Cloning and Politics

Robert Harley robert.harley@inria.fr
Mon, 3 Dec 2001 22:20:21 +0100 (MET)


Replying to Mr. Jeffrey Bone, Esq. now that risk of flamage is
slightly diminished (senstivie topic and all that):

>>[a] genetically human embryo [is] human life.
>Define embryo.

I don't think that splitting hairs on terminology is particularly
productive.  Anyway, take for instance the Fed's definition as any
organism, not already protected as a human subject, "that is derived
by fertilization, parthenogenesis, cloning, or any other means from
one or more human gametes or human diploid cells."

So now define "organism"... but first define "define".  Maybe it
depends on what the meaning of "is" is...



>"You keep on using that word, I do not think it means what you think it
>means." --- Vizzinni, The Princess Bride. ;-)

You rang?


>But even better:  define "genetically human."

Verily, Sirrah, methinks this herring is very reddish!

How about: if it's not a rhinoceros, not a primrose and not a
starfish, then it's human?  Or maybe: modulo a handful of mutations,
it has a full set of human genes.  And before you ask, a human gene is
one that occurs in other humans (those hairless apes you sometimes see
wandering around).  A different species would have millions of
mutations... and before you ask about ones with an intermediate number
of mutations, they would almost certainly not be viable so it doesn't
matter.  Find a viable one and we can talk.  And before you ask what
"viable" means: the answer is 42.

Maybe someday people will splice glow-in-the-dark genes into their
kids.  In any case, evolution will eventually change us unrecognizably.
But I don't think that in my lifetime there will be much of an issue
about what species a sort-of-human something-or-other is.


>Does "human organism" imply "possesses all customary human rights?"
>Is that the basic premise, that all human organisms have a right to
>life, etc?

That's a completely different question.  In fact it's orthogonal to
"what is human life and what isn't" except insofar as denying that an
organism is human in the first place makes it easy to refuse it any
rights.

To answer your question: no I don't think all human organisms have the
same rights.  E.g., I am in favour of euthanasia: someone in immense
pain has the right to assisted death whereas others don't (NB: "life's
a bitch" and the like don't count as immense pain :).

However as a former embryo, I would protest if you claimed that they
have no rights at all.  Do you think so?  Would you consider it OK to
stroll into a fertility clinic, tip over a petri-dish full of embryos
and squash them?  Oooh... like caviar... and they pop when you squish
them... neat!  Would that be the moral equivalent of stepping on ants?
Would their parents agree?  (Now please excuse me while I go vomit).


>If you push this position further, then one can reasonably conclude
>that you must believe that children are fully human,

Children are not fully human???


>and therefore possess all the rights and responsibilities humans possess.

You just jumped from rights to responsibilities.  Do I have the right
to smack you upside the head or is that a responsibility?  :)


>Therefore, spanking is assault [etc]

You are caricaturing a point of view that I do not hold.  Wait a
minute... no actually... you're right!  And I should be allowed to
enter the Playboy Centerfold Model's Mud-Wrestling Finals...
otherwise my rights would be violated, naturally!


>Or --- do we have different "levels" of human rights, [...]
>perhaps there is a stage where "right to life" does not apply...

I think it always applies, but certainly with different levels.  An
unimplanted zygote is different from an 8-month-old fetus is different
from a 5-year-old child is different from a 30-year-old babe is
different from a 60-year-old man is different from a 90-year-old
brain-dead patient.  Obviously.  This does not mean that it is
perfectly OK to farm and kill embryos without a second thought since
they have no value, say for harvesting stem cells from, and then
trying to figure out how to specialize them and grow them into some
desired type of tissue, when there appear to be alternatives available
such as culturing pre-existing cell lines or collecting
semi-specialized stem cells from consenting adults.  At least spend
some years researching the latter two before considering the former.


>Well then, surely you are opposed to birth control pills, since they often
>prevent otherwise-viable zygotes from implanting.

I already said that I am in favour of then.

However allow me to elaborate.

Pills that contain an oestrogen often (but not always) prevent
ovulation.  Those with a progestin thicken the cervical mucus and
often (but not always) prevent sperm from entering.  Those with a
progestin also often (but not always) prevent implantation (and a
lower dose is sufficient).

Together these effects are highly reliable.  With combined pills,
preventing implantation is a rare last resort.  However pills with no
oestrogen and a low dose of progestin have that as their main effect.
They are also the least reliable i.e., a woman who uses them for a
decade (say) would have reasonable chance of having a pregnancy,
presumably unwanted, and she may have an abortion (ooh... the A word).
In the interest of all those (potentially) involved, I think that
combined pills are to be recommended, or else use a condom too.


I remain,
R