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FIRST-PERSON: Clones from Newcastle

DEERFIELD, Ill. (BP)–In a move that should surprise no one, the United Kingdom’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has licensed researchers at the University of Newcastle to clone human embryos.

For some time Britain has had the most liberal policy in the world on embryo experimentation, permitting research on very young embryos. In 2001, British law was changed to allow the cloning of human embryos for the purposes of research, as long as the embryos were so-called “spare embryos” that would be discarded anyway.

Under this new license granted Aug. 11, the HFEA has now permitted the International Centre for Life in Newcastle, involving experts from the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle University and the Newcastle Fertility Centre, to generate human embryos and then destroy them in the process of harvesting their stem cells.

In other words, human embryos will be created for the purposes of vivisection. Ironically, the United Kingdom has just faced the ire of animal rights extremists who oppose the use of animals in experimentation. Yet, the laws protecting animals are far more stringent than those protecting the unborn.

For instance, in 1998, according to Celia Deanne-Drummond, a plant scientist, theologian and current member of the HFEA, the U.K. Ministry of Agriculture Report declared that animals should never become merely a “means to an end.” Deane-Drummond has noted that “adult animals seem to have more protection than early human embryos” (“The Ethics of Nature,” Blackwell, 2004, p. 126.)

As impossible as it might seem, this is the logic of utilitarianism. When the greater good for the greatest number is one’s goal, then nearly any means to that end becomes defensible. Just as slavery once was deemed to be an appropriate means to human happiness, and as the destruction of “undesirables” was deemed necessary by the Nazis, so, now, the generation and destruction of nascent human beings is made legitimate for a so-called therapeutic goal.

What is veiled by smoke and mirrors is that in order to make that move certain members of the human species have to be regarded as less than human. So, slaves were regarded as mere chattel and Jews as sub-human. In the HFEA’s case, human embryos are not even given the moral status of animals.

Unless we are willing to grant that every human life is inviolable, and therefore not to be harmed unnecessarily -– much less to be cloned and then killed –- we will be unable to resist the force of the logic of utilitarianism. This is not a slippery slope; it’s the consequences of a faulty premise. If some members of our species can be deemed unworthy of respect and, therefore, cannibalized for science, why not other members?

Happily, much of the rest of the world sees the situation more accurately than our British neighbors. A number of jurisdictions have banned human cloning recently.

The HFEA’s decision increases the urgency for the United States to ban all forms of human cloning. We need a comprehensive ban like the bi-partisan bill S. 245, sometimes known as the Brownback-Landrieu Bill.

If Americans do not act swiftly and decisively to prohibit human embryonic cloning, someone will soon be carrying clones from Newcastle to a lab near you.
C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D., is a consultant on bioethics for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; associate professor of bioethics & contemporary culture at the Chicago-area Trinity International University; and editor of the journal Ethics & Medicine.

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  • C. Ben Mitchell

    C. Ben Mitchell is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., as well as research fellow with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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