Culture & Ethics
Macaque Monkeys and Human Dignity
Why does the evolution debate matter so intensely? In an interview with P.J. Media‘s Tyler O’Neil, our biologist colleague Ann Gauger hits the nail on the head. The profound importance of the controversy lies in human dignity, and our rapidly dissolving sensitivity to it. She spoke in the context of news about the cloning of macaque monkeys by Chinese researchers, a major and disquieting step toward human cloning.
Will scientists take it that far? The present culture certainly gives reasons to think they won’t stop at monkeys.
“I connect it to the issues of euthanasia and abortion because it all boils down to what value we place on human life,” Ann Gauger, a senior research scientist at the Biologic Institute who earned her Ph.D. in biology at the University of Washington and did post-doctorate work at Harvard, told PJ Media.
“It’s a question of how you view human life. If you view it as starting from conception to natural death, then for cloning it involves the creation of a new human being, although by artificial means,” Gauger explained.
The kind of cloning discussed here involves introducing a somatic cell nucleus into the egg, which then develops into an embryo. The Chinese study itself seemed rather wasteful and problematic. Out of 127 eggs injected with somatic cell nuclei, 79 were transferred into surrogate mothers, leading to six pregnancies, and two live births. Another part of the experiment involved 290 eggs, resulting in 22 pregnancies, 2 live births, and no surviving monkeys.
In the case of humans, each embryo is genetically an individual, with the potential to grow into an adult human being. After an embryo is created, it can be implanted in a womb for birth — “reproductive cloning” — or it can be harvested for stem cells and medical research — “therapeutic cloning.”
Gauger called both kinds of cloning “problematic.”
Why problematic? Dr. Gauger presented the issue in very personal terms:
“I have a disabled daughter, and I know people who have Down syndrome children. Most Down syndrome children — if they’re diagnosed in utero — end up being aborted,” the biologist lamented. “Is all human life of value or is it only valuable if it’s of use to the society?”
She connected the selling of baby parts from abortion to this issue as well — using human beings for research.
Gauger suggested a deep disconnect between scientists’ research and their consciences.
Go back and read Richard Weikart reflections here the other day on the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein. O’Neil goes on:
This suppression of conscience is terrifying, and combined with the curiosity and rush to achieve something new, it may present a powerful incentive for scientists to delve into human cloning.
“The push in the human direction comes mainly from the scientist’s desire to be the first to do something, to meet a challenge, to be curious about ‘what would happen if I did this,’“ Gauger explained. “It’s an intrinsic human thing to want to explore and to want to control and to be the first.”
Another “personal revelation” from Dr. Gauger:
“I probably know scientists who are now working on this issue and most of them have not considered seriously the ethical questions. I know some who have and who have left that area of research.”
What’s the source of it all? “She pointed to Darwinism as the key threat behind the loss of understanding of human dignity.” That seems hard to deny. The whole agenda of evolutionary thinking is to erase the exceptional status of human beings in nature, considering us as one among many animals competing for existence amid the blind churning of the cosmos and of terrestrial biology. From Darwin’s visions to nightmare scenarios of human cloning, it’s a straight shot from premise to conclusion.
Photo: Baby macaque monkey, by Martin Terber, via Flickr.