On June 17, British Broadcasting Corp. reported the first cloning of human embryos, an event which it said actually happened last November.
The news report seemed unreal. A man's leg and a cow's egg had been used, it said; it was done by an American company, but the report made no mention of the U.S. ban on such experimentation. The only nod toward the moral dimension in the report came from a British Lord who called the cloning “totally ethical.”
Many of the news media the next day were strangely quiet about the event, though the London Daily Mail, The Washington Post and a French news agency did carry reports about it. These outlets reported that more than one embryo had been cloned.
The news was terrible and frightening, going far beyond the serious ethical problems that are always associated with creating human life apart from a human couple. For one thing, the reports’ headlines could have read, “First Human Clones Killed,” as easily as “First Human Embryos Cloned.” The reports said a Massachusetts company, American Cell Technology, cloned the first human embryo and let it develop for 12 days before destroying it.
One article also pointed to the cloning of Dolly the sheep as an example of how tough it must have been to clone a human being. In Dolly's case, “Over 200 embryos were used before Dolly finally appeared.” Apart from the many human embryos that must have been destroyed in the process of the original experiment, “it is believed that many more human embryos have been created and destroyed since November.”
Human embryos may not look like babies, as fetuses do, but they are certainly human lives. Even modernist ethicists like Princeton's Peter Singer admit this. He says that when he argues for killing embryos, he is careful not to claim that they aren't human — he says he can't win that debate. Rather, he finds it necessary to argue that sometimes human beings have no right to life.
And so, the “culture of death” is escalating beyond the millions of abortions reported every year, to countless deaths of embryos in labs around the world.
But there is another reason, apart from the deaths surrounding it, that this first cloning is particularly horrible. Many people conceive the trouble with cloning a human being by imagining the eerie picture of a child who looks exactly like a parent, with exactly the same character traits.
The reality is more frightening still: these clones aren't intended to become adults or even infants. They are created, rather, because the cells of their brain stems “are believed to have the potential” to be part of a transplantation” that is hoped might have some success as a treatment for diseases like Parkinson's, BBC said.
These human lives, in other words, are being harvested for their brains as part of an experimental treatment for living. That's a frightening way to end a century.
Man, however, does not have the last word in human affairs. The Lord of history is Christ, who said, “What you do to one of the least of my brothers, you do unto me.”
We can trust that, as the Church celebrates the Jubilee Year anniversary of his birth next year, prayers for life will flower into effective efforts to build the culture of life.
Congress is now debating, and passing laws about, the causes of youth crime, in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre.
Our representatives seem to have noticed, correctly, two contributors to the problem: secularist laws and the entertainment industry. In response, the House on June 17 declared it constitutional to post the Ten Commandments in public buildings. President Clinton, for his part, initiated a program of new regulations of theaters to enforce age limits at R-rated movies.
The House's Ten Commandments Defense Act could signal that making public displays of religion is acceptable again. The bill now goes to the Senate for a vote.
The pastimes of the American family, however, may not be affected very much by Clinton's proposal that theaters check ID cards at box offices. After all, the problem isn't at the box office — where kids can buy a ticket to any of the PG films offered at the theater. The problem is at the doors to the theaters — where tickets generally are not taken, and kids are allowed to see whatever they wish.
A better solution to the entertainment problem is one recently taken up by a group in Hollywood headed by seasoned screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi. She has developed a program to teach talented writers with a Judeo-Christian outlook to produce professional scripts and to present them successfully to potential producers.
Rather than merely complain about what Hollywood has to offer, this project recognizes that Christians must produce the inspiring stories that will at least give Americans an entertainment option. It's a project that deserves more support.