[extropy-chat] Bioethics Essay- Revised

The Avantguardian avantguardian2020 at yahoo.com
Mon May 23 07:59:35 UTC 2005

Here it is again. Thank you all for your input. I have
included many of your suggestions so this is actually
an accomplishment for all of us. Read and let me know
what you think of my changes.

Why Therapeutic Cloning is a Blessing and Not Murder
Stuart LaForge
May 22, 2005

There has been much controversy of late over the
topics of stem cells and cloning. These two related
topics have become highly politicized and public
consensus is predictably split down party lines. This
however should not be the case. The fact that it is
shows just how over-politicized and ideologically
polarized this country has become. It also indicates
that neither side of the debate has an adequate
understanding of the medical merits or scientific
details of this new technology upon which to make
morality based judgments. When you live in such
politically charged times, you must take great care
that your position on an issue is based on sound
reasoning and not just on the basis that it is the
opposite of what the other party wants.
The fact that both sides seem to think the process of
generating embryonic stem cells by therapeutic cloning
to be somehow akin to abortion is indicative of just
how little both sides actually know about the
technology at the heart of this issue. For the
political left to justify the technology as being
“no worse than abortion” is practically
begging for the political right to oppose it because
they view abortion as murder. The truth however is
that the process of therapeutic cloning, if properly
understood and regulated is not morally wrong and does
not resemble abortion at all. Indeed as we shall see,
it is a blessing of miraculous potential.
In order to understand why this is so requires some
knowledge of cell biology, human development, and the
cloning process itself. First off we shall explain
cells. Cells are the smallest unit of all life on
earth including you. You the individual, when looked
at under the microscope, are not an individual at all
but a collective. A collective of approximately 250
trillion cells. Each cell is a thing with a life of
its own and it does some vital job in keeping you
alive. By the time you reached adulthood, you had for
the most part stopped growing. In cellular terms, this
means that most of your cells had stopped moving
around and dividing. The cells are said to have
differentiated which is a technical way of saying that
they have settled down in one spot and specialized
themselves to a specific task. For example cells that
have settled down on the outside of you to act as a
barrier to keep moisture in and germs out are called
skin cells.
Now in every person’s body there is a special
class of cells that have not settled down and
specialized yet. These cells are a like a “ready
reserve” in that they can do all kinds of
different jobs. They can become skin, blood, fat and
many other kinds of cells. These are the so-called
adult stem cells. This ability of theirs to become
several different cell types is called pluripotency.
Now adult stem cells are useful for this property and
many different tissue types can be grown from them
such as skin, blood, intestinal lining, and sometimes
bone. Unfortunately there are many cell types that
these adult stem cells cannot become. Lung tissue,
brain tissue, and heart muscle are three examples. So
for therapeutic purposes, adult stem cells are useful
but only in a limited fashion. 
There is a second class of stem cells called embryonic
stem cells or ES cells for short. Like adult stem
cells, ES cells have not specialized but they differ
from adult stem cells in that they are totipotent.
This is a fancy way of saying that they are not
limited in the types of cells they can become. They
can become any cell and do any job the human body
requires of them. For example they can become heart
muscle cells or nerve cells in the brain or they can
become the beta cells that make insulin that diabetic
children need. Obviously if cells such as these were
allowed for medical purposes, it would be a shining
beacon of hope to millions of suffering people, maybe
even you.
There are three big catches to ES cells however. The
first is that by the time that a person is born, all
their ES cells have already become something. They
still have their adult stem cells that replace high
turn over tissues, like blood, skin, and the lining of
the gut but no more of the “super” stem
cells that can become appropriate tissue in any part
of the body. 
The second catch is that since adults don’t have
any, the only place to get them is from human
blastulas. This poses a moral problem for those who
are against ES cell research and therapeutic cloning
because they believe that this process
“destroys” an embryo. Since that embryo
technically has the potential to grow into a human
being, they conclude destroying it is the same as
murder. While researchers in the US are currently
allowed to work on pre-existing government ES cell
lines, these cells have absolutely no therapeutic
potential whatsoever. Not only are they contaminated
with animal proteins and other animal products, but
they also lead us to the third catch of using ES cells
for therapy:
Not just any old ES cell will do. This is because
every person is an individual and their genetic
blueprints are as unique as their fingerprints.
Moreover, the cells in your body are able to recognize
your genetic blueprint and will reject and kill any
cell that has a different blueprint. So even if the
government ES cell lines were “clean”, any
tissue grown from them would still be rejected by your
body because your body would know they were not yours.
The solution to all this is therapeutic cloning.
Cloning sounds really scary and has been the subject
of many Hollywood science fiction and horror movies,
but much of its bad rap is because it is not
understood. It is not scary and it is not wrong. In
order to understand why this is, we must learn some
more biology. This time we will focus on human
All sexual organisms including you or me, start out as
a single fertilized egg, the union of sperm and egg.
That fertilized egg cell is called a zygote. When the
zygote divides it becomes a blastocyst because it kind
of explodes into growth, rapidly dividing. In 5-7 days
there are now approximately 256 cells and this stage
is called a blastula. It is also an embryo but that is
misleading because embryo is a very broad term that
can mean everything from a fertilized egg to a fully
developed fetus.
One of the big misunderstandings in the debate is that
when bioethicists tell you that embryos are destroyed
they do so in such a fashion as to conjure the image
of a fetus in your mind. What it should conjure
however is the image of a blastula. A blastula looks
like a hollow sphere of cells with a small clump of
tiny cells inside of it. It is about 0.15 millimeters
in diameter, about the size of the period at the end
of this sentence. The cells that make the hollow shell
are called the trophoblast and the clump of cells on
the inside is called the embryonic or inner-cell mass.
The trophoblast goes on to give rise to the placenta,
while the inner-cell mass goes on to become the embryo
itself. It is this inner cell mass that are the ES
cells and they are harvested simply by removing them
from the trophoblast. Harvesting is perhaps the wrong
word however because it insinuates destruction. Like
when people harvest carrots, the carrots get uprooted
and die. Harvesting ES cells for medical therapy
however, is entirely different. One must harvest them
very carefully so that they do NOT die, because the
therapy can only work if they are ALIVE. Therefore the
embryo is not destroyed, it is simply moved from one
place to another so rather than harvesting, the
process should be called transplantation.
While it is true that many of these cells will die as
a result of research to try and figure out how best to
use them as therapy, these deaths would be failures of
our attempts to keep them alive and not the means or
ends of our research itself. Because the research
itself will be largely focused on how to keep the ES
cells alive and entice them to turn into different
types of tissue.  
Now we will return to the subject of cloning. The
processes of cloning, growing, and harvesting embryos
for the purposes of therapeutic cloning are vastly
different from an abortion in almost every way that
matters. First of all abortion is the purposeful
killing of a fetus. It is, whether you personally
condone it or not, a destructive act. The act of
cloning, therapeutic or otherwise, is a creative
constructive act. Many opponents to cloning, even well
educated bioethicists, wrongly believe that cloning is
“creating life just to destroy it for the
benefit of another”. This is not the case of at
In order to understand why this is so requires a brief
overview of the actual way that cloning works.
Let’s say for illustrative purposes that you
have volunteered to be cloned. The first step is to
take a tissue sample from you. It could be a scraping
of your cheek lining or a drop of blood. Then a cell
is isolated from the tissue sample and a part of the
cell called the nucleus is transferred into a
specially prepared egg cell from a woman donor. The
nucleus is like a “repository” that stores
the DNA that serves as your genetic blue print. In
order to receive your nucleus, the egg must have had
its own incomplete nucleus removed. The egg’s
nucleus is incomplete because the egg cell, like a
sperm cell, is a haploid gamete. 
This means that it is incomplete, carrying only half
the normal number of chromosomes necessary to make a
human. That is to say that an egg cell only has half
of a genetic blueprint, like having only the floor
plan for the upstairs of a two-story house. This is
why eggs and sperm, women and men, need each other in
order to have children. Thus an egg cell or sperm cell
is only half an embryo at best. 
The incomplete nucleus of the egg cell is the only
thing that is effectively destroyed in cloning. But
the rest of the egg, called the cytoplasm survives,
just under the management of the new nucleus. This is
no more violent or wrong then when a woman flushes out
her egg every month into the toilet in the process of
menstruating. If anything this prevents the egg from
going completely to waste. 
The next step of cloning consists of giving the new
zygote, consisting of the “old” nucleus
and “new” cytoplasm the little push that
will enable it to grow and divide and form a
blastocyst. Often this push takes the form of mild
electrochemical stimulation. The blostocyst will now
grow and divide until it reaches the stage where it
would implant itself in the wall of a woman’s
womb. This stage is called the blastula that we
discussed earlier.
Thus the tangible essence of life is neither created
nor destroyed in the act of cloning, instead the life
essences of two different cells are fused to make a
new cell that has blueprints of one person and the
cell making factories of another person. The new clone
has three possible fates. Unless the cloned embryo is
implanted in some woman’s womb in cannot develop
further. Even if it were so fortunate as to be so
implanted, its chances of survival would only be about
38%. That means that even if conditions for the newly
cloned embryo were perfect, it still may not have the
potential to become a person. This is not because the
cloned embryo is different than a normal embryo, in
fact most (57%) embryos formed naturally die within
twelve weeks of conception without the mother even
being aware she was pregnant. Some more recent figures
estimate this embryonic mortality at closer to 80%. 
If this were not so, then every union of a man and
woman while she was ovulating would result in
offspring. As many patrons of fertility clinics can
sadly attest to, this is not the case at all.
But trying to help the cloned blastula to become a
person is called reproductive cloning and we
don’t want that anyway. Even the scientists that
want to research therapeutic cloning are not
interested in reproductive cloning because it is
pointless. It is not any kind of improvement on
reproducing the normal way. Even in the simple service
of vanity, reproductive cloning is pointless. The
clone would not be you, it would be your identical
twin only many years younger than you. It would have
had a whole different set of life experiences and
develop entirely its own personality and agenda. So in
short, this author is not in support of reproductive
cloning regardless of its ethical implications. 
The second possible fate of the new clone is that
nobody does anything. In this instance the cloned
embryo will die. This is another big difference
between cloning and abortion. If a woman is pregnant
with a fetus and does nothing about it, it will
usually go on to be born. In other words, the death of
a fetus in abortion is a purposeful act of
destruction. In cloning, it is not action that will
lead to the destruction of the embryo but inaction. If
nothing is done, the embryo will die. 
The third possible fate is that the ES cells are
harvested for therapeutic cloning. Remember that this
does not kill any of them. A scientist or a doctor
transfers the ES cells to a petri dish along with a
soupy broth of nutrients and some skin cells called
fibroblasts to keep them company. The scientist will
then use all his knowledge of biology to try to get
the ES cells to survive and to differentiate into some
kind of tissue. This is the process of therapeutic
The tissues grown from these ES cells are very
possibly tissue that you may need to survive like a
new heart free of arterial plaque, new nerves to help
you regenerate a broken spine, skin for burn victims,
and beta cells for diabetics. The potential is only
limited by our ability to understand the workings of
cells and our willingness to use our knowledge. There
is no death here. The embryo doesn’t die, it
becomes a part of you. The cells from the clone have
the same blue prints as your cells do, so your body
doesn’t reject them. Instead your body makes
them welcome and shares all of its resources with the
new cells. These cells do not belong to another
person; they are yours.        
This is an important distinction because almost all
philosophical basis for human rights state that it is
the individual person that has rights, not parts of
the person’s body. The individual cells of a
person do not have rights but the collective of all of
a person’s cells that is the individual himself
does. In the case of therapeutic cloning, no other
identifiable individual is involved other than the one
who voluntarily underwent the cloning procedure. No
rights are violated in this process and no violence is
done to anyone or anything. 
The blastula created by therapeutic cloning will never
become a fetus unless it is implanted in a
woman’s womb. A fetus although as of yet, not
fully formed, often has a brain, spinal cord, and
other hallmarks of a nervous system. Whether this
qualifies the fetus as an individual person with
rights is a main focus of the abortion argument from
both sides.
The purpose of this essay is not to argue one way or
another for abortion. That decision is best left to
the reader to make as his or her beliefs and
conscience may dictate. Instead I have shown how
generating stem cells and possibly organs for
transplant from the process of therapeutic cloning is
very different from an abortion. Therefore the moral
arguments used in the abortion debate cannot be
logically applied to the therapeutic cloning debate.
The first thing one must understand is that a blastula
is not the same thing as a fetus. While one could
argue that a fetus is a late-stage embryo one cannot
truly say that a blastula that contains embryonic stem
cells is at all like a fetus. A fetus for all intents
and purposes does resemble a miniature human. It has a
head, eyes, limbs, organs, and most importantly a
Because it is scientifically demonstrable that the
brain is the seat of consciousness, it can therefore
be argued that a fetus might be able to sense its
environment, react to stimuli such as pain, and
perhaps feel emotion. If one believes that people have
souls one can make the argument that a fetus has a
soul and is therefore entitled to rights. One cannot
however, based on the evidence, make such an argument
for a cloned embryo in the blastula stage. For one
thing, it is because there is no actual conception
involved. Instead it is merely the transfer of
information, in the form of a nucleus, from one cell
to another.  
Furthermore the blastula has no distinguishable human
features of any kind. It has no front or back, no
head, no limbs, no organs, and no eyes. Now one could
argue that the blastula is technically a potential
human in the sense that were it to be implanted into a
woman’s womb, it might become a human fetus. But
as we have seen, the chances of this only amount to
about 20%, should someone actually implant it. Since
reproductive cloning is so ethically questionable and
so pointless in a practical sense, this is highly
unlikely to occur. If it becomes a concern, then this
author thinks that it perfectly acceptable to keep the
legal ban on reproductive cloning in place.
So let us examine the two most important reasons why
therapeutic cloning is neither murder nor a violation
of anyone’s rights. First and very importantly,
there is no new person created in the process. No
actual conception occurs anywhere in the process. No
new life is started. Secondly the embryonic cell mass
is not killed or destroyed in the process, it is
merely disassembled. Destruction has an element of
irreversibility to it.  Disassembly implies that the
embryonic mass can be reassembled and it can be, only
it isn’t. Instead the ES cells are used to
create something else.  In case you still have trouble
understanding why there isn’t any death or
destruction involved in therapeutic cloning, an
illustrative story might help. The story is called
“The Parable of the Carpenter”.
Once upon a time there lived a carpenter. The
carpenter wanted a tool shed to put his tools in so he
saved up his money and bought a bunch of wood, nails,
glue, and all the supplies he would need to build one.
When the carpenter’s neighbor saw this, the
neighbor asked what the carpenter was doing. The
carpenter told him that he was intending on building a
tool shed. The neighbor thought about it and suggested
that the carpenter build a sauna instead, since it
would be of use to the entire family and not just the
carpenter himself. 
The carpenter was amazed, he hadn’t thought of
building a sauna. So the carpenter went to work
building a sauna. After he had finished building his
sauna and using it a couple of times, he realized that
the sauna was not as useful as he had hoped and he
still had a bunch of tools with nowhere to store them.
But he had spent all his money to buy the materials
that he used to build the sauna, so he could no longer
afford to build the tool shed. Because of this, the
carpenter became angry with the neighbor and took him
to court to sue him for “destroying” his
tool shed. When the judge heard the details of the
case, he laughed at the carpenter’s foolishness
and threw the carpenter’s case out of court.
Did the tool shed get destroyed? The materials that
the carpenter had bought had the potential to become a
tool shed. But the materials could not have assembled
themselves into a tool-shed so this potential was very
limited. The carpenter decided to build a sauna
instead. The tool shed never existed to be destroyed
in the first place. What was supposed to become the
tool shed became a sauna instead. Thus there was no
destruction, just a different becoming. Living things
are always becoming like a caterpillar becomes a
butterfly. In this process, some of the
caterpillar’s cells live and others die, but one
cannot say that the caterpillar itself dies in the
process.  In this regard, therapeutic cloning is as
natural a technology one could hope for. 
It is hoped that from a philosophical point of view,
you see that based on the facts, therapeutic cloning
is not a violation of human rights. There is no victim
with rights to be violated. It is certainly not murder
because nobody dies. It is a blessing of miraculous
potential. The only destruction is the removal of an
incomplete set of DNA from the donor egg. There are
those that believe that life starts at conception. But
in the case of the cloned embryos used in therapeutic
cloning, there is no conception of new life. There is
only the transplantation of old life into new
Another aspect of the debate aside from purely
philosophical aspect of moral arguments is the
spiritual implications. After all, many bioethicists
view therapeutic cloning as “playing God”.
Yet theologically, what makes you a person is not that
you are merely alive. After all, the world abounds
with living things that are not people. Theologically
what makes you a person with inalienable God-given
rights is that you have a soul. So for those of faith,
the most important question regarding therapeutic
cloning may be whether a blastula has a soul.
Since we have determined that a blastula does not have
a brain, we know it has no mind. But according to
religious sources, the soul is different from the
mind. The soul is eternal, while the mind is a
temporary side effect of having a brain. Your soul is
said to live on long after your brain has turned to
dust. So does a blastula have a soul? We know that an
ovum or unfertilized egg has no soul. Why should an
ovum with someone else’s DNA stuck into it have
one either? If it did, how might we know?
Well one way we might determine if a blastula has a
soul or not is to scientifically measure it somehow.
Interestingly enough somebody has already
scientifically weighed the soul. He was a medical
doctor named Duncan MacDougall and in the April 1907
issue of the journal American Medicine he reported the
results of experiments in which he determined the mass
of terminally ill patients before and after they died.
He observed that the patients he studied lost an
average of 21 grams of mass when they died.
Interestingly enough his results were never confirmed
or repudiated by any other scientists despite the fact
that they were published in a peer reviewed journal. 
If MacDougall’s results are accurate then one
must conclude that a blastula can in no way
accommodate a 21 gram soul as it weighs only about 34
micrograms which is 600,000 times too little. In fact
a developing embryo would not reach 21 grams until
about the eighth week of development. If similar
experiments were performed, perhaps we could obtain a
more accurate weight for the soul. However the
experimental evidence as it stands, would argue that a
blastula does not contain a soul.    
Although science is a great way of understanding
nature, in matters of faith it is also necessary to
consult the bible. That the bible was written so long
ago, before people knew there were such things as a
blastula, an embryo, or a fetus, makes it difficult to
find any direct answer to these questions. But the
nature of faith is such that if one believes that the
scriptures are the word of God then one must believe
that all the answers one needs are within it. People
can be false and lie to you even if they call
themselves scientists, men of the cloth, or prophets.
But the word of God does not lie. And the answers we
seek may be in them if we are willing to look.
First off having read the Bible, it becomes apparent
that there are exactly two people in the Bible that
were not conceived in the normal sense. These two
beings are Adam, the first man, and Jesus Christ, our
Lord and Savior who was the literal Son of God. God
created both of these individuals without a mortal
father. Now I am in no way suggesting that either Adam
or Jesus were clones. In fact I am arguing for the
exact opposite. But the biblical passages referring to
these two beings may be informative to our purposes
because they share with cloned embryos the property of
not having been fathered by a human male.
Let us begin with Adam’s origins. In Genesis
1:26 it reads, ”And God said, Let us make man in
our image, after our likeness . . .“ This tells
us something important for our discussion. One of the
things that is sacred about people is the way we look.
Our image is sacred because it is the image of God. A
fetus of more than six weeks of age does indeed look
somewhat like us and therefore God. But a blastula
looks nothing like us and therefore does not resemble
God. Therefore on the criterion of image, a cloned
blastula is not sacred.
In Genesis 2:7 it states about Adam’s origins,
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the
ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of
life; and man became a living soul.” This verse
is informative in the debate over therapeutic cloning
in several ways. The argument that a blastula deserves
rights because it is a “potential human”
could then be applied to dust. For should God ever
choose to breath life into the dust, it could become a
human. Are we then supposed to give dust, dirt, and
mud human rights because they are “potential
Also notice that the Bible plainly says God,
“breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and man became a living soul” Taken literally,
this suggests that an embryo becomes
“ensouled” by God as soon as its nostrils
form so that it can receive the “breath of
life”.  Interestingly enough, we know from
biology that after the nostrils in a fetus form at
about five or six weeks, they immediately become
plugged with small bits of tissue. One could speculate
that these plugs function to keep the soul in until it
feels at home. In any case at five weeks, the embryo
is much farther developed than the one-week old embryo
that is at the heart of the therapeutic cloning
debate. The book of Genesis thus seems to suggest that
a blastula stage embryo does not yet have a soul,
because it has no nostrils for the breath of life to
be breathed into it. 
What useful insights can we gain by studying the
origins of Jesus?  In Luke 1:30-1:31 we see,
“And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary:
for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou
shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and
shalt call his name JESUS.” Now Jesus did not
have a mortal father but it clearly states that he was
none-the-less conceived. This is the power of almighty
God at work and not some human scientist. Humans
cannot conceive an embryo by cloning or any other
process except for the usual method of procreation
using sperm and eggs. Therapeutic cloning does not use
sperm only eggs, therefore a cloned embryo is never
actually “conceived”. To think otherwise,
would mean that one was suggesting that mankind was
capable of bringing forth individuals by Immaculate
Conception and this is of course is preposterous and
Some would still argue that Jesus, being without a
mortal father, was still a person and therefore cloned
embryos without fathers are also people. But this is a
very sacrilegious argument. After all, Jesus was the
Son of God, whilst a cloned embryo is not even the son
of men. Therefore we can clearly see that that unless
one is to willing attribute the ability of Immaculate
Conception to human scientists, then cloned embryos
cannot possibly be people. If they are not people, why
give them rights?
Another way to think of it is this way. God’s
plan is perfect. If mankind figures out a way to do
something amazing such as therapeutic cloning, it is
only because God’s plan allows it. We are given
free will to use God’s gifts as we wish.
Therefore all and any of his gifts can be used for
good or evil as people see fit. But because
God’s plan is perfect, we cannot use his gifts
to such an evil extent that we are capable of
disrupting his plan. Look at Luke 12:6, “Are not
five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of
them is forgotten before God?” If an embryo was
to be used for therapeutic cloning, do you think God
would be so cruel as to give it a soul or allow it to
Therefore, we should accept God’s gifts humbly
and use them responsibly with goodness in our hearts
to the best of our ability and let God’s plan
sort itself out. To do otherwise out of “worry
for God’s plan” is arrogant and
underestimates God. After all God can take care of
 As we have seen, therapeutic cloning does not deserve
the controversy that it seems to be eliciting. It is
not murder nor is a destructive process. It is instead
a new method of healing the sick, injured, and aged
the likes of which have never before been seen. Given
sufficient time to understand what hormones and other
chemical messengers cause ES cells to become the
various tissues, it is not hard to imagine a day when
heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s
disease would be things of the past, like polio is
today. The potential of these cells to revolutionize
medicine as we know it is staggering and cannot be
overstated. As our understanding of these cells
increases, it will become possible to grow replacement
organs and limbs for people who need them. It will be
possible to correct genetic defects like juvenile
diabetes. It will become possible to regenerate brain
and nervous tissue for aid against degenerative
conditions like Parkinson’s disease and spinal
cord injuries. In short, therapeutic cloning is a
blessing of miraculous potential.

The Avantguardian 
Stuart LaForge
alt email: stuart"AT"ucla.edu

"The surest sign of intelligent life in the universe is that they haven't attempted to contact us." 
-Bill Watterson

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