Update on Life Issues - March 2003

The last few months have seen some bewildering developments in medicine and science including, a move to ban the anonymity of sperm donors; a 58-year-old UK woman, Sandra Lennon, giving birth to a son following IVF treatment; the use of new sex selection techniques enabling parents to choose either boy or girl babies; evidence that IVF-produced children have a greater incidence of genetic conditions, such as Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome and cancer of the eyes and kidneys; an embryologist, Paul Fielding, imprisoned for 18 months for transferring 'fake' embryos at two Hampshire IVF clinics; the publication of the first UK statistical study linking abortion and breast cancer; power struggles at the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) resulting in the appointment of a new Chief Executive; UK students selling their eggs in America to help offset their university debts, and much, much more.  But, despite all these shenanigans there has been one dominant bioethical issue in the news – human cloning.

The First Cloned Baby?
The news broke on 27 December 2002 that Eve, the world’s first cloned human being, had been born.  It was a PR coup for the Raelian cult.  Who had previously heard of the publicity-hungry Raelians?  Almost immediately their membership rocketed and the queue of people wanting to be cloned and willing to hand over £125,000 to Clonaid, the US biotechnolgy company set up by the Realians, grew alarmingly.

But was any of it true?  Would you believe a press release from a balmy cult headed by Claude Vorilhon, an eccentric French journalist, who believes that he is the result of his mother being impregnated by aliens, and who recalls how he had been abducted by voluptuous robots who visited the Earth in a UFO during 1973 and renamed him Rael?  And above all, where was Eve?  Proof was promised, but it has not materialised.  A court in Florida demanded that Clonaid disclose Eve’s whereabouts.  Brigitte Boisselier, Clonaid's scientific director, stated that Eve was beyond US jurisdiction because she was living in Israel.  Boisselier also took the opportunity to announce the birth of a second and a third clone.  Vorilhon declared that Boisselier, '… deserves the Nobel prize because she is making history, and it's the most fantastic scientific advance in the history of humanity'.  Even if the claims were not true, he said, she would be 'making history with one of the biggest hoaxes in history, so in both ways it's wonderful'.

But the Raelians are not the only cloning crackpots in town.  The maverick Italian fertility doctor, Severino Antinori, also claimed in January 2003 that he had produced the first human clone, this time, a boy.  Antinori then went on a hunger strike protesting that the Italian Government was hounding him and trying to curtail his cloning projects.  And there is yet a third cloner, Panos Zavos, who has claimed that he will produce human clones in the USA during 2003.  None can doubt that the clones are coming – when and where is another issue.

A Total Cloning Ban?
Meanwhile, lawmakers in America have resumed their efforts to ban all forms (both reproductive and so-called therapeutic) of human cloning by introducing a comprehensive bill.  Last year, a similar bill was passed in the Congress, but was stalled in the Senate.  The pro-cloning opposition has responded by introducing the ‘Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Research Protection Act of 2003.’

In his State of the Union address, President Bush said, 'Because no human life should be started or ended as the object of an experiment, I ask you to set a high standard for humanity and pass a law against all human cloning.’

A Manifesto on Biotechnology
On Wednesday 5 February 2003, in Washington DC, a grouping of US religious and scientific leaders signed The Sanctity of Life in a Brave New World: A Manifesto on Biotechnology.  This calls for the banning of all human cloning and it encourages legislation that will prevent discrimination based on genetic information.

Signatories included notable evangelical Christians like Chuck Colson, James Dobson, Ben Carson, C. Everett Koop, Joni Eareckson Tada and Nigel Cameron.

The three-page Manifesto was produced by the Council for Biotechnology Policy and its director, Nigel Cameron, declared, ‘We come together as those who hold dear the sanctity of human life, and who sound an alarm as we see fresh and horrific assaults on the dignity of our own kind. The wonders of biotechnology must serve and never suborn human beings.’  Cameron referred to the use and destruction of cloned human embryos and developments in human genome research as primary causes for concern.

Stem cells from adults rather than from human embryos as possible cures for diseases was also high on the agenda.  Joni Eareckson Tada commented, ‘The search for a cure should never compromise the security of human dignity and respect for human life.  The elderly, infirmed and disabled are exposed and threatened in a society which thinks nothing of creating a class of human beings for the explicit purpose of exploitation.’

Abortion News from the US
Though cloning has dominated the recent news, abortion has, as ever, been that consistent feature of US politics.  On 22 January 2003, the US commemorated thirty years of legalised abortion.  Tens of thousands demonstrated across that nation to call for the repeal of the historic 1973 Supreme Court decision, known as Roe v. Wade, which created a right to abortion-on-demand that has claimed the lives of 40 million unborn children throughout America.

It now looks as if there might perhaps be two cracks in that seemingly-implacable ruling. President Bush and his Republican party are largely anti-abortion and they now have a controlling influence in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.  First, it is expected that soon there will be a legislative push for a ban on late-term abortions, the horrible, so called partial-birth abortions.  Congress has previously passed such a ban, but it was vetoed, twice, by the pro-abortion President Clinton.

Second, at least one of the nine Supreme Court judges is expected to retire within the next year or two.  At present, the Court is balanced 5-4 in favour of abortion.  A likely retiree is Sandra Day O’Connor, a pro-abortionist.  President Bush will nominate her successor and if she were to be replaced by a pro-life judge, the mathematics would support an overturning of Roe v. Wade.

As ever, the US bioethical scene is fascinating and full of zip, and, of course, it so often preludes ours.  These challenges and threats should drive us, and them, to resolve to maintain the God-given intrinsic value and dignity of all human life.

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