"The development of human cloning is inevitable," testified the controversial fertility researcher Panayiotis Zavos before Congress. His words a year ago seem strangely prophetic now that Advanced Cell Technology has claimed that its laboratories have produced the first cloned human embryos.
When President Bush was faced with the daunting task of deciding whether federal funds would be appropriated for research on human embryonic stem cells, he diligently sought out and considered the views of both proponents and opponents of the controversial research. For assistance in reaching a final decision on the matter, he turned to Dr. Leon Kass, MD, PhD, an esteemed University of Chicago professor who has established himself in the fields of bioethics, medicine, and education.
What are we to think of Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. (ACT) trumpeting its successful cloning of a human embryo? Is this a praiseworthy case of man's triumph over the biological mysteries - guaranteeing immeasurable cures for all diseases - or of society held captive by scientists bent on vainglory, financial reward, or the desire to vanquish human suffering at any cost?
On Sunday, November 25, 2001, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) in Worcester, Massachusetts announced that it had produced several human embryos through cloning. The cloning technique involved the transfer of nuclear material from an existing person to donated human egg cells whose nuclear material had been removed. All of the embryos died before growing beyond the six-cell stage.
One consideration in evaluating the ethics of sex selection involves the timing of the selection itself. If a boy is desired and the sex is to be determined after fertilization, a negative result (meaning the birth of a girl) can only be prevented by killing the embryo or fetus either in the lab (if conception is achieved through in vitro fertilization) or in the womb of the mother (by abortion). Such sex selection should be opposed for two reasons. First, an innocent life is sacrificed.
We are in a national state of emergency. While Congress and the President are managing the war in Afghanistan and while Tom Ridge is working to protect our national security, renegade scientists continue their efforts to clone human beings. Three groups have now said that they have cloned human beings. The latest report came from Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) -- a biotechnology company in Worcester, Massachusetts -- on November 24, 2001.
There is good news and there is bad news. First, the bad news. Confirming what we knew all along, scientists at the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Virginia, do not think it is sufficient to do research on human embryos that are "going to die anyway," to follow the popular mantra. They announced 11 July 2001 that they intentionally created human embryos from donor eggs and sperm with the sole purpose of conducting destructive research on those nascent humans.
Prenatal genetic testing has reached a new low. On Thursday, June 8, 2001, researchers announced that the first baby was born who had been screened for a disease he may never contract. Doctors at Chicago's Reproductive Genetics Institute performed preimplantation genetic diagnosis on eighteen embryos whose father carried the gene for Li-Fraumeni syndrome, an inherited predisposition to many forms of cancer because of a mutation in a tumor-suppressing gene called P53.
"As things are, there is no reason to assume that anything we might reasonably conceive of doing with living tissues might not be possible; living tissues are proving to be remarkably compliant . . . [We] can look forward to an age in which the understanding of life's mechanisms will be virtually total, that is, the principal systems will be understood molecule by molecule. From this total understanding will come - if we choose - total control. Of course the word 'total' is too absolute.
The January decision of the British House of Lords to allow human embryonic cloning coincided nicely with the publication of Wired magazine's lead article predicting that someone will clone a human in the next twelve months. The decision by the House of Lords is troublesome in many ways. First, the Peers had the opportunity to postpone their decision in favor of establishing a select committee to assist in doing the ethical analysis warranted by such a momentous step.