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Frequently Asked Questions & Answers

What prompted the push for a preemptive ban on human engineering?

Shortly after Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1997, Dr. Reardon began advocating for a general preemptive ban against all genetic engineering of human beings.  He recognized that the success with somatic cell nuclear transfer that produced Dolly had opened the door to genetically engineered embryos—the eugenicists' "holy grail." 

In the immediate wake of Dolly's birth, public sentiment for a ban on human cloning was high.  But Dr. Reardon predicted that If a general preemptive ban on human engineering was not enacted quickly, the public's immediate wave of concern would become muted, dispersed, and confused by the "spin doctors" within the influential biotech industry.

Indeed, to mollify public concerns, eugenicists were quick to call for a ban on "reproductive cloning" while also arguing for what they deceptively termed "therapeutic cloning."  This strategy was further expanded upon by aggressively promoting the idea that human embryo experiments were critical to the success of stem cell therapies.  Today, instead of "therapeutic cloning," eugenicists prefer to use the new acronym SCNT ("somatic cell nuclear transfer") precisely because it is an obscure technical term that avoids the word "cloning," which carries negative connotations when used in the context of cloning people.

In fact, eugenicists have no interest in literally cloning human beings. Their goal isn't to create copies of flawed genotypes.  Perfecting the techniques of cloning is simply the first basic step toward creating human life in a controlled laboratory condition.  Once clone-and-kill experiments have been perfected, the next step is simply to start modifying the DNA in the inserted chromosomes before cell division is initiated.

So, nine years after Dolly was cloned, virtually no bans on cloning have been passed. Why? Because those who believe that human life is endowed with inherent dignity want to ban all human cloning, even experimental cloning. This side believes it is morally wrong to create human life with the intent of subjecting those lives to experiments and destruction.

     Given the attention the citizens of Missouri are giving this issue, we believe it is now necessary to present the voters of Missouri with a true cloning ban, but also with the opportunity to erect a preemptive prohibition on all forms of human engineering.


Will this proposal inhibit research on potential cures from stem cells?

No.  All the cures coming from stem cell research are coming from the use of adult stem cells.

This proposal only prevents scientists from taking short cuts that may destroy lives, spread disease, and—particularly in regard to experiments on the human genome—may fundamentally threaten our humanity.

Most importantly, our initiative specifically provides for the use of procedures and therapies that are beneficial to the person being treated.

It also specifically allows for basic science to progress in experiments conducted on animal embryos.  Once techniques for safe cell manipulation have been perfected in animal trials, it also allows for the use of these proven therapies using non-destructively drawn human embryonic stem cells.

Cutting corners isn't good science.  And it isn't good public policy, either.


 Aren't human embryos only potential human beings?

While a human embryo has the potential to be a scientist, a rock star, or a dictator, it does not have the potential to be a dog, a squid, or a tree.  Even as a single-cell zygote, it is already a human life. There is nothing potential about that fact.

"Potential" refers to what something might accomplish, not to the nature of what a thing is.

All the potential cures promised from destructive embryonic stem cell research are nothing more than expressions of hope. Yet eugenicists hyping these potential cures insist that the hope of new cures is more important than the "potential life" of the human embryo.

But which potentiality is more real and proximate? Placed in a woman's womb, the human embryo will be born in just nine months.

If the same embryo is parsed into bits and used to develop treatments, how many cures or lives will be saved within the same period of time? Zero.  Advocates of destructive human embryo experiments recognize the need to destroy  thousands of human embryos for every "potential cure." 


But aren't cures for already born and suffering people still more important that microscopic human lives that can't feel or think?

It is a serious mistake to limit discussion of the current controversy to the single question of what respect is owed to microscopic human lives, though that too is important.

Perhaps an even more fundamental issue is whether the blurring of respect for human life at these earliest stages will erase all moral boundaries regarding respect for human life.

We are witnessing an important battle between two world views. Those who are most adamantly opposed to destructive human embryo research are adherents to the old Judeo-Christian-Islamic ethic, which declares all human life to be inviolable and sacred.

Those who are most in favor of such research are adherents of the view that human life is simply a complex form of matter that can ethically be manipulated and engineered into something new and better than it has been.

For proponents of the new ethic, both the quantity and quality of humankind can and should be manipulated to benefit the individual and the common good. Some have even claimed that this eugenic ethic now prevails among the majority of the world's most educated classes.  There is no doubt that this was true in the past.

It is increasingly important for the competing claims of the old ethic and the new ethic to be seriously examined. The next few decades will determine not only how we view the moral status of human embryos; they will also determine how we fundamentally view our own human lives and the shape of all future generations.

We believe this preemptive ban on human engineering is necessary to at least slow the rush toward a "transhuman" future so that everyone—not just scientists, eugenicists, and biotech leaders—can have a voice in determining the future of the human race.

There is no evidence or proof that slowing the race toward manipulation of nascent human life will prevent, stop, or slow down the discovery of any cures.  Claims to the contrary are nothing more than the huffing and puffing of eugenicists and proponents of the "new ethic," who want to minimize the public debate as they rush to create their own vision of A Brave New World.


But why should a secularist like me, who doubts that there are any absolute moral values and doubts that human embryos have any inherent dignity...why should I support your initiative?

Because human engineering is a dangerous business.  One of the cardinal laws that govern the engineering sciences is Murphy's Law, which states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.

Complex systems have complex interactions that are impossible to fully anticipate.  Changing the human genome may cause developmental malformations or increase the risk of diseases across species.  Transhumanists don't deny this; they just dismiss it as the price we must pay for progress.  How big a chance are you willing to take on a manmade disaster?

Even if they are successful and can create "better people," the genetic divide between the genetically enriched and the "normals" may create profound social injustices and conflicts.  The value of science fiction is that authors envision where a premise will lead, and The Wrath of Kahn and similar warnings against human engineering should not be ignored.

Moreover, genocide, via the laboratory rather than the death camp, will be the inevitable result. The first subpopulations to be eliminated will be the mentally and physically disabled.  In France, where 92 percent of human fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome are already being aborted, the highest appellate court has recently ruled that children with Down Syndrome have a right not to be born.  Improved screening and genetic engineering techniques will accelerate this trend.

One can also expect that over the course of centuries social fashion will inevitably lead to the elimination of Aundesirable@ racial characteristics. If lighter skin continues to provide social, economic, and psychological benefits, parents of darker-skinned races will gradually opt for successively lighter-toned children.  Pop singer Michael Jackson's medical evolution from a black to a white physiology may be replicated over the course of ten generations rather than one, but the result will be the same.

Assuming that genetic engineering techniques can be perfected, genetic traits that are considered adequate by today's standards will be deemed "unfit" for future generations.  At some point, if the eugenicists' aspirations are fulfilled, future generations may well have an average IQ of 200. The average 20th century human (with an IQ of 100) would be considered "retarded" by comparison.  In such a world, selective abortion will not be limited to children with Down Syndrome.

If eugenicists succeed in their goal of creating a superior human race, will such future generations admire the cleverness of their ape-like ancestors who took control of evolution to produce their generation? 

Or, since no one can predict all of the ramifications of human engineering, is it just as likely that they will despise us for our foolish conceit that triggered unimaginable social disasters?

Unlike the Nazi eugenicists, modern eugenicists do not seek military domination of humanity, but they still believe in the dream of creating a "Master Race."  The genocide of specific genetic traits will be committed over time, in the laboratory.  There will not be any mass graves; simply millions of emptied vials.

Sincere, good intentions have guided everything eugenicists have done, proposed, and will do.  But as the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Shouldn't you support this initiative if only to erect a speed bump on that road?


But if scientists really can end all disease and make the children of future generations better, shouldn't we embrace the chance to create a utopia here on this earth instead of hoping in an uncertain after-life?

G. K. Chesterton argued that Amorality is like art. Somewhere you have to draw a line.@ But if the ethic espoused by supporters of human engineering prevails, there will be no lines.

If the new ethic prevails, we will not only lose any standard for objective morality, we will lose any clear sense of what it means to be human.  If we indulge the voracious appetite of our eugenic impulse to know and control our own humanity, we will become like Ouroborus, the serpent eating its own tail.

  In satisfying our appetite, we destroy ourselves.

On a fundamental level, as soon as we cease considering all human life as sacred—as soon as we consider using some human lives as a means to some end—then no matter how noble that end, we will have radically altered the value of our own human lives.

The view that all human life is sacred tells us that human beings are inherently valuable, not for what they can do, but simply for what they are.  In Judeo-Christian heritage, the inherent value of human life lies in the belief that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. To mistreat human life, therefore, is to mock the image and likeness of God.

Conversely, the view that human lives can be used as a means to an end renders human  lives subject to manipulation and exploitation.  From such a perspective, human beings are objects that can be manipulated like any other raw material to serve any purpose, which is valued more than the lives which are to be exploited.  Determining who gets exploited is resolved either directly by raw power, or indirectly by the power to define who is a person and what rights or obligations are attached to certain groups of human beings.  From this viewpoint, slave owners can justify owning slaves.  Sexual predators can justify using women as sexual objects. Scientists can justify using prisoners, the mentally disabled, or pre-born humans as experimental resources.

While eugenicists would argue that any high enough end can justify any means, traditional Judeo-Christian ethics teaches that the ends never justify the means.  In other words, immoral means can never be tolerated in the hope that the good end sought is worth more than the injustice committed by the immoral means.

Moreover, it is often argued--if not put forward as an absolute moral truth--that immoral means to a good end will always result in a corrupted end which is no longer good.  Just as making breakfast with rotten eggs will always result in a foul-tasting meal, so the pursuit of a manmade utopia by the means of exploiting human beings will inevitably lead us to a mockery of utopia.

Many people seem to forget that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which brilliantly anticipates the society which eugenics would create, describes an anti-utopia.  While in some respects eugenics may result in increased comfort, power, health, and beauty for the elite classes, such progress can only be made at the price of their (and our) humanity.

Remember, morality is like art; somewhere we have to draw a line.  And where we draw the line has to make sense. It has to have some clear relationship to objective reality. Once that line is blurred, or we draw it in a place that separates some humans from others, there is no security for anyone.  Once we proclaim a right to define who is in and who is out of our "circle of life," everything becomes subject to change and reversal.  If we move along this path, we will have no basis for complaining against future generations who will classify us as subhuman, or even against our own children, who may authorize the euthanasia of our "useless lives" once we become feeble with age.

"Therapeutic" cloning, the harvesting of embryonic stem cells, and all forms of eugenic activity deny the inherent value of human life. The institutionalization of these practices effects literally everything about the way we view human life, society, and ourselves.



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This public education effort is sponsored by the Elliot Institute as part of its Coalition to Regulate Human Engineering and Human-Animal Crossbreeding project.....

copyright 2006 Elliot Institute