Originally created 01/05/03

To our better selves



As a parent, one of the most important messages you impart to your children is that just because they can do something doesn't mean they should.

It's a lesson that our 21st century scientists should learn.

The recent claim of human cloning by the bizarre Raelian religious sect - which believes humans were cloned from aliens, and that further cloning can bring immortality - is a stark reminder of just how insane things can get when one sets out to play God.

Certainly, legitimate scientists shouldn't be judged by the Raelians, who bypassed not only the tabloids in their Dec. 27 press conference, but also all tenets of scientific verification.

With no evidence to support their claims, they said they had cloned a girl named Eve, born from an unidentified American woman at an undisclosed place.

Still, even the American Association for the Advancement of Science was muted in its criticism of the Raelians, saying only that "human reproductive cloning is premature and potentially dangerous to the offspring created." The organization was more concerned about the Raelians' methods than their possible madness.

We'll go further than that: Cloning is dangerous to more than the cloned; it is potentially hazardous to the very nature of humanity, physically as well as morally.

Cloning doesn't advance science as much as it sets back bioethics. It appeals to man's worst instincts: greed, lust for immortality, vanity and more.

There are narrow strains of cloning that might appeal to our better selves - the advancement of disease treatment, for instance, or the hope that such things as limbs and organs could be regrown.

But can even such high-minded advancements be worth the cost if there's even a possibility that the lives of the innocent are sacrificed in the process?

Neither cloning nor stem cell research can be justified unless and until it can be scientifically shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that embryos used in such research are not, in fact, human lives.

Don't hold your breath waiting for that kind of evidence. The truth is, there simply has to be a presumption from the outset that embryos are, indeed, human lives.

Tinkering with human engineering is one thing. Harvesting human embryos even to help others is beyond playing God. Not even a beneficent God would do that.

Does science get it? Or are we doing things simply because we can, without proper regard for whether we should?

Interestingly, the American Association for the Advancement of Science is troubled by the Raelians' cloning claims not because they take science too far into the ethical unknown - but because of the potential political backlash against "promising scientific efforts to develop therapies based on nuclear transportation..."

With all due respect to our learned friends in science, let's worry about the substance and implications and moral questions of cloning and stem cell research, and not just their public image.

If there is a backlash, it isn't because the Raelians have set science back; it's because the rest of us are concerned that science may be going too far.