Saturday, June 30, 2007

Embryonic Shell Game?

The June 29th 2007 LA Times carried an article heralding “Embryonic stem cells created using unfertilized eggs.” The article had multiple paragraphs on the theoretical benefits of stem cells from embryos grown from a woman’s eggs. In the middle of the short article the scientists apologized for their experiments, one saying: “It’s a new type of embryonic stem cell line from a different kind of embryo.” Another said “People will see that these are activated eggs . . . They do not of themselves ever develop into human a being . . . This is not biologically or morally like a human embryo.” Really?

According to the news article each of the embryos destroyed for stem cells in these experiments is created by “stimulating an unfertilized egg to begin development.” I must admit that I have not seen the technical explanation, but from what appears in the news article this sounds like the same old shell game to trick us into ignoring moral concerns and allowing humans to be created and killed for the purposes of scientific experimentation.

Though I am no scientist, it is my understanding that one of the oldest ways of attempting to create a clone was to take an egg and stimulate it with electricity to cause it to begin the developmental process without introducing the DNA of a seed into the egg. Frogs and rabbits have been cloned this way, but they die quickly because any defects present in the DNA are replicate rather than “covered” by the presence of a second set of DNA as in normal sexual reproduction. The “new” technique sounds, on the surface, like the very old and primitive way of cloning – now applied to create sick and defective tiny humans instead of sick and defective rabbits or frogs. If so it is not more moral than other means of creating humans so they can be killed in research while at an early stage of development. And, if the stimulation is new and different from the old electrical shock, the results are not new and different. The whole purpose of the process is to create a human being that is an identical twin of the donor so that the embryonic stem cells in the tiny new human, with DNA very similar to the adult donor, can be harvested from the new tiny human and injected into ailing parts of the donor.

It does not matter what artificial process results in the creation of a human being. What makes a human human is being the kind of thing it is – not correspondence to a laundry list of characteristics or being made the old fashioned way. If the tiny new creatures were not human, their DNA would not match the donor and they would be useless for matching stem cells. If they were not living humans they would not grow and develop. The fact that they will die soon on their own because they are defective as bred does not make creating them or killing them less immoral. The fact that they are bred in an unusual way also does not alter their humanity. If science learns to make humans from rocks it will not make those humans less human.

There is always a temptation for the sake of profit, pleasure and health to say that some humans are not really human and so can be used and disposed of as we wish. For centuries people with black skin were treated as though they were less than human for just such reasons. We now treat the unborn as less than human by giving mothers a license to kill their offspring provided they do it before they emerge completely from the womb. Cloning for stem cells is just one more scheme for profit at the expense of human souls and bodies whose humanity we have rationalized away.

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