LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Human cloning experimentation is inherently wrong, has no ethical basis and should be banned by Congress, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said during a panel discussion on “Kentucky Tonight” April 9.
The hour-long program, broadcast live statewide on Kentucky Educational Television (KET), focused on the ramifications of human cloning experimentation. The four-member panel included Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and former University of Kentucky professor Panos Zavos, who recently made national headlines by testifying before a congressional subcommittee in support of cloning and has promised to clone a human within 18 months.
Mohler compared human cloning experiments to unethical experiments on humans in Nazi Germany. He said the arguments against human cloning are many, including the fact that there is a 98 percent failure rate when cloning animals. Mohler also noted that Dolly the sheep — the first cloned animal — is aging far more rapidly than a normal sheep and is abnormally obese for no particular reason.
“I think we need a basic line that is drawn clearly that says ‘No human clonal experimentation, period,'” Mohler said. “It is too dangerous [and] it is too injurious to what it means to be human. It leads to a complete breakdown, I believe, of the total system of medical ethics and of human personhood.”
Noting that possibly hundreds of thousands of embryonic persons will be lost or destroyed through so-called “therapeutic” cloning for stem cell research, Mohler said a congressional ban on experimentation is needed.
“I wish Congress would adopt such legislation, and I would hope that the president would sign it,” he said.
Although still a theory, human cloning is a multi-stage process. First, an egg’s genetic material must be removed. Then, the genetic material of a single cell — which is taken from the person who is to be cloned — is removed and inserted into the egg. After a jolt of electricity to begin cell division, the embryo is then inserted into a surrogate mother. A sperm is not needed for human cloning. Earlier this year the British parliament passed a law allowing the cloning of embryos for stem cell research, although the embryos must be destroyed within 10 days.
The program’s other two panelists were Alberto Carrillo, an embryologist at a Louisville medical center, and Scott Williamson, assistant professor of theological ethics at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
During one part of the show, a caller asked what would happen to the extra embryos that are not used for cloning. The caller pointed out that thousands of embryos are already frozen in fertility banks.
“Those embryos obviously, eventually, will be destroyed — especially if legislation to ban such efforts comes about,” Zavos said.
Mohler said any destruction of embryos is not acceptable.
“Dr. Zavos has demonstrated a candor here that is quite remarkable in speaking of the thousands — potentially hundreds of thousands — of human embryos that just in therapeutic abortion are routinely discarded and destroyed,” Mohler said. “We need to take into account that that represents the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of embryonic human beings. That is something that if we as a society begin to normalize, then human dignity becomes trivialized and reduced. When we move to reproductive cloning, it’s interesting that scientists say they know there are going to be mishaps. They know there are going to be mistakes. We’re talking about a 98 percent failure rate in animals.”
Among the many ethical questions that would be raised in human cloning, Mohler noted: “What is this person? What rights does he have? How is he or she related to other persons? Parent, child, sibling, brother-in-law? How do all these things work out? This isn’t just some kind of scientific experiment. This is tampering with the basic dignity of what it means to be human. … The rush to accomplish it is to me all the more unconscionable.”
Although Mohler said that all forms of cloning are unethical, two of the panelists — Carrillo and Williams — drew distinctions between therapeutic and reproductive cloning.
“I see a bit of a moral difference between reproductive and therapeutic types of cloning,” Williamson said. “I think that technology and testing should continue to advance on the therapeutic aspect of that. … If we can take a cell from the liver and somehow reprogram and use technology to be able to create a liver, [then] I’m OK with that. If we have to go through the process of creating an embryo — of creating a potential child — in order to obtain that liver, then I disapprove of that.”
Carrillo, who was opposed to reproductive cloning because of the present-day risks, said therapeutic cloning “can lead to the cure for all sorts of medical problems. So I think a lot of people that might say stop or don’t do the reproductive cloning might be in favor of going on in favor with therapeutic cloning.”
Mohler said that while momentum is building toward the acceptance of therapeutic cloning, it must nevertheless be opposed.
“That means the creation of human embryos in order that they may be used, discarded, frozen and destroyed,” he said. “I think what you see is a progressive breaking down of the conscience of a people and a progressive erosion of human dignity to the point that we are simply fabricated beings in the eyes of many people.”
Besides, Mohler said, there are viable alternatives to therapeutic cloning.
“For instance, I believe that there is an ethical basis for some stem cell research — but not coming from embryos … instead, coming from other adult cells. So there are other options here. Clearly, if you think of human embryos simply as things to be used, then the argument [for cloning] can be made that they [embryos] can be used in an efficient way. But they aren’t things to be used. Those are human beings to be respected, defended and protected.”
One caller in support of human cloning said that viewers should not “listen to the doomsayers and the naysayers … I think it’s very important that government get out of the way [and] let the biotech industry and the academic community solve these problems.”
Mohler responded by saying, “I wish there had been a naysayer in the medical ethics of the Third Reich. I wish there had been a naysayer when … prominent [American] scientists were involved in eugenic experiments in the early decades of this past century. We’re at a point now where this caller demonstrates the kind of motif that you see at large in America — if it can be done, it should be done. If it can produce anything efficient and good, [then] whatever the costs it needs to be done. I do not believe that most Americans would agree with that argument.”
Another caller also supported cloning, saying that many centuries ago the Catholic Church excommunicated Galileo for stating “that the earth was no longer at the center of our universe but the sun was. So religion took a stance and was wrong. Do you gentlemen agree with that?”
Mohler called the argument “simplistic.”
“I think it is very simplistic to go back to Galileo here, especially when you consider that this is not a science versus religion question,” Mohler said. “This is a majority of scientists versus a scientific fringe issue here. The American Medical Association has called for limitations and prohibitions on this practice. … The majority of American scientists — and certainly those in the scientific mainstream — say that it would be abhorrent and it would be grossly evil to conduct human embryo and cloning experimentations.”
For much of the program, Zavos argued that human cloning is needed to aid those couples who are not biologically capable of producing their own children. Mohler, though, said there are many options.
“There are hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos waiting to be adopted and used,” he said. “Go and allow some of those to be raised to fullness of life and to be born, as is their proper human dignity.”
(BP) low res photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: FAVORS BAN and WHETHER TO CLONE.