March 22, 2009
Why does President Obama object to human cloning?By Timothy P. Collins, MD
So claimed the President as he lifted the restriction on embryonic stem cell research. To be clear, the restriction imposed by former President Bush didn't ban embryonic stem cell research -- it banned the use of Federal dollars in such research.
President Obama's statement that human cloning is "dangerous and wrong" is a non sequitur in its context, because there is no material difference between abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and cloning. They differ in appearance, they sometimes differ in ends, but they differ not one whit in essence. Each is an instance of deliberately destroying an innocent human being at a certain stage of development. If the first two are OK, then the third is OK as well. Let's see why.
From conception, the new embryo is a separate, living, biological human being. This should be so obvious as to be axiomatic, but given the nature of our times we must explore it a bit. The embryo is living because it is neither dead nor inanimate, and living is the only remaining choice.
The embryo is separate because it is not a part of the mother or anything else. True, it lives within, and depends upon, its mother, but it is not a part of the mother like the mother's liver is a part of the mother.
Finally, the embryo is human because its essence -- its genetic makeup, its physiologic milieu, the circumstance of its conception -- is human. It is not, and can never be, a kumquat or an orangutan. Throughout its biological life it will follow the trajectory of a human being and nothing else. In fact, it even has a sex, assigned more or less arbitrarily in the process of conception, so we'll follow the convention and more or less arbitrarily assign a sex by referring to it as her.
This newly created embryo (known at the single cell stage as a zygote) is a living, separate, biological human being. The fact that this zygote cannot think has no bearing on the matter; she will, one day, given time and opportunity. The fact that this zygote cannot live independently has no bearing on the matter; the 40 week old fetus, ready to be born cannot live independently yet is clearly human. My four day old daughter, (our sixth child and third daughter) sleeping quietly on the floor as I write, cannot live independently, yet no reasonable man argues that she in not human. The zygote, the 40 week fetus, and the four day old infant all share the properties of being alive, being separate, and being human. Where they differ is that, in the eyes of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, the infant is a person, the zygote and the fetus are not.
This line of reasoning leads to the question: can the State define a class, or classes, of human beings to whom the legal protections of personhood do not apply? The answer is yes.
In 1857, United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney handed down the decision known as Scott v. Sanford. The slave known as Dredd Scott had sued for his freedom, but the Court upheld the status quo declaring that slaves were not citizens. However, the Court never argued that slaves were not persons, and even referred to them as such at about the midpoint of the opinion:
What the Court was doing was carving out a class of persons to whom the protections of the law did not apply. Subsequent to the Civil War, this Supreme Court ruling was overruled by Congress in the Fourteenth Amendment that reads in part:
The use of the word person strikes me as quite deliberate, insofar as it is being used synonymously with the term human being. All human beings, all persons, according to the Fourteenth Amendment, are protected under the law.
Now roll forward a century or so to 1973. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun and his confreres desired abortion -- heretofore illegal throughout the land -- to be legal. But they had a problem. All persons were protected under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Justice, on Roe v. Wade, framed the problem this way (Section IX A):
What to do? Justice Blackmun's solution was, first, to present a couple of pages of sophistry, and then follow this by simply declaring the unborn child an unperson, an act that Justice Byron White, in his dissent, referred to as raw judicial power.
In rendering its decision, the Court uncoupled the terms human being and person. It had to do so because the Court knew that if abortion was wrong, it was wrong because it was murder and the only way to make the act not murder was to make the unborn human being not a person. And that is precisely what the Court did. It used raw judicial power.
So, today we live in a State where the State can decide which classes of human beings are persons, and which are not. Until recently the restriction has applied, more or less, only to that class known as "unborn humans unwanted by their mother." Now we are seeing some widening of that restriction to include a similar class: that class of human known as "embryos who find themselves in petri dishes." How the embryo finds herself in the petri dish is immaterial. What's important is that we have broadened the definition of unperson.
Just as the original class of unperson could be destroyed for any reason or no reason at all, this new class can also be destroyed for the supposedly laudable goal of "medical science." Which brings me, at long last, to the original non sequitur of the President's statement. Why is it laudable to destroy embryos for medical research, but not laudable to grow those embryos, or clone those embryos, for other uses? After all, it is hard to imagine a human being more qualified to be an unperson than a fetus cloned in a lab. Yet the President is silent on this conundrum.
Let me be clear: abortion and all its congeners are obscenities beyond belief. President Obama didn't create this situation, but he is certainly doing everything in his considerable power to speed it along. And in so doing, he is helping to propel us into a new world of technological barbarity whose final shape we can barely see.