The Dignity of Man And The Threat of Eugenics

A Talk at Beaconsfield, March 2001

The greatest twentieth century prophet against eugenics is GK Chesterton, and earlier this evening I visited his grave here in Beconsfield. Let me begin by paying tribute to him. His lovely poem “A Beaconsfield Ballad” celebrated the love of the town where he lived for much of his life. And he is remembered by many as a great story teller and raconteur. He deserves to be evaluated against a richer tapestry than simply his well-known Father Brown stories. When many others were blind, he stood at the gates of the twentieth century and saw where it was heading. In Chesterton we have the twentieth century’s prophet of life and the most trenchant early opponent of eugenics. The century was at its dawn when he was identifying these falling shadows. With the century’s setting sun we can now catalogue some of its terrifying infamies; the blood shed of more Christian martyrs than in all the centuries that preceded it; the evils of the holocaust, fascist and socialist totalitarianism; the corrupting of medical ethics and the consequential destruction of life on an unprecedented scale. In 1912 he took on the Liberal Government’s Mental Deficiency Bill, which advocated compulsory sterilisation of people who were mentally ill. His great ally was the independent MP, Josiah Wedgewood. Francis Galton (Darwin’s cousin) had identified two main categories of degenerates who should be incarcerated in asylums for life. Chesterton helped to defeat this particular Bill but, as he predicted, the wau was paved for Hitler, Dachau and the horrors of the holocaust.

Post war, Marie Stopes gave us sanitised eugenics, carefully rebranded in the language of choice, rights and quality of life.. In contemporary Britain this has led to 6 million abortions, abortion ip to birth on a disabled baby, and tests used as the first part of a search and destroy mission.. It has led to the destruction of half a million human embryos, to proposals for Dutch-style euthanasia laws, and it has led to human embryo cloning, and genetics. Chesterton’s wonderful story, The Man Who was Thursday, is subentitled A Nightmare. It is a story about anarchy. Two other writer, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley made their own contributions in contemplating what the future shape of society might be like. Surprisingly the most profoundly threatening dystopia of the future is unlikely to be Orwell’s nightmare of 1984 brutal ideological totalitarianism, but more the soulless authoritarianism , and stunted humanity of the manufactured human beings who people Huxley’s Brave New World. We can also glimpse that world without love through Chesterton’s writings. The new nightmare kingdoms of the 21st century are not creations of fiction but decisions sanctioned in a Parliament which claims to represent us. 21st century eugenics will give state planners undreamed of and unparalleled power. Genetic tests claiming to reveal instability, illness, homosexuality, or a low IQ all pave the way for eugenic abortions. Quality controls and perfection tests will also see the emergence of a genetic underclass of the uninsurable, the unbreedable, the unwanted and the unmanned. In the caste system to come, suitors, partners and predators will be encouraged to envy your genes with envy of contempt. We will become prisoners of heredity and slaves of a manipulated reproductive system. British birthright will be replaced by the right birth. Eugenics leads to the repression of variation and difference. Yet, as these awesome developments have occurred there has been hardly a murmur of protest.

Scientific illiteracy is often imputed to those who question or challenge research programmes and it is often assumed that anyone who muses about the desirability of proposed scientific advances is anti-science and are late twentieth century Luddites. When good science and good ethics march hand in hand they can deeply enrich human society.. Science should not run too far ahead of the debate about ethics. Just because something is scientifically possible, ergo, it does not necessarily make it right. At the heart of my argument is the belief that human dignity must be defended against the abuse of scientific techniques; that the creation of human embryos specifically for experimentation and research, and then to destroy them, is unconscionable; that therapeutic cloning inevitably and inexorably paves the way for reproductive cloning; and that here is the bright line that we simply should not cross. I will argue tonight that the use of embryonic stem cells is not juts wrong ethically, it is also bad science, lazy science, short-sighted science.. Tantalising arguments about possible cures are extraordinarily beguiling, and it is easy to impute disinterest in suffering to those who question them, but there will be no-one in this room who is unaware of the enormities to which ends versus means utilitarianism, has led in earlier times. There are also issues here of public safety. On the back of thalidomide, BSE and the rest it is worth mentioning the recent front page in The Guardian newspaper: Miracle Becomes Catastrophe. It was reporting how the use of foetal cells in Parkinson’s sufferers had failed to cure but had created irreversible symptoms of an even worse disease. It wasn’t an ethicist or a politician who said that reproductive technologies now pose a greater threat to mankind than even nuclear weapons. It was the scientist at the heart of the Manhattan Project which fathered atomic warfare, Professor Joseph Rotblatt, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner. I entirely agree with him.

Political debate in Britain has increasingly come to rely on presentational skills and manipulation of language. Clarity is what seekers after truth most need. When it became clear that Parliament and the public did not care for the idea of cloning it was decided to rebrand it as therapeutic cloning. Now we are told it is not really cloning at all. I am reminded of the old rhyming couplet:” O what a tangled webb we weave when we practice to deceive, but when we’ve been at it for quite a while, how we improve our style. The reason why we are now being told that therapeutic cloning is not really cloning is because its proponents have been rumbled and they know that the artificial distinction makes no logical sense for two good reasons. First, the ontological status of the two sets of products is from one point of view identical. Both are cloned human beings, different from each other only in regard to the state of their development which they have been permitted to reach. Human life is an unbroken continuum from the time of conception – or, in this case, construction, up until the moment of natural death. The truth we grasp subjectively, in a deeply personal way when we reflect upon the question: “When did I begin?” and its corollary: “Which part of the continuum of life which is me will I reject and disown?…the first 9 months? the first 14 days? Or just the first 48 hours?” Beyond the dissembling debate about primitive streaks, twinning and the rest lie the legislative reality that Parliament has permitted certain things to take place during the first 14 days – so presumably those who enacted these provisions accept it must be 14 days after something. Legally this is the watershed to which we look and say that is when I began to be me. Human development, culminating in death, continues thereafter. Dr.Albert Schweitzer, the great 20th century polyglot and polymath, called it “reverence for life.” Such a challenge to the utility and expediency on which Lord Winston’s thesis is based should be crushing enough – at least for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. But, for those who do not, a second challenge must be made. Simply stated my second challenge is this: By encouraging the legalisation of human cloning for therapeutic purposes we aid and abet the creation of the very conditions which will make full pregnancy cloning inevitable. This was borne out at a recent conference in Rome when a scientist said he would now reproduce a human clone because of the decision of the British Parliament to permit therapeutic cloning.

Once our IVF centres and our reproductive technology clinics are awash with cloned human embryos, will it really be possible to erect a cordon sanitaire, ring-fencing such embryos, to categorically ensure that no one breaks the law by implanting some of these cloned human beings into their mother’s wombs? Of course it will not be possible. Some of those providing the “separationist view” – that you can clone therapeutically but not reproductively – know that this is the only way they will achieve their real objective. The smoke screen of so-called therapeutic cloning will soon give way to the ravaging fire of full pregnancy cloning. I know that some scientists genuinely believes that it is possible to separate the two – and people like Robert Winston have spoken publicly of his antagonism towards what he has described as the dangers of reproductive cloning – but he is in danger of being used like a Trojan Horse. Inexorably, inevitably and with calculated determination, proponents of full reproductive cloning will use Lord Winston’s defence of therapeutic cloning to achieve their objectives. Melanie Phillips, the Sunday Times’ admirable commentator, put it well when she wrote: “Let’s be clear what “therapeutic cloning” means. Scientists may say it is different from reproductive cloning. But this is slippery. It is reproductive, in that an embryonic human being will be deliberately created for the purpose of research and then thrown away. Science has made an outstanding contribution to the alleviation of suffering – not simply that caused by the pain and indignity of disease but also the real and acute anguish caused by infertility. But it does not act in a vacuum and has to weigh the gains against the dangers, the costs against the rewards. For instance, do we all have a right to a child? Or the child of our choice? Does the child not have rights too? When a child is conceived in a test tube or under a microscope it becomes a girl or a boy with a head or a heart – not just a laboratory experiment. And what of the clones? In this age, when we are schooled in the language of rights and entitlement, what of their rights? Are they to have their organs involuntarily donated and their lives terminated to accomplish this? And shouldn’t rights always be conditioned by duties, responsibilities and obligations? Unless we are extraordinarily careful personal fulfillment and individual happiness can become a holy grail devoid of reference to any other consideration.

Then we are told that the object of all this experimentation isn’t really human at all: it’s just a tangle of cells. If it’s okay to raid the cadaver of a dead baby or child without the permission of their parents what difference does it make if we snatch a few cells here or a few cells there? The former is bad enough. Witness the revulsion there has been to the news that scientists have been looting corpses in children’s hospitals, such as Alder Hey Children’s hospital in Liverpool. Others have been desecrating the remains of aborted babies. These at least were the remains of the dead. To plunder what is living collapses and destroys any notion of the value we place on human dignity and human existence. So we manipulate the language and conjure up sufficient sophistry and casuistry to convince ourselves that the embryo is not linked to our humanity at all.. It becomes stem cell culture and once we dehumanise it we can do anything at all we want to it or with it. But this process diminishes us all. It is curious, isn’t it, how when a child is wanted it becomes an unborn baby; when it is not, it becomes a foetus, an embryo, a pre-embryo, a blob of jelly, a clump of tissue, a dot on a microscope slide, or stem cell culture. Be clear, human cloning involves the deliberate technological creation of tiny twin or triplet copies of sick patients with the sole intention of killing these copies to provide transplant tissue for the original patient. This is technological cannibalism. . The language of personal choice and the language of the market place have come to dominate human procreation. This commodified view – which treats the human embryo as just another accessory, to be created, bartered, frozen or destroyed – has taken us a long way from the traditional belief that life is a gift from God, and to be treated with reverence and accorded profound and deep respect. Therapeutic cloning simply treats an embryo as a means to an end, a mere instrument in obtaining knowledge or benefits for others, with no appropriate respect or concern for the embryo itself as a form of individual life. Cloning shows total contempt for the covenanted love of marriage and the Judaeo-Christian orthodoxy of “two becoming one flesh.”. It replaces it with the asexual process of laboratory manufacture. Do not underestimate the threat this poses at the heart of marriage, to procreation and to the nature of the human family. Since 1990 utilitarian attitudes have led to the creation and destruction over half a million human embryos. Under the 1986 Animal Welfare legislation the embryos of animals enjoy more protection than those of our own species. The justification for this extraordinary attrition rate was that cure would be piled upon cure . Parliament was told will us the means and we will give you the ends. Parliament was duped.

At the time even Lady Warnock’s Committee argued that embryos deserve some degree of respect. It stated: “the embryo of the human species ought to have a special status. It is hard to see how dismantling them for a therapy is compatible with any concept of respect. Presumably, also, the Warnock Committee had some reason for arguing for a 14 day deadline. The work of providing organs and tissues may eventually require that human embryos are cultured beyond the 14 day deadline – weeks and months beyond it. How this would meet the Warnock Committee’s restrictions is impossible to comprehend. Even if you do not believe that the embryo has any right to life until 14 days after conception, the deliberate creation of a cloned human embryo which will be researched on and then destroyed at 14 days in not consistent with an emerging right to life. Let’s be clear, in authorising therapeutic cloning Parliament will allow vast numbers of human embryos to be manufactured.. Large numbers of human eggs will be required – already in short supply. Presumably the Roslin Institute, who after 277 attempts cloned Dolly the sheep, will renew their earlier application to raid the ovaries of aborted foetuses. It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it that in this brave new world your mother could be an aborted foetus and your grandmother could have authorised the taking of your mother’s life. Not the most auspicious start in life. New Scientist, on September 4th, 1999, suggested that some researchers see a way out of that difficulty – the lack of available human eggs – by creating human tissue for transplants by fusing cells from people with cow eggs, and then harvesting the stem cells from the resulting embryonic clones. Kind & Colman, in Seminars in Cell Developmental Biology (vol 10,1999), in a chapter entitled, “Therapeutic Cloning: needs and prospects, state: Unless a new source of human oocytes become available, nuclear transfer may be obliged to use animal oocytes, which are more readily available.” This use of animal oocytes for human embryo cloning is controversial in itself, but would be even more so if it were the case that any cow mitochondria remain in the human embryo and stem cell tissue, as seems likely. This would give rise to very significant safety and ethical problems. But beyond these questions of ethics and safety there is also the question of science itself. Therapeutic cloning is bad science – because alternatives exist which render it unnecessary.

The Wellcome Foundation state in “Public Perspectives on Human Cloning: – a social research study” that “Alternatives research methods, which do not involve the creation of a cloned human embryo, were viewed as preferable as such ethical problems were not raised…Public disquiet for therapeutic cloning was also well expressed in that document: First witness: “It frightens me condemning an embryo to being a bunch of cells to experiment with.” Second witness: “It could be psychologically disastrous if you create an embryo to create a part for yourself and then destroy it.” Rather than addressing these profound misgivings the industry has instead held seminars to discuss how best to disguise what they are up to by changing the language and dropping any mention of words such as embryo, clone or even therapeutic. They would do better to put their energies into alternatives which are not so ethically fraught. President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Committee was right when it stated that: “because of ethical and moral concerns raised by the use of embryos for research purposes it would be far more desirable to explore the direct use of human cells of adult origin to produce specialised cells or tissue for transplantation into patients.”

Or, as the BMJ remarked on January 30th of this year: the use of embryonic stems cells “may soon be eclipsed by the more readily available and less controversial adult stem cells.” The report stated that researchers in Italy and America have turned neural stem cells taken from an adult mouse into new blood cells. If this technique could be applied to humans, it raises the possibility that “adult human stem cells may some day be coached to grow into organs, regenerate damaged tissue or reconstitute the immune system.” The problem of immune rejection may also be circumvented if an individual’s own cells can be used. This would mean that the need for foetal cells as a source of stem cells would be obviated. Although this work is at an early stage, surely this is where good science and good ethics can converge. Another promising source for repairing and regenerating human tissue is work being done on stem cells taken from bone marrow or even the placenta or umbilical cords in live births. These cells are already used in cancer treatment and in research on leukemia and other diseases. Recent experiments suggest that their versatility is even greater than once thought. For example, bone marrow cells can be used to regenerate muscle tissue, opening up a new avenue of potential therapies for muscular dystrophies. The merits of embryonically derived stem cells as against those from other sources are heavily criticised at an international level within both the scientific and the commercial literature.

In the April 2nd, 1999 issue of the prestigious journal, Science, progress was announced in obtaining stem cells from adult bone marrow and in directing them to form new bone, cartilage and other needed tissues. A recently published paper in Scientific America reported that adult stem cells and other new technologies would have more immediate benefits than using embryonic cells. Finally the Wall Street Journal (rarely noted for its ethical perspective) summarised the latest information and concluded that “adult stem cells actually have an advantage over embryonic cells in battling disease.” I raise these issues because there seems to be an unqualified assumption that cloning human embryos is the only realistic solution currently available to society. In reality, we have no idea how realistic the proposed applications actually are, nor the chances of success, nor the real long tern risks (for example, the stem cells becoming cancerous) nor the other non therapeutic uses that are doubtless on someone’s agenda waiting to happen. I do not argue that no experiment involving human cloning for the production of stem cells could ever lead to a regenerative treatment. What I do say is that such experiments do not appear to be necessary, and that their absence will not prevent progress in this field. Professor Scolding, Dr.Michael Antoniou, and Dr.Phil Jones have all confirmed this to be the case when speaking to Parliamentarians at Westminster.

The Human Cloning debate in the UK has, thus far, been insipid and etiolated; starved of the light and oxygen of parliamentary debate (no debate in the Commons and one short debate which I initiated in the Lords); configured by homogenised consultation groups whose collective mind is already decided at the time they are formed to deliberate; distorted by vested interest and unfairly presented in the national media. The political and ethical process we use to determine these questions is also failing us dismally. When the HFEA and HGAC asked a Committee of four people to act as an advisory body it appointed them knowing that all four were from scientific backgrounds, that all four had previously expressed support for cloning, and two had links with the pharmaceutical industry. Hardly minds waiting to be made up. They even declined to place a copy of the public responses in the Parliamentary library and my research assistant was told he could take no photocopies of the public submissions and only make notes for two hours under supervision. So much for an open and broad based approach.

Huge sums of money are at stake. Roslin and the American biotech company, Geron, have entered into commercial collaboration. Roslin has already received £12 .5 million. Nor can I say I am reassured by the presence of the Government’s Science Minister at a recent meeting organised by the Bio Industry Association. He shared the platform with Simon Best, managing director of Geron Bio-Med.Having announced a new consultation process, following the first discredited round, it was quite wrong for the Minister responsible for science to publicly call for human embryos to be produced for cloning purposes. It prejudices any confidence we can have in the objectivity of the process. That new process was called the Chief Medial Officer’s Expert Working Group on Therapeutic Cloning. It was made up of 14 people – some of whom have voiced their support for therapeutic cloning on several occasions. None were known as dissenting voices?” No-one was be any more convinced by this consultation process than they were by the last.

The latest Committee to be established,chaired y a clergyman who almost uniquely among religious leaders has spoken in favour of therapeutic cloning, includes no-one who spoke in parliamentary debate against cloning. It rathers confirms Chesterton’s view of Parliamentary committees which he described as “very nice” but pretty corrupt.

My last point concerns world wide opinion and the alternative scientific view. France, Germany, Norway and Austria have all banned embryo research. In April 1999, the 90 members of the Council of Europe ruled out any question of human cloning and said that it should not be permitted under any circumstances whatsoever. They have incorporated that protocol into the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. Britain declined to sign. Daniel Tarchys, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe said: “At a time when occasional voices are being raised to assert the acceptability of human cloning and even to put it more rapidly into practice, it is important for Europe solemnly to declare its determination to defend human dignity against the abuse of scientific techniques.” It is shameful that Her Majesty’s Government cannot also affirm this. President Chirac and the German Reichstag’s Ethics Committee hve also spoken out agaisnt cloning..

In Britain Dr.John Wyatt, Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London, expressed this view of therapeutic cloning to me: “I and many of my fellow health professionals share a profound disquiet about the introduction of therapeutic cloning. Many of us are actively involved in research to find novel therapies for life-threatening , disabling conditions. However, the creation and manipulation of living human embryos for the sole purpose of generating therapeutic tissue seems incompatible with respect for vulnerable human life. The redefinition of human embryos as mere biological material as “totipotent stem cells” in order to allay public concerns, smacks of semantic trickery rather than responsible debate.” When the possibility of human cloning was first mooted, Lord Winston, quoted in The Times on February 24th 1997, said “There is no medical reason for cloning humans and there are obvious risks. I don’t think anyone seriously believes that there would be any benefit to cloning humans.” By June of this year he was denouncing the Government for postponing a decision on cloning as “immoral.” I would prefer to stick with his earlier view and that of Professor Wyatt.