Should scientists have a right in Canadian law to clone human beings? Yes, indeed, insists Abdallah S. Daar, professor of public-health sciences and director of the University of Toronto program in applied ethics and biotechnology; Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the Health Law Institute, University of Alberta; Bartha M. Knoppers, Canada Research Chair in law and medicine at the University of Montreal; and Peter A. Singer, professor of medicine and director of the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics.
However, in a joint article, “Ban cloning, not its life-saving cousin,” published in the Globe and Mail, these leading Canadian bioethicists were less than candid. Instead of explicitly backing human cloning, they artfully argued in favour of legalizing “nuclear transfer.”
Nuclear transfer is simply a technique for human cloning. Last November, Advanced Cell Technology, a Massachusetts-based high-tech firm, touched off an international controversy, by announcing that it had succeeded in using this procedure to activate a human egg. In a press release to mark the occasion entitled, “Important Milestone in Therapeutic Cloning”, the company said it had, performed somatic cell nuclear transfer (cloning) to form preimplantation embryos. In this instance, human egg cells were prepared by removing their DNA and adding the DNA from a human somatic (body) cell”.
Note the reference to cloning in this statement. In no way did Daar, Caulfield, Knoppers and Singer frankly state in their article that nuclear transfer entails the cloning of human beings. Likewise, the four authors never acknowledged that nuclear transfer results in the creation of human embryos. But they did allow that nuclear transfer is controversial: “Some believe full human life begins at the moment any cell fuses with an egg that then starts to divide, and that therefore nuclear transfer constitutes the destruction of human life. Others believe this is not so.”
This statement is incorrect. Opponents of nuclear transfer do not argue that the procedure destroys human life, but that it results in the creation of a cloned human being. Moreover, there is no ambiguity about the beginning of human life. Dr. Keith Moore, emeritus professor of cell biology at the University of Toronto, and Dr. T. V. N. Persaud, professor of reproductive sciences at the University of Manitoba, flatly state in the sixth edition of their internationally acclaimed textbook,The Developing Human:Clinically Oriented Embryology, that: “Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” Among specialists in human reproductive biology, the idea that human life begins at fertilization is not a controversial belief: It’s an indisputable scientific fact.
Not so long ago, all embryologists equated conception with fertilization. Today, theMerriam-Webster Medical Dictionary defines conception as “the process of becoming pregnant involving fertilization or implantation or both.” Even the definition of a human embryo is in dispute now. While Moore and Persaud state “the embryo begins to develop as soon as the oocyte (human egg) is fertilized,” the Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary says the embryo is: “the developing human individual from the time of implantation to the end of the eighth week after conception.”
This linguistic confusion relates to the development of embryonic stem-cell research. It happens that embryonic stem cells are extracted from a developing human being three days after fertilization -that is to say, just prior to implantation. By redefining “conception” as “implantation”, proponents of embryonic stem-cell research imply that the human being prior to implantation is only some kind of less than fully human “pre-embryo.” But that’s nonsense. No amount of equivocation can do away with the fact that the extraction of embryonic stem cells after fertilization entails the deliberate killing of a developing human being.
Advanced Cell Technology aptly refers to the group of cells resulting from a nuclear transfer as a, “pre-implantation human embryo.” Through nuclear transfer, the company aims to create a totipotent human cell having the same set of genes as the person who donated the adult body cell whose genetic material was transferred into the human egg. It matters not whether the donor of this body cell is young or old, dead or alive: A baby produced through reproductive cloning or nuclear transfer would in essence be that donor’s identical twin.
Regardless, some scientists and bioethicists insist that the human clone that results from a nuclear transfer amounts at least initially to something less than a full human being. This, too, is poppycock. A cloned human being produced by nuclear transfer is no less fully human than a human being created by natural fertilization in the womb: In both cases, the resulting organisms are whole, living members of the human species with the potential to develop into fetuses, youngsters and adult human beings.
Pope John Paul II has taken note of how proponents of abortion use deceptive terms like “interruption of the pregnancy” and “therapeutic abortion” to mask their attacks on the sanctity of human life. In his magisterial encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of Life, he warned:
The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behavior and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception. In this regard the reproach of the Prophet is extremely straightforward: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20).
Would the bioethicists of Canada please take note?Rory Leishman is a columnist with the London Free Press and Catholic Insight.