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Eminent Domain Stuff

New London Update (2/24/06)
Coverage of the Rally at New London's City Hall (w/ pics)

Monday, April 19, 2004

Science on Cloning and Stem Cells

The most recent issue of Science carried an Op/Ed by Michael S. Gazzaniga on the topic of therapeutic cloning. The purpose of the piece was to point out that we were wrong to restrict cloning for the purposes of developing cures for devastating diseases and that we have dropped the ball because we were, “sitting on the sidelines while this work is being done” in South Korea.

In his article, Dr. Gazzaniga states:

“Their [the South Koreans’] embryos are allowed to develop for only a few days, at which time the all-important stem cells are harvested for possible therapeutic use, and simultaneously the rest of the cell mass dies. There is no slippery slope here; there is no beginning of the much-feared world of cloned humans.”

Well, all I can say is thank you very much Dr. G.. Up till that point, I was afraid there might be a slippery slope somewhere in the neighborhood. I’m definitely glad to hear that there isn’t.

Let us, however, delve slightly deeper into another statement the good Dr. made and see if perhaps we don’t find that he is not only slipping…but falling head over heels already.

“Looking at a miniscule ball of cells in a petri dish, so small that it could rest on the head of a pin, one may be hard pressed to think of it as a human being. After all, it has no brain or capacity to think and feel. Merely possessing the genetic material for a future human being does not make a ball of cells a human being. The developing embryo that becomes a fetus that becomes a baby is the product of a dynamic interaction with its in vivo environment, its postnatal experiences, and a host of other factors. A pure genetic description of the human species does not describe a human being. A human being represents a more complex level of organization, as distinct from a simple embryo as an embryo is distinct from an egg and sperm. It is the dynamics between genes and environment that make a human being.”

All right. First, we have already agreed in this very blog that it is absolutely not the “capacity to think or feel” that makes one Human. That would imply consciousness…and we all know where that leads. Not to mention the, shall we say, interesting references implying that the genes of the sperm, egg and embryo do not interact with the environment. I would love to know what the good Dr. thinks the environment of the sperm, egg and embryo are/is. It would be hard to convince a thinking person that the genes (or, more accurately, gene products) of those three structures are not interacting with that environment.

Second, the good Dr. apparently does not believe that “[m]erely possessing the genetic material for a future human being” is sufficient to be Human. Well then I would ask, what is sufficient to make a thing Human? Dr. G seems to think that a Human results from “a dynamic interaction with its in vivo environment” etc., etc. Well, I guess by that reasoning it would be very important to assert that there is no slippery slope. After all, by Dr. G’s own reasoning, any product of in vitro cloning would, by definition, not be human until it was stuck back into a woman! Haaa, but what about the inevitable medical advance of the artifical womb? That would certainly not be in vivo…so what would that fully formed, human-like organization of matter be? Remember, the key to his argument is “in vivo.”

All this critizim is great, I know. But what would I suggest? This issue of embryonic stem cells is a difficult one. I agree that there are potential benefits in that we might, one day, find cures/treatments for any number of diseases. However, the simple fact that this is a difficult issue does not mean that we should just give in to expediency at the expense of putting wrong over right. Remember, the important terms here are: potential, might and one day. Nothing, especially in the future of science, is for sure. We might study stem cells for a single year and cure all disease. On the other hand, we have an equal chance of working on them for 100 years and finding absolutely nothing.

The outcome of this argument must hinge on whether or not: mass of cells with potential become a fully formed human = Human. No proxy argument, or any ends-justify-the-means approaches can be applied. We are dealing with the most serious of issues and we cannot lightly pass judgment on what are, in my opinion, the most innocent Human beings among us.

In the end Dr. G’s argument will be accepted at face value by far too many people. I find this disturbing for a number of reasons. Specifically, the acceptance of this reasoning implies one of two things; either people agree that any organization of matter outside the in vivo environment is not human or, people are not thinking. Both scare the living daylights out of me, and I’m not sure which is preferable. The former implies that people are either logically mixed up (if they believe that no organization of matter that exists ex vivo can be Human) or evil, while the latter indicates that they’re either stupid or apathetic. Not what I’d call good possibilities.

One final question to any Pro-Choicer out there (not to imply that Dr. G is pro-abortion, I have no idea). When, exactly, do you define Human life as beginning? This is the central argument of the entire issue, and it is one to which I have never received a satisfactory answer. Fire away!


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