Sunday, September 04, 2005

Presentation on Cloning Given at Cardinal Rigali Center

"Stem Cells and Cloning: Facts vs. Fiction" was held at the Cardinal Rigali Center in Shewsbury, Missouri, on Tuesday, August 30th, 2005. Principal speakers were John F. Morris, Ph.D., and Wesley J. Smith, J.D., and attendees included Archbishop Burke and numerous priests, professionals, and civic leaders of the diocese. This presentation was sponsored the St. Louis Archdiocesean Respect for Life Apostolate and Missouri Right to Life.

Dr. Morris' presentation provided a scientific view of cloning, and various misconceptions about cloning that are portrayed by the media and prominent politicians. He talked about stem cells, which are primitive cells found in the body which can grow into various organ tissue, such as heart, brain, muscle, etc. The cells can be collected and coaxed into various tissues for the treatment of, for example, heart disease. Adult stem cells are not necessarily taken strictly from an adult, but are also present in umbilical cords, baby teeth, and so forth; these types of cells are limited in that they cannot grow into any arbitrary cell, but only into restricted types, based on where the stem cells were taken. However, adult stem cell research has been very successful, leading to numerous cures in both animals and humans. But because adult stem cells can't be coaxed into any arbitrary cell type, researchers want to do research on embryonic stem cells, which may grow into any type of cell found in the body.

The moral problem is that to get embryonic stem cells, an embryo has to be destroyed. Embryos are human life in a very early stage of development. A scientific problem is that stem cells taken from any random embryo will probably be rejected by the patient, or become a tumor, since the genetic code of the patient and embryo are different. So far, all embryonic stem cell research has failed to provide effective treatment of disease in either animals or humans.

This gives rise to researchers' desire to clone the patient: creating an embryo identical to the patient, from which stem cells may be harvested. Since cloning has become controversial in the public mind, pro-cloning researchers have developed a new name, somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT to describe the cloning process. Beware of any group that has to change the names of things regularly!

However, even cloning doesn't create an exact genetic equivalent, since the egg cell itself has its own genetics and composition, different from the patient's mother. Another problem is that these eggs have to be taken from healthy young women, and in large numbers. This could lead to exploitation of these donors, not to mention the negative medical side-effects of this collection, especially if this cloning becomes widespread.

Missouri Governor Matt Blunt stated his support for cloning by saying that a cloned embryo is not human because it wasn't formed by a sperm and egg, even though a clone could eventually develop into a fully adult human. And a voter, Mr. Governor. So Dolly the Sheep, the first cloned large mammal, wasn't really a sheep? In fairness, though, the governor has a good record on Pro-Life issues, and only recently has this science developed, and only recently has the philosophy of the Culture of Death been understood as encompassing such areas as cloning. Gov. Blunt needs to think more about the moral implications of this research.

Some researchers say that a cloned embryo is not really human because it was created with the intention of destroying it before it develops into an adult human. They call this "therapeutic cloning" instead of "reproductive cloning", although the cloning process is the same. This is a ridiculous argument, and inconsistent. Scientists, especially biologists, deny teleology, or the 'Final End' of things, but here they are using teleology to justify themselves. And saying that another human can define the Final End of another human, even a tiny one in early development, strikes me as arrogant to the extreme, and even sacrilegious, making oneself God.

Wesley Smith's presentation was about the philosophy of the Culture of Death. He was a longtime friend, coauthor, and collaborator with Ralph Nader, who is apparently quite sincere, whether or not you agree with his politics,

Smith is a man on fire. He shows righteous indignation and anger at the Culture of Death. He stated his speech with a story about how he originally was mainly interested in euthanasia issues: but someone invited him to go to breakfast the next day, and meet with some people who were interested in the problem of cloning, insisting that after breakfast he would write a book against cloning. Smith says that he wasn't interested in that subject, just euthanasia. However, at the breakfast, he found out that abortion, euthanasia, cloning, and animal rights are all share the same negative philosophy of humanity. And yes, he did write a book on the subject.

In his study of medical ethics, he has discovered that the mainstream of ethicists make a distinction between a "human" and a "person". A "human" is determined by biology, so embryos, infants, or a man in a coma are humans. A "person", however, is a moral agent, capable of making moral choices, and therefore is given value by others. These views come from secular materialism which denies the Spirit and objective values; and from Utilitarian philosophy, that seeks the greatest good for the greatest number of persons. In this theory, an intelligent animal, advanced computer program, or a space alien landing on Earth can all be considered persons, while infants, and humans in comas are not. Smith said that if ever he meets a space alien, then he will decide if it is a person or not, but thinks that such speculation is not helpful, and instead thinks that this new ethics will lead to atrocity.

Catholic thinking says that all humans are persons, and this dignity is innate, and not just given value by other humans.

Smith says that all of the Pro-Life problems today come from this new ethics, where professional ethicists, judges, and politicians determine whether or not someone is a person and if they deserve rights or death.

Under the new system, all manner of killing is justified, and isn't really limited to extreme cases.

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