Dead on Arrival

Mark Oshinskie
Reproduced with Permission

In a recent essay published by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Charles Krauthammer sets forth the twin notions that we should use otherwise leftover, otherwise-destined-for-disposal IVF embryos for research but that it's heinous to make embryos for research through somatic cell nuclear transfer, a.k.a. "therapeutic cloning." He is sure that "there is something fundamentally different, fundamentally corrupting and fundamentally dangerous about allowing -- indeed encouraging -- the manufacture of human embryos for the purpose of the dissection and use for parts." He insists that we must ban therapeutic cloning "consensually" or, "by tomorrow, we will have an embryo-manufacturing industry and we will already be numb to it."

The distinctions Mr. Krauthammer seeks to draw is certain to be lost on the general public. That's because his assertion that the manufacture and disposal of life are prospective threats - not existing practices -- is bogus to begin with.

The rules and consciousness established by commercial IVF are as follows: Extra embryos are made as a matter of course in the interest of consumer satisfaction and fertility clinic profitability. If manufacturing -- and that's undeniably what IVF entails -- extra embryos helps some people to cost-effectively bear genetically related offspring, it's deemed good. Concerns about the routine disposal of away extra embryos is dismissed as absurd because these embryos are so tiny. They could not possibly be human.

In this Machiavellian context (not to mention in a society which endorses dismembering the unborn up to full term), good luck convincing most people that one way to create or use an embryo is any worse than another. Certainly, one should not expect a groundswell of public outrage regarding an activity, therapeutic cloning, which, Mr. Krauthammer asserts, is universally viewed as "monstrous."

After all, even morally "better" than attempting to create new, presently non-existent lives through IVF by manufacturing some extra embryos that we know will be thrown away, therapeutically cloned embryos might (at least in theory) help some breathing, but disabled, person whom we actually know.

Hence, there's no need to be concerned about manufacturing and cutting therapeutically cloned embryos. We already manufacture disposable embryos on a mass scale. And no worries about cutting them up: they're so small that they couldn't possibly be human.