3/13/2009

Thoughts on Cloning and Other Life Issues


I’ve sworn off commenting on news sites for the duration of Lent, possibly beyond. It’s become a frustrating and distracting exercise in futility. So, rather than “cast pearls before swine” and reap sophomoric ad hominem attacks in return, I’m going to post some political commentary on this blog. Hopefully these posts will be food for thought, whether you agree with my perspective or not.

This week, President Obama overturned President Bush’s ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. At the same time, he expressed that human cloning, a potential path for embryonic research, is “dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society.” He added that this action was “about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda – and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”

There is much that could be said about this. One could address Obama’s severely misplaced priorities; his convenient use of ideology one moment followed by his condemnation of it the next; or the propriety/impropriety of using tax dollars to fund research which definitely destroys human life while only potentially saving or improving life for others. But these criticisms are being addressed well enough by others elsewhere. I want to look at a couple of things few are talking about.

Let’s talk cloning. Obama describes it as “dangerous” and “profoundly wrong.” Based on what, I wonder? Human cloning certainly has a stigma to it. There’s a sci-fi thrill we get thinking about it, but few people—polls suggest roughly 10%—support the practice. People of faith often have a gut instinct that human cloning is “playing God” and, therefore, wrong.

Contrary to movie portrayals, clones wouldn’t be soulless (as far as I know), arrive as adults or have the same minds as their “original.” They’d just be a much younger twin of whoever was being cloned, but shaped in unique ways by the environmental variables and decisions made in their own life. So what is the big issue, aside from feeling that it’s creepy or narcissistic? As odd as it is to say, I really don’t have any strong objections to the practice of human cloning, at least on the surface level. Unlike embryonic stem cell research, the end product of human cloning is not a lost life but a living twin. The likelihood of human embryos being killed in the process of perfecting such a thing is a problem for me, and I don’t believe we should ever even consider cloning for “parts.” I just can’t find a solid basis for considering it “profoundly wrong,” though I’m open to hearing the arguments.

So, I’m not bothered by cloning. But I think we’re really asking the wrong questions on these issues. We’re pondering the morality of cloning and the appropriateness of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, but I’m not certain we’ve really thought through the implications of manipulating life and reproduction in the first place. It’s like asking if it’s right to build a children’s hospital with stolen money. Regardless of the good done in the end, it doesn’t negate the wrong done in the first place.

Here in the U.S. and in many parts of the world, there are large numbers of children waiting to be adopted. At the same time, with advances in fertility treatments, previously barren couples are now able to have their own biological children. On the face it of, this would seem like a good thing. But is it? While I have no wish to condemn those who’ve gone this route—I’m a father and know the powerful desire to have children—this is really a powerful tragedy and one that is compounded. It is one thing to have structural defects repaired to enable a couple to reproduce. It is yet another thing to spend tens of thousands of dollars for in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other treatments, some of which result in embryos that are then destroyed. Lives are lost, fortunes are wasted and orphan children are neglected, all for the sake of one (or more) biological child.

Just because we can do something, technologically, doesn’t mean that we should. What would the world look like if one generation of people chose to adopt rather than go to extraordinary measures to have their own, biological children? If the president wants to "get radical," he should try that one on for size.

2 comments:

Nate C. said...

http://online.worldmag.com/2009/03/13/it-depends-on-what-the-meaning-of-the-word-fertilized-is/
More brilliance from the Obama/Biden/Clinton administration.

Our Family said...

Interesting to think about, whether cloning is unethical in and of itself... I like that you make me think. :-)