On Terry Gross's radio interview show Fresh Air, the past two days have been devoted to conversations with Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion”, and Fancis Collins, author of “The Language of God”, giving us two vastly different views of how science can (or can't) mix with religion. They're an interesting pair of interviews, and I recommend a listen to both (you can stream them online from the links above, or you can download the shows here: Dawkins, Collins).
Near the end of his interview, Dr Collins, in discussing stem-cell research, postulates that ultimately the best stem cells will be created by cloning one's own cells, to create cells specific to oneself. As he does that, he makes it clear that he's not talking about cloning humans, but just certain human cells. Never, he says, would we look at cloning whole people. Of course, he says, that's off the table, beyond the pale. and, indeed, Dr Collins is far from alone in saying that; in fact, it's pretty much a universal statement. No one would consider such a thing. Of course not.
I see why some people would object, but why is there essentially a universal revulsion to the idea, even among the most liberal of cloning-research supporters?
Dr Collins cites issues of safety, ethics, and morality. It's the “morality” part that I understand, but that's surely where we differ the most in our opinions. Some will say that God doesn't want us to meddle in these areas, but surely the morality of many is sufficiently flexible to allow them to support the study of this. But where are the “safety” issues, and why are our “ethics” offended by it?
I believe I'm a moral, ethical person, and I think most who know me would agree. Yet I'm not with the rest of the universe on this. I understand concerns about someone's trying to use cloning to breed a master race, or some such, but there are other ways to deal with that, and people have also tried other ways to accomplish it, so the problem (and the solution) isn't limited to cloning.
On the other hand, it seems to me that there's a great possibility of medical and scientific advancement from the unfettered study of cloning and related technology, and that it doesn't serve us well to reject anything out of hand, especially when we're still far enough away from actually being able to do it that this is a hypothetical issue for now. In fact, I think we will eventually clone humans — if not in my lifetime, then within the next century — and that all of these moral and ethical questions will but delay it.
I'm sure the commenters will have something to say about what I'm missing, what really makes it so different to clone a sheep and to clone a human, what is so horribly, fundamentally, unquestionably wrong about it. Please tell me; I'm listening.