Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Well, I posted my answer to the Secret of Life below, and got two comments and no emails. Thus, I'm going back to more worldly thinking on this blog. [sulks]

Apparently, the Hot Topic now is cloning. Everyone from Congress to the blogosphere (I prefer the term Blogistan, but that whore bastard meanie Slotman already has it) to George "Jar-Jar" Lucas is obsessed with clones. After all, science and technology can be wondrous things. Without them, I would've died of pyloric stenosis when I was a few weeks old (though now that I think about it, a recalled painkiller was responsible for it in the first place). Has anyone here ever had smallpox, polio, or typhus? Anyone here on Ritalin (okay, anyone here not on Ritalin?), Prozac, Viagra, or Claritin? Most people have a favorable view of blood transfusions and organ donations, and we're a hair's breadth away from a better treatment for Parkinson's. Being able to grow replacement organs in culture rather than wait for someone to donate (blood, kidneys) or die (most other things) will save a lot of lives, and a lot of money as well. If we were just taking some epithelial tissue and finding ways for it to reproduce, I don't think anyone would have have much of a problem (well, the Greens probably would, but they're very excitable as it is).

However, there are several problems with the rosy scenario above. First is the fact that except for basically the blood and the liver, you can't regenerate what you donate. This means that we need to go to undifferentiated stem cells. These are found heavily in developing babies (especially early-on), moderately in the placenta, and in small quantities in the adult body. There are so many claims out right now that I'm not sure what to believe. The most common one given is that fetal stem cells are the best, since they work most reliably, and that adult stem cells can't always differentiate into all types of tissue. On the other hand, I've heard that adult stem cells are far more efficient than fetal stem cells. No one talks about placental stem cells, though they would seem to be a good compromise. Again, no one would really care if harvesting stem cells was about the same as picking apples. Unfortunately, to get these cells from a fetus, you have to kill a baby. Because of this, I think Bush made an extremely wise decision on stem cells, saying that the existing lines of fetal stem cells may be developed, but no more are acceptable. Of course, no one is happy with this. On one hand, we hear "well, all these abortions are just going to be utterly wasted now" (brilliant deduction, Holmes...). On the other, people insist on burying the cells. Now, not to sound harsh here, but abortion is murder. Also, while the loss of those cells did extinguish a human life, they themselves are not that life. If we don't want that person's life to have been utterly destroyed in vain, we should use what was taken from them to help others.

This brings us to another objection, that of cloning people. On argument is that we're playing God, and also that we're violating a person's rights by potentially having dozens of people just like them running around (imagine two dozen of me at age four -or now, come to think of it, since I don't think I've matured much in 15 years- and picture the carnage and terror). After all, what happens if someone has a clone made of them against their will? To the first objection, I think it's awfully presumptuous and stupid of us to say that we could ever play God. There is nothing we can do that God cannot prevent us from doing. If we're not supposed to clone humans, then some inherent flaw will be found (I don't think simply having an anti-cloning movement is a Divine intervention). I also don't think that if we make clones of a person, we're going to have, say, fifteen people of Darrell Green's skill and character. Sure, there might be general tendencies, but they won't have the some experiences to make them who they'll become. This does skirt the issue of property. After all, at what stage does a cell cease being your body and property? I'm going to get yelled at for this, but this seems similar to rape (after the act). In both cases, your body has been violated, and a human being is being created against your will. According to the US government (and many foreign ones as well), you have the right to terminate that life. Would a person whose cells have been taken be able to terminate a pregnancy in a surrogate mother? Could they demand payment from the clone? Could a clone from a voluntary donor sue the donor if they were unhappy with, say, their astigmatism? And what of identification? There could be "unregistered" clones who are unknown to the government. Also, if my clone commits a crime and all you've got are fingerprints, DNA, and a photo, how do I prove that I'm innocent? Unless we agree to slightly modify clone DNA (and are we still cloning then?), protect donors from lawsuits, and we can find a way to prevent unwanted cloning, I think we're in for some serious troubles.

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