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Needed: Updated Glossaries of Terminology

Clones, Cells, and Clarification

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, August 23, 2000.

The British Parliament has recently approved the beginnings of human cloning research. To the point, they have allowed the possibility of government money, lots of it, to study human cloning. Granted, this is research, and, granted, it is cloning in the sense of very basic cells rather than fetuses, and granted, yes, it's only Britain, but yes, it probably will eventually lead to medical breakthroughs that better us all, but the very thought of it makes my stomach churn. This is uncomfortably close to the alleged big fear of the Pro Life movement, which is saying that not only have we developed a callous disregard for human life, we are now breeding humans for slaughter. I truly hate agreeing with the Pro Life movement, even on tangent issues. Nonetheless, in a world without agreed upon lay definitions, ethical horror is our fate.

And we need those definitions badly. When do two cells become a human being? The Pro Life movement, so called, has accepted that life begins at conception, an easy but clearly bogus escape, since science cannot distinguish a human fertilized egg from a frog's without DNA testing. The Bible, on the other hand, handles it quickly and in the first few pages. Adam is given the Breath of Life by God, and so becomes a living soul at that moment. If you believe in the soul as the sole distinction for a human being, this would suggest that a child doesn't become a human till that first breath, and since previously it swims and breaths Mom's liquids, this is not so far fetched, and given a time of primitive science, has a moral elegance to it. But science, of course, suggests that there isn't a whole lot of difference between a squalling baby and a preemie born after seven months except size. This is inconvenient, and underscores that for all our blather, we really don't know when human life becomes distinct from a chimps or a centipede. And because we do not, should we be impregnating eggs in a test tube and watching them grow into, well, what? I don't like not knowing. I have arrived at the only accurate distinction that separates human beings from other animals: human beings are the only adult creatures capable of hypocrisy. And because that is true - thank you very much, you're too kind - we have the unpleasant spectacle of the abortion argument moving into the realm of pure science. Because neither the Pro Life nor the Right to Choose groups trust the other, they refuse to allow any scientific backing for their opponent, direct or not, stand without attack. It is my feeling that much benefit would arise if we had some agreed upon definitions. For example, Pro-Lifers object to abortion because it is human intervention in God's plan that a specific soul ought to enter the world. Or something. Yet if that were true, they cannot logically object to non interference in whether or not a soul should leave the world, by which I mean if we are not allowed to kill a fetus, how can we be allowed to kill at all, given that vengeance is solely of divine provenance? If we cannot interfere with God's plan for humans, it undercuts the basis of medicine, which is devoted to extending our lives, apparently against divine will. And never mind cosmetic surgery, or cosmetics in general, all of which attempt to thwart divine central planning.

The reality, of course, is that the abortion controversy has had almost nothing to do with ethical considerations: it is concerned with patriarchal longings and deep fear of women being utterly independent of men within society. This is why the most adamant zealots are fifth tier males seeking a status in the Army of God that their human companions refuse to grant them. But science has shifted the ground beneath the arguments. Now, an argument can be made that we are indeed breeding humans in some form or other solely for research. This is very different than science taking advantage of early miscarriages to use the fetus for research, or even digging up cadavers as they used to do. This is not the same as carelessly creating a pregnancy and aborting it. There is an intent to bring something, if not to human life, close to it and killing it, at least in the sense of preventing its development. Just as the Microsoft case demonstrated how far behind the times Law is when dealing with technology, and just as the drug laws demonstrate how far jurisprudence is behind societal ethics, the lack of definitive words disallows a coherent debate on what, after all, is the most important argument of all: what is life, who decides what is life, and what are we allowed to do with it? This bothers me a lot, and yet I cannot flense the distinctions as I would wish. It bothers me. I hope it bothers a lot of us. It would help if we had a common glossary of terminology, with agreed upon definitions, so that we can even talk about it.