Life, Cloning and Wrongful Death of a Zygote
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Girl Ipsa Weighs In...
Can we talk? A couple of things are going on in the legal scene which I want to discuss with you. But I fear that you will be too polarized, too angry, to have a conversation. An exchange of ideas. I don't want to you to become an activist. I don't want you to adopt my thinking whole. I don't even want you to change your mind about anything. I just want you to think about it. (If you change your mind, well that's just a bonus!)
First up we have Human cloning . I know, I know. Fraught with danger this issue is (and Yoda I am). So, lets just take it slow. Do you know anyone with diabetes? There is some very exciting medical stuff on the horizon. Pancreatic cell transplants which will literally repair the problem making a former diabetic an actually healthy person again. Not a well treated diabetic person but a diabetes free person. This is nearly miraculous. Trouble is that it requires some research, some pre-miracle lab work, and some cloning. Oh crap. Cloning.
Therapeutic cloning is the creation of human embryos (zygotes or blastocysts** might be more correct) for the purpose of destroying them. They are not created to become babies so this purpose, this use, does not implicate all of the "Cloning People" issues (such as the uncertainty of health & the theological quagmire of will they have souls?). What it does implicate are the right to life issues raised in abortion and stem cell research. The argument is that the initial division of cells creates the possibility of viable human life and therefore it is wrong (evil, immoral) to destroy it for any purpose. (I am forced to point out that all gametes contain the potential for life but you rarely hear people calling for the protection of sperm)
On the other hand, therapeutic cloning is never done with a mom and a dad, no gametes at all! In fact, the cloning (by definition) is genetically singular in nature. The cell division occurs in the regular way but the genetic contribution to the blastocyst is from only one person -- that's why its a clone and not a regular embryo. This is medically useful since researchers can isolate certain diseases and genetic defects in order to better understand them and eventually treat or cure them. But the cloned embryo has a very different genesis than other embryos. It is literally created for the purpose of research and was never going to be anything but that.
The article linked here is about research into incurable muscle-wasting disease. The cloned embryos would be created with DNA from people with this disease. Therefore, the embryo will have this disease, providing researchers with defective nerve cells to compare to healthy nerve cells. In the end, the betterment of humanity is the goal. A treatment or a cure for the formerly incurable. But at what cost?
In a totally unrelated case we are introduced to another embryo (zygote**...). This one was whipped up in a petri dish with the intention that it one day be a person, a baby. Now its the subject of a wrongful death law suit because of its accidental destruction. A judge has ruled that the suit may continue, holding that the embryo is a human being. Obviously the parent/plaintiffs here are pleased. They want some sort of compensation for the loss of that little bit of possibility. I am sure that they are grieving, as well, since they have the desire to be parents and have lost an opportunity because of the negligence of a lab worker. I say an opportunity because there is nothing to suggest that they can not make another embryo.
What I find interesting in both of these cases is what the ultimate results of opposing the medical actions will be. Successful opposition to therapeutic cloning and stem cell research will not result in the increased birth of normal and healthy babies. Opposing stem cell research will not make women seeking abortions any less likely to abort their fetuses. It will only result in the entire waste of the fetus. Rather than contributing to our medical knowledge and consequently benefiting humanity as a whole through better treatment and cures, stopping stem cell research will only stop stem cell research. It won't save babies. It will only hurt people who stand to benefit from the research in the end. It HARMS life while failing to actually preserve life.
Also interesting is the effect that allowing a recovery for wrongful death in the fertility clinic case will be. The logical result is that either doctors will stop providing this type of service to would-be parents (in order to avoid exposure to a wrongful death liability) or that the cost of such services will sky rocket. In either event, the ability of fertility challenged parents to eventually give birth will be diminished. Fewer babies will be born. Again, life takes the blow here.
It begs the question: What are we really opposed to? And what price are we willing to pay to have our way in the end? If you oppose cloning, ask yourself why. Stem cell research? Why? In vitro-fertilization? Why? Drag yourself away from the easy answer and really give it a good shot.
I was asked the question in Constitutional Law class: When do you think life begins? and I answered it as honestly as I know how -- When sperm meets egg and the cell division starts. That's the beginning of life. But I think the question was wrong. It did not really address the issue, did it? The question is not when does life begin but, rather, when should we assign a protected status to life? When does a blastocyst, or an embryo or a fetus become an individual? There are countless places at which to draw this line. But I think we can all agree that once you are born you have crossed that line, you are worthy of protection, even if you are born with an incurable disease. Even if you are diabetic.
I don't think I've answered a single question here and I did not intend to. What I hoped was that you would think. Think about this. And perhaps we can replace some of our knee-jerk reactions with thoughtful considerations. Perhaps we can raise our eyes up and see the Big Picture, feeling a sense of amazement when science seeks to accomplish the miraculous by improving LIFE, saving LIFE, and protecting LIFE. Ultimately we have to balance the good and the bad in almost everything.
Let us weigh carefully.
*** The embryonic stage is long. It begins with initial cell division and ends at 8 weeks of development. There is a substantial difference between the early embryo and the late. One is a wad of cells, the other has a beating heart. To refer to both of these states as "embryo" is to confuse what we are really talking about. The embryo in the test-tube is a zygote, not even blastocyst since that stage begins on implantation and it can not yet have implanted...