Editorial

You Copy That?

P. Gardner Goldsmith

 

I've seen attack ships on fire off the shores of Orion...
I've seen sea beams glitter at the Tennhieser Gate...
All those... Moments... Will be lost now,
Like tears... In rain.

 

The above quote is from the film "Blade Runner," the motion picture adapted from Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It was a seminal science-fiction film with engaging intellectual content, a film that dealt with our perceptions of humanity and our treatment of those we view as inferior. The words belong to the primary antagonist, a "replicant" named Roy Batty. In the dystopian world of "Blade Runner," replicants are genetically engineered replicas of human beings. In other words, they are clones, and they are given limited, four-year life spans. Upon reaching the end of his, Batty shows the protagonist he is no different than anyone else. He possesses all the dreams and desires, can experience all the fears and joys, of humans. He delivers his lines and reminds us of the essential components of our humanity. We develop not just a new perspective on the character, but a refreshed, clearer perspective on ourselves and what is important to us. Our memories, our experiences with friends and loved ones, our achievements --- all of these are the components of a full and rich life. Roy Batty savors them, and he will never experience them again.

The words have never been more pertinent, for the issue of human cloning is now being discussed beyond the realms of science-fiction. Cloning is now science fact, and the day when a human clone is created is not very far away. It's a fascinating topic, one that inspires fear within many, especially politicians and "medical ethicists" (which appears to be a relatively new term adopted by college professors who are more concerned with creating government regulations on the medical industry than they are with upholding the Oath of Hippocrates). The very idea of human cloning is said to be immoral. We are told that man should not play God. The "world community" (one of the more irritating utopian terms to have been coined in recent memory) should place a moratorium on human cloning experiments.

But these protestations miss the underlying question, a question posed by Philip K. Dick many years ago. And that is: What is the fundamental nature of a human clone? Until we come to grips with this issue, we cannot clearly see the direction any government or medical institution should take.

Theoretically, a human clone is the extracted DNA of an individual that is subsequently manipulated to create an entirely new life. Until that life is created, an individual is the owner of his DNA. It is his property, and he has the right to do with it as he wishes. If he wants to donate some of his blood to the Red Cross, he has the right to approach them. According to the principles of Natural Rights under which this nation was founded, a person has the right to do with his property whatever he desires, so long as he does not bring harm to the life or liberty of another. And no legitimate government has the power to infringe upon this right. Legitimate government is created to protect it. Therefore, government cannot infringe upon an individual's right to do whatever he wants to do with his own DNA, so long as he does not bring direct harm to the life or liberty of another.

Of another...

It is at this point, when the DNA is turned into a new life, that the principles of Natural Law are applied in order to protect the clone. One may not interfere with this life without infringing upon its natural rights. One may not experiment on it, use it for parts, or try to enslave it for one's own purposes. One may not molest it, use it for kiddieporn, or expose it to such terrors as Barney, the Purple Dinosaur. (Okay, the Barney remark was uncalled for.) In other words, this living creature is a living human being, a child...

And this ought to make people pause to consider the thus far unwritten aspect of this topic... If one cannot experiment on a clone as it is developing, since that would be an infringement of its natural rights, can one abort it?

Logical consideration of the issue leads one back to the fundamental morality of abortion. If it is immoral to experiment on the developing clone, just as it is immoral to experiment on a developing fetus, is it immoral to stop a clone's development altogether? If so, why is it not immoral to stop the life of a naturally conceived fetus?

If it is immoral to influence the growth of a clone, given that the clone is the extracted DNA of one person, and is created artificially with the consent of only one person, can it be moral to interfere with the development of a naturally conceived fetus, which is the product --- in most cases --- of two mutually consenting individuals, both of whom have DNA mixed in the new life and may have differing views as to what should be the future for that fetus? If a woman has the "right to choose" whether the "real" fetus lives or dies, despite the protestations of the other participant in the creation of that fetus, does not the original owner of the DNA that created the "clone" fetus have a similar, even stronger right to do with it what he wishes? Some may argue that when a man and a woman engage in sexual relations, the woman gains all rights to determine what happens to the fetus that may be produced. The man tacitly gives up his right to have any say as to what happens, and the fetus obviously has no say. I do not find this a compelling argument. Similarly, I do not find it compelling to argue that the original owner of DNA used to create a clone has the right to then do whatever he wants with the life that is created.

According to the political philosophy that was the basis of our Constitution, every individual has a right to his own life and to no one else's.

But science will not stop tossing us moral dilemmas. One aspect of cloning technology many people have not considered is the theory that human DNA will someday be used to create tissue replacement masses, with no central nervous systems. These would be "replacement parts" that people could grow in case they, say, loose a limb in an accident, or need a replacement liver. Sounds kind of scary, huh?

Despite the ghoulishness of the idea, I think that the outcome of such research will probably be positive, the world will be able to create and store body parts to help people live longer. But when you have created body parts without a brain, is it a life?... Consider this alongside the abortion debate, and it puts a new spin on everything. Many supporters of abortion believe that an abortion can be performed until the point that the fetus can feel pain. They would make it appear as if the situation of aborting a first trimester fetus is akin to that of destroying a clone created without a central nervous system, a clone designed to become nothing more than extra arms or legs. But there is a profound difference. In the first case, the life created is naturally designed to become an individual; in the second, the DNA has been specifically manipulated to create, to put it bluntly, parts. In one case, the end result will be a person, in the other, the end result will be a mass of transplantable tissue. In my mind, the right to life applies to any creature that will eventually become an individual. For the naturally conceived fetus, that mechanism has been set in motion. The right to life would not apply to a tissue mass specifically created for the purpose of body part replacement.

It would, however, apply to a clone designed to become a thinking, feeling human being. One could not use such a clone for parts just as one could not use a natural child for parts. It is unthinkable!

But this brings us right back to the initial question of whether or not an individual has the right to do with his DNA as he sees fit. If a man's DNA is extracted for the purpose of creating a clone, and that DNA is then manipulated to create a pair of cloned arms, or legs, has the owner of the DNA obstructed the natural growth of that DNA in the same way that a person who damages a fetus through drug usage or a botched abortion has? If the DNA, without manipulation, would have created a normal fetus, just as the embryo would have in a natural conception, can it not be said that the engineering of that DNA is a pre-ordained injury to the life that would have arisen?

I think not. As long as the gears of life have not been set into motion by the cloning process, the owner of the DNA should be free to do with it as he wishes.

But new questions then arise. For example, what if an individual could have his DNA manipulated in such a way that the life created would be an individual, but a horrific beast, constantly in pain, a tortured person cursed to live in agony? I believe our laws regarding the protection of life would come into play to prevent such manipulated DNA from creating this tortured being. But this is a tricky proposition, for it can lead to abuse by government. For example, we have already seen situations where the state has taken children away from their parents because the parents were not raising the kids in the socially "correct" way. Laws regarding the manipulation of clones may become highly arbitrary, and not allow for the subjective desires of the "parent." If a "parent" is diabetic, and wants to have a clone just like himself, would the state prevent it, ruling that doing so would mean creating a child who would have a shorter life span than other people? How is this any different than two parents who may have markers for genetically inherited diseases being prevented from having a child because the baby would most likely be born with this disease? Similarly, if the "parent" of a clone wanted to change his DNA so that the chance of diabetes was eliminated, would the state allow the manipulation?

We are already seeing the first signs of government blockage of the cloning process. Bill Clinton, after consulting with a cadre of "medical ethicists," has asked for a "worldwide moratorium against human cloning." The fact there is nothing in the United States Constitution that grants the federal government the power to control any aspect of medicine or science performed by private individuals does not seem to matter to him. He has seen an issue about which there is a great deal of public fear, and he has quickly moved forward to portray himself as the great public protector.

It is possible that there could be terrible mistakes made by scientists trying to create human clones. Tortured fetuses could be born, mutations could arise. And these are things about which we should be concerned. However, according to the document that established this nation, each state is left to make its own laws about any issues not covered by the Constitution, granted these laws do not infringe upon the rights specifically guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

On Nightline, Ted Koppel interviewed a doctor who wanted to conduct human cloning experiments. He posed the question, what if there was a millionaire despot who wanted to create a thousand clones of himself? Should the government not stop him?

The guest didn't answer very well. He said that such a situation would make him pause to think...

If I had been speaking to Ted, I would have asked him which holds the greater chance of despotism, the clones of a despot, or the governmental system that allows someone to be despotic?... The system that allows certain "officials" to determine whether or not someone qualifies to clone his own DNA?

Ted Koppel believes that Hitler-types would want to clone themselves, and that government would have to stop them. But what he doesn't realize is that it is the government that facilitates the whims of Hitler-types. It is the existence of governments with the power to prevent mutually consenting, non-coercive activities that allows Hitler-types to flourish. The very fact that government "leaders" decide for all others makes them the ones to fear.

You copy that?...

 

Mr. Goldsmith is a concerned citizen and non-physician subscriber to the Medical Sentinel.

Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 1999;4(4):141-143. Copyright ©1999 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).