Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Really Awful Defense of Cloning

The New York Times has a "defense" of human cloning which I'd like to think will leave anyone even slightly sympathetic to the pro-life cause gasping in astonishment. The author, Michael Gazzaniga, is the director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth and is a member of the President's Council on Bioethics.

He begins on the wrong foot, huffing and puffing that President Bush is trying to mislead the public when he said cloning "an egregious abuse of medical research." Because the President doesn't separate out reproductive cloning from biomedical research cloning the same way Dr. Gazzaniga does, he is somehow trying to the pull the wool over the public's eyes.

Then here comes his big point:

The president's view is consistent with the reductive idea that there is an equivalence between a bunch of molecules in a lab and a beautifully nurtured and loved human who has been shaped by a lifetime of experiences and discovery.

OK, so what if you are not "beautifully nurtured and loved" and you have not been "shaped by a lifetime of experiences and discovery"? Are you expendable? What if you grew up in an orphanage, if nobody loves you, if you've been shaped by deprivation and want -- and what if you're no better than you could expect to be with all of that baggage? Are you expendable?

In his closing peroration, he asks

What is at issue, rather, is how we are to define 'human life.' Look around you. Look at your loved ones. Do you see a hunk of cells or do you see something else?

You know, I'm not worried about the humans who have someone to love them. They'll never be sacrificed on the altar of medical science. I'm worried about the people who don't have someone looking at them with love. What protection do they have? Are they fully human. If it's the "journey" we make in human life, not the "car" (our bodies) that gives us value, what do we do with those whose journey has been painful and short -- I mean, besides making it shorter for the profit of those with "a lifetime of experiences and discovery" under their belt?

It is only to be expected that he also denounces any morally-based limits on medical research as "political games."

And [the pursuit of alternatives to experiments on embryos] represents a perversion of the scientific process: instead of science proceeding in the best way it knows, it is being used in the service of political goals.

Thanks for warning us that anytime any scientist is told "You can't do that type of research because it is morally wrong" that that's unreasonable "political goals."

But it's all worth it for the interesting little bit of information shared in the middle (obviously Dr. Gazzaniga knows he's among friends):

In the scientific community there have obviously been strains. When the sad and pathetic story of the fraud in South Korea came to light, I couldn't help but wonder if the entire process — from the overly ambitious laboratory scientist to the overly eager editors of scientific journals — was compromised by a conscious or unconscious sense that something must keep stem cell research alive in the face of the American administration's unwavering opposition.

There have been whispered accusations in the research world that scientists and editors have become too eager to prove that stem cell research is moving ahead in other countries while America was being left behind. I think such accusations are unfounded, but I do recognize the news of the scandal has probably hurt the stem cell cause.

Yes, that is exactly the case. And your lachrymose self-pity, your clear restriction of human sympathy to the fortunate few whose lives can light up glossy advertising copy -- all that won't help the "stem cell cause" either.