Monday, February 2, 2009

Human Clones Possible: Don't Worry, They're Just for Parts and Research

Today's Wired magazine includes this article:

"Research Breakthrough: Human Clones May Be Genetically Viable"
Wired (February 2, 2009)

Don't Worry: They'll Only Make Clones for Parts and Research

Kudos to Wired, for not saying that. But, if this round of debate in what's called "medical ethics" is like the others, someone's going to use the 'parts and research only" idea.

There seem to be people who are uncomfortable with the idea of human clones walking around, who think that it's quite a good idea to clone people. Provided that someone kills the clones and either
  1. Breaks them down for the parts
  2. Does medical experiments on the clones
Those uses of clones are, respectively, (1) compassionate, and (2) scientific. Or so I understand.
Cloning in Wired's World: Excerpts
I suggest that anyone interested in what's happening in this sort of research read "Research Breakthrough: Human Clones May Be Genetically Viable." The article seems to be quite accurate, written in relatively non-technical language, and remarkably complete in its discussion of human cloning's state of the art.

I'll be referring to excerpts from the article. You'll find them at the end of this post.

He Ain't Human, He's a Lump of Protoplasm

I remember when one of the arguments for legal abortion was that people aren't people until we're about three months old. Or, in medicalspeak, after the first trimester.

After all, it's generally accepted that Roe v Wade (1973) said it's okay to get your kid whacked in the first trimester. And the American Supreme Court wouldn't approve of killing people, would it?

I've discussed capital punishment before. And, yes, capital punishment is legal in America. I said "legal," not "right." There's a difference.

Quite a few people aren't all that concerned about killing adults who have done something disgusting. Not so many show any real enthusiasm for killing babies.

That sort of inhibition can be a real problem for those who do. I doubt that they think of what they're pushing for is 'killing babies.' That isn't nice. It does, on the other hand, seem very 'scientific' if whatever you're cutting up or experimenting on isn't a baby, and isn't even human.

I remember when the "lump of protoplasm" line was rather more popular among equal rights activists. It was effective, too, until imaging technology started showing what the "lump of protoplasm" actually looked like. The phrase hasn't died out - I ran into an example recently - but its usefulness in public debate has declined.

These days, we've got much more scientific terms, like "totipotent cell" "clump of embryonic cells, and "unfertilized oocyte." Impressive! Oocyte, by the way, means "a female gametocyte that develops into an ovum after two meiotic divisions. A gametocyte is "an immature animal or plant cell that develops into a gamete by meiosis" (Princeton's WordNet).

Euphemisms like that don't always work. The state of Wisconsin prohibited human cloning in 2005 ASSEMBLY BILL 499, even though some very scientific terms had been used in the debate, and appeared in the bill itself (" 'Enucleated oocyte' means a fertilized or unfertilized oocyte, the nuclear material of which has been removed or inactivated....").

Sometimes it's necessary to use very precise technical and scientific terms: like in legislation, to nail down exactly what's being described. Polysyllabic utterances utilized when discussing issues before the general populace, however, can be employed with intent to obfuscate.

Taking the tone down a few notches, scientific terms like "oocyte" can be used as euphemisms. And, I agree with the USCCB: "...They are employed to conceal the fact that researchers want to be allowed to use cloning to produce and destroy human embryos...."

Catholics, Cloning, and 'Christians Hate Science'

I've known people who said they were Christians - I believe them - and obviously neither liked, no understood, science. Too bad: they're missing out on a lot.

Individual Catholics may not like science - or broccoli. But the Roman Catholic Church has no problem with science. (And the Catechism is silent on the subject of broccoli: I like it myself, but would never force my tastes on another person.)

"Faith and science: 'Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.'..." I know. I've been to college. That "faith is above reason" thing may distress quite a few people. Sorry about that.

The rest of that quote is: "...'Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.' " (Catechism, 159)

Clones: Soulless Monsters of Science Run Amok?

Clones wouldn't have souls, since they didn't have a mother and a father, right?

If you don't think souls exist - or that they shouldn't - this is a meaningless question. For everyone else, here's part of what the Catholic Church has to say about where the human soul comes from:

"The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God—it is not "produced" by the parents—and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection." (366)

But that's about real human beings. Clones wouldn't have souls, right?

"Catholics have no reason to deny that a cloned human has a human soul. Respect for natural reason, and for the equal dignity of all human beings under God, leads us to respect every member of the human species regardless of his or her origins. The account of Jesus' origin in the Gospel of Luke certainly reminds us that there may be more than one way to come into existence as a member of the human family!..." ("Human Cloning vs. Human Dignity")

Following the principle that something that looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, is almost certainly a duck, I'd say that cloned people are people: human individuals. And, "how could a human individual not be a human person?" That last is a quote from "Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions" - written last year.
...If Donum vitae, in order to avoid a statement of an explicitly philosophical nature, did not define the embryo as a person, it nonetheless did indicate that there is an intrinsic connection between the ontological dimension and the specific value of every human life. Although the presence of the spiritual soul cannot be observed experimentally, the conclusions of science regarding the human embryo give "a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person?"8. Indeed, the reality of the human being for the entire span of life, both before and after birth, does not allow us to posit either a change in nature or a gradation in moral value, since it possesses full anthropological and ethical status. The human embryo has, therefore, from the very beginning, the dignity proper to a person.
(CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions)
8 CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Instruction Donum vitae, I, 1: AAS 80 (1988), 78-79.

Come on: Growing Clones for Parts? That's Science Fiction!

When "The Clonus Horror" was released, in 1979, it was. You may have run into the movie as "Clonus" (USA) or "Parts: The Clonus Horror (USA)" (reissue title)

Clonus Associates filmed this little exercise in horror at Moorpark College. My guess is that it's regarded as a rather poor film: no big actors, no big budget. I doubt it will every join the ranks of "Citizen Kane" or "The Nude Restaurant" as recognized work of the cinematographic arts, but I think that "The Clonus Horror" did a better-than-average job of handling the implications of applied science, than most of what Hollywood produces.

The movie's plot centers around a young man who finds out that these wonderfully fit people don't 'go to America' when they disappear. Or, rather, they don't go all at once.

They're all clones, grown for their parts. For years, when a promising leader was spotted, a tissue sample was taken, and a clone made. As the clone grew, he or she was given the best possible care, an excellent diet, and every opportunity for attaining the peak of physical fitness.

Then, when a clone reached an optimum age, he or she was frozen and stored. As the original grew older and started to have medical problems, replacement parts would be taken from the clone.

In fact, I can see a few problems with this scenario. For starters, there'd have to be more than one clone per master if Clonus were to be a practical parts factory. Human beings only have so many paired organs, and the odds are that VIPs would need more than one set of some parts. Then, there's the matter of the preservation technology and that chemical lobotomy they used.

But, I'm nitpicking. The basic idea, growing people and harvesting them for parts, has some utilitarian merit. Provided that you accept that people like members of Congress and leaders of industry are more important than the rest of us, and that clones aren't really people, it makes perfect sense. In an amoral, cannibalistic or vampiric, way.

As the Survivor of a Medical Experiment, I'm Biased

I take the matter of medical experimentation on human beings, and medical ethics, rather more personally than some people might. I learned recently that I was part of a medical experiment. One that my parents didn't know about.

But that's another story.

Related posts: Background:
Excerpts from Research Breakthrough: Human Clones May Be Genetically Viable (Wired (February 2, 2009))

"The research is the first step toward therapeutic cloning — making embryonic stem cells from a patient's own DNA capable of replacing diseased tissue, failing organs and even lost limbs. And, theoretically, the same technique could be used to produce a cloned person."

"Research on these hybrid embryos — as well as chimeric embryos, formed by mixing actual human and animal DNA — was approved last year in the United Kingdom. But that approval came after bitter public debate in which opponents raised the specter of sentient human-animal hybrids being used as biological parts factories."

"But the fully human cloned embryos could produce stem cells and, if permitted, perhaps grow into a person.

" 'The DNA resembles the DNA of a normal human embryo, which raises the question of human reproductive cloning,' said Lanza."

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.