The latest breakthrough in genetic engineering, the successful cloning of an adult mammal, carries with it the disturbing possibility that the same, or similar, techniques could be used to clone human beings.
Even the secular press, e.g., The Globe and Mail, recognizes that this possibility has raised “the thorniest of ethical and philosophical questions.” These “Thorny questions,” however, along with the frightening potential of genetic engineering, are not new; C.S. Lewis pointed out the dangers in The Abolition of Man in 1947, and Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1950). In more recent years, and following the introduction of in-vitro fertilization, the dangers facing human life have been spelled out by experts in evidence before dozens of national commissions such as the Warnock Commission (UK) in 1984, and the Australian Senate in 1986.
Paul Ramsay, Professor of Religion at Princeton University, an internationally known expert in medical law and ethics, submitted evidence to the Warnock Commission. He said that Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis “writing in years still under the shadows of Nazism, had the prescience to discern that the final assault upon humanity was not to be from the abuse of political power, but of our knowledge of pharmacology and genetics.” He questioned how far we were from (how close we are to) the “hatcheries” of Huxley’s Brave New World. He asked “Are these futures already so far our present that we have lost the ability to say it was not right to go there?” (The Issues Facing Mankind in The Question of In Vitro Fertilization: Studies in Medicine, Law and Ethics, 1984).
Are we, indeed, dangerously close to cloning human beings? As early as 1978, Joshua Lederburg, Nobel prizewinning geneticist, was quoted as saying: “There is nothing to suggest any particular difficulty in accomplishing this [cloning] in mammals, or man, though it will rightly be admired as a technical tour de force when it is first accomplished. It places man on the brink of a major evolutionary perturbation.” Can we doubt then, that, at this very moment, some scientists are trying to achieve in humans the type of cloning which Dr. Ian Wilmut has achieved in sheep?
Cloning a human
Cloning is asexual (non-sexual) reproduction, or genetic replication, so that a “child” is produced with only one genetic parent. There are several forms of cloning. Cloning in plants can be induced simply by taking a viable cutting and allowing it to develop into a new genetically identical plant. For animals at least three methods have been proposed. One involves microsurgery of the embryo in its earliest stages, dividing it into twins or triplets. A second method involves manipulating a cell, e.g., with chemicals, radiation, and electricity to induce it to start dividing and developing like a one-celled embryo. Dr. Robert Jansen of Sidney, N.S.W., told the Australian Committee (1985) that, “it is likely that within a few years any adult dell will be able to be so managed that it produces a new individual.” The third method is the one used to produce the cloned lamb.
In essence, Dr. Wilmut’s method (which was not new, though his modifications were) consisted of (a) removing the nucleus of an unfertilized or ripening egg (enucleation), (b) replacing it with the DNA from a body cell of the genetic parent (renucleation), (c) encouraging it to divide and develop, and (d) placing it in a uterus for gestation. This method has been reported in frogs, mice and sheep. In 1952 the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Science published an article by R. Briggs and T.J. King, transplantation of living nuclei from blastula cells into enucleated frogs’ eggs. Early experiments, like that of the frog, involved cloning of embryonic cells. By contrast, Dr. Wilmut’s technique has resulted in the first successful cloning of an adult mammal. The question is, where does scientific research go from here? The future of mankind depends on the answer.
Why clone human beings
In November, 1982, before the Warnock Committee in Britain got underway, the Secretary of the Government Inquiry into Human Fertilization and Embryology wrote a letter to “interested bodies on all aspects of its work.” He stated the Inquiry was aware that many organizations “may not have a detailed knowledge of the range of techniques that have given rise to concern,” and therefore he enclosed notes on some 19 “Medical and Scientific Developments Relevant to Human Fertilization.” Two of the 19 relate to cloning humans.
The first note, entitled Cloning, explained briefly that it was possible to divide a fertilized embryo (of a frog and some mammals) at the two or four-cell stage, and create twins of identical characteristics and genetic constitution. The notes continued:
“The possibility exists that cloning could be used to investigate the chromosomal normality of human embryos conceived by a couple who have a high chance of procreating an abnormal child. For example, a young mother who has already given birth to an infant with Down’s Syndrome and analysis of her chromosomes shows that she has a high chance of a similarly affected child in a subsequent pregnancy, might choose to have her next embryo conceived in vitro. The embryo would then be allowed to develop to the two or four-cell stage where it would be cloned. One of the clones would be allowed to continue development while the remaining clones would be deep-frozen (see paragraph 13). Development of the unfrozen clone would continue for some further divisions until it was possible to determine by cytogenetic techniques whether the embryo had the normal complement or the extra chromosome that is diagnostic of Down’s Syndrome. If the embryo had a chromosome abnormality the frozen clones would not be transferred to the mother. If on the other hand the embryo had a normal chromosomal make up one, one or more of the clones could be unfrozen and transferred to the mother’s uterus.”
Thus, a Government’s Inquiry seems to believe that there is room for discussion in a proposal to create a human life with the deliberate intention of destroying it. It should be noted that since 1982 other genetic abnormalities have joined Down’s Syndrome.
The second reference to cloning in the notes from the Secretary to the Inquiry is entitled: the use of Cloned IVF Tissues and Organs for Transplantation. The title is really self-explanatory. Problems of tissue rejection in organ transplants could be avoided if the donor of the organ was the clone of the recipient. The creation of clones “would overcome the shortage of organs that are available for transplantation.”
‘New kinds of men’
Other medical and scientific developments to be studied by the Government Inquiry included: surrogate mothers; womb leasing; freezing of human embryos; choosing the sex of human offspring; trans-species fertilization; experimental use of human embryos (both ‘spare’ and specially created); exogenesis – or the possibility of continuing embryonic and fetal life outside a human mother’s uterus; genetic engineering. Indeed, it was a remark by Edwards (who had co-operated with Steptor in the case of the first success in test-tub babies) that led to the Warnock Inquiry. His statement that scientists could now produce “new kinds of men” sounded an alarm in medical ethical, legal, and government circles.
In 1978, the birth of Louise Joy Brown was hailed by the media as a great medical triumph, and as it offered a glimmer of hope to married couples who desperately longed for children, even many pro-lifers accepted it with open minds. But accepting what science has to offer without question has proved to lead to disaster, as the world has seen in the case of nuclear physics. By 1984, and the release of the Warnock Report, the general public in Britain had learned about some of the secret research experiments in IVF laboratories. The recommendations in the Report, e.g., to allow experimentation on human embryos up to 14 days, and to allow the creation of animal-human hybrids (even though their life was limited to the two-cell stage) outraged the country. People were shocked that it was even necessary to recommend making it a criminal offence to place a little human being in a pig, or a sheep.
Strangely enough, the first part of the Report said “…it was our task to attempt to discover the public good…to adopt a steady and general point of view…in order to determine the actual state of public opinion in Great Britain.” It can only be said that the committee failed hopelessly at its task.
Those pro-lifers who were lucky enough to hear Dr. Margaret White at the 1980 Conference in Ottawa will appreciate her reply. Speaking on behalf of the Order of Christian Unity (OCU) she stated: “The government committee, in spite of all the evidence it received, is completely out of touch with the deeply held convictions of the British public. The legendary man on the ‘Clapham Omnibus’ knows better what is aesthetically acceptable to his peers than the government experts.” She referred to a pull by Market and Opinion Research International (MURI) and taken on behalf of the Order of Christian Unity, which showed that the people were overwhelmingly against certain procedures: e.g., 85 per cent against experiments on human embryos; 92 per cent against inter-species breeding. Dr. White commented: “The results of the MORI poll can be said to demonstrate that the “Grassroots know their onions’ far better than the government selected Warnock Committee, and it is blatantly obvious that the population of this country wants the human embryo to be protected and not reduced to the level of a vivisectionist’s guinea-pig.
At the same press conference, Professor Ian Donald – the pioneer of ultrasound and real-time ultrasound – stressed the speed at which new IVF techniques were being developed. No one knows for certain how safe these techniques are, or indeed how they will affect mankind. Thirteen years later we might already have passed the point of no return.
The Genie and the bottle
Professor Ramsay stressed to the Warnock Committee the parallel between the biological revolution, following in vitro fertilization, and the revolution of nuclear physics. He referred to a recently published book, Disturbing the Creation, by Freeman Dyson (a member of Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Studies) which traced the course of past nuclear decisions. He cited decisions made by technologists and bureaucrats which were “inevitably fateful and erroneous; their momentum beyond control.” Technologists did not have even the foresight to provide for the disposal of nuclear waste before they went ahead with the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Bureaucrats were responsible for giving countries with unstable governments the means to develop nuclear energy, only to find various movements with the potential for atomic weapons.
In the biological revolution scientists have forged ahead, not knowing where they were headed, and oblivious of future dangers. No one seems to have thought of the future of unwanted frozen embryos, or how to prevent some one trying to cross humans and gorillas (as was once reported in Scotland). As long ago as 1947, C.S. Lewis said: “All long term exercises of power, especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones…If any age really attains by eugenics and scientific education the power to make its descendents what it pleases, all men who come after it are the patients of tat power…(we should) not do to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself.” (C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 1947)
The genie is already out of the bottle, and all the world is affected. All we can do is try to contain the damage. What started as a candle of hope for childless couples is now a forest fire out of control. We cannot put the fire out but we can try to prevent it spreading. We can stress Paul Ramsay’s words that “there are good things that man should never do [cloning humans]. The good things men do can be made complete only by the things they refuse to do.”