The Clone Wars
Transhumanists embrace genetic engineering as a means to create a post-human species. If they prevail, all human beings may no longer be "created" equal.
A wit once described the typical Victorian Englishman as "a self-made man who worships his creator." That gibe acquires an ominous undertone when considered in the context of human cloning.
Last November, Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori claimed that a cloned baby boy would be born in January. In December, chemist Brigitte Boisselier, head of a company called Clonaid (an affiliate of a bizarre cult called the "Raelians"), publicly claimed that a baby girl would be born late that month or in early January, with four more cloned babies to arrive by the end of February. Scientists greeted these announcements with disdain, and most specialists believe that the technology doesn’t yet exist to produce a full-term cloned human infant.
If human cloning were to become possible, it would generate some very serious moral questions, largely because of the legal environment created by the Roe v. Wade decision. Roe’s singular accomplishment was to supplant the sanctity-of-life ethic with a concept called "reproductive freedom" — which actually means the right to nullify reproduction by ending a human life after it has begun. Post-Roe, the "right" to life is contingent on the permission of another: Every living unborn human child can be legally killed, at his mother’s request, by an abortionist, at any stage in the pregnancy.
The central question is whether the clone is considered God’s creation, or an artifact reflecting the ingenuity of supposedly god-like humanity. Where the Declaration of Independence speaks of the right to life as an endowment from the Creator, the post-Roe concept reduces that right to a revocable privilege. Obviously, cloned human embryos implanted in the womb would be subject to the same lethal possibilities confronting all unborn children in the post-Roe era. But what would happen once a clone is born? Would a clone — literally, a "self-made man" — be considered a person, or property of the person who served as the genetic template? Could a clone be created for the sole purpose of being "harvested" for body parts?
Genetic engineering raises other similarly troubling possibilities, such as creating "chimeras" — organisms combining human and non-human genes. Various researchers have already succeeded in creating "transgenic" animals. Scientists have combined the DNA of monkeys and jellyfish, resulting in a hybrid that glows in the dark; others have fused DNA from spiders and goats, producing ewes whose milk contains spider-web silk. And according to the November 27th New York Times, "A group of American and Canadian biologists is debating whether to recommend stem cell experiments that would involve creating a human-mouse hybrid."
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that can be transformed into various types of tissues. "Adult" stem cells can be collected from various sources, including human fat. Adult stem cells harvested from bone marrow have shown great potential for treating cancer and other diseases. However, most federally sponsored stem-cell research involves cells harvested from human embryos — a process that involves creating and destroying a human life.
A November 13th meeting of the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), co-sponsored with Rockefeller University, examined using human embryonic stem cells in experiments with laboratory mice. According to a recent report in the journal Nature, humans and mice have roughly 99 percent of their genes in common, making mice "a unique lens through which we can view ourselves." To explore the potential usefulness of embryonic stem cells in treating various diseases, the NYAS proposes inserting the human cells into mice.
Among the possible permutations of these experiments are mice with brains composed entirely of human cells, or mice that make human sperm and eggs. Dr. Irving Weissman of Stanford University, a leading proponent of embryonic stem-cell experimentation and "therapeutic" cloning, believes that while the chimera experiments are "enormously important," they could give rise to outcomes "too horrible to contemplate." One scenario mentioned by Weissman, according to the Times, involves "a mouse making human sperm … accidentally be[ing] allowed to mate with a mouse that made its eggs from human cells."
On December 10th, Stanford announced the creation of a $12 million research center headed by Dr. Weissman that would produce cloned human embryos for stem-cell experimentation. Although described as "therapeutic" cloning, Weissman has admitted that the resulting blastocyst, if implanted in a womb, would be fully capable of gestating into a full-term human baby. In other words, Stanford is preparing to build an embryo farm, where human individuals would be created to be cannibalized for chimera experiments.
As such possibilities creep into the headlines, it seems that our society is determined to equal — or outpace — the nightmarish visions depicted in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, H.G. Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau, or Philip K. Dick’s stories about cloned human "replicants." The aforementioned developments reflect what Wesley J. Smith of the Discovery Institute calls the "Transhumanist Movement."
"Transhumanism may seem like something posted on the web by a guy who wears a crystal pyramid on his head to keep the CIA from intercepting his thoughts," writes Smith. "To the contrary. Transhumanists come from the highest levels of academe. The founder of the movement, Nick Bostrum, is a professor of philosophy at Yale University who recently received a three-year fellowship at Oxford. Other pioneer transhumanists include Professor James Hughes of Trinity College, Hartford, and Gregory Stock, director of the Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society at the School of Medicine, UCLA, and author of the recent book Redesigning Humans."
Transhumanists, as Stock’s book title suggests, "are motivated by the desperately utopian objective of correcting the ‘mistakes’ of nature by creating a ‘post-human’ species," Smith told THE NEW AMERICAN. "Their premise is that human beings, as we exist now, aren’t good enough, and that under the supervision and guidance of god-like scientists we can seize control of our evolution and achieve perfection." The obverse of this concept — memorably depicted in Huxley’s Brave New World and the recent science fiction film Gattaca — is a genetic caste system in which "inferior" humans are created for the purpose of carrying out menial or dangerous tasks. Smith points out that transhumanism "is an explicit repudiation of Jefferson’s belief in the innate equality of all human beings regarding our basic individual rights."
But Jefferson’s stately cadences about equality of individual rights rest on the premise that God specially created man. Transhumanism is built on an evolutionist premise, and it has a predictable appeal to humanist ideologues committed to banishing the notion of a Creator God from society. The movement, according to Smith, is led by a loose group of "biologists, venture capitalists, big biotech corporations, and some prominent ethical and political decision-makers." It overlaps with the "bioethics" movement in medicine, which purports to provide an ethical framework for decisions involving euthanasia, infanticide, and health-care rationing (see previous article).
Geneticist Kevin Davies gives voice to the gospel of transhumanism in the introduction to his book Cracking the Genome: "We have the awesome potential — should we so desire — of rewriting the language of God and the responsibility of harnessing the genome to improve the human condition in an equitable and ethical manner. The childhood of the human race is about to come to an end."
Such rhapsodic visions of unfettered human potential "ignore the fact that we don’t have a very encouraging moral or ethical track record," Smith points out. "Human beings are capable of incredible creativity and inventiveness, but we’re also the ones who built an ‘unsinkable’ Titanic, and have created governments that have killed and oppressed millions. While we may be acquiring the power to manipulate the basic building blocks of life, there’s no evidence that we have the wisdom to do so."
But even more troubling than the utopianism of the transhumanist movement, Smith contends, is its denial of the "fundamental sanctity of the human individual." "The transhumanist perspective completely rejects Jefferson’s premise that all human beings are created equal with respect to the unalienable right to life," Smith observed to THE NEW AMERICAN. "Transhumanism envisions a stratified society presided over by genetically improved ‘post-human’ elites. Obviously, in such a society, ordinary humans wouldn’t be regarded as the equals of those produced through genetic manipulation."
Smith also warns of a kinship between transhumanism and the animal rights movement, since both reject the concept that humanity is a special creation imbued with unique value. Transhumanist James Hughes "sees animal-rights activists and transhumanists as natural allies since both are ‘opposed to [human] anthropocentrism,’" Smith writes. "Once we’ve been knocked off our pedestal of moral superiority [to animals]," Smith continues, "society will accept measuring a biological ‘platform’s’ … moral worth by determining its level of consciousness. Thus, post-humans, humans, animals genetically engineered for intelligence, natural fauna, and even machines, would all be measured by the same standards."
Is any of this scientifically plausible? "I’m very wary of offering time-frames for my predictions, because I always underestimate the rate of advancement," Smith told THE NEW AMERICAN. "Several years ago I warned that cloning could come within a decade, and now Stanford has announced that it’s gearing up to clone right away. Before the end of the first decade of this century, we’re going to see breathtaking advances in genetic science that could build the foundation for a ‘post-human’ future — unless the public is properly informed about these developments and what they imply for our future."