Salvo 09.19.2023 4 minutes

No Mother, No Father, No Way

Human embryo connected to the lines of a printed circuit board.

Manufacturing and experimenting on embryonic human beings is clearly unethical.

“It’s alive!” the mad scientist in the movie Frankenstein exclaims. And now fiction has become fact. Katherine Fidler reports at Metro that “Scientists grow human embryo in a lab without sperm, egg or womb.” While billed as a scientific breakthrough, however, this type of research is unethical and dangerous. 

Everyone agrees that the individuals created through this technology will help us understand early human embryonic development. But there is some controversy about whether they are actually human embryos or just models similar to human embryos. Is there actually a meaningful difference?

If something walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, it’s a duck. It’s so much more true for human beings. 

Though they will not be developed into full-term babies, these experimental creations nevertheless react in the same way as natural human embryos. If these “human-like” embryos are human enough to provide valuable medical information for humans, they are human enough to be considered human.  

If there is any doubt, we must err on the side of regarding them as human. Imagine a hunter aims at something behind a bush but is unsure if it is a deer or a hiker. He must, of course, hold his fire. Similarly, we should provide these entities the protections afforded human beings.

In defending the ethics of this research, “The team allowed the embryos to develop to the 14-day mark, the widely-accepted legal cut-off for embryo research in any form.” This legal limit is completely arbitrary. There is no magic to the 14-day cutoff. How can it be ethical to experiment on human beings for 336 hours, but in the 337th hour it becomes wrong? 

The use of this technology for reproductive purposes is especially problematic. As William E. May has pointed out, these methods of making a baby “carry out the logic of manufacturing products: one should use the most efficient, time-saving, and cost-saving methods available to deliver the desired product, and quality controls ought to be put in place to assure that the resulting ‘product’ is in no way ‘defective.’” Noting that since “one readily sees how dehumanizing such ‘production’ of human babies” are, May rightfully argues that they should “not to be treated as products inferior to their producers and subject to quality controls; they are persons equal in dignity to their parents.”

Moreover, to make a human being in this way is to deprive the baby of both a father and a mother, to make someone an orphan even before they are born. When Jay Williams fathered 34 children with 17 different women, his actions drew criticism since he was unwilling and indeed unable to be a good father to all the children he brought into existence. Similarly, lab technicians who create children without a mother and a father deprive those children of the love of parents to which they are entitled. 

This research brings human beings into existence in an experimental way. When Dolly the first cloned sheep was made, tumors grew in her lungs, and she had to be euthanized. Here, the lab technicians are risking the dignity, well-being, and very lives of human beings who could have serious physical or mental disabilities. For all we know, they, like Dolly, will develop tumors, suffer, and die prematurely. 

A basic principle of medical ethics is that it is wrong to experiment on human beings without their informed consent, even to gain new knowledge. In order to learn about the progression of syphilis, almost 400 African American men were left untreated without their informed consent. This infamous Tuskegee Experiment is universally recognized as a moral tragedy. As Immanuel Kant said, we should respect humanity in ourselves and others and never use them simply as a means, even a means to greater knowledge. 

When it comes to human dignity, we must practice an ethics of inclusivity. Anything less leads us down a path to human depravity.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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