tuesday 1

Scientific shadows

Human cloning enters

a darkened pathway

The announcement during the weekend that a private laboratory in New England has successfully cloned at least part of a human embryo raises concerns across the medical, ethical and moral spectrum.

The goal of the research is growing cells that could help patients with debilitating, incurable illnesses.

Embryonic cloning, however good its intent, leaps outside the boundaries of undebatable good into the shadowy, even dark, area of making life to be destroyed in the name of saving other lives. It goes beyond the arguable good of using stem cells – not embryos – to achieve similar breakthroughs in genetic and cellular therapies.

The cloning procedure at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., would be illegal under a House-passed bill that has stalled in the Senate. However, it is legal until cloning as a procedure is specifically prohibited.

Knowledge held by researchers begs the question of the dictum to “do no harm” in the practice of medicine. Even if the scientists and/or physicians pushing to create a fully viable embryo for cell production have good goals, their methods demand scrutiny and questioning.

President Bush has called for enactment of laws prohibiting cloning. Some who stand potentially to gain from the eventual medical benefits of such research surely must also ask if any human’s medical problems are worth the intentional destruction of another life. That question grounds itself in where the research leads. If the answer is to proceed unrestricted, then one scientific act will have changed the value of life – a basic premise of civilized thought and behavior as the Western world knows it.