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Saturn Devours His Children

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Zac Alstin - published on 07/21/15 - updated on 06/07/17

These kinds of outcomes are not surprising to those of us on the “traditional” or “conservative” side of bioethics, perhaps most simply because we do not believe the reassurances of those who are eager to see the law bent or reformed to allow them the liberties they desire.  Perhaps also because we are not as blinkered by the desire to see a particular morally controversial practice become law.

When Australia’s federal parliament voted in 2002 to allow embryonic stem cell research, it stood united in its opposition to human cloning. The opposition to cloning gave the impression of a line that would not be crossed. It reassured both the Australian public and the politicians themselves that there were limits to their ethical adventurism.  The more they declared the strength of their opposition to cloning, the more considerate and trustworthy they appeared in their willingness to allow the destruction of IVF embryos for research purposes. 

Four years later, parliament voted to allow therapeutic cloning.  As the then Health Minister Tony Abbott noted of his parliamentary colleagues in the build-up to the 2006 vote:

“they owe it to the rest of us to explain in detail how something completely unacceptable just four years ago is positively desirable now.”

Nothing had changed, yet enough time had passed for the logical next step of the research agenda to be approved. The same motives behind the 2002 vote held true for the 2006 vote: the promise of cures for all diseases, the fear of losing researchers to more permissive overseas efforts, and an a priori commitment to the expansion of scientific research over antiquated moral scruples.

Logically, it was incongruous for parliament to unanimously reject therapeutic cloning in 2002, but politically it was expedient to separate the two equally controversial yet ethically distinct issues.

In 2006, supporters of therapeutic cloning repeated the tactic from 2002, drawing a new line in the sand that could be described as utterly off-limits, morally repugnant, and worthy of unanimous rejection. Thus, careful (albeit ethically inconsequential) distinctions were made between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning; obfuscations were made as to the nature of the cloned embryo, with claims that it wasn’t an embryo as it hadn’t been created through the combination of sperm and egg, or that it wasn’t an embryo because there was no intention to implant it and bring it to term – which is a bit like saying that an oven is not an oven if it only ever sits in a showroom.

Waste not, want not

Ontological misadventures aside, the lesson to take away from this bit of history is that people are by and large consistent with the logic of their own motives and the implicit logic of reality itself. It seemed incongruous at the time that people would so sternly and emotively reject therapeutic cloning only to have a collective “change of heart” four years later.

It is likewise incongruous to think that people could actively take part in the routine killing and destruction of unborn human beings and not come to see the commercial and research potential of what is otherwise merely a biological waste product of their business, which they must pay to have removed and disposed of. Pay or be paid? These people aren’t idiots.

As the Planned Parenthood executive told her supposed “buyers”:

“I think everybody just wants, it’s really just about if anyone were ever to ask them, ‘What do you do for this $60? How can you justify that? Or are you basically just doing something completely egregious, that you should be doing for free.’ So it just needs to be justifiable…

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AbortionHuman TraffickingPlanned Parenthood
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