by Nigel M. de S. Cameron
As we approach the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a new and ever more complex threat to the dignity of humankind lies on the horizon. The struggle for the dignity of the unborn is unrelenting. More slowly than many predicted, the challenge of euthanasia continues to gain ground. Yet side by side with them both comes the revolution in biotechnology. Heralded by cloning, the first great battle in this war on human nature, the broader biotech agenda has hardly begun to catch our attention. Yet it threatens to overshadow every other issue in the fight for the sanctity and dignity of life.
Because abortion is not, ultimately, about just the killing of the unborn; it is about the power to kill - the power of some human beings over others, the power of the born over the unborn, the unbridled power of one generation to make life and death decisions about the next. Abortion kills the unborn, but not as an end in itself. It kills them in order to demonstrate that mothers and fathers and doctors and the courts will always have the final say in determining the life of the unborn. It kills them to underline our ultimate authority over the generation to come.
And that is why cloning is so important - both the cloning that produces embryos for experiments and destruction, and even more important the cloning that is intended to lead to live birth. These are both exercises of supreme and unrighteous power, the power of some over others. In the one case we have the power of some to determine that others will live and die as laboratory artefacts. In the other case, it is their power to determine who and what these born clonal people shall be.
Prolifers have felt an instinctive commitment to the clonal embryo, made only for experiment and destruction. They have in parallel shared the deep worries of scientists that any attempt to bring clonal embryos to birth by implanting them in the womb will be fraught with danger to embryo and mother alike. They have been less certain of what would actually be wrong if the technique were perfected (perhaps using animals), and it became as "safe" as in vitro fertilization, or maybe even as safe as natural pregnancy. For the sake of argument, it could even be safer. What would be wrong with it then?
This issue is enormous in importance. Our intuitive defense of the experimental embryo is plainly right: in this context, cloning is just another way of making human embryos - like the in vitro techniques that have been used for more than 20 years. As President Bush has said so plainly, to create life to destroy it is wrong. But our equally intuitive caution in condemning the live birth of clonal babies needs to be examined with care and rigor. For it demonstrates how far we need to travel before we have an equally intuitive understanding of the challenges posed by the new powers of biotechnology. And cloning is just the beginning.
The challenges that we are now facing are much more subtle than abortion and destructive experiments on embryos. For the same reason, they are even more dangerous. Like live-birth cloning, in round one, though they may hazard human life that is not their intent. Their intent is to give us control - not through the primitive barbarism of aborting the unborn, but through the new, sophisticated barbarism of designing the born. Our intuition is unprepared, as our hesitant response on the issue of live-birth cloning demonstrates. Yet if we understand that the fundamental issue is one of control, we see a subtle and sinister threat in designer babies that puts the old barbarities of abortion in the shade. This new kind of crime does not simply destroy people made in God's image; it makes people in our own. We can no more weigh this new crime against the old than we can, to take a parallel case, weigh homicide against life-long enslavement; or, to take another highly relevant parallel, the crime of Cain against Abel against the thoroughly technological hubris of the builders of the Tower of Babel. The new class of crime threatens to transcend the old. Abortion, the killing of the unwanted and defective, comes into its own as a subset in the eugenic, designer, control agenda of the brave new biotech world. CBHD
Nigel M. de S. Cameron, PhD is Senior Fellow and International Advisory Board member of The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity and serves as Director of the Council on Biotechnology Policy and Dean of the Wilberforce Forum.
Copyright 2002 by The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity. (Used with permission) The contents of this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of CBHD, its staff, board or supporters. Permission to reprint granted as long as The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity and the web address for this article is referenced.