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Big News: Cloneliness Is Next To Godliness, Right?

Human Genetics: Cloneliness Is Next To Godliness - Right?


Big News With Dave Crampton

The news that 30 babies were born in the US through “genetic modification” has revived an ethical debate as to whether humans should be genetically modified or cloned. The revolutionary fertility treatment has been criticised as it used the genes of a second mother. Scientists have also confirmed 15 babies – the oldest is now four - have been born through germline therapy, altering genes which will eventually be passed to offspring.

The news is actually old news, it was reported in medical journals worldwide when the first GM baby was born, but nobody in the media thought it was such a big deal. They do now. So does the Government, who are now trying to stop doctors cloning humans despite the fact that they have been sitting on two reproductive Bills for at least three years now.

There are no laws regarding germline therapy in New Zealand – or Australia – but Helen Clark is worried that GM and cloning could start here and has asked for a report by the end of the month in anticipation of plugging any legislative gap, banning all forms of human genetic modification. The two bills, the Human Assisted Reproduction Bill and Labour MP Dianne Yate’s Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill, have been before the Health Select Committees for so long that they may have to hear new submissions all over again. They may be merged into one Bill – but the select committee is due to report next month. That’s now unlikely to happen with all that governmental cloning around. Anyway, the embryo altering technique used to create the babies is called ooplasmic transfer, and banned in many countries – but apparently not in the States if private money is used. It involves taking some of the contents of the donor cell and injecting it into the egg cells of infertile women. Just over a third of the women became pregnant with three having twins.

US researchers say it was an experiment, maintaining they didn’t “play God”, as they didn’t involve the creation of genetically altered humans. They maintained the part of the DNA said to have been altered did not have a known function. They just added a few extra bits of genetic material. What they did alter, though, was the germline. That raises ethical questions.

But is it ethically wrong? No, say the US researchers, as they didn’t manipulate the genes. Yes, say pro-life groups, who are not so pro-life when life is produced with through experimentation with embryos or genetics. They say any embryo and DNA research is an affront to the sanctity of human life as after cells are removed from the embryo, it is destroyed. But if you believe life starts at birth this form of research may not be as ethically bad as adult cloning. Cloning is also an act of production without conception, as opposed to creative reproduction through sex. Clones are made, not begotten, as each person can become a private god and make a person in their own image. When God said amongst himself, “Let us make man in our own image,” did he plan that man will make man in their own images, and clones will make clones in their images, and so on….? I don’t think so.

Cloning – at least embryonic cloning - is different to IVF in that IVF clinics are unable to screen out an embryos genes for problems. The Catholic Church is against any form of cloning, as destroying stem cell generators tramples on the critical ethical principle that human beings should never be a means to an end. They say therapeutic cloning, the taking of genetic material from a cell and fusing it with an empty egg cell, is morally unacceptable as human life in the form of an embryo is destroyed.

So, it appears the Catholic Church considers it a lot worse stopping life than creating life unethically, irrespective of any legality- which is why they probably view use of condoms as “a greater evil” than cloning. I wonder what their position will be on clones wearing condoms? “Why should you use condoms? – you shouldn’t have been born in the first place.”

Buts some religious leaders (who may or may not wear condoms) say that cloning may be acceptable under limited conditions, such as for therapeutic purposes. Others say clones have a spirit and go to heaven, or hell when they die. Whoa! Maybe there is some sort of “transfer of spiritual matter” as well as a fusion of genetic matter.

Understandably, The Vatican is against cloning as they believe creation of the life – and the soul - is from the moment of conception. But last week the Church of Scotland were the first denomination to publicly support therapeutic cloning at the same time as Britain announced that it will be the first country to ban all forms of human cloning. Scotland church leaders say it’s no fault of a clone that they won’t be conceived in the normal fashion. They maintain human clones will have souls like anyone else “made in the image of God”, even though clones are not made in God’s image. If they’re right, Catholic theologians have a problem: At what stage in the process does the soul merge with the embryo?”

“Who cares?” say lesbians. Cloning will allow lesbians to give birth to a clone of their partner. Gay men, however, will have to find an egg donor and a surrogate mother. But what will it mean to be the identical twin of a parent? Will the clone be named on the birth certificate? What if a child dies, can he or she be replaced with a clone? Will it give new meaning to the term “young adult?” Will family photos have “spot the clone” headings?

But humans have not yet been cloned so that’s irrelevant at the moment. Animals have, though, the first being the therapeutic cloning of Dolly the sheep in February 1997 – after 227 attempts. That’s a lot of embryos. She was only one of 29 embryos created by somatic-cell nuclear transfer and emplanted into ewes, suggesting that this technique has a high rate of failure. The fatherless Dolly has two mothers and is healthy – she’s given birth to triplets following her second pregnancy.

One has to ask the question; what’s worse – playing God with genetics to produce life or getting out the knife in the abortion clinic to take away life. I’m sure of the response from God, and of the medical profession, but I wonder what pro-lifers will say?

- Dave Crampton is a Wellington-based freelance journalist, in addition to writing for Scoop he is the Australasian correspondent for newsroom-online.com. He can be contacted at davec@globe.net.nz

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