from readers about the bioethics of cloning
November 22, 2002
Printing Katherine Handes letter under the
title "embryo cloning" was misleading. Ms. Hande, as I understand
her position, was not addressing the cloning debate but was addressing
the free exchange of ideas. She points out, using his own words, that
Mr. Blackmar does not believe the opinions of Mr. George should be forced
on others. She asserts that this suggests Mr. Blackmar has little respect
for the free exchange of ideas other than his and asserts that the free
exchange of ideas is crucial to education at Princeton and crucial to
a free society. Mr. Blackmar did not directly answer Ms. Handes
questions in his most recent letter; I was hoping for a response to her
assertion that he condones silencing, or at least rejecting out of hand,
the position of Mr. George, or ideas that do not agree with his. Please,
Mr. Blackmar, answer the questions Ms. Hande tendered and reassure us
that you do not believe that those opinions contrary to yours "should
not be forced on others."
This leads me to my second point, Mr. Blackmars
most recent letter. Mr. Blackmar states the "an embryo produced
outside the womb is not a moral person." Here is
another question for Mr. Blackmar: What then is it? It is not a lizard
or duck embryo; it is a human embryo. A live human embryo. This live human
embryo will not continue to develop, if it is allowed, into any other
species except a human. One cannot fertilize a human ovum with a human
sperm and get anything but a human embryo. Indulge me, if you will, to
continue along this line of thought for a moment longer.
Let us assume, for argument's sake, that a human embryo is an underdeveloped
human but never the less a human being. If, then, this human life
is ended for research, who is forcing their views on others? It would
be Mr. Blackmar who is forcing his view on the human being in question
that it is not "a moral person." Mr. Blackmar would be imposing
his views, hopefully at least through legislation and not judicial activism,
on a human seeking to live. This, at best, would be "insensitive."
All of this, of course, hangs on the assumption that the embryo is a human,
which is precisely my point. It seems the question that must be addressed
first and foremost in the embryo cloning debate is whether or not the
human embryos in question are indeed humans. I established they are not
reptiles or birds. You conclude whether they are mammals or amphibians,
and if mammals, what kind exactly. If a conclusion cannot be reached,
then let us not force anyones opinions on these unknown beings.
Perhaps, we should not create them, and this dilemma in the first place.
Alas, that last comment may open a whole other can of worms
Charles Blackmar '42 discounts "an embryo
produced outside the womb, which can become a human being only if the
massively invasive process of implantation is employed."
Suppose for a moment that future technology makes implantation incredibly
simple. Would this embryo then be a "moral person" after all?
And if circumstances of technology govern our definition of who is and
who is not entitled to the protections of the Constitution, circumstances
which could change quite suddenly well, we don't have much of a
definition, then, do we.
It strikes me, moreover, that we undertake "massively invasive processes,"
however defined, to preserve life at its other endpoint, when our citizens
approach death. So by itself the degree of difficulty of any particular
medical procedure would seem not to ring clear as a bell here.
A human life begins at fertilization, when a male human sperm combines
with a female human egg to create a one-cell human. This one-cell has
a full complement of 46 chromosomes. It is a human life, with all of the
instructions to build a human baby. This one-cell human being has its
own unique DNA. It is true that if this one-cell human is not implanted
in a woman's uterus, it has no chance of maturing into a baby and being
born. That does not make it any less worthy. It is not a pre-human. We
can not, must not continue creating human embryos just to experiment on
them. In-vitro fertilization is morally wrong because it creates these
fertilized embryos outside of the womb, knowing that most will be destroyed.
All of us started as a one-cell fertilized egg.
Katherine Hande 02 in her letter in the November 6 issue misunderstands
my position in my letter in the October 9 issue.
When I said that Professor George's beliefs on research cloning should
not "be imposed on others," I was referring to his advocacy
as a member of the President's Council on Bioethics of legislation prohibiting
"research cloning." I had no purpose of complaining about his,
or others', expressions of opinion on the subject.
I indeed regret the absence of more discourse on this subject, which I
consider to have great importance.
In a recent exchange of letters ("Embryo Cloning," Oct. 9, 2002)
Judge Charles Blackmar took Prof. Robert George
to task for opposing nonreproductive cloning of human embryos for research
and therapy. George in turn criticized Blackmar for rejecting his conclusions
without refuting, or even addressing, his reasons.
In the report of the President's Council on Bioethics (of which he is
a member), George argues that all human embryos are human beings entitled
to full respect. Note, however, that this assertion leads to the repugnant
conclusion that abortion is wrong even in cases of rape. This suggests
that George's argument may be flawed, and indeed it is.
George reasons that since the path from an embryo to a complete, adult
human being is a continuous developmental process, the embryo must also
be a complete (though immature) human being. "If the embryo were
not a complete organism," he asks, "then what could it be?"
He argues that there is no qualitative difference between the embryo and
the adult human being, only a quantitative difference because the embryo
has progressed a shorter distance along its pathway of development. Hence,
he claims, both deserve equal respect.
But this is a logical fallacy. (It is called the "Argument of the
Beard" after the obviously fallacious argument that being clean-shaven
must be the same as having a full beard, since there is a continuous series
of imperceptibly different in-between beards linking those two states.)
Just because one cannot define a precise point at which the developing
organism becomes morally equivalent to an adult does not mean that it
is equivalent to an adult from conception.
George goes on to contrast the embryo and the unfertilized egg. There
is a qualitative difference between these two, he says, because the former
can, of itself, develop into an adult human being, whereas the latter
needs major help from outside ö namely, fusion with a sperm cell. The
difference in this case is qualitative rather than merely quantitative,
he argues, and therefore the unfertilized egg is not a human being.
But this argument undermines Georges opposition to non-reproductive
cloning. There is also a qualitative (not merely quantitative) difference
between an embryo in utero, and an embryo obtained by nuclear transplantation,
sitting in a culture dish! The latter, like the unfertilized egg, cannot
develop by itself into an adult human being. It must be artificially implanted
into a surrogate mother.
I was disappointed that Prof. George accused Judge Blackmar of the "view
that embryonic human beings may legitimately be treated as disposable
research material."Such an accusation has emotional impact and probably
scores points with many people. It is certainly abhorrent to think of
human beings as "disposable"! But George's accusation begs the
question whether the cloned embryo is really a human being, something
that George assumes but has certainly not demonstrated. Emotional appeals
should not be taken as the basis for rational argument.
Another way of looking at the issue is to ask who is harmed by
the use of cloned embryos in medical research? I would say (and I suppose
Judge Blackmar would say) that no one is harmed, whereas Prof. George
would presumably say that one "person" is harmed the
embryo itself. But how can this be? George's statements indicate that
he would not object to a woman voluntarily donating an unfertilized egg
to be used for research and finally discarded. Now suppose that a diploid
nucleus is transplanted into that egg and it develops into an embryo which
is then used for research and discarded. On what basis can it be said
that any "person" is worse off than if the nuclear transplantation
had never been done at all?
There is at least one good reason to pursue nuclear transplantation research
(nonreproductive cloning) it may lead to significant advances in
the treatment of disease. There may also be good reasons why it should
not be pursued, but Prof. George has yet to provide any.
Thank you for printing my letter regarding research cloning
together with Professor Robert Georges response (October 9). He
tenders some questions to me, and this is my response.
An embryo produced outside the womb, which can become a human being only
if the massively invasive process of implantation is employed, is not
a moral person, with rights equal to those of living, breathing
human beings. The use of such embryos in research, which might benefit
grievously afflicted people, is in no sense immoral.
I do not argue that my position is morally superior to his, but his support
of legislation that would impose his arcane views on scientists seeking
to alleviate human suffering is at best insensitive.
I am writing in response to the letter by Charles Blackmar
42 criticizing Robert George's view that cloning even for
the purposes of research violates the fundamental purpose for creating
life. Mr. Blackmar declares that opinions such as these should not
be forced on others, perhaps referring to Professor Georges
appointment to the presidents bioethics council.
Which opinions are these, exactly? Opinions
that do not agree with yours?
Princeton alumni boldly call for a University (and a
society) where all voices are heard; one need only look toward more recent
faculty appointments to see the broad range of beliefs and attitudes represented
If, as Mr. Blackmars comment suggests, we attempt
to silence all those whose perspectives do not fit our own, we do not
celebrate a democratic society, we only celebrate our own inconsistency.
When did expressing ones opinion translate into forcing it
on others? We should be thrilled, as alumni and as citizens, to
have professors who challenge and confront our views, both at the university
level and in our nations capital.
Arguments and reasons are the currency of intellectual
I have set forth in detail in my contribution to the
Bioethics Council's report on human cloning
(1) my reasons for believing that human embryos are human beings, and
(2) my arguments for the proposition that creating human beings and destroying
them in the embryonic stage or at any other point for purposes of biomedical
research is unjust.
Judge Blackmar vehemently rejects my conclusions, but
fails to rebut, or even report, the arguments and reasons I adduced in
Worse yet, he offers no arguments or reasons for his
own view that embryonic human beings may legitimately be treated as disposable
Does he maintain that human embryos are something other
than human beings in the embryonic stage of their natural development?
Does he deny that all of us were once embryos? If so, I would refer
him to the standard embryology texts in use in American medical schools.
Does he concede that human embryos are human beings but
hold that age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency
are legitimate grounds for treating some human beings as less worthy of
respect than others? If so, I wonder how he answers the arguments I and
others set forth in defense of the principle of human equality in the
Bioethics Council's report.
As for the judge's assertion that by stating a moral
judgment I implicitly claim moral superiority to those who disagree, I
would ask him to consider that his assertion is itself in the form of
a moral judgment. In stating it, does he implicitly claim moral superiority
I confront the judge with the retorsive implications
of what he says against me not to score a debater's point, but to emphasize
the need for interlocutors in difficult ethical debates to place the focus
where it belongs, namely, on each others' arguments and reasons.
Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, is a member of
the President's Council on Bioethics. In his statement in the Council
Is pre-publication release of July 10, 2002, he takes a firm and unyielding
stand gainst "cloning for purposes of research."
This is to be regretted. There are many indications that embryos created
outside the womb may be of assistance in treating diseases and disabilities
for which no therapies are presently available. I am confident that Princeton's
fine departments dealing with the life sciences have the means for further
research making use of cells from cloned embryos.
Professor George would cut this research off at the outset. He bases his
position on the argument that an embryo created outside the womb is "a
human being deserving of full moral respect," even though, without
the affirmative act of implantation, it can never become a functioning
human being. He frequently uses the word "moral," thereby suggesting
that those who disagree with him are less moral than he is.
He is entitled to his opinion, just as Jehovah's Witnesses are entitled
to believe that a blood transfusion is the "drinking of blood,"
and therefore prohibited by the scriptures. But opinions of this kind
should not be forced on others.
There is no necessity or justification for forbidding or delaying experiments
in research cloning, when there is no danger of the use of such cloning
to produce functional human beings.
Charles B. Blackmar 42
Jefferson City, Mo.