The further that Western society drifts from any moorings in the Christian view of God, the further it drifts from any Christian view of what it means to be human.
In the Bible, man is in the image of God, and therefore both accountable to God and precious in his sight (eg, Gen 1:26-27; 9:5-6; Prov 17:5; James 3:9). In modern Western thinking, there is no real sense of God, so man is in the image of the earthworm, and therefore he seeks to exalt himself, but actually degrades himself. Accordingly, the various state parliaments are now considering legislation to allow the production of human embryos in order to destroy them in medical experimentation.
Australian society – like the rest of Western society – struggles without any clear principles of morality. In 2002 the Federal Parliament voted unanimously to prohibit all forms of human cloning. Even Natasha Stott Despoja, waxed eloquent: “There is a strong argument that ‘therapeutic cloning’ is misleading as a term because it manifestly is not therapeutic for the particular embryo that is destroyed in the process of deriving stems cells.” Kay Patterson spoke the same language: “The establishment of national regulatory regime in no way heralds an increasingly liberal attitude to research involving human embryos, nor does it represent the first step on the slippery slope towards human cloning.”
Even the United Nations managed to get it right, and its General Assembly in 2005 adopted a declaration on human cloning by which member states were called upon to “adopt all measures necessary to prohibit all forms of human cloning in as much as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life”. The vote was 84 to 34 in favour of the recommendation, with Australia voting with the majority.
Suddenly in late 2006 we were confronted with a manufactured demand that human cloning be allowed until the embryo reaches the magical age of fourteen days. The Lockhart Review Committee drew enthusiastically on the work of professor Hwang Woo Suk of South Korea. Professor Hwang claimed to have successfully created human clones in the same way that Dolly the sheep was cloned. There were high hopes, fuelled by compliant politicians and media outlets, that all manner of debilitating diseases could be treated. Alas for the Lockout Committee, four days after its report was handed down, the work of professor Hwang was found to be fraudulent. To date, there has been no successful cloning of a human being.
James Sherley, the Associate Professor of Biological Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, has pointed out that cloned embryonic stem cells, as with embryonic stem cells in general, form tumours when transplanted into adult tissues. Dolly the sheep, for example, suffered from numerous cancers and died. Monique Baldwin, who has a doctorate in neuroscience, states: “To date embryonic stem cells have not demonstrated any therapeutic benefits to anyone.” As a contrast, some 45,000 patients have benefited from adult stem cell transplants each year. Over 70 human conditions are now treated by adult stem cell technology. One can only speculate as to what is driving the present misinformed demand for human cloning. Presumably, someone sees the opportunity for government funding or public acclaim.
So human cloning is unnecessary, but, more importantly, it is ethically wrong. Even the Lockhart Report states, in its own muddled way: “The committee agreed that human embryo clones are human embryos and that, given the right environment for development, could develop into a human being. Furthermore, if such an embryo were implanted into the body of a woman to achieve a pregnancy, this entity would certainly have the same status as any other human embryo, and were this pregnancy to result in a live birth, that child would enjoy the same rights and protection as any other child.” To deliberately produce human life in order to destroy it is to cross a moral line from decency and compassion to utility and barbarism. It is to treat human beings as laboratory rats, to use Brian Harradine’s powerful expression. Australia’s federal parliamentarians – very unusually –were granted the right to exercise their own consciences on this issue. The result on 6 December 2006 was the crossing of an ethical boundary – human embryos could be created to be experimented on. Doctor David van Gend rightly called it a victory of “con science” over “conscience”.
The last word surely belongs to Joni Eareckson Tada. in 1967, as a carefree 17-year-old American girl, Joni dived into a shallow pool, broke her neck, and subsequently has lived life as a quadriplegic. She, of all people, one would think, would be keen about embryonic stem cell research. Yet she is opposed to it. Her rejection of such research has a special power to it, because of her own circumstances: “If we violate a human embryo today, tomorrow we will become callous about the foetus, then the infant, and then people with physical defects. A society that honours life will safeguard the rights of the disadvantaged, the weak, and the small.” The fact that we’re even debating human cloning is a measure of how morally lost is Australian society.