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Tar Heel Pundits
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Tuesday, July 09, 2002



A good friend of mine from law school, Richard Reinsch, has written an editorial in a New Hampshire newspaper advocating a ban on all cloning...The foundation of his argument seems to be that
"[t]he facts show that once embryonic development starts, a separate and new individual life exists. At the earliest stages, the cloned embryo possesses all the qualities needed to develop into a human baby. If properly nurtured, the cloned embryo will enter the fetal stage and eventually be born."
I'm really not too sure about this...if a new life is defined by the ability to possess "all the qualities needed to develop into a human baby", then almost all of the cells in our body carry the potential to become an individual life..following that logic, research therefore should not be performed on those cells as well...Ronald Bailey from Reason Online address the question:
So, are the embryos from which stem cells are derived people? The answer: Only if every cell in your body is also a person.

Why? Because it is logically (if not quite logistically) possible for each of your body's cells to become your twin. Each skin cell, each neuron, each liver cell is potentially a person. All that's lacking is the will and the application of the appropriate technology. Cloning technology at this point in time is clunky. In the future, though, researchers will likely be able to skip cloning, and simply flip a few genetic switches to regress any of your cells to earlier stages of development, says Harold Varmus, former director of the National Institutes of Health. Ultimately, researchers could take your cells all the way back to the embryonic stage, then implant them into a womb where they could eventually develop into complete human beings.

"What happens when a skin cell turns into a totipotent stem cell [a cell capable of developing into a complete organism] is that a few of its genetic switches are turned on and others turned off," writes bioethicist Julian Savulescu in the April 1999 issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics. "To say it doesn't have the potential to be a human being until its nucleus is placed in the egg cytoplasm [i.e., cloning] is like saying my car does not have the potential to get me from Melbourne to Sydney unless the key is turned in the ignition."

The crucial question seems to be, at what point does human life begin? If an individual human life is defined by the ability to develop into a person "[i]f properly nurtured," pretty soon most cells will come under that umbrella definition...The problem with trying to figure out when human life begins is that it is more of a philosophical and religious question than a scientific question...I am not aware of any scientific study or experiment that has figured out exactly when human life begins, and this is the problem...the answer to this question is a matter of personal interpretation and answering it most likely carries along a little bit of soul searching...
Richard's view of human life beginning when cells have the potential to develop into a person treats microscopic cells with no past or present consciousness and no organs or tissues as people, and I do not think this is the correct way to address this issue...as pointed out by Virginia Postrel, "[h]uman identity must rest on something more compelling than the right string of proteins in a petri dish, detectable only with high-tech equipment," and I therefore agree with her that the health, well-being, and lives of actual people should not be sacrificed for the sake of a few cells...

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds and David Kopel have made the point that a ban on cloning would be unconstitutional...


posted by John Branch @ 10:59 AM


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