Human interference in the Affairs of God

- M.N. Jha and S.K. Misra
Department Of Microbiology, Rajendra Agricultural University, (Bihar), Pusa, Samastipur-848125, India
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 13 (2003), 191-4.

We, human beings are inborn selfish by nature. We have developed genetic engineering technology and strengthened it day by day. The technologies have enabled us to develop transgenic and cloned organisms, microbial bio-factories etc. and will enable us to create life. We will be able to direct our evolution according to our wish whereas other living creatures will depend on random mutation and blind chance for their evolution. Genetic tinkering of the human genome may lead to the creation of superman. But such superman if derived from bad gene may act as super demon. There may be a situation when a woman just for fantasy intends to mate a gorilla or wants to have child as big as elephant and we will be in a position to fulfill the fantasy of such women. But the question is "What do we help to learn from human cloning"? And why do we want to do it? Such case will be a rank commercial enterprise, just ripe for sensationalism.

It seems that we are one of the follower of the "Devil's Doctrine", that is "what can be done, must be done"? The blind assumption that all knowledge must have good end points in finally being challenged as it is becoming painfully obvious that we neither know nor understand quite as much as we have hitherto led to believe. The very success of molecular biology will lead to many questions such as What kind of society would we produce if we extended our life span for fifty more years? How could we accommodate the population in this already crowded world? How could we provide a life with meaning and quality for all? Do scientists have a divine right to the pursuit of truth? Does anyone have a God-given right to search for truth wherever it may lead? Is there something that is better known? Whose is the responsibility to guide and control the application of science? These questions are not new but it is human clones, the concept of super bugs, plants and animal that has forced them out into the open. The expected super creature will be neither innocent nor abstract. The consequence will be irrevocable. So, do we do it or do we not?

While the developments and possibilities of science are wonderful to some, they are down right frightening to others. We are among those people who view them with a degree of suspicion. Is any human being justified in asking a woman to go through pregnancy with all its physical and emotional commitment on behalf of another woman, only to have the child taken away at birth - even at a price? It has been done. Since one person's wife was infertile, he paid a heavy amount for a surrogate mother, who was artificially impregnated by him. Shall we regard this as no more than a twentieth century extension of the medieval idea of the wet nurse? Are we willing to contemplate a situation where playing one set of women to bear children on behalf of others is regarded as a reasonable way of solving poverty and unemployment? Suppose, surrogate mother refuse to hand over the children to the social mother. How will law decide whose child would it be? Further, a situation may come when busy women hiring others to be their cows to produce their offspring. But being too busy to have the children may also mean too busy to look after them. Will he be willing to undertake the same kind of loving responsibility for that life with the care and attention that is not only the right of every human individual and which is essential for normal, happy growth or will it just be his "Experiment"? If the child is defective in some way, would he be willing to undertake the responsibility for its care?

A related question is "Would we like a child with four parents? Dr. Mintz has created a living mouse that fits this specification. She took two mouse embryos, dissolved the protective membranes for amalgamation and inserted a composite embryo into a surrogate mother, who finally gave birth. Actually the mouse had five parents, depending on one's definition of motherhood; four genetic and one for pregnancy. Its not only mouse but frogs, rabbit, sheep etc. has already been developed and we human beings are also in queue.

In traditional reproduction, genes carried in the sperm and egg co-mingle to produce an offspring that has a unique mix of its parent's qualities. In human cloning genetic material from ovum is replaced by desired human genome and such embryos are genetic copies of only one parent.

Even if that number of surrogate mothers could be found willing to act as milch cows, we may be thankful that it will take just as long for every clone to grow up as it will take for one.

In coming years there will be a situation when you could walk into the local clinic and get yourself cloned as easy as eating pie. Nine months later (with the paramedics taking care of the technical Jargon in between) you get delivery of what? Weather your child, your brother, your sister or yourself? Commonsense and custom would say it's your offspring since you (a) instigated the a-sexual reproductive process yourself to begin with (b) were solely responsible for its coming into existence (c) probably given birth to it too if you happened to be female (or if you are married your wife could have). Strictly speaking, through, one reason the child is your sibling because it has the exact mix of his parent's gene as you have. On the other hand from a genetic point of view the clone is you. So, the question remains unsolved "what does your cloned child call you?"

As a civilization we have not outgrown a rather sickening interest in the macabre. People used to flock to the circus to see the fattest women on earth or the dwarf or the monster. Such aberrancies pull in the audience and the cash. So, too, we may confidently expect that commercial interests will eagerly exploit the result of such bizarre unions. But, should we not bother about the feelings of the exhibited?

The test-tube baby or human clone will also relieve us from the necessity of sex. The technology will relieve some women from the suffering and constraints of pregnancy. It will provide powers of prediction and selection. It may be appropriate to avoid the birth of a child with a terminal disease but is it right to use the same technology to avoid the birth of girls. Can we draw a line between this designer baby approach and allowing those who can afford it to exercise consumer choice on the characteristics of their future children? If parents can effectively choose the genes of their child then perhaps they will be increasingly blamed for wrong choices. In India, babies are always welcome; as we notice from our burgeoning population, but which baby? Boys - would be the unanimous answer. But are we going to grow more boys, if there are no women left to conceive them? Of course, modern science has answered this question in the form of clone baby. Further development may result in the mass production of wombs in vitro and its not only men but ultimately women would not be needed either. End of story.

Recent developments in human genetics also suggest the role of gene(s) in the social behaviour of human beings. But, findings of gene with relation to specific character can be highly controversial. For instance, the finding of the gay gene may be used against people born that way or finding of divorce gene may select or reject people on the basis of their genetic superiority. Healthy people who have gene predisposing to illness may not be able to get insurance cover. People are not responsible for their genes and they should not suffer additional social burdens because of any misfortune that are beyond their control. There is another side of story too. Terrorists may ask for an excuse of their acts on the basis of the extra genes or even chromosome they inherited from parents.

The argument for the treatment of genetic diseases through genetic engineering is that: we have a moral obligation to work towards more effective gene therapies for those who are presently suffering. That is one kind of priority-but there is another, which of the genetic disease demands our first attention, and on what criteria? Should we try to reduce the incidence of genetic disease in population or should we do something along eugenic lines to deliberately improve the human gene pool? Should we do everything possible to preserve genetic diversity in the species, even if this means permitting harmful genes like the one that produces hemophilia to remain? This diversity may by a very fundamental prerequisite for variation and therefore genetic vigor.

We must neither make any absolute judgment about genetic defects, nor be in too much of a hurry to engineer them. Some characteristics may be both useful and harmful at the same time. We might well wonder why during evolution the gene for sickle-cell anemia, so prevalent amongst the black population, has been retained. It is so obviously harmful that one would expect it to have been eliminated by natural selection. There is an advantage associated with this condition, however for these who carry this factor have been found to have a high resistance to malaria.

Genetic disease must be seen in its correct perspective and in the total context of human disease. The population at risk from malaria is 1.5 billion. If one uses the world medical situation as an argument for genetic engineering, the argument dictates that scientists presently working on genes or gene therapies would be better employed developing a vaccine for malaria, cancer, AIDS etc. The problem will be further, complicated because the commercial exploitation of the new knowledge of human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, gutted egg reprogramming and gene therapy. Will the poor get the benefit of medicines of tomorrow? The medicine of tomorrow in all livelihoods will be what may be called ' Genotype medicine". They will be individualized medicine so every one of us will have to have a diagnostic test before a drug is prescribed. Several genome companies notably Celera, HGS and Incyte pharmaceuticals, have filed patent applications for thousands of DNA sequences.

            Another question: should one apply the same kind of vigorous life saving and life-supporting technology to features that in earlier centuries would have died because of gene defects or chromosome aberrancies, but which because of our biomedical technology we can now keep alive even though they may be prematurely born and suffering from gross defects? But by doing so, we may be defeating our own goal - that of having strong healthy children. To achieve such goal should we will or abort the abnormal child. And if so, whose decisions will it be to terminate its life - Surrogate mother's, doctor or future social mother. So, human clones or embryo implantation may simply not be worth the time and effort. For childless parents, adoption may be not only the most reasonable alternative but given the overpopulation problem, the most socially acceptable too. For this we will have to educate the people because Dr. Zavos of Andrology Institute, Lexington (USA) claimed that more than 3,000 people have contacted him for their clones and the market of human cloning is enormous.

            The danger of super microbes or engineered microbes is also enormous. Combining genes from organisms that have never been joined before might produce an aberrant result an organism with unknown properties, which could be suddenly quite virulent. It is also possible that two pieces of spliced DNA which are quite harmless in their parent organism could together form a dangerous pathogen, giving rise to devastating epidemics or pandemics, world wide outbreak of disease. The insertion of tumour causing viral gene in to the human intestinal bacterial E.Coli now living in the gut might be able to live in other parts of the body - perhaps the cardiac muscle of the heart or its range might be extended to other animals and plants. The newly created microbes may be cheaper to use and easier to exploit as a silent weapon in biological warfare. It may go into the hand of such people who can go up to any extent to damage the world community for fulfilling their objective. It will not be easy for good people to locate such weapon and at the same time it is not difficult for fanatic to multiply it by providing little space and simpler food. The havoc of Anthrax is the most recent one in this regard.

            No doubt, genetic engineering is already a part of our worldview. We think no body has any problem with a safe and permanent cure of disease either heritable or communicable. But what about the fusion between surrogate mother and human clones. Everybody in their heart of hearts knows that within a decade or two cloning will be as common as warts. The discord and friction is not only about whether benefits of cloning outweigh the possible social consequences or that its abuse can unleash power forces which can be exploited to produce horrendous results. But, isn't it a step about human reproduction having passed from the hands of God into the hands of man. Now, of all our many thousand of genes, the study of ones involved in our behaviour has already prompted panic. Many fear that genetic arguments might be used to excuse criminal acts or justify divorce. Although federal law prohibits the experimentation of human cloning but the danger, though is that a blanket ban may drive boffins in the backroom where they will continue their search even illegally. There is also possibility that the human embryo can be legally cloned in one part of the world, then implanted in woman in a quite different part of the globe, such as the developing world, where such implantation is not against the law. Thus, immediate need is to create awareness in the society about the consequences of such interference in the affairs of God.


Social, Ethical, Moral, Political, Legal, Economic, Demographical and Ecological Consequences of Biotechnological Progress

In summary we can see the following - applications of new technology claimed to: "Relieve women from the suffering and constraints of pregnancy." "Relieve human being from sex." "Solve poverty and unemployment by hiring surrogate mother." "Provide power of prediction and selection." "Provide children to childless couples" and to put therapeutic cloning within reach. One can develop specialized organs of the body, may be curing cardiac disorders, repairing spinal cord injuries or paralysis due to strokes or accidents. Healthy cells of the required type could be made to replace dead or malfunctioning tissues, to repair the cellular damage caused by Parkinson's disease, provide organs like kidney and hearts for transplanting.

While these developments and possibilities are wonderful to some, they are downright frightening to others; we are among those people who view them with a degree of suspicion. Let us take the new concept "wombs for rent"? Is it justified to ask a woman to go through pregnancy with all her physical and emotional commitment on behalf of another infertile women or busy women, only to have the child taken away at birth - even at a price? Shall we regard this as no more than a twentieth century extension of the medieval idea of a wet nurse? Are we willing to contemplate a situation where playing one set of women to bear children on behalf of other regards as a reasonable way of solving poverty and unemployment? In the case of refusal of surrogate mother to hand over the children to social mother, how will the law decide - whose child would it be? If the child is defective in some way, would he/she be willing to undertake the responsibility for its care? Would we like a child with four parents? To a large degree a human clone will be the mirror image of targeted person, will it not lead to hundreds of clones with hundreds of unidentical surrogate mothers, all saying, "My son the great hero"? What does your cloned child call you? Is it not a step towards acquiring lower organism character of asexual reproduction? Is it not possible to exploit the result of bizarre unions between man and elephant, man and gorilla, cow and tiger etc. for earning money? Will it relieve us from the necessity of sex? Can we draw a line between this designer baby approach and allowing those who can afford it to exercise consumer choice on the characteristics of their future children?

The announcements of Italian Scientist Antinori and Nobel laureate Dr. Seed (Physics) that they will clone humans no matter what the law suggests there may be little hope. If all countries ban this, they will hire ships and go to international waters in the ocean for this. Such announcement inspires us to oppose such devil's doctrine that what can be done, should be done at any cost. We need to develop a great social sense of responsibility to face the challenges of human reproductive technology, and consider what should be in "God's hands".

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