Human Cloning: Religious Perspectives
Robert Best, President, Culture of Life Foundation, Inc.
Dr. Nigel Cameron, Dean, The Wilberforce Forum, and Chair, Advisory Board for the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity
Abdulaziz Sachedina, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Rabbi Moses D. Tendler, Rabbi Isaac and Bella Tendler Professor of Jewish Medical Ethics and Professor of Biology, Yeshiva University
Rob Wasinger, Legislative Assistant to Senator Sam Brownback, sponsor of Senate legislation banning human cloning
Professor Jean Bethke Elshtain, Co-Chair, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago
MS. ROGERS: My name is Melissa Rogers. I’m executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has been generously supported by the Pew Charitable Trust, and we’re very grateful for that support, and also for the presence of Cheryl Rusten from the Pew Trust staff with us today.
The Pew Forum serves as a platform for research and discussion of issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs. We try to serve as a clearinghouse of information about these events, and also as a town hall for discussion of important events related to religion and public life. We define public life broadly, not just to encompass the governmental sphere, but the sphere of the formation of public policy and the ways in which communities are engaged. So we have a large amount of territory that we’d like to cover.
We are glad today to present a particular focus on human cloning. As many of you know, a bill has recently been introduced in the United States Senate dealing with human cloning. And then yesterday there were hearings that the senator conducted on this issue with a range of witnesses. Some of the people are with us on the panel today. We’re grateful for that.
This is our attempt to have an event that will quickly respond to issues as they are breaking in the news. We also should mention that the Pew Forum did a poll recently with the Pew Research Center, and one of the findings was that 81 percent of Americans oppose allowing unrestricted scientific research related to human cloning. And respondents most often cited their religious beliefs as having the strongest influence in their arrival at their particular position on this issue.
The Forum is very fortunate to have as its co-chairs Jean Bethke Elshtain, a professor at the University of Chicago, and E.J. Dionne, Washington Post columnist and also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. E.J. could not be with us today, but we are grateful for the partnership of the Brookings Institution.
I know many of you have read Professor Elshtain’s writings over the years. She is a very accomplished author in many fields. She is the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Political and Social Ethics at the University of Chicago. Her most recent book dealt with many different questions, including some bioethical issues. It is entitled “Who are We?” and was published by Eerdmans. It was selected by the American Theological Booksellers Association as the best academic book in the year 2000. So we are grateful for her leadership at the Forum, and E.J.’s leadership.
Today Professor Elshtain will moderate this panel for us, and we’re very grateful for that. So at this point I will turn it over to Professor Elshtain and let her make the introductions of our panelists today. We are very grateful to all of them for their participation, and we’re grateful to you for your participation and look forward to your questions in just a moment.
PROF. ELSHTAIN: Thank you very much, Melissa. I think all of you can hear. It’s a small room. If you have any trouble, please indicate that you’re not hearing too well and we’ll try to move the microphones a bit closer.
Before we introduce our distinguished panel, I thought I would frame the topic for this morning’s discussion by reminding everyone in the room, and I’m sure no one really needs this reminder, but it’s perhaps helpful just to trace why we have arrived at this particular point. We have been in the midst of what can only be called a biogenetic revolution in the recent past. It has been spurred in part by the enormous undertaking of the human genome project. Many of those involved in that project are those who see certain kinds of promises or possibilities in that project, even began to talk rather enthusiastically about designer genes, spelled G-E-N-E-S, and the promise that we might engage in what they called genetic enhancement that would lead to the eventual perfection, genetically speaking, of the human race.
Now this was troubling, of course, in the minds of many of us who work in the area of ethics because what counts as perfection of course suggests that some human lives over a certain period of time would come to be valued for certain kinds of genetic or biological qualities, valued as higher in worth than those of others whose qualities were not so desired by the culture or by the society in question.
For a long period of time the possibility of eugenics was something that stirred critical, deep aversion, in part because of the experience in the mid-20th century of National Socialism in Germany and their own attempt to move in a direction creating some kind of master race genetically speaking. But there’s a way in which eugenics has been sneaking back in under the rubric of genetic enhancement.
Now as if this weren’t controversial enough, we were greeted a few years ago by the photograph of this very charming sheep looking out at us from the front page of the newspapers, and the announcement that she was the first cloned animal, the first, in this case, a cloned sheep named Dolly. A few months after that moment, when again there was an enormous outcry against the prospect of human cloning, The New York Times science editor, Gina Kolata, in a piece December 2, 1997, indicated that in the immediate aftermath of the appearance of Dolly, who stared out at us from those newspapers, there was great consternation, but that it took a mere six months for much of that consternation to go from “Why on earth would you want to do that,” to “Well, why not? Why would we not want to do that?”
She talked about the dissipation of much of the early energy directed against this prospect. She quoted one lawyer, also a scientist, in her essay who says the following: “The fact is that in America, cloning may be bad, but telling how people they should reproduce is worse. America is not ruled by ethics. America is ruled by law.” I found that a rather interesting claim, that somehow ethics and law are in entirely separate categories, and that the law did not reflect, as it always does, a society’s ethical commitment.
So with that, and with the continuing controversy about cloning, with the highly publicized articles about those who seek to clone a particular – in one case a couple putting up an enormous sum of money to try to clone a beloved dog, others thinking that it would be a great idea to be able to clone either themselves or perhaps one of their children, especially a child who was ill. We’ve had the sensational stories. We have this morning people who are aware on the soberer side of the issue and have things to say, moving away from some of the sensationalism, but keeping intact the depth and the serious – almost beyond serious – ethical questions that this issue raises.
We have asked our panelists to talk about the ethical and religious underpinnings of their own commitments, and what their own traditions bring to bear on this particular issue. That is what the Pew Forum is all about.
Our panel this morning, we will begin with Senator Sam Brownback’s staff person, Rob Wasinger, who is at my far right – and these are not political designations. Senator Brownback is a Republican from Kansas, and he has introduced Senate bill 790, Senate legislation banning human cloning. He was unable at the last moment to be with us, but he very generously is sharing Rob Wasinger with us this morning. Rob has to leave at around 11:00, so I would suggest to you once our panelists have completed their remarks and we open it up for questions, if you have some questions specifically about the bill and about its introduction, you might want to direct those to Rob first, given his time constraints.
Following Rob on the panel we have Dr. Nigel Cameron, who is chair of the international advisory board for the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. He is executive chairman of the Center for Bioethics and Public Policy.
Next on our list we have Bob Best, who is president of the Culture of Life Foundation. This is a nonprofit foundation that’s committed to affirming the sacredness of human life, and to disseminate medical and scientific fact in support of that position.
Our next panelist will be Rabbi Moses Tendler, who serves in a dual capacity as professor of biology at Yeshiva College, and as a professor of Talmud at the university-affiliated theological seminary. He is a leading expert on Jewish medical ethics.
Our final panelist this morning is Professor Abdulaziz Sachedina, who is professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia. He contributed to a book called “Human Rights and the Conflict of Culture: Western and Islamic perspectives on religious liberty,” and he is also author of a book on the Islamic roots of democratic pluralism.
So we have a very rich panel, and with this I will simply turn it over to Rob to begin the discussion with an analysis of S. 790 and anything else he wants to put on the table.
MR. WASINGER: Thank you. Mr. Brownback was called to a Commerce Committee mark-up, so you’ll have to deal with me, and he apologizes for that.
We introduced our bill last week, and I guess our thoughts in doing so had two primary reasons. One is the now widely known attempts to engage in human cloning by the scientist in Kentucky and his counterpart in Rome. I guess the second reason, and perhaps more compelling to us, and this came out in the testimony yesterday at the hearing we held, is that the NIH guidelines regulating stem cell research are coming to be known – the guidelines are based on a rather disingenuous philosophy. That is, the stem cell research they were proposing had no practical value because you would not have exact tissue matches with people that would be receiving so-called therapeutic treatment.
The only way to get around the immunosuppressant problem was to create embryos especially for research purposes and therapies. This came out in the testimony a little bit yesterday, and it’s something we’re going to continue to pursue.
What’s happening was a lot of the societies – the American Society for Cell Biology and an organization known BIO, have supported the NIH guidelines, which was experimentation only on so-called leftover, or excess embryos from in vitro fertilization. What they really wanted was discretionary creation of embryos for these so-called therapeutic purposes. Of course it’s not therapeutic for the clone. The clone is the one who would die. And because it’s becoming known, we felt that we had to move quickly to stop I guess both the so-called reproductive side and so-called therapeutic side. We don’t see a difference between the two necessarily. They come into creation the same way. It’s simply a question of where the embryo is located and whether or not it’s transferred to a uterus or killed for its stem cells.
So those two reasons were, I guess, first and foremost in our minds as we began looking at this issue. I guess sort of in a broader sense this does lead to, and I guess one could argue already is the modification of life, where you’re basically just manufacturing people to be used for the purposes of the person who owns them, or is able to decide their fate. And that’s a very dangerous thing for us as individuals, and I think for all of humanity. An attack against one is an attack against all of our humanity. Those were some of our reasons.
The bill we introduced is pretty narrowly drafted, and we consulted pretty widely in the drafting of it. Dr. Leon Kass is involved, professor of ethics at Princeton, had some scientific opinion. And the bill we came up with is pretty narrowly crafted. It just relates to human somatic cell nuclear transfer. In fact, in the bill we have specific section that follows out or exempts research that doesn’t result in the creation of an embryo. It says in the bill that scientific research, nothing in this section shall restrict areas of scientific research not specifically prohibited by this section, including research in the use of nuclear transfer or other cloning techniques to produce molecules, DNA, cells other than human embryos, tissues, organs, plants, or animals other than humans. It’s pretty clear.
The only thing that this bill does not allow is the creation of embryos. And that’s to answer some of the arguments that it would be shutting down other areas of scientific research. I think it’s an important distinction and one that I’m sure will be thrown at us when we debate this in committee and on the floor. Also, for those that do engage in this research, it imposes civil and criminal penalties, civil penalty of $1 million, or the gross gain that company would incur multiplied by two, or a penalty of 10 years in prison.
That’s the basis of the bill, and I guess when the panel is done I’d be happy to take any questions on it.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Dr. Cameron?
DR. CAMERON: Thank you. As a Briton, a Scot originally, I take a certain inverse pride in the fact that Dolly was a Scottish sheep, the only sheep to make the covers of all the news magazines in the same week. A Scottish sheep named, unfortunately, after an American country singer, but we won’t go into that. The implications that has for something of the kind of people who are engaging in these rather fundamental questions on the scientific edge.
I want to make one or two comments on the question and the bill from the perspective of conservative Protestant tradition. It seems to me that what is interesting in the discussion is that there has been an attempt to separate these two fundamentally related questions of how we approach the issue of so-called baby cloning or reproductive cloning, and the cloning of the embryo for so-called therapeutic purposes, which, as has been pointed out, are not therapeutic to the embryo but are allegedly so to others.
Aside from the fact that all cloning of course is reproductive cloning, which is the nature of what we’re doing, we’re here supplanting the procreative process with a new form of human reproduction. The question at issue certainly has several different facets. One facet is the preventing horror of the birth of babies, live-born babies who have been cloned. On that issue, there seems to be something approaching unanimity, although of course there’s never quite unanimity on any moral question, and there has been an energetic campaign on the part of a small minority, both of political libertarians, of reproductive rights extremists, and of course academics who write books about these things in favor of even that option once the safety issues have been resolved.
But back of that debate on which it seems to me there is almost consensus, there is of course the fundamental discussion about the use of this process as a way of reproducing humans at the beginning of the life cycle of human beings as a point of what would be conception in the traditional context of procreation.
On this issue what is particularly interesting is that there is not the traditional pro-life, pro-choice kind of debate emerging, in that those who sought to characterize the debate in those terms certainly benefit the cause of the industry, which has a major stake in the development of these technologies. So the most interesting testimony at yesterday’s hearing was from Jaydee Hanson on behalf of the United Methodist Church.
Now I testified at the congressional hearing on cloning originally – I think it was three years ago when we did our first round. On that occasion I was asked to sum up the views of the Protestant churches. My tag line was that if you can find an issue on which the Southern Baptists and the United Methodists agree, it does seem to me here we have a good basis for sound public policy. And those who sought to characterize it as a rerun of Roe seem to me to be in fundamental error because the essential question here is not the point at which “life begins,” but whether it is appropriate to use this essentially sophisticated photocopying technology to reproduce human beings.
The central fact in this debate is, therefore, if you like the first major public focus of what will be a burgeoning debate about the application of these new technologies to human dignity, the appealing character of this discussion is that public attention has been so readily focused on this question, whether we are speaking about the said cover stories in the news magazines of the Scottish sheep, whether we are speaking about Dr. Seed, the improbably named Dr. Seed of a couple of years ago with a somewhat eccentric proposal that he would be the guy who cloned the first baby, and within, it seems to me, something like 24 hours President Clinton was in the Rose Garden saying he wouldn’t. Difficult to get that kind of response from the administration on any other issue if you are a somewhat eccentric retired scientist living in Chicago.
In its most recent round, public sentiment has been focused. This has proved to be a proving ground for the question of how we handle human dignity in the context of new technology.
Now one or two particular points. It seems to me that there are at least three different kinds of reasons why we should favor the position taken in the bill, which is that we should curb the use of somatic cell and nuclear transplant technology in homo sapiens, rather than seeking to work for a more limited ban on the birth of cloned babies. The first kind of argument, of course, is if you like symbols, there is no difference in essence between a cloned embryo and a cloned baby. If one takes the view – and some of us would say this is certainly the prima facie reading of the BIO scientists, quite apart from the moral tradition – that these two are in fact the same in themselves, then that is not an issue.
The second thing, one can take the view, which has persuaded some interesting people in recent days, to the position of the bill, that the only way in fact to curb the birth of cloned babies is to curb the use of the technology. And that for a number of process reasons, if it is the case that we have cloned embryos in labs around the country, either because of the way in which the American legal system works, or for some other reason, we are going to have some of the embryos ending up implanted in the wombs of women and born as babies.
One can have altogether a kind of middle view, which seems to me to be a view which has been not articulated sufficiently in the context of the whole stem cell, embryo research debate, which is, if we do not know, or even if we think we may know but cannot agree on the status of human life at a particular point in its biological development, it is an appropriate position for the human community to take a conservative stance in public policy.
Those seem to me to be three reasons which articulate with different strands within our religious tradition, but which come together in support of the view taken in the bill.
The final comment I would make very specifically from the point of view of the Christian and Protestant tradition, and that is that the supreme Christian belief is that of the Incarnation. The Incarnation did not take place, despite what the Christmas cards tell us, in a stable in Bethlehem. The Incarnation, according to Christian teaching and the teaching of Holy Scripture, took place when Mary conceived, and the Godhead was born in the second person not simply in a baby, which is a miracle enough, but in a zygote. When you go back into the past and ask these questions, that is the answer you get. Questions we ask afresh after the birth of that other ambiguous British gift to the world, the first test tube baby, in 1978, who did not make the front page of all the news magazines because, of course, she had been contracted by a British newspaper. That is true, but also funny.
The central Christian belief is that of the Incarnation, that the Incarnation took place in utero. If our Lord became man in a zygote, then we have the most compelling theological justification for treating every zygote with an appropriate respect due to one who bears human form, and therefore the notion that this asexual reproductive technique should be used at any stage is foreign to our view of human dignity.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Mr. Best.
MR. BEST: Thank you. I received a call at 10 o’clock to come here and pinch hit for somebody. Being an old Yankee fan, I love to pinch hit and be a relief pitcher on occasion, so I’m happy to be here, and I’m grateful for the invitation.
I would just state a few principles upon which we oppose human cloning. The first principle is that all human life is sacred, from the moment of conception to natural death, and that each human person has an inviolable dignity that cannot be trespassed against for any reason whatsoever. The humanness of a person does not depend on his or her state of independence, level of perfection, or virtue, or viability.
Cloning is antithetical to basic religious principles and to the presumption of equality before the law. Cloning also involves the destruction of the human embryo. So-called reproductive cloning, which my colleague considers almost universally in disdain, involves the implantation of that embryo into a woman’s uterus, but the so-called therapeutic cloning always involves the destruction of the embryo to get the tissues. Therefore, it’s not at all therapeutic to the embryo.
The killing of innocents is never morally acceptable for any reason, scientific or not. And I testified yesterday before Senator Brownback’s committee, preceding me was a German scientist who was advocating therapeutic cloning in the most technical terms possible. I have to confess, without reaching a judgment about any particular individual, that my mind went back to what happened in Germany in the 20s, long before Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, when the medical and scientific community in Germany was engaged in experiments on human beings that involved their death. In so doing I think they’ve created a culture of death that was turned against the Jewish people, so I was somewhat saddened by that testimony.
I just think we should not go down that road again, because it is a slippery slope. And I’ll end at that point.
DR. ELSHTAIN: I should add that Mr. Best agreed to pinch-hit for Leroy Walters, who was on the program but couldn’t be here at the last moment. So we do appreciate the fact that he was able to do that.
Next, we’ll go to Rabbi Tendler.
RABBI TENDLER: I’d like to focus on what I think should be the topic today, which is not the abortion debate but cloning. The arguments concerning the personhood of a zygote or an egg that had just been entered by the sperm has nothing to do with the cloning debate. Let’s separate the two and go back to the abortion versus autonomy. I think it should be understood that not all religions, not even the Catholic faith until very recently, accepted the strange notion that a zygote lying in a petri plate has humanhood. Catholic moral theology, from St. Augustine on, and a certain part of traditional Judeo biblical legal systems, humanhood began on day 40, with quickening. That was standard in almost all religions. Only recently has that been moved down to the growth of our understanding of genetics, to the formation of a diploid cell.
Therefore, we want to avoid that debate, I think, very clearly in America that’s a minority of humans, it’s a religious belief we should respect, very frankly, and those who have that belief should not engage in or maybe not even benefit from the results that come from killing an embryo because that might give them complicity. They are entitled to their position. That is not the traditional biblical ethics with which we approach this problem.
Number one, from a traditional Judeo biblical view, which is before we got messed up by our reformed conservative movement, that denied the existence the divine that is both the man and our Bible is only a compilation of good ideas from intelligent people, that is a position which really is outside the pale of Judaism, even though they carry that name. I was invited because I represent Judaism before it was modified, under the firm belief it never needed any modification. We do just fine as we are.
Natural versus artificial is a fundamental conceptual difference between the tradition of Judaism and many of the Christian faith. The natural is not preferred over the artificial. On the contrary, a verse that you’re all familiar with, Chapter 1, verse 28 in Genesis, “And God said to man, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” That’s about all everyone remembers of that verse. But there are other words to that verse. “And master thy world.” That’s part of man’s obligation in this world, to make the world a better place than God left it when He made man, even to the point that our sages view circumcision as man’s self-perfection, that God left over a little bit for man even to feel that he has to perfect himself.
Therefore, the fact that something is artificial is not synonymous with bad. On the contrary, artificial may mean man fulfilling his obligations to God.
Second, the soul is God’s problem. If we have confidence in Him, He’ll take care of it all by Himself. We can put DNAs together. Does a clone have a soul? But if a clone could be nurtured nine months in an extra-uterine environment, would it have a soul? To put it bluntly, it’s none of your damned business. That’s God’s business. Stay away from God’s business. Man and woman participate in making a child, and there’s a third partner, called God. He takes care of the soul. He never told us how He does it, what He does. It would be somewhat presumptuous even to ask Him that question. You are out of line. None of your business. A human being that’s formed any way, that has human characteristics of intelligence and a human form is a human being entitled to all the sanctity of life that the Bible grants every human being.
We do not interfere with God’s work. In the last few years especially, the old bugaboo of science versus religion has become a source of consternation to both scientists who are religious and to religious leaders who understand science. There’s a moral fable that was making the rounds at the beginning of this year among medical ethicists, in which the cloning people challenged God that they could make man. And God invited them upstairs to see whether indeed it’s true or not. They turned to God and said, okay, God, show us first how you do it. God reached down under His throne of glory and picked up a handful of earth and fashioned man. And God then said, now it’s your turn. And the scientist reached down under the throne and picked up a handful of earth, and the voice of God thundered, get your own earth.
We play with God’s earth. That’s all we do. God gave us molecules, God gave us atoms. We put them together differently. We are not playing God by doing that. We can’t get along without Him. We can’t make our own earth. We can’t make anything out of a vacuum. Only God can do that, so we’re always riding on God’s shoulders. We’re not ever in opposition to God. The whole idea of science and religion being in conflict is an oxymoron, for God is the source of all science and God is the source of religion, and God is not schizophrenic. He doesn’t fight with Himself.
If there is seemingly conflict between the two, it’s based upon one of three possibilities. We don’t understand what God said, we don’t understand the science, or, the usual explanation, we don’t understand either.
The bill as presented now I believe would be a travesty of justice launched on humanity, for the bill in its attempt to prevent something is destroying what is clearly the best hope that man has for curing disease. We don’t cure disease ourselves, but every few generations God allows us to move one veil of nature, and we get a little bit smarter. Right now stem cell research is the hope of mankind. The only hope we have of understanding what’s going on in the whole field of oncology, of cancer work, only now resides in the stem cell research because cancer work has been a total failure from beginning to end. No treatment, except for hematological diseases, have added one day of longevity to a solid tumor patient.
However, to understand that you don’t get [inaudible] cancers, which would mean studying cells as they mature, as they divide and they begin to differentiate and begin to assume their specialized role, that’s stem cell research. I was really surprised that the statement that was made at the opening by Rob Wasinger that the whole issue concerns making new embryos. No. Indeed, new embryos will allow us to have stem cells that will not be injected. But 12 people die every day in America for want of an organ. We’ll settle right now for stem cells that are not genetically identical with the patient. They should substitute for the need of a transplanted organ.
In recent research that was in the papers last week, stem cells injected into a weakened heart became cardiac cells and supported that heart. Sure, there will be rejection, so we’ll treat it like we treat a heart transplant. You get a liver transplant, we give immunosupressive drugs. People are living, 10 20, 25 years on someone else’s organ, even though it’s not an identical organ.
Now if we don’t get caught in that absolute judgment by the Catholic Church and some fundamentalist religions, a judgment which I believe should not be binding on American democracy, that a zygote has humanhood, then indeed the great hope is that a zygote formed on the person’s own stem cells — that’s why Geron Corporation, who laughs at Bush and Clinton, they’re not asking for government support. You can’t give them money. They have all the money they need. Geron gave Roslin Labs in Scotland $20 million to speed up the process of making a human Dolly. But a human Dolly for only four or five days. Four or five days of growth until the stem cell appears, when the cell has approximately 150 cells, a little blastula, and the stem cells hang like a little chandelier – those stem cells put into a sick person, put into an inoculated egg, four days later have stem cells which are grown in tissue culture, and repair this man’s heart, liver, lungs, etc.
Is that abortion? Traditionally an egg and sperm that isn’t lying in transit in a uterus cannot be granted humanhood, and that is the tradition that I believe those who understand both the original interpretation of the Catholic moral theology and the present interpretation of Jewish law would insist we are not dealing at all with making a human being. I think four days of an embryo. That’s all I need to cure 10,000 cardiac patients in America. This is the issue at hand.
The bill is an important bill that warns us that human cloning involves many problems, but in the process of trying to prevent human cloning, what they’ve done is killed the possibility of stem cell research. That I believe to be an evil that’s being perpetrated on America.
DR. ELSHTAIN: I’m sure that Rob will want to respond to this. But first we look forward to hearing from Professor Sachedina.
PROFESSOR SACHEDINA: It’s very important to keep in mind that in Islamic ethical decisions, our moral philosophers, Muslim moral philosophers always ask the question, what life is worth living? How life should be lived on this earth as the creatures of God. One of the important issues that I think perhaps is missed in the cloning debate is, what is going to happen to the families, to the motherhood, to the fatherhood, and what exactly – how exactly an individual is going to relate himself or herself to the communal connections, interconnections which religion is aspiring to establish.
Because if you remove human relationships, then you have nothing to stand on in Islam. In Islam human relationships are the center of complete religiosity. The prophet of Islam has declared many times that religion is made up of ten parts. Nine-tenths of religion is inter-personal relationships. This is where I think the question comes, what kind of challenges human cloning poses to the familial relationships, what kind of life can that individual expect to live in the society. If that individual is not properly related to the grandparents, to the mother, to the father, and not only that, I think molecular biology is teaching us very correctly that we don’t even know that the surrogate mother who carries this clone to its complete pregnancy is the biological mother or biological sister of that clone. So there is no indication of clarity at all that that person who is going to be cloned will have a proper relationship with grandparents, will know this is my mother and not my sister.
This father’s sperm that has been used is not my father but happens to be my brother-in-law, or something, because we are not looking at the complexity of the ways in which the DNA and the chromosomes are transferred ultimately in the clone.
There’s a second issue, I think, here that is very important. I think the genome project has raised a very serious question about how much we human beings know. God in Islam is omniscient. He knows everything. He has given human beings very little to know. So human claims might be to arrogance on the part of humanity, to claim something about whose future, about the future of that claim there is no certainty at all. Human knowledge is at the most speculative. Even scientific knowledge can change tomorrow. We don’t even know exactly how the cloning is going to impact on the very development of the tools that we think are going to be within our control because there’s a lot of corporate interest in the whole project.
They are looking at the benefits of the profits they can gain from it. Dr. Seed is not talking in the vacuum of what I call the social prophets. He could not raise the funds. That’s why he had to give it up. If he had the support of the corporate world, he might have engaged in something whose future we are not at all capable of assessing.
There is one important rule in Islamic rule that we apply when most of the cases of scientific research. By the way, there is no human action without intention in Islam. So science is not amoral. There is no human action that is not preceded by intention, and God judges that intention, according to Muslim belief.
There is one principle that is very important. It said, it is very important to avoid corruption. It is very important to avoid probable harm to the society, especially in those cases in which we are talking about the benefits that are almost at the limit of speculation. We are speculating and the press has caught it up and has really dramatized it. And it is to be compared to the ultimate good of the human society. That ultimate question is, is it really going to help us?
Yes, I think Islamic law and Islamic ethics would support – this is, by the way, the book “Human Cloning Debate,” and I have an article here in which I’ve quoted some of the important authorities who are making decisions. I think it raises very important questions. This is the legal juridical body in Al-Azhar University which informs the Egyptian government. That opinion, by the way, is taken very seriously throughout the world because this is what I call the religious organization, religious center of Muslim decisionmaking.
For example, this is a question that is being asked by the juridical body. Would such a process as cloning create disorder in human life when human beings with their subjective opinions interfere in God’s created nature, on which He has created people and has founded their lives on it. It is only then that we can assess the gravity of the situation, created by the possibility of cloning a human being. That is, to copy numerous phases of a person as if they were carbon copies of each other.
The important question then they raise, the ethical question is whether this procedure interferes with the growing up in a family that is founded upon institutions of fatherhood and motherhood. I think in our emphasis on autonomy and individual rights, we are almost forgetting the individual is connected to the family, the individual is connected to the community. And in the larger picture that emerges, I think human cloning threatens the very basic institutions that are so important in public life.
By the way, in the stem cell research there is a very clear indication in Jewish law that life does not begin from day one, so that research can be done, and therefore extra embryos can be used for stem research. In fact, some Muslim jurists would say that ensoulment does not take place until the first trimester. That is, after 120 days. But the majority of the panel says 40 days is the period which is recognized in Islamic law. So stem cell research has no problem because it has therapeutic benefits.
Cloning technology is used in certain areas in which we do make, I think, good use of it and it is beneficial in every culture, in husbandry, et cetera. When it comes to human beings, we are concerned about the social well-being of the human entity. Human beings are related. They are interconnected. Therefore, we cannot discuss this without taking the family – institution of family, society as a whole and questioning those values that are important. Thank you.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Thank you very much. There are a number of very interesting issues that have been put on the table. I’m going to turn to Rob Wasinger first. The bill has been criticized, and give him an opportunity to respond, given the constraints on his time. Rob?
MR. WASINGER: Maybe I’ll stay a little bit longer. (Laugher)
I hope I’m not as melodramatic as the rabbi, who referred to the bill as a travesty of justice, and I think he used the word evil as well. I guess a couple of points I’d bring out. You talk about curing cancer and the promise of the so-called embryonic stem cell research. Which means, I assume, that you’re also familiar with the literature that shows that the embryonic stem cells are used already. They’re not able to control the differentiation. A lot of times they produce tumorous cancers, or formed skin tissue in a brain. The differentiation is completely uncontrollable, so the promise, I think, is very much up in the air. And the research you cited was just a duplication of research that we did on adult stem cell research over about a year ago.
This brings up another point, that this is largely unnecessary. The adult stem cell research doesn’t have any of the immunosuppressant problems. Doesn’t have the moral problems of creating a human being that you’re going to kill for its parts. I think that would be interesting for further discussion.
I also assume you know that when they cloned Dolly, it took about 277 attempts because the embryos were malformed, where the gene expression didn’t occur properly. 277 attempts. That’s 277 sheep, and there’s no moral issue in creating sheep and then killing them. But if those embryos were malformed, what makes you think that a human embryo would have stem cells that are even useable? I’ll let you address that later.
I think another point is, the Geron Corporation, which clearly stands to benefit substantially from this research – the biotech community has billions of dollars on the line, so they definitely have an interest in this. I think that’s something that needs to be explored a little bit further.
Biotech communities, and what you’ve said, Rabbi, is correct. They do want to create embryos for research purposes. They might create and destroy life for profit, basically, and that’s a commodification of life that I was talking about earlier, and one of the reasons why we introduced the bill.
Another point you brought up was about the personhood of the human embryo. I assume you know that 38 states in this country have passed laws that talk about the status of a human embryo from the earliest moment of conception. Some of those states, like Massachusetts, even define it as beginning at the moment of conception. I’d be interested in comments on that, too.
I guess the last thing is, rabbi, if you’re talking about creating and using human life for the benefit of somebody else, under that philosophy I’d be interested in what you thought of harvesting organs from death row inmates in China, which I think is morally the same issue, except it’s not innocent life. I guess after that maybe we can have Q&A.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Of course Rabbi Tendler wants to respond to that.
DR. ELSHTAIN: …How to leap in, and to keep the remarks brief because there’s a lot of stirring in the audience, so I suspect there are questions that we want to turn to very shortly. Rabbi, please.
RABBI TENDLER: I think I made very clear without ever mentioning the birth of a clone that the issue is not human cloning to birth. I believe there would be a consensus in society for all the reasons, including those that Professor Sachedina just mentioned. When dealing with a human being you have an individual and then we have a commandment of God that man is a social man and it is not good for man to be alone.
We are talking about embryo research. That’s what the bill destroys. That’s what the scientific community is almost unanimously opposing. And I believe the comments you made are both irrelevant and inaccurate.
MR. WASINGER: Well, what of the embryonic stem cells turning into cancer, the research being duplicated by….
RABBI TENDLER: I have the advantage of running a lab. Research is a process, but we have never produced a cancer in a human being by stem cell research.
MR. WASINGER: It’s been done in animals. So what I’m saying is –
RABBI TENDLER: That’s what research means. Research means you study a process to see what you can and cannot do. But the bill will prevent that study. That’s the issue. The harvesting of organs in China has as much to do with our discussion as the price of tea in China. This is a clear focus that we have to have. To abort stem cell research is far more unethical than to abort a zygote, which according to most religions does not have humanhood. And to abort human activity that may be lifesaving, when it is a divine commandment to save human life.
We are required to do research to save human life. That, I believe, has religious significance as well as the consensus of society. We want medical progress to cure disease.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Professor Sachedina wants to leap in, and then I’m going to ask Dr. Cameron and Bob Best if they want to say something, and then we’ll go to questions.
PROF. SACHEDINA: My concern is I think the bill, the way I read it, there is an underlying concern in the bill, and this is the whole question of reproductive cloning, producing human beings the way we specify it. This is what I call technologically helped or assisted reproduction, which would then include also this kind of technology.
I think, rabbi, if I understand you correctly, that the problem is how we place in Jewish law and in Islamic law, how we place an individual in the familial and social context. Because Islam has inherited this from Judaism. It talks about the importance of how an individual needs to be brought up in the society so that we have a semblance of a just society, so that we have a society that reflects the divine will. But how God wishes us to live I think is very much dependent upon how we bring an individual into society.
Therefore, the parenthood, therefore the love between men and women, all these things become extremely important in most traditions.
RABBI TENDLER: We’re not going to make any human clones. That’s the point. No one wants to make a human being. Only someone who wants to get his name in the paper, and he had nothing better to do. We’re talking about really – the key point to the bill is the prohibition of stem cell research, and it’s being hidden by the initial presentation of the prohibition against cloning.
Cloning, I don’t know a single laboratory of any kind of reputation in the world today where you’ll have one member of the staff who’s interested in cloning a human being. Only you are talking about stem cell research.
DR. ELSHTAIN: That’s not the world that I know, but I’m going to ask Dr. Cameron if he would like to – oh, I’m sorry. Nigel, would you like –
DR. CAMERON: A couple of brief comments. I appreciate the rabbi’s position. It does seem to me, though, he is over-stating every element in his case, which doesn’t really help. I can do that too but I’m not doing that this morning. I mean, just as a little example. I’m a Presbyterian, and he says that the element in Genesis 1 about dominion over the earth – I forget what your term was – has been completely ignored or whatever in the Christian tradition. This is one of the three or four main components in the reform tradition, our commitment to the so-called cultural mandate and the propriety of technology and engaging in these quests.
A couple of substantive observations. One is the importance of the prudential argument that if we really think cloning a human baby isn’t just bad, or unfortunate, but something which would be profoundly evil because it would constitute a new human being in a radically defiled and deformed moral fashion. That is the view that many, many people take. It seems to me it is not a religious view. It’s a view coming intuitively out of our vision for human dignity.
If it is argued there is a strong prudential argument in favor of the position the bill has taken in banning the cloning of embryos – because once embryos are in labs – I mean, if you know anything about the scandals, for example, at UC-Irvine, one of the world’s premier in vitro facilities there, after the scandals in the way in which human tissue was being used and abused.
The evidence is that once the embryos are out there, they will be misused. And in Britain, for example, you have a very heavy regulated regimen. Every embryo is counted. It’s like nuclear weapons. Not the case in this country. Once the embryos are in the lab, they will be implanted in women’s uteruses. It’s going to happen. It’s quite naïve to think otherwise. It’s a strong prudential argument.
But secondly, on this whole question of the nature of the human embryo, I think it’s interesting that we’re being told by the Rabbi that science and religion are in fact hand in hand. They do. And if we’ve learned one thing from science in this last generation, it is that continuity of the life of mammals from the word go. And it seems to me that this is science and religion going together, and the notion that they are somehow opposed it seems to me to be tilting at windmills.
DR. ELSHTAIN: I think it is interesting in both Professor Cameron and the Rabbi have indicated that in part this controversy is shaped by the enormous enhancement, increase in knowledge about the developing embryo and the additional information about its early complexity, which has made the moral concerns ever more exigent, coming from the scientific direction to the people engaged in moral and religious thinking. The more one knows, the more difficult it becomes to say you’re not dealing with a human person. It’s hard to know what else to call that which is coming into being.
With that, let me turn it over to you for questions. Rob, you can stay until 11:30?
MR. WASINGER: Yes.
DR. ELSHTAIN: In that case you don’t have to direct questions to him, if you have a question to put to anyone else in particular. But we’re happy he’ll be able to stay. So anyone.
I’m sorry, Mr. Best. Did you want to –
MR. BEST: Very briefly. I was a little taken aback by the rabbi’s description of the Catholic faith’s position on when the soul is created in the human person, and he made it appear as if only in most recent times, perhaps because of this pope, that the Catholic position changed. I think the Catholic position has been consistent from all times, in that the principle of life is that the human soul is created by God at the moment of conception. This is the fundamental reason why some of us oppose all kinds of human cloning and all kinds of destruction of human embryo.
The other point is that, having believed that, I, being a person who’s had cancer twice, will accept your invitation never to be cured by the implantation of a tissue from a killed human embryo into my body. I would rather die first. So I do accept that.
The problem of soul, which the rabbi says is God’s problem, he seems to solve by saying it doesn’t exist until 40 days. I just think he’s in a way playing God at that point. Suppose you’re absolutely wrong? Suppose your soul is created at the moment of your conception? Would you then want to be killed for the sake of someone else’s life?
So I find myself a little bit perplexed with trying to – having great respect for his dedication to God, but still disagreeing with his position.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Bob, I’m sorry. I went to the audience before giving you an opportunity. All right, Rabbi, we’re going to go directly to the audience.
NATHAN DIAMENT: Is there stem cell research technology that is discrete from cloning technology? And if so, does that have any implications for what we’re talking about?
MR. WASINGER: I think generally it is a little bit unfortunate that the two are getting wrapped up into the same discussion. What hasn’t been discussed enough is the promise of adult stem cell research, which already has clinical applications. Like I mentioned earlier, some of the research studies that have been coming out now with researching the so-called embryonic stem cells is just duplicating what’s already been done with adult stem cells.
And the interesting thing about that is, it gets around the immunosuppressant problem you were talking about earlier, and it presents none of the moral values that we have with creating or destroying human life for the purposes of its stem cells. I guess that would be my answer.
The only other thing is, this bill does not mention stem cell research in any way. All this bill does is it stops the creation of human embryos, for whatever purpose, whether you’re going to kill the embryo or implant the embryo. It stops the creation of embryos.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Next question. Unless anyone else on the panel wants to respond. Let’s go to another one on the floor. Do I see another hand? Yes, the gentleman in the back.
IMAM MOHAMAD MAGID: We discuss the issue in interfaith forum, some people bring a question, isn’t that what’s going on in other moral issues in this country here, when people talk about abortion, for example, and talking about other issues that people who are not religious, they tell us that you guys define things based on your religious background. Not necessarily that’s how we define them.
The question will be for the panel, especially for the professor and rabbi, how would you counter arguments when people say you guys, you religious people like to really backward human advancement and you are really against the choice of human beings. Someone wants to clone another child of his, that’s the choice he makes. Therefore, the question about the freedom and choice and advancement of humanity is often being put on the table, and really we need address that issue, how can we as a religious community encounter that?
PROF. SACHEDINA: I think the important issue that comes up in the interfaith understanding of ethical responsibility is that in secular ethics we tend to separate religion and ethics as two separate fields, and thereby we say that religion is a particularist ground, whereas secular ethics is the one that can meet the challenge of a pluralistic society, thereby claiming its overall authority of all communities rather than one community.
I have a problem with that because religious ethics is very much integral to the religion itself. Religious values and ethical values are not in opposition to each other. Rather, they confirm each other. In all the discussions that take place of the choices that we make, I think freedom in Islam is not spoken without accountability of how to exercise that freedom. So we speak about freedoms in Islam in connection with accountability. Therefore, the language of right is absent. We have a language of accountability. I’m dealing with you, I’m accountable to you. That means I should recognize your rights on me. So it automatically assumes that you have rights on me. Thus I’m accountable to you.
DR. ELSHTAIN: It’s a total relationship.
PROFESSOR SACHEDINA: Exactly. This is what I call relational ethics, which is both rights and obligations. So choices that we make about future generations, about our children, we are accountable ultimately in recognizing their rights and what they would need, and how they would look at their ancestors, their parents as their legacy for these children. I think we have this balance between accountability and the question of freedom connected with that responsibility, that we can’t have freedom with no responsibility whatsoever.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Yes, would anyone else – Rabbi, do you want to respond to his question?
RABBI TENDLER: I think it has a direct impact on the cloning question because one of the issues that I’ve tried not giving any credence to the concern of cloning arising because that really is not in the cards. No one is talking about it. The issue is the stem cell research. However, in the cloning issue, when you analyze it, if there should be such a concern –
DR. ELSHTAIN: Let’s imagine that that’s the concern. Let’s just make that –
RABBI TENDLER: Then, indeed, one of the big issues that I believe – maybe one of the most critical issues in cloning – is the introduction of eugenic theory. I ask, is cloning good or bad. It’s very simple. To clone you is bad, to clone me is good. Consequently, the eugenic issue comes in. Who would you clone? One who wants to be cloned will be an individual, could be an egomaniac, but otherwise would be a superior individual. And thus through cloning you introduce all the evils of eugenics, of breaking society into desirable people, less desirable people, more desirable people. That is a consequence that we have to be concerned with.
Again, I want to repeat, it is I believe to be a smokescreen to talk about cloning a live baby when the interest really is maintaining a religious belief of humanhood at the time of zygote formation. Mr. Best asked how can I be sure that it comes on day 40. My God told me so. Your God told you otherwise. So if we believe it’s the same God, one of us is wrong. I’m sure I’m right. So don’t ask how I know. I know for sure, like you know for sure, and like Sachedina knows for sure. That’s what the religious influence on our lives are. That gives us certitude.
So are you prepared to speak about day 40 as the day of ensoulment? Same as Sachedina was. Same as your faith was able to talk that way up until 20 years ago, so that this is how we deal, and the consequences are very great. Without ensoulment, I’m pushing for stem cell research. And with ensoulment you’re against stem cell research, so the issue is really the breakdown of the barrier between church and state in America, in which religious thought is becoming legalized by bills.
DR. ELSHTAIN: And is church-state separation imperiled, Professor Cameron and Mr. Best?
DR. CAMERON: Well, I am bemused somewhat by this conversation. I think the point that the Imam was making, if I read you right, sir – for example, the Rabbi’s concern about eugenics, which we maybe all share, can be characterized precisely as a religious concern. I mean, it’s a zero sum game. We can all accuse each other basically of taking up religious views. While we may not be taking up a religious view and using it as argument for it in the public square, will get you nowhere with people that don’t accept your religious argument. If you can present the argument in public form, it cannot be discounted in a society in which we have respect for pluralism by declaring to be a religious view. I think this is very important.
Secondly, a brief comment on another of the rabbi’s attempts to set it as a smokescreen for other issues. I had never heard of Dr. Zavos in Kentucky, but I sure heard of Dr. Antinori, the Italian colleague who is one of the world’s most renowned clinical worker in in vitro fertilization, principally because he enabled a women of 64 to have a child. I mean, this is a very serious clinical proposal.
RABBI TENDLER: Sarah, the wife of Abraham, had a child in her 90s, so it’s not so special. We are unimpressed. And Moses mother was 130 when she gave birth, so I am unimpressed with a 64-year-old.
DR. ELSHTAIN: May I ask Mr. Best to respond.
MR. BEST: This is beginning to sound like the preacher who got up and said, let me tell you about Moses and his ten suggestions.
There is the issue of ensoulment, but there is another issue, though, that caused Dr. Kass yesterday to change his position on cloning. At one point I believe his position was he was totally opposed to reproductive cloning but in favor of therapeutic cloning. Then he began to realize that in the American system of law, once you open up the door to human embryo production, you cannot legally, constitutionally prevent a woman who so wants to to have that embryo implanted in her uterus. It is her property.
So you have a very practical problem of trying to separate out the so-called therapeutic from the reproductive cloning. I don’t know how you deal with that. Would you create a law that makes the embryo the property of the scientist, the property of the corporation? Whose property is it? Or is it a person.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Which gets us to the modification issue that Rob raised. Rabbi, I’m going to go to another – make it briefly and then I’ll go to another question.
RABBI TENDLER: I’d like the audience to understand that even in the bill they are talking about a fence around the law. In section 2, paragraph b, in order be effective, a ban on human cloning must stop the cloning process at the beginning. Especially in Jewish law, we know about fences about the law. All of rabbinic law is a fence around biblical law to prevent transgression of the biblical law. But fences have to be rational. They cannot impose a burden that is unacceptable.
This fence around the law for that one crazy woman who wants to give birth to a clone will prevent stem cell research. That’s an unacceptable fence, a fence that’s so high that it destroys the law, does not support it.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Question here.
MALCOLM BYRNES: My name is Malcolm Byrnes, and I’m a molecular biologist, biochemist, research scientist. The rabbi mentioned that it’s sort of a back door way of attacking Roe v. Wade perhaps.
RABBI TENDLER: I didn’t mention Roe v. Wade. But I believe it is, yes.
MALCOLM BYRNES: I think that polarizes people, the community. You have people who are pro-choice, you have people who are pro-life. And my question is, since we have Roe v. Wade, how can there be a law against stem cell research and against cloning? Isn’t that the real crux of the problem because Roe v. Wade says, you know a woman has – this is not a human person here. Even a fetus is not a human person. The woman, the mother has a right to do what she wishes with that.
I mean, that is the real issue here, isn’t it? Whether or not a human embryo or a fetus is a human being.
DR. ELSHTAIN: I just want to remind us that Professor Sachedina put another cluster of questions on the table, not just the one you mentioned, but the questions about human sociology and the nature of human familial ties and relationships in the human community. That would be pro-family disrupted by the prospect of cloning because in part you wouldn’t – the clonee would not know whether this other person is a mother, a sister, an in-law. So he put that issue, and that issue is also a very important one at the front.
MR. BEST: This is a brief response to the gentleman’s point. If we were living in the 19th century and someone said, since Dred Scott is the law of the land, how can you have a law against slavery because a slave is just a piece of property. That’s essentially what Roe v. Wade does.
So your question presumes that Roe v. Wade is somehow given to us on high from some almighty power, and that it can never be questioned, as Dred Scott could never be questioned. It seems to me the analogy’s there.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Yes. Nigel?
DR. CAMERON: It seems to me that it is unfortunate if we cast this as a subset of Roe. I mean, there are other issues in the world than elective abortion which intersect with that question but are distinct. This is a very important example of this because in the discussion until a year or two ago, when human cloning, stem cell issues began to be raised, there was a very serious middle position in the whole debate about the use of the human embryo for research, which stated -and the law in many countries stated this, and this is a position in fact in the European convention on bioethics human rights, which is the one international treaty on bioethics, that embryos should not be created for research. The use of spare clinical embryos for research is another question. People disagree about that. But the creation for research should not be permitted.
That position was very widely held. For example, the famously quoted example of this is the Washington Post – not the Times, the Post – seven years ago, editorial on this issue spoke in strong terms that it would be appalling if embryos were to be created for research purposes. Now that has nothing to do with Roe, nothing to do with ensoulment. It’s simply the notion that the use of human material, fully formed, genetically formed human material, created for the purpose of research and destruction is something with which a wide swath of humanity can agree.
Now what is very interesting and what is so disturbing about this recent – now we’re using the term stem cell research, now the human cloning becomes a mechanism for the creation of human stem cells. In Britain, to my great shame, I mean, the first country in the world to legislate to permit that process to take place. Here we seem to be subverting that whole discussion.
I think it’s very important that it is not a rerun of Roe, you’ve not going to be pro-life or anti-choice to take the view that we should not be creating human embryos for research purposes.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Yes, Rob.
MR. WASHINGER: Just one practical point I was going to point out. I think on the modification issue we do have very reliably pro-abortion groups supporting the bill, the United Methodist Church. I mean, in other words, they see around this as not affecting Roe v. Wade.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry. Our time is really up, but I wanted to give everyone on the panel a – because some folks have planes to catch, myself included. I’m going to ask each of the panelists to do a very brief wrap-up, and we’ll start again – why I don’t start with you, go the other direction this time. Professor Sachedina.
PROFESSOR SACHEDINA: I think I want to be clear on two issues that are very important. When we speak about ethics of any subject, I think it’s important to keep in mind that we’re dealing with our interaction with other human beings. Ethics does not operate in the privacy of the home. It operates in the public sphere, and therefore we should be concerned about sociological damage of this very process that we intend to pursue at certain level.
I think there is scientific arrogance which dominates the entire field. Islam is very weary of these human claims that what they can do, they can improve. And we know what history has shown. Our nuclear arsenal is a witness to what we can do to the entire world and how we can destroy it. Now the time has come for us to challenge the very important human dignity. In the Shi’ite Muslim view, by the way, the life begins from day one of the conception, so they differ with the larger community. The majority says a very catholic position on certain issues.
Also, when we talk about stem cell research, we are talking about the extra embryos that are available in IV at clinics only. We don’t talk about creating special embryos for stem cell research. That permission is not given in Islamic law.
We are also talking about the fetal tissue, which is aborted sometimes, it is clinically aborted, or it is available. You just don’t destroy it before the bone is formed. Islamic law doesn’t even require the burial. Otherwise, there is a burial ceremony. Once the bone is formed in the fetus then that should be properly buried as dignified human being.
What we have then is biological entity is separated from the moral and ethical entity, from the legal and ethical entity. So human formation is – we talk about personhood after ensoulment. So most of them would say, all right, after 40 days or whatever it is. So we are talking about certain limitations that the law does put. But the crux of the matter is, how am I going to relate to you as a human being, and that we are forgetting in the entire debate I think in our part of the world. We are not very much worried about how we live as human beings.
I am a college teacher and I know, when the youths come to my office at different times, they are not questioning any other things but the lack of compassion and relationships that is so prevalent in society. It’s a disease that’s spreading like wildfire and we’re not going to do anything about it. We think our e-mails or technology can take us as far as we can move, but I think we are missing a very important point, and this is the human edge, and that’s the ethical point today. How are they going to relate to each other.
DR. ELSHTAIN : Rabbi, final thought.
RABBI TENDLER: The key problem in ethical discussions is to avoid obfuscation, lack of clarity. Embryo research, not forming embryo, embryo research on pre-existing embryos, that is where research has to go on. Whether or not we should make a new embryo, that will come in only after research proves its value, and then we’ll have an issue – I can do therapy now, I want to avoid rejection. Should I make a new embryo. Then my issue becomes, should I save a life or not save a life?
Right now the issue is, can we do embryo research. And according to this bill, which is what we’re discussing, that embryo research is being so restricted as to make it impossible. Now there is again a recognition by our society that cloning to life, to birth, in ethics we use the term a yuck factor – there’s an aversion, there’s an instinctive aversion. Nobody wants to do it. Fine, and we’re not doing it. That’s the point. The bill as presented is presenting a cloning of a live baby, which is pretty well at this moment unacceptable to our society for all the reasons. Some of the reasons that Professor Sachedina said and others reasons as well in Jewish law, that we have to know parenthood, etc.
But the issue right now is, should this bill be approved and stymie stem cell research, not involved creating a new embryo and killing it. It seems to be some kind of a theme that it would be treating human tissue, human potential life tissue in an improper way, lack of propriety in its treatment. But right now we have 1.4 million elective abortions going on in America. All that fetal tissue is available for research. All the IVF clinic have their babies, according to those who believe that they’re human, lying in a freezer. No one is offering them a quilt even. They’re freezing in a freezer, and in a year or so they’ll be coming down into the sewer system. They may be used for research. Open that up and make that available.
And we have then the final question, which I would answer, once you show me that this is life-saving research, then we’re prepared to make an embryo, because in our religion it doesn’t have life, and save a human life.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Mr. Best.
MR. BEST: One of the things that this discussion has not really given enough credence to is the very exciting development in the field of adult stem cell research. There has been enormous and exciting progress made with tissues from brain cells, from blood cells, and most recently last week I read about fat cells, which the scientific community has latched onto, and I think that’s very exciting and has none of the moral dilemmas that creating and killing human embryos has, or killing existing human embryos has.
So I would say that the consensus ought to be that we should spend our time and our money on developing adult stem cell research, promoting that in every way, shape, and form, and banning for both practical as well as fundamental religious principles the creation and destruction of human embryos for their stem cells.
DR. ELSHTAIN: Dr. Cameron.
DR. CAMERON: A final word about the context. It seems to me that when the history books are written, this debate will be noted as the first real public policy engagement with the new technology from the biosciences, and no one doubts that those technologies are raising the fundamental questions for the human race in this next century. And it seems to me there is a certain usefulness in the Dolly phenomenon, and the cloning debate. It does actually offer us one of the clearest opportunities to develop public policy, and to build consensus and find common ground.
To say that there are uses of these new technologies which we will not have within Western culture, that we are not going to allow the bioscience industry a free ride, which is what seeks. That we are in fact going to have a regulated regime in which public policy seeks to build consensus on community values. If we cannot do this in the matter of human cloning, it is very hard to see how we will do it in the much more complex areas arising, for example, in germline gene therapy. It seems to me that what may finally be the significance of this debate when the history books are written, whether we did or we did not succeed in addressing what is in many ways the simplest of the issues on the agenda which is unfolding.
DR. ELSHTAIN: All right, Rob. You get the last word.
MR. WASINGER: I think to an extent we are dealing with the scientific imperative, as Dr. Nigel Cameron alluded to, which is if something can be done, it should be done. We disagree with that view. We are very supportive of science, but sometimes something simply should not be done. Ultimately it boils down to your view of the human embryo and whether or not you think a one-cell zygote or its development after the blastocyst stage is a person fully deserving of all the dignity and human rights we confer to every other human being. Or if it’s a piece of property that can be disposed of at will by its owners. I think that’s where we disagree.
I know Mr. Brownback and some of his colleagues are looking forward to this debate on the floor and I think it will be a good one.
DR. ELSHTAIN: I’m going to turn it over to Melissa Rogers to offer what we like to call the benediction part of this event.
MS. ROGERS: I thank you all for coming. I want to thank our panelists for discussing what are very strongly held views on this topic, and I appreciate your ability to try to help the rest of us understand this position and your articulateness and your ability to deal with competing positions in a very respectful way.
Thank you all for coming. I want to thank our staff, Staci Simmons, our associate director and Amy Sullivan, our editorial director who worked very hard to put this together. A special thanks also goes to Andrew Witmer of the Forum who was instrumental in the formation and execution of this event. So thank you for coming.