garden of genetic innocence, some form of eugenics is inescapable, and our first task must be to discover where among the available options we can find the safest home.” Kitcher calls for the development of “utopian eugenics” based on the most sophisticated genetic testing, and argues for the genetic enhancement of the human species as a social responsibility.


The issue of human cloning raises the specter of eugenics to a new level. By the employment of recombinant DNA technologies, a chosen “super strain,” “super race,” or series of “superior individuals” could be designed as embryos and mass produced through asexual reproduction, thus avoiding any dilution of genetic purity by human parents. This is, in essence, the purpose for cloning the sheep. A superior line of genetically designed and enhanced species can be cloned and thus available in mass numbers of undefiled individuals.


The moral consequences are dramatic indeed. Cloning would make possible the eventual de-sexualization of the human race and would allow eugenicists to transcend the “breeding” issues of the early eugenic movements. The new eugenic vision could avoid sexual reproduction altogether and, employing much the same technologies as used to “create” transgenic animals, could modify the genetic structure of the embryo so as to customize and dictate virtually every genetic trait. Thus, the cloning of human beings would allow a dramatic and radical extension of the eugenic vision by allowing for the direct genetic customization of the embryo and the mass asexual production of identical embryos.


Such a vision brings to mind the busy hatcheries of Huxley’s Brave New World, and the antiseptic sterility of his nightmare of totalitarian control. Those who claim that the new eugenics will be free from all coercion are either hopelessly naive or deliberately disingenuous. Anyone familiar with the economic dynamic behind so many supposed medical decisions will know that coercion is already a reality. Pressure is brought on many parents to abort a fetus likely to require expensive medical attention. This pressure is already a form of coercion, but is likely to be only a hint of what is to come. Social pressure--if not social policy--will reward those who allow or encourage eugenic decisions.


Even if mass coercion does not occur, we should consider whether the emergence of small-scale “consumer” eugenics presents a reduced moral challenge. The case made by those committed to “procreative liberty” and “utopian eugenics” is not convincing. In the first case, the ultimate value is not life as God’s good gift, but unfettered reproductive liberty as a designated “right.” This libertarian worldview posits the autonomous human being at the center of the moral universe, and denies any responsibility before God to accept all life as God’s good gift.


The utopian eugenicists also fail to make a convincing case. While “consumer” eugenics may be free from state coercion or open racial discrimination, it clearly aims for the birth of babies free from all unwanted or undesirable genetic traits and possessing those traits chosen as disirable. Philip Kitcher argues that as genetic counseling becomes generally available, a form of laissez-faire eugenics inevitably results. This laissez-faire eugenics is not, however, as free from discrimination and coercion as its proponents may claim.


Most fundamentally, the eugenicist vision represents the creature’s attempt to define himself and his destiny. By unlocking the genetic code, by laying naked the genome, we will become masters of our own destiny. As human beings, we will define ourselves, improve ourselves, customize ourselves, replicate ourselves, and, in the final act of hubris, redeem ourselves through our genetically enhanced and clonally produced progeny.


Tomorrow: Artificial Reproduction and the Destruction of the Family




R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.




The Brave New World of Cloning—Part Four (Christian Post, 050616)


Sociobiologists explain the emergence and survival of the family in terms of evolutionary development and the need for a stable breeding unit. Given the present stage of human development, the family is passing as a necessity and contemporary persons are redefining relationships to serve other, more individualized needs.


Modernity, with its focus on autonomous individualism and liberation from traditional structures, represents a threatening environment for the family unit. The sexual revolution has severed the link between sexual fidelity and marital integrity. Modern contraceptives have allowed unlimited sex without procreative consequences, and the family has been dethroned from its exalted status and stripped of its functions.


Modern feminism has targeted the family as a domestic prison from which women should make a clean escape, and motherhood as a biological imposition. The homosexual movement has sought to redefine the family by demanding acceptance and recognition of same-sex partnerships, and both male and female same-sex couples claim the right to children, if not progeny.


Increasing numbers of unmarried women now become pregnant through donor insemination or other reproductive technologies, and lesbian groups have even established fertilization centers and support groups. Clearly, the traditional heterosexual nuclear family is no longer considered the only culturally-approved unit of human reproduction.


The possibility of human cloning allows for the final emancipation of human reproduction from the marital relationship. Indeed, cloning would allow for the emancipation of human reproduction from any relationship.


Though cloning removes the need for either sperm or egg, no “parent” is necessary. At this point, however, a womb is still necessary for implantation and gestation. Put bluntly, women would be needed as available wombs, if not as biological mothers. Cell biologist Ursula Goodenough of Washington University stated the obvious corollary; “there’d be no need for men.”


Modernity’s assault on the family would thus be complete with the development of cloning. Already stripped of its social functions, the family would now be rendered biologically unnecessary, if not irrelevant. Final liberation from the family and the conjugal bond would be achieved.


Modern secularism may celebrate this emancipation as human progress as the species leaves the vestiges of the pre-modern era behind. But the Christian worldview is the refutation of the secular illusion. Based upon biblical revelation, the family is not an accidental by-product of social evolution nor merely the convenient boundary for socially sanctioned sexual relationships. According to Scripture, the family is God’s gracious gift for our protection, our sexual integrity, and our enjoyment.


The conjugal bond is not a biological trap from which we should seek escape. The marital relationship is the only divinely sanctioned locus of human sexuality, and the bearing of children. The blessing of children is the intended result of the marital bond and the conjugal act.


Surrogate motherhood, artificial insemination, and in vitro fertilization already separate fertility and child-bearing from the conjugal act, and, in many cases, from the marital relationship. This is a separation of great moral consequence. As Gilbert Meilaender has commented, “In our world there are countless ways to ‘have’ a child, but the fact that the end ‘product’ is the same does not mean that we have done the same thing.”


Moral philosophers such as Leon Kass and Oliver O’Donovan have noted that our language betrays a shift in consciousness. O’Donovan, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University, reminds us that the Nicene Creed affirms that Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father was, from eternity, “begotten not made.” We, as human beings, are not in a position to “make” other humans, but only to beget them by God’s intended design. As O’Donovan notes, “We have to consider the nature of this human ‘begetting’ in a culture which has been overwhelmed by ‘making’--that is to say, in a technological culture.”


The shift from ‘begetting’ to ‘making’ noted by O’Donovan reflects the technological worldview of the age. A similar pattern is noted by Leon Kass of the University of Chicago, who traces the shift from procreation to reproduction. Procreation, asserts Kass, reflects the acknowledgment of a Creator and the generative act of creation. Reproduction, on the other hand is a “metaphor of the factory.”


The factory is precisely the image Huxley presented as the reproductive future--and this factory (or laboratory) is the explicit rejection of the marital relationship, the integrity of the family, and our identity as the creature rather than the Creator.


Human cloning, along with other genetic technologies, represents the over-reaching of the creature. No longer satisfied with our creaturely status, we will become our own creators--masters of our species and all others. As John Robertson admits, some now seek to take responsibility for a revolutionary transition in human nature in order to become “creators of ourselves.”


As early as 1968, a report of the National Academy of Sciences declared that the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions would now be followed by the power of modern man to “guide his own evolution.” Carl Sagan claimed that such a threshold had already been crossed and “We are the first species to have taken evolution into our own hands.”


The worldview of secular naturalism leads inevitably to such a conclusion. Mainstream evolutionary scientists argue against any design in the universe and any special value to human beings, other than the evolutionary development of consciousness. Given such a worldview, which denies both Creator and creation, the aspiration to become masters of our own destiny is natural and rational. If we are not created in the image of God, then we will be our own gods. If there is no divine Creator, the Maker of heaven and earth, then we will have to take creation into our own hands.


With moral foresight, the late Paul Ramsey saw the emergence of “fabricated man” through genetic manipulation and control. Ramsey recognized the attractiveness of human fabrication to the secular mind. Given the inherent hubris of secular culture, the temptation is almost impossible to resist.


The eugenic temptation is so powerful that only the Christian worldview can restrain it. Scripture alone reveals our creaturely identity, our sinfulness, and the limits of our authority and responsibility. We are not the Creator, and the responsibility to assume control of the universe is not ours. God the Creator rules over all and has revealed his intention for us in laws and commandments which demand our obedience, and limitations which demand our respect. We are not to play God. As Ramsey argues: “We ought rather to live with charity amid the limits of a biological and historical existence which God created for the good and simple reason that, for all its corruption, it is now--and for the temporal future will be--the good realm in which man and his welfare are to be found and served.”


The very notion of moral limits is foreign to the secular mind. Increasingly, the worldviews of modern secularistic scientism and scriptural Christianity are understood to be incompatible and diametrically opposed. As a consequence, moral discourse on issues such as cloning is often grossly confused or totally absent.


Faced with the potential development of human cloning, the modern secular worldview develops a queasy stomach, but will never be able to establish a moral conviction. Its ad hoc morality and arbitrary judgments will never lead to a common understanding--much less to a defense of the sanctity of life.


Over twenty-five years ago, James Watson declared the likely advent of “clonal man.” Admitting that this development would be deeply upsetting to many persons, Watson raised the question, “Is this what we want?” Watson, who was the first director of the Human Genome Project and has championed the rise of genetic knowledge and technologies, ended his essay by warning that “if we do not think about it now, the possibility of our having a free choice will one day suddenly be gone.”


That day may now be very close at hand. Christians should engage this debate on biblical terms, and contend for the sanctity of all created life, as well as the distinction between the creature and the Creator. All technologies--including modern genetics--must be evaluated in terms of the biblical revelation and the totality of the Christian worldview.


The troubling tangle of ethical issues involved in genetic technologies represents an urgent challenge to the Christian Church as the people of the truth. The new technologies cannot be naively dismissed nor blissfully embraced. This generation of Christians must regain the disciplines of moral discernment and cultural engagement. The Brave New World is upon us.




R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.




The Moral Education of Physicians—Why It Matters (Christian Post, 051108)


“Modern medicine is one of those extraordinary works of reason: an elaborate system of specialized knowledge, technical procedures, and rules of behavior,” explains Paul Starr. “By no means are these all purely rational: Our conception of disease and responses to it unquestionably show the imprint of our particular culture, especially its individualist and activist therapeutic mentality. Yet, whatever its biases and probably because of them, modern science has succeeded in liberating humanity from much of the burden of disease.”


In The Social Transformation of American Medicine, Starr documents the amazing revolutions in medical practice that have forever changed the face of medicine. As he recognizes, these transformations are largely dependent on scientific expertise and technology.


“Few cultural relativists, suffering from a bad fever or a broken arm, would go so far to prove a point as to trade a modern physician for a traditional healer,” he argues. “They recognize, in behavior if not always in argument, that in medicine the dream of reason has partially come true.”


Now, Philip Overby, a fellow in pediatric neurology at Johns Hopkins University, worries that this “dream of reason” may have changed medicine for the worse. In “The Moral Education of Doctors,” published in the Fall 2005 issue of The New Atlantis, Dr. Overby takes careful note of the great gap of scientific expertise and knowledge that separates the ancient physicians from their modern counterparts. He wonders “what, if anything, still abides in the medical vocation from previous eras?”


In all likelihood, most persons give scant attention to the education of physicians. Those outside the medical profession simply trust that a doctor, having graduated from an accredited medical school, passed medical examinations, and fulfilled an internship and residency, should be fully qualified to practice medicine at an acceptable level of excellence and expertise. Nevertheless, the education of physicians should be a matter of concern to all of us, patients and physicians, for the physicians who will treat us in the future are being shaped by the culture of the education they now receive.


Overby has a specific concern in mind--the metamorphosis of medicine into science. “Are physicians the same as scientists?” he asks.


Clearly, an extraordinary grounding in science is a prerequisite for success in medical practice. No one gains entry to an accredited medical school in the United States without a thorough grounding in scientific knowledge. Still, the physician must be more than a scientist.


As Overby sees it, the main distinction between scientists and physicians is that physicians treat patients. “They aim to heal the afflicted, not simply to discover the truths of nature.” Nevertheless, Overby notes that “the close relationship between modern medicine and modern science has made many doctors think and act like scientists.” This may be inevitable, given the scientific knowledge basic to the profession. “But the transformation of doctoring in the image of science may also obscure, in important ways, the real character of the medical vocation,” Overby observes.


Why? “If we educate doctors solely or largely as mechanics of the body, we may leave them unprepared for the human encounter with the sick and desperate, the brave and dying, the healed and grateful. And even if we equip them with the best medical tools of the age, we may leave the physician partially naked on the wards.”


How are doctors made? Overby advises that the process of medical education for doctors still maintains a distinction between physicians and scientists. Medical education is defined by action, Overby insists. That action takes concrete form in the taking of an oath, usually some version of the Hippocratic Oath, with its honored commandment, “first, do no harm.” Thus, the medical doctor is reminded that the practice of medicine “involves high stakes,” Overby explains. “In the practice of medicine, doctors assume responsibility for the well-being of another,” he explains. “Scientists are not asked to take an oath before beginning their work.”


In his article, Dr. Overby provides a fascinating and insightful review of just how doctors are made. After medical school, the new M.D. must complete an internship. This affirms “that action and experience are essential to the very definition of a doctor as a credentialed professional.”


Overby provides a powerful metaphor for his explanation of the transformation of an M.D. into a doctor. “Being a new intern is similar to being a new parent,” he explains. The new doctor is deprived of sleep and finds surrender in tending first to the needs of another--just like a parent. “With each passing night of inadequate sleep, the mother and father give up their lives, their vanity, and their grip on the way things were in favor of life with their new child--acting on the vulnerable baby’s behalf, putting the child’s needs before their own,” Overby suggests.


In the same way, the medical intern “learns quickly that life as he knew it is over.” Losing control of his time and self-concern, he finds fulfillment in taking care of others. “In this way, the ideals that brought the eager medical student to the profession are inculcated as moral virtues,” Overby explains. “The intern is broken down, and day after day his responsibilities are internalized until it becomes second nature to place his patients’ needs above his own. The intern is placed in the often charged, always difficult, impossibly sad center of his patients’ lives, teaching him a thing or two about human nature and human frailty.”


This process turns scientifically-trained M.D.s into faithful, competent, and caring physicians. Moving through medical school, internships, and residency, the doctors learn to work together, to trust each other, and to aspire to fulfill the highest ambitions and aspirations of their profession.


Without embarrassment, Overby suggests that doctors are often motivated by a quest for honor and glory.


“This is largely a good thing,” he argues. Nevertheless, honor can come mainly from one’s peers, and the level of expertise and knowledge required to evaluate physicians, especially in today’s highly specialized field of medicine, means that as doctors advance toward excellence, “there is greater honor from fewer and fewer people.”


Glory is different. The medical profession is cloaked in an aura of glory that, Overby understands, emerges from “the hearts of fellow human beings.” As the ancients understood, glory can be a dangerous seduction.


Dr. Overby’s concern becomes more focused at this point. In our highly scientific age, the quest for glory is often focused on scientific advancement rather than the actual practice of medicine. Medical students are generally taught by academic physicians as opposed to physicians who spend most of their time treating patients. Thus, the culture of medical education is increasingly scientific and technological.


The problem with this transformation of medical education is, Overby suggests, a threat to the medical profession. In terms of moral virtue, the physician receives the most important education “at the bedside, not in the research laboratory.”


The physician must treat the human being as a whole person, not merely as a body. The scientific education of doctors tends to reduce medical concern to “the materiality of the person,” Overby warns. Treating human beings merely in terms of their materiality is a form of degradation.


The reduction of medical practice to science robs the medical profession of a concern for the patient’s spiritual character, Overby observes. The worldview of modern science simply ignores metaphysical questions and reduces all issues to material reality. All that remains is “material inquiry into objects that are subject to inquiry through material manipulation.” The mechanism for this manipulation is technology.


With a sense of urgency, Dr. Overby wants to save his cherished profession from a reduction to science and technology. Of course, he neither bemoans nor denies the positive contributions of medical science and technology. Nevertheless, he understands that the physician must be more than a scientist or technician.


He describes the role of the physician in poetic terms: “We see people at their best and worst, stoic and vulnerable, devastated and elated. And if we pay attention, we learn something in the process about being human. We recognize the brutality of disease, the blessings of health, and the courage required to endure pain and face death. We also gain the opportunity for glory, to reach beyond our own sources of honor, to participate in the drama of mortal man seeking meaning. In this way, the physician can transcend the medical profession, even as he participates in its more ancient traditions.”


Modern humanity faces threats on many fronts, and the transformation of modern medicine Dr. Overby describes is one of those threats. A merely scientific approach lacks the deep moral concern and insight that protects the medical profession from perversion and manipulation. Day by day, medical doctors face some of the most difficult and excruciating moral issues of our times, and we endanger humanity by robbing doctors of the moral preparation and expectations that keep human beings from being treated as nothing more than material objects, and medicine from becoming merely an extension of applied science.


Christians understand this threat with a particular cogency. Human beings are indeed embodied creatures, but we are more than mere bodies. Furthermore, the moral challenges faced in the practice of modern medicine require a far deeper level of moral commitments, based in an affirmation of human dignity, than would be required of most research scientists working in laboratories.


Along with Philip Overby, we should be concerned about the medical education of physicians. After all, we entrust our well-being to these committed professionals. Along with Dr. Overby, we must be concerned that a lack of moral education will leave our doctors “naked on the wards.”




R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.