By Madigan, Timothy J.
Free Inquiry , Vol. 18, No. 2
All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Second it is violently opposed. Third it is accepted as being self-evident.
- Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
I was a student at a Catholic high school in 1978 when the first successful in vitro fertilization case occurred, and I well remember the storm of controversy it caused. The events that ensued at the time met Schopenhauer's dictum above. First, comics like Johnny Carson had a field day telling jokes about "test-tube babies." Then several institutions, including the Catholic Church, began denouncing the procedure for being an act against nature. After the birth of Louise Brown though, things quieted down, and now the procedure is relatively routine. The United States alone has almost 300 in vitro fertilization clinics. Now, 20 years later, a new debate is following along the same lines.
The notion of cloning human beings seems to have passed from Schopenhauer's first stage (remember all the "Hello, Dolly!" jokes when Ian Wilmut announced in February 1997 that he had successfully cloned a lamb from an adult sheep) to the second stage. The U.S. Congress is currently debating whether all research on human cloning should be outlawed, and religious organizations of various denominations have urged them to do so. Meanwhile, Dr. Richard Seed has announced that he will open a clinic for this very procedure. As with in vitro clinics, where federal funding for research has long been banned, it is likely that private finance will fill in the gap. Indeed, the Raelians, a bizarre UFO religion based in Switzerland, has offered to fund Dr. Seed in his efforts. Talk about strange bedfellows!
FREE INQUIRY has been in the forefront of this debate, issuing a "Declaration in Defense of Cloning and the Integrity of Scientific Research" in its Summer 1997 issue. Signed by such luminaries as DNA codiscoverer Francis Crick, famed philosopher W. V. Quine, and biologist Richard Dawkins, the declaration was mentioned in articles in the New York Times, Der Spiegel, and several syndicated services. At the time, FREE INQUIRY was something of a lone voice in urging that inflammatory and ill-considered talk about "Frankenstein's monster" coming to life be halted and a better understanding of the implications and consequences of cloning be addressed.
In December 1997, 19 members of the Council of Europe signed a treaty against cloning, primarily because it is "contrary to human dignity and thus constitutes a misuse of biology and medicine." Interestingly enough, Britain - where the first test-tube baby was born, and where Dolly was introduced - did not sign the treaty. It has a strong tradition of defending the freedom of scientific research.
The need to defend human dignity is central to the humanist position. But in my view, it is the opponents of human cloning who are laying the groundwork for discrimination and prejudicial treatment. The main point to keep in mind is that a cloned human being would not be a mere replicant. It would be a unique person. …