WASHINGTON (BP)–It used to be easy to separate reality from myth when it came to cloning.
However, in light of technological advances, a private group of scientists in the United Kingdom now say its intends to clone a human by the year 2003, an audacious goal that may increase the public’s acceptance of an idea that not too long ago was limited to moviemaking fiction.
While Hollywood depictions of a genetically engineered military capable of superhuman feats might seem outlandish and even laughable to those who advocate cloning for medical reasons, some critics say such a scenario could one day become reality.
“These things sound like science fiction, but they are not,” Joseph Howard, executive director of the American Life League’s American Bioethics Advisory Commission, told CNSNews.com. “They have become part of the culture.”
The onset of cloning capabilities has created a desensitized public, said Daniel McConchie, director of operations and policy for the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.
Continuing down that path will lead to “the practice becoming even more acceptable” to society, he told CNSNews.com.
For instance, McConchie continued, “cloning was a bad word when it came out. But attaching the word therapeutic, it tones it down, makes it more acceptable.”
In addition to offering the public medical breakthroughs via therapeutic stem cell research, scientists also could sway at least some segments of society — initially, the wealthy, according to most critics — into various levels of acceptance with cosmetic enticements.
The Financial Times, for instance, recently reported the possibility of gene research leading “people to alter the human [gene] line … to make their descendants more beautiful or intelligent or athletic.”
Many are unsettled by the publicized benefits of genetic research for medical and cosmetic purposes, which could eventually drive society to blur its lines of ethical and moral considerations. Cloning critics also argue that a science fiction-sounding scenario of a genetically engineered populace run amok may not be so far-fetched after all.
“It just seems like science fiction,” William Saunders of the Family Research Council told CNSNews.com. “But we’re very close to that. If people don’t stop and see what all the terrible things are done in the name of science, then the human consciousness becomes dulled to this, so I wouldn’t say anything is impossible.”
Those who scoff at the idea of, say, taking the cells of a killed soldier and engineering a replacement more physically equipped to endure the hardships of war are not only denying that such technology “theoretically could work,” Saunders said, but are also ignoring the historical realities of government’s willingness to conduct ethically questionable experiments.
In late 1993, for example, revelations surfaced that thousands of government-sanctioned and sponsored human radiation experiments had been conducted on patients between 1944 and 1974. Some of those who participated in the tests had not given their consent.
The Pentagon and CIA have fielded accusations for decades that high-ranking officials engaged in extensive mind-control experiments with both knowing and unwitting subjects who were administered or fed LSD and other hallucinogens — all in the name of advancing science and U.S. military prowess.
U.S. government-sanctioned syphilis experiments conducted in Tuskegee, Ala., in the 1930s and the Nazi atrocities committed against Jewish concentration camp victims, revealed at the Nuremberg trials in 1945, make it feasible that science and government could end up pursuing ethically questionable cloning experiments, all under the pretense of benefiting humanity, Saunders said.
There are other reasons to be wary of the scientific community when it comes to cloning, said Howard of the American Bioethics Advisory Commission.
“There’s a tremendous amount of competition. There are people racing to be the first,” Howard said. “There’s a lot of prestige, university tenure that would go to the first” who successfully cloned a human.
Britain may be leading the race toward notoriety; overseas reports indicate a private consortium of scientists plans to clone a human being within the next two years in the United Kingdom.
Karl John Shields, an assistant editor and research associate at the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, agreed it will be difficult to rein in scientists seeking notoriety and intellectual challenge.
“We ought not to … do research upon people who cannot give their own consent,” Shields said, summarizing the ethical considerations he said should be addressed before any human experiments are conducted. “We ought not to use people as a means to an end.”
Genetic researchers like physicist Richard G. Seed, however, disagree with moralists who view cloning experiments as degenerative to the human race and contrary to God’s will.
“Playing God, this is a general moral dilemma that has faced many devout Christians,” Seed said. “This question has come up again and again. The answer is that they have assumed a certain description of God’s work [that] is not in the Bible. They’re assuming God is against progress, against any intervention in life, and that’s not in the Bible anywhere.”
Chumley is a staff writer with CNSNews.com. Used by permission.