Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Know the Therapeutic Cloning

Most people and the scientific media were surprised with the publication of the article "The First Human Cloned Embryo" in the magazine Scientific American in November 2001. Even the most optimistic followers believed that experiences with human cloning would not produce results so early. ACT, a small biotechnology company in Massachusetts, was the first to accomplish the cloning of human cells for therapeutic use. Dr. Michael West, the company's chief executive officer, emphatically stated that his company's objective was research in cloning for exclusively therapeutic treatments and not for reproductive or human cloning purposes. Nevertheless, the public had a strong reaction to this news.

Those who favor the use of embryonic stem cells tend to see the potential to cure genetic problems, and they emphasize the hope of a cure and improved lives for patients with fatal genetic diseases. Opponents recognize that human life begins at conception, and they believe that the price of a cure should not result in the taking of another life, as harvesting embryonic stem cells for this research results in the destruction of embryos. Therefore, embryonic stem cells can be seen as a matter of life by those who can benefit from this technology, or as a matter of death by those who do not agree with the sacrifice of embryos for the production of stem cells.

This is not an easy debate. Imagine a case in which the only hope of cure for a young mother with two small children is the use of embryonic stem cell therapy. Even if this mother's dramatic situation might suggest that it would be ethical to sacrifice a mass of frozen cells stored in liquid nitrogen to obtain the needed stem cells for the therapy, the point that deserves to be addressed is this: Who would have the right to sacrifice a defenseless life (embryo) to save another (adult individual)?

The use of stem cells from bone marrow, umbilical cord, and other parts of the adult human body has not generated as much controversy. The potential benefits from stem cell therapy have been widely discussed. However, the use of embryonic stem cells has raised heated debates in public and scientific arenas. These cells are usually harvested from spare embryos generated through in vitro fertilization that have not been implanted in prospective mothers. Even if the scientist that uses stem cells were not responsible for producing them, he or she would be aiding in this process by creating a demand that results in the destruction of embryos, being an accomplice in the process. This is the same rationale used by the governments that burn ivory confiscated from smugglers, as well as the refusal of the scientific community to use the knowledge generated by the Nazis in the horrific human experiments conducted at the concentration camps during World War II.

This and many other recent discoveries in biotechnology have been occupying the world media. Although the scientific bases for cloning are easy to understand, the greater challenge for society is to address its ethical issues.

The lack of ethical references and the speed of development of new knowledge have exposed the society's lack of readiness to address current ethical issues. Sometimes society fears a technology with great potential benefits; other times it is apathetic about technology with proven negative impacts. Individualism and relativist morale, ideals in fashion in this postmodern society, are fertile ground for justifiable mistakes. These ideologies emphasize that nobody should deny anything to himself or herself that is good unless it is especially harmful to his or her neighbor. The ethical boundaries of society reflect the moral principles that it possesses. Society is dynamic and so are its ethical values. This doesn't mean, however, that the principles within society should develop in a liberal way.

Humans were created with intelligence and this allows them to develop new technologies and expand science. Along with this intelligence they have the freedom to choose between good and bad.

Why should one not be in favor of the evolution of the human race? What are the limits of what is morally acceptable? Any answer that deserves consideration should address the dilemmas of society in light of its principles, morals, and religious beliefs. These are some of the challenges society must deal with.

Tags: Bio Technology, Bio Genetics, Cloning

Related Posts by Categories