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Howard's End: Frightening Possibilities

Italian embryologist Severino Antinori, the man who enabled a 62-year-old women to have a baby in 1994, is scheduled to announce later this week at the National Academy of Sciences, that he will genetically clone humans by impregnating 200 women. New Zealand must be part of the global debate. Maree Howard writes.

While Italian embryologist Severino Antinori is expecting a backlash and is therefore being coy about his plans to clone human beings within 12 months, many people are becoming worried that the human race has started firmly down the path described by Aldous Huxley in "Brave New World."

Today, we cull certain biological material from so-called dispensable embryo's; tomorrow might we have factories for the production of children carefully segregated according to their genetic makeup?

The therapeutic promise of genetic engineering is more than enormous - it is staggering. No one who has seen somebody suffer from cancer or Parkinsons disease or any other horrific ills can be deaf to that promise.

But the world now faces a dilemma; - Does the end justify the means?

For example, are all embryos potential candidates for harvesting, or only some? And what about new-borns, another good source of genetic material? Are certain infants to be potential raw material for genetic experiments? If so, which ones?

Are we about to see a nightmare world in which some human beings are raised for spare parts? Already in parts of the world bodies of executed criminals are raided for kidneys, eyes and other body parts. So why not extend the practice?

It's impossible to say a definite "No" to science and technology. But can we afford to totally acquiesce and simply say, "Yes."

Are there lines to be drawn and limits to be respected? If so, where do we find the criteria for drawing those lines and limits?

There are two dangers. One is the danger of technophobia - "retreat." The other is technophilia - "if it can be done, it should be done."

Modern technology has upped the ante. The amazing technological prowess of the human race seduces many into thinking we are, or, with just a bit more tinkering, might become gods.

It's simple really. If there is no such thing as God or, at least an intelligent design, then we humans must be our own gods.

The cloning debate mirrors that of stem-cell research, whereby the unspecified cells are cultivated into specialty cells like neurons and pancreatic cells for therapeutic uses.

We find ourselves in a real technological fix. The promise to humanity of a future golden health and extended life has turned out to be empty. Degenerative diseases have replaced infectious diseases as the major enemies of life and destroyer of its quality.

Modern medicine's incredible cost has put it farther than ever out of the reach of the poor and now threatens to sink Western economies themselves.

Treating life as a chemical automaton has cost us something irreplaceable: medicine's humanity.

Artificial or human body part replacements has enforced the idea that a bionic human is the natural outgrowth of the rapture of the double helix of DNA.

If a human being is merely a chemical machine, then the ultimate human is a robot or a clone.

I reject that humans are merely chemical machines and I have evidence to prove it.

Meanwhile, funding by drug companies for medical research has prompted several of the world's most prestigious medical journals to adopt a policy to ensure scientific research independence but the drug manufacturers association calls the policy, excuse the pun, - "patently absurd."

According to the Washington Post, The Lancet, the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine will announce a policy in September that they will refuse to publish the results of drug-sponsored studies unless researchers are guaranteed their scientific independence.

Drug companies have become the dominant funder of biomedical research especially regarding the safety and effectiveness of a medication, the Post said.

Genetically cloned humans, genetic plants, genetic animals, genetic food. Is it such a Brave New World? - Let the debate begin.


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