Mark D. Garfinkel
garfinkl at iitmax.iit.edu
Thu Feb 3 11:55:26 EST 1994
In article <bullock.1.2D4F1D1D at tui.lincoln.ac.nz>
bullock at tui.lincoln.ac.nz (Bullock, David) writes:
>Everyone is entitled to their opinion but I would hope for better informed
>opinions in this forum [...]
As discussed in other threads, readers & posters to this newsgroup
include faculty members, postdoctoral scientists, graduate students,
undergraduates, middle- and high-school biology teachers, and even
net-connected non-biologist parents whose kids are interested in biology.
With such a diverse population, one should expect (and respect) a range
of knowledge, sophistication, & subtlety in the postings. Bionet -- it's
not just for biologists anymore.
[much deleted concerning PUC students' posts]
>Cloning ["of animals," I add] is accomplished
>by dividing an embryo at a stage when its individual cells (blastomeres)
>still have the potential to develop into a complete foetus (totipotency).
>In cattle this practice is now in use commercially.
"If you can do it with cattle, you can do it with people."
Professor Barry Kiefer, in his concluding lecture in
the Introductory Biology course at Wesleyan University
in mid-December 1976. (I was a freshman in the course)
He made this remark while showing a slide of the first in-vitro-
fertilized calf, the bull & cow that were its two genetic parents, and
the cow that served as surrogate mother for the IVF-calf's gestation.
Steptoe & Edwards' report of the Brown baby did not appear until 1978.
>To my knowledge, there has been only one report of human embryo splitting,
>in which development did not proceed beyond the very early stages of
I read about this in the New York Times late last year, but have
not looked for the corresponding scientific publication. The work
described in the NYT used "defective embryos," whatever that really
means, which undoubtedly contributed to the lack of sustained development.
One could regard the attempt as harbinger of things to come, and that is
why it stimulated a flurry of discussion in the press (and in this
newsgroup) regarding the ethics of using the method.
>There can be little scientific interest in splitting human
>embryos, but there may be some clinical applications.
Technology dictates ethics.
As a problem of "scientific interest," the instability of high-Z
atomic nuclei had fundamentally been solved by 1930 or so. Building the
atomic bomb was not a *scientific* problem of nuclear physics, but rather
a series of engineering and computational problems (see, for example,
Rhodes' book "The Making of the Atomic Bomb," and certain chapters of
Gleick's biography of Richard Feynman, "Genius"). Enrico Fermi said that
in order to build the Bomb, the United States would have to become a
single large factory. Our military-industrial complex is arguably just
that, and only now are we beginning to think about how to close its
doors & take out the trash. Americans' concepts of freedom & democracy
were altered, perhaps irrevocably, by the distortions and the imperatives
of the Cold-War-era national security state. (Not to mention television.)
For the practising biologist, human embryo cloning is a technique
in search of a problem. For a fiction writer such as Aldous Huxley, it is
an integral tool of a dysutopian totalitarian society. In "Brave New
World," Huxley foresaw a method to split human embryos into clutches
of 96 identical twins. By a number of means, these clutches were made
to be nearly subhuman in intelligence and then trained just-enough to
fill the most menial roles in that highly stratefied society, one in
which genes were destiny.
Technology dictates ethics.
Human history offers many other examples of this aphorism besides
the American 20th-Century one I mentioned. Ask yourself how the industrial
revolution contributed to the elimination of human slave-labor. Ask
yourself which nations today are still slave-states.
I see no harm in discussing a technique, its logical extrapolations,
and the possible consequences thereof. Quite the opposite. Since the
future is still ours to build, such discussion, especially if well-
thought-out, may illuminate critical issues and help avoid adverse outcomes.
Mark D. Garfinkel (e-mail: garfinkl at iitmax.acc.iit.edu)
My views are my own, which is why they're copyright 1994
More information about the Bioforum