What Was I Thinking?


February 28, 2003
[Expletive Deleted] Legislators

On Feb. 27 of this year, the US House of Representatives voted 241 to 155 in favor of banning all human cloning within the borders of the United States. That includes cloning for reproduction, for research, and for medical purposes. Let me tell you what's wrong with that.

I have Type 1 diabetes, which means that my immune system woke up one day and decided that the islet cells in my pancreas were in fact foreign invaders. Being both duty-bound and stupid, my white blood cells swooped in and killed every last one of them. This means I no longer have the capacity to create insulin within my body. I am condemned, along with a surprisingly large portion of the American population, to stab myself in the stomach twice a day, every day, for the rest of my life. If I let my vigilance flag for any extended period of time, I risk losing my legs, kidneys, liver, eyes, hands, and life. I am a burden on my insurance company, raising rates for everyone else.

Pancreatic transplants do exist. Donors are appallingly few and far between. The surgery has a 15% mortality rate. Those who survive tend not to live more than five years afterward. The patient is required to take powerful immunosuppresant drugs to keep his body from rejecting the foreign organ, which leaves them defenseless against all manner of other pathogens. Generally speaking, most doctors do not think it is worth the risks to attempt the surgery.

What does this have to do with cloning? Potentially, doctors could take a sample of my genetic material and use it to grow new islet cells, which could then be placed into my body to replace those destroyed. At the same time, in the glands where the white blood cells are born, additional cells could be introduced so that the white blood cells learn that the islet cells are part of the body and are not to be killed. These two steps, taken together, would be what I like to call a cure.

Granted, it isn't as easy as I've made it sound. If it were, we'd be doing it already. There are in fact a great many hurdles to get over before such a thing is feasible. Among them, the ability to grow cells to order of the type required. Medical science has a rudimentary understanding of this process at best. Very much medical research is needed to get the state of the art where it needs to be. The kind of research that is done in the field of cloning.

The US House of Representatives has made it abundantly clear the my existence as a productive member of society is not as important or valuable as a zygote in a Petrie dish. They seem to have forgotten which of us has the right to vote.

Comments

Welcome to Christian America.

Posted by: Sekimori at February 28, 2003 10:29 PM

Isnt religion and the concomitant belief that all men are endowned by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, whether or not they are have the right to vote, just SOOO antiquated and unhip.

Why bother to culture cells into the pancreous you need ? Why not just harvest the organs you need from those who have not yet come of age, or foriegners (who cannot vote either). ?

I would be curious to see your definitions of what is human and what is not and and which human lives are worthy of legal protection and which are not.

I feel confident that despite a physiological flaw which in some eugenic regimes would have marked you for sterilization you will somehow manage to fall into the protected category.

Posted by: mark at March 23, 2003 12:25 PM

Mark,

The organs of children and foreigners would not do me any good. Reread the part I wrote about odds of survival of a pancreatic transplant. Only a genetic copy of my own pancreas would help.

What is human? Not a zygote. Life never begins. It continues from the parents through the reproductive process.

That said, I value my own life above all others. Next come those who are related to me genetically, on a sliding scale dependent on the amount of shared lineage. Then come those who are important to those people or myself. Low on the ladder are all the other random people walking on the Earth and getting in my way, like you. At the bottom are lumps of cells perched in growth media on glass plates. If a blastocyst has to die for me (or you) to live, so be it.

There is a point at which a developing embryo crosses the line and becomes a viable human being. Before that, it is a tumor, an invading parasite in a woman's uterus, leeching nutrients and energy from her body to fuel its own growth. The dividing line is the point at which the fetus can be removed from the woman and continue to grow and develop into an eventual adult. We cannot grow human cells to that point outside of the womb.

By the way, I have decided that I have no intention of passing on my "physiological flaw" to any children. Therefore, I would support my own sterilization if there were any reasonable risk that I would sire. Sorry, Mom.

Don't even get me started on religion, Skippy.

Posted by: David at March 23, 2003 01:48 PM