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Last Updated December 6, 2003

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Genetic Engineering: Medical Research or Playing God?

Recently, there has been a flood of controversy surrounding the issue of genetic engineering. Virtually every congressman in the United States has spoken out against cloning, and many have spoken out against genetic research which could potentially irradicate any disease in an unborn child, or cure current fatal diseases like muscular dystrophy.

Another topic of hot controversy is genetic tailoring, where parents can make designer children. They can make sure that their children are good from the get-go. Of course, some are afraid of this kind of tinkering will lead to the creation of a master race, much like events portrayed in the movie Gattaca, where non-genetically tailored people were relegated to a sort of slave class, getting minimum pay for the worst jobs. The best jobs were reserved for the genetically elite.

Surrounding both the issues of genetic engineering and cloning is the concept of "playing God." You'll often hear some congressman blathering on about how we have "no right to 'play God'." We're never told why we don't have this right. It's just the most recent mantra that bureaucrats have chosen to indoctrinate the public with. This one works particularly well, since the overwhelming majority of Americans are religious (only about 10% are nonreligious), Christian, Jewish and Muslim in particular. So, no matter whose god you're talking about, most everyone will agree that it's wrong to assume his role. We're never told why, but I suspect it has something to do with the assumed perfection of the Christian/Jewish/Islam God. I say that becaue the overwhelming majority or cloning opponents are Christian, Jewish and Islam (no mystery behind that one; supposedly they're all the same God, according to Judaism and Islam. Christianity, of course, believes that their God is different and better). While I can imagine the Buddhist and Hindu religions having objections to cloning based on their beliefs in reincarnation, I haven't really heard of Buddhist monks actively preaching out against cloning, trying to influence state matters.

So, you may ask yourself, "What's wrong with implementing a technology, like genetic tailoring, which could potentially be used to rid the world of a good deal of genetically transferred diseases?" No one really knows except for the religious people. Some fear that Jesus will personally come down, on the advent of human cloning, and basically say "OK, that's enough, guys." Please note that I'm deadly serious about this. Christian indoctrination actually does go that far. I have heard such concerns voiced.

Here are some common objections to cloning, genetic engineering and genetic research.

If we allow people to clone themselves, the clone may feel different or ostracized from society. The psychological impact on a child after finding out that they were merely the product of some test tube experiment rather than the beautiful, natural way of reproducing would be immense.

Since there is literally no way to distinguish between a cloned human being and one birthed through natural methods, it is highly doubtful that the child would be ostracized by society simply because no one would know. Furthermore, we have children produced by invitro fertilization, and they are essentially test tube babies, as well, not the result of natural conception methods. There is no history of those children being psychologically damaged or deranged. Furthermore, if presented with the facts at a proper age, adopted children cope quite well. There's no precedent for this psychological argument at all. Sometimes black children feel exiled in school. Does that mean we should ban parents from having black children?

A cloned human isn't really a human being. They are abominations. Only God has the right to create life.

Bigoted supposition that can be expected if cloned children ever become even somewhat common in the American population. This argument is heavily layden on assumption. First, the person assumes that God exists. Secondly, he assumes to know the preferred method of reproduction. How does this person know that God won't start "creating" children when we start cloning? And, worst of all, it is assumed that, if a human being is created through means other than natural "God-approved" (assumedly) methods, that person isn't a human, even though clones are physically and biologically indistinguishable from naturally conceived humans!

I won't accept the whole "playing God" argument until a few criteria are met:

1: God must be shown to exist.

2: God must be shown to actively interact with the natural world.

3: It must be proven that those purporting this argument have been in direct communication with God, and know his intentions. A written transcript, video record or other form of documentation with sufficient evidence that the being in question is indeed God would suffice.
God himself must issue a public statement condemning cloning, along with a list of reasons why he does so.

Cloning is still a dangerous technology. If we allow scientists to experiment on human embryos, we let them destroy countless lives.

Another heavily assuming argument. This one assumes that embryos are actual human beings, but something is not defined by its potential! Sure, the embryo has the potential to become a human being, but it also has the potential to miscarry. Furthermore, you don't cook eggs for breakfast and proclaim that you're cooking chicken, do you? The embyro is life, but that's not the question. The question is whether or not it's human life.

Cloning is science gone berserk. Tinkering with the building blocks of human life is just unfathomable. These scientists are mad.

This pop-culture argument stems from films like Jurassic Park, where the concept of scientists working to bring dinosaurs back to life is treated as something that is utterly disastrous and that will inevitably go wrong. The people who use this argument typically believe that there is some higher force that dictates events in nature (other than the laws of physics, of course), and that any time man attempts to tinker with what happened (i.e. bringing dinosaurs back), this force will make sure that we pay a terrible, terrible price for our arrogance.

There are many problems with this argument. Firstly, we've never observed this "higher power", be it God or Fate or Karma or whatever, so assuming that it exists as a premise is flawed. Secondly, even if it does exist, then how can we presume to know its intentions? What if it wants us to bring dinosaurs back? If it didn't, it wouldn't have left their DNA behind. How do we know that any action we take, no matter how considered, isn't the dictate of this force? We don't, and we just start second-guessing ourselves, which is completely unproductive.

Why do scientists want to close a human, anyway? There's no reason to. We just shouldn't do it.

Usually reserved for when cloning/genetic engineering opponents are backed into a corner, this argument attempts to shift the burden of proof on to the other person. After having all his or her reasons not to clone decimated, the person then tries to force scientists to explain their position, when it's perfectly clear.

Yes, scientists want to clone a human being simply to say that they did it and make money from it. Uncomfortable with the idea? Too bad. Science is all about saying, "We can do it." It's a challenge, and scientists want to meet it. Research into cloning a human being would teach us more about how the genetic code works, and we'd gain invaluable information through such research.

Suppose we adopted this ridiculous "we shouldn't tinker with nature" argument for every other endeavor scientists undertook. We'd have no genetically modified food, no seedless graps, no pitless watermelons, and food wouldn't be as readily available in the US as it is. Did you know that most of the produce on the shelves of your local grocery store is genetically modified in some way? That's playing God. Should we stop?

Or, how about making sky scrapers? The Babylonians were supposedly punished by the Christian god for building a really big tower, because they had the arrogance to presume to be like God. So, building really tall buildings must be playing God as well. Why hasn't God struck Donald Trump dead, or knocked down the World Trade Center (oh wait, he sent his Al-Queda minions to do that for him).

I'm getting sick of this pointless anti-cloning attitude based entirely in religion. It's just one more example of Christian bigots trying to shove their beliefs down others' throats by trying to put their beliefs into law. All you hear is the same, repetitive arguments. "It's wrong to play God." "God has a way he wants things done." It's presumptuous bullshit. And our congressmen, who are supposed to exercise religiously neutral judgment, buy them! Ole Dubya went so far as to ask the Pope for his opinion, as if it mattered! The opposition to cloning is almost entirely religious in origin, and lawmakers should thusly ignore it.

This is research that could save millions of lives, and yet we're supposed to outlaw it because "God has a plan." It makes no sense to me, and I just can't see what's so difficult to grasp about the separation of church and state.

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