The announcement that scientists have done a sufficient amount of creating a human clone to grow the blastocyst to sufficient number of cell divisions to extract stem cells has created the predictable reaction from the mythology-based community. According to them a “red line” has been crossed and now all sorts of mischief will erupt, despite the fact this development did not create an embryo capable of uterial implantation and thus embryogenesis (no designer babies yet, folks).
For me this entirely predictable (but courageous, due to the hostility that will be heaped on the scientist who hopefully have bodyguards to protect them from relignuts) is not that big a deal, although a source of stem cells other than from a naturally fertilized egg may re-open the much-needed embryonic stem cell research. But the reaction seems to me to have two interesting flaws and internal contradictions.
On face value the idea that life begins at conception is nonsense. It is also not biblical (come on, believers, quote me any verse from your ancient books of myths that even knows what an embryo is!). It is just the unwise pronouncement used to object to birth control which is just a cover for the religinuts objecting to sex. The idea is totally unscientific and obviously false (what is human life, surely not three cell divisions). The contradictions of this silly POV have been pointed out over and over. With technology any cell has the potential of becoming a new life, so therefore whenever we rub our skin and knock off a skin cell, or bleed a little, we’re committing murder – come on, how stupid is that (plus absolutely not enforceable).
So really the relignuts object to this because it disproves their interpretation. Did god have to come breathe life into this clone or did scientific processes produce it? That is what really scares them. If they can claim that someone a sky-being directs reproduction then they can claim dominance over humanity, which is what they want. If reproduction is possible solely by the act of man, one more argument for god of the gaps is gone. But I think they also realize, just as happened with IVF (In-Vitro Fertilization) people’s desire to control their reproductive process without intervention by religious authorities is simply too strong. Yes, they’re probably right, there will be human cloning some day and their yelling and screaming isn’t going to stop it (even the Repugs can’t control the entire world). And when that day arrives yet another brick from their crumbling edifice is removed.
But even for those who aren’t driven by religious fanaticism have been well manipulated to believe that somehow cloning is some awful thing (even bad SciFi thrillers to sell that idea). So, nutjobs, tell me, exactly, what is morally and/or ethically wrong with it?
Now, poorly done with possible bad outcomes, cloning is a fearsome thing to try and screw up. So hopefully before somebody does it we’ll know a lot more about cloning (the shake-and-bake techniques they use now are way to crude). Once that cloned bunch of cells takes its first birth, it is human, and if it is screwed up by clumsy lab technique and thus sentenced to a miserable, yes, that is clearly an ethical screwup. Or, growing the embryo large enough to extract an organ and then kill, yep, that crosses a red line that any sensible person would have. But that’s the point. We don’t need some antique and antiquated POV, only accepted by a fraction of humanity to guide us. Like any other moral code we are perfectly capable of developing this one on our own (and an ancient book full of scientific mistakes is not a guide, except for an angry god who loves genocide and incest).
But once the real moral issues are resolved and the scientific process is good enough, so what if a clone is produced. A clone is still just a bunch of cells, not a fully formed human being with memories and history. Exactly what is different than blending two sets of chromosomes than using just one to then have exactly the same process.
The book, A Clone of Your Own, did a nice job of exploring these issues. There really is no reason to be afraid of cloning (as with this silly book that appeared in my Amazon search, at least based on the scary title as this book may also debunk cloning phobia). Whatever “fear” of cloning that seems to be out there is just more irrational fear of the unknown (do I really worry that someone will steal one of my cells to clone me, why me, why not themselves, and what would they accomplish if they did).
Obviously one of the thing that scares the relignuts is homosexual couples being able to reproduce (oh horrors, we’ll be overrun by LGs. With just cloning a lesbian couple could have children without any sperm donor (oh horrors, men will be obsolete). And with the aid of a baby mother (we’re impossibly far about from an actual “test tube” baby, the female reproductive system is way too complex to imitate) a gay couple could have children without the female. And then imagine the next step, figuring out a synthetic meiosis process, now LG couples could even have children with the normal DNA of two parents. But also, the human egg, definitely a limiting factor (where to get a supply) in cloning isn’t that magical. It’s just a bag of chemicals. Figure out exactly what chemicals and synthetic eggs are not beyond imagination (thus also bypassing the epigenetic programming of the egg donor). All this may take a long time but it’s entirely plausible to believe that in a century or two it’s possible.
Yes, it is a slippery slope for the religinuts. Human beings will continue to take control over their reproductive process (and, after all, isn’t that a fundamental human right?). Eventually we can wipe out the restrictions of simple originalist reproductive biology and see all sorts of potential. And, yes, someday that will include individual gene splicing and yes that means someday there will be “designer babies” (and if so, Gattaca dystopian horrors aside, what’s so wrong with that!). Parents have some bad genes of their own, possibly dooming their biological offspring to a life of misery, and this can repaired. Sure, some silly people will opt for blond hair and blues, but again, so what, what harm is done. We’re not going to breed supermen because the connection of genes to an adult person is far too complex, with most attributes being polygenic and very difficult to even understand, much less “engineer” (give or take a few more centuries).
But every step along this path, allowing human beings full control over their reproductive processes just goes a step further to removing the control of religion.
And that is really what scares them.