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Is Human Cloning the First Step Toward Eugenics and Immortality?

The script could have been written for the popular television show "The X Files." A Chicago scientist announces he intends to clone human beings by impregnating a woman with an embryo created from cloned genetic material. He promises to have a viable pregnancy started in one of four volunteer couples within 18 months. Religious and government leaders quickly denounce the cloning effort as a breach of ethical, scientific and theological standards. Nineteen European countries agree to ban human cloning. The president of the United States issues strong warnings against such experimentation. Unfortunately, this scenario is not a story line for a television series, but rather the reality of life as we face the dawn of a new millennium. Chicago scientist Richard Seed seems intent on continuing his research, whether he accomplishes it in the United States, Mexico, or some other country willing to allow his ambitious experiments. Is human cloning an inevitable progression in mankind’s scientific journey? And if so, where will it lead us in the future? The Catholic Church formally declared human cloning — and other forms of genetic experimentation — illicit in its 1987 document "Donum Vitae" ("On the Dignity of Human Procreation"), issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Father Gino Concetti, a moral theologian who writes for the Vatican newspaper, said any attempt to clone human beings would be a serious sin. If Seed does try to clone a human being it would be "an affront to Almighty God and to the laws on the transmission of human life,'' Father Concetti said. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a former abortionist who converted to Catholicism last year, recently told a meeting of the Natural Law Study Center in Arlington that human cloning is just the tip of the genetic iceberg. Science is facing issues far greater than cloning, he said. Chinese doctors are close to finding a way to keep test tube babies alive outside the womb throughout the entire gestation period, while Japanese doctors have nearly perfected an artificial placenta. "There will be no need for wombs," Nathanson said. "The womb will be an organ that is obsolete. Nathanson predicted that within five years the bio-ethical discussion will center around how long human beings should live. "We are now facing the biological solution to aging," he said. "We are close. Molecular biologists are on the verge of solving the problem of aging and making the reach for immortality on this planet. You will not have to die." Nathanson, who recently earned his doctorate in bio-ethics from Vanderbilt University, said he is working on a book that he hopes will examine the enormous societal changes that will take place with new technology as human beings attempt to reach for immortality. He cautioned that public opinion can change dramatically on any issue. Those who oppose human cloning today could easily change their minds tomorrow. When news of successful animal cloning was announced in February 1997, the first outcry was "No, we don’t want to do this." Now, within the last few months, these same people are asking, "Why not?" "In a matter of a year, the world has turned on this subject," he said. "Anything is possible." Nathanson’s prediction about human cloning appears to be right on target. In the U.S. Senate, recent attempts by Republican legislators Christopher Bond and Bill Frist to ban human cloning collapsed amid complaints that the legislation went too far and threatened to impede promising biomedical research. Many foes of the Bond-Frist bill said they support an alternative measure offered by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Edward Kennedy that would permit the cloning of human embryos for research purposes, but would impose a 10-year moratorium on the implantation of cloned embryos in a woman’s uterus to develop. Just days before the Senate action, an editorial appeared in The Washington Post which asked the question, "Who’s Afraid of Human Cloning?" James K. Glassman, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, called the Frist-Bond bill "a colossal mistake" because it would mark a triumph of "superstition, government coercion, self-righteousness and fear over good sense, health, family values and confidence in the future." Glassman compared today’s fear of human cloning to the Inquisition’s opposition to Galileo’s theory that the planets revolved around the sun. "Nearly all bans on research prove to be temporary," he said. "Science eventually trumps politics." Princeton professor and genetic researcher Lee M. Silver, in his 1997 book Remaking Eden, argues that advances in science and technology will force us to reconsider long-held notions of parenthood, childhood and the meaning of life itself. The use of "reprogenetics" to shape the destiny of humankind "will not be controlled by governments or societies or even the scientists who create it," Silver wrote. "There is no doubt about it. For better or worse, a new age is upon us. And whether we like it or not, the global marketplace will reign supreme." Nathanson said the acceptance of cloning moves us down the slippery slope toward eugenics — creating the perfect man or woman and eliminating everything else. "We have within our power in cloning the idea of creating a strain of drones to perform menial jobs, and the power to create the philosopher/king that Plato talked about," he said. "There is something in genetics that goes along with cloning called enhancement," he said. "It’s on the cutting edge." By isolating certain genes that control human behavior, scientists can "puff them up," add new ones, or make existing genes more powerful. For example, Nathanson said there is a gene that controls memory. "If we enhance that, you will remember everything, even the things you don’t want to remember," he said. "By enhancing the gene that controls sleep, scientists could knock the human sleep requirement down to two hours per night and you could work 22 hours per day. That’s within our power now. "The list of genes relating to our behavior is enormous," he said. "We can enhance or eliminate them. Should we have this kind of power? Do we know what to do with it?" Nathanson presented some additional hypothetical questions to his audience. "Will cloned children be regarded as an alien group? Will they bind together in some mysterious way and form political parties, organizations or some kind of fraternity which is now unthinkable? "How will that square with natural law?" he asked. "Our society not only gets the government it deserves, it gets the science it deserves." Not everyone agrees with Nathanson’s pessimistic outlook for the future. From the perspective of scientific progress alone, LeRoy Walters, director of Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute of Ethics, said Seed's goal of cloning a human being by 1999 ``is just so premature as to be an outrageous proposal.'' Walters noted that Scottish researchers made 277 attempts before producing the sheep, Dolly, in the first successful effort to clone a mammal. He said that worldwide probably fewer than 25 mammals have been successfully cloned. "The idea of moving from there into human reproductive technology, I find incredible,'' Walters said. While he doesn't object philosophically to genetic research that might help people overcome infertility, Walters said, this particular technique at this stage isn't ready for human beings. Among the unknowns of cloning that should be resolved before experimentation begins on humans are the long-term effects on genes and chromosomes, Walters said. Nathanson is not alone in his desire to encourage additional discussion about the moral and ethical questions of cloning. ``As a society, we produce, buy, sell and throw away so many things that we are easily tempted to do the same to human beings," said Father Frank Pavone, international director of Priests for Life, and a regular columnist for the Arlington Catholic HERALD. "We forget the difference between a person and a thing," Father Pavone said. "Things are made; persons are begotten. Cloning disregards the dignity of the human person and the dignity of human procreation.'' A human clone would be created in the image and likeness of man, not God, said Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and director of the Bioethics Institute at Rome's Catholic University of the Sacred Heart. He said human cloning would be "the most serious'' violation of natural and divine laws regarding procreation. Cloning takes place "outside the exercise of sexuality and is agamic, that is, without the contribution of a man and a woman,'' said Bishop Sgreccia. "It uses only the genes of one individual to make a photocopy of this individual,'' he said. The bishop said cloning "represents a dominion by man over man and includes a kind of desire to replace God's plans in an arbitrary and complete way, creating man in man's image and likeness.'' Moral theologian John Haas, president of the Pope John Center for the Study of Ethics in Health Care, said Seed's plans are more about making money than helping infertile couples. "He's an entrepreneur who wants to make money from exploiting people who aren't able to have children,'' Haas said. "It's part of the trend toward commercialization of everything, including human life.'' Copyright ?1997 Arlington Catholic Herald, Inc. All rights reserved.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016