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Farming Humans for Fun and Profit

Feb 28, 2004 | 02-February 2004 NRL News

by Richard M. Doerflinger

“Farming” fetuses for body parts… Buying and selling human embryos… Patenting human beings… Are these chapter headings for a science-fiction pot-boiler? No. Just a typical day at the office for members of the President’s Council on Bioethics.

On January 16, the President’s Council released a draft report that deserves attention from all Americans concerned about the use and abuse of science. Its title, “Biotechnology and Public Policy: Biotechnologies Affecting the Beginnings of Human Life,” is far from exciting, but its subject matter will put no one to sleep.

Practices like those listed above, says the Council, are abuses, pure and simple, and should be banned to protect the dignity of human procreation.

One such practice, though it sounds like science fiction, is as timely as this month’s headlines and shows the need to “prohibit the transfer of a human embryo (produced ex vivo) to a woman’s uterus for any purpose other than to attempt to produce a live-born child.”

The council calls attention to the reality of this threat, noting that “a number of animal experiments using assisted reproductive technologies have shown the value of initiating pregnancies purely for the purpose of research on embryonic and fetal development or for the purpose of securing tissues or organs for transplant.”

An expansion to humans would be horrific. “A woman and her womb,” says the report, “should not be regarded or used as a piece of laboratory equipment, as an ‘incubator’ for growing research materials, or as a ‘field’ for growing and harvesting body parts.”

The council’s unanimous voice in opposition to fetus farms is especially noteworthy, given that the majority of its members are “pro-choice” on abortion, and among the members there is a variety of opinions on cloning and other matters.

Obviously the council’s report comes not a moment too soon. On January 4, New Jersey enacted a new law on human cloning that clears a path for fetus farms.

It encourages the cloning of human embryos for research, but bans cultivating a cloned human “through the egg, embryo, fetal and newborn stages.” In other words: In New Jersey it is ok to create and gestate human embryos all you want, as long as you kill them for their cells and organs before they can be born.

The bill’s language is no accident. The national Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) has urged its state affiliates to enact such laws. BIO’s next target is Delaware, where a similar bill has been approved by the state Senate and is poised for House action. This bill, endorsed by the director of the University of Delaware’s Biotechnology Institute, supports research in human cloning but bans implanting a cloned embryo in a womb “for gestation and subsequent birth.” Implanting with the intent of aborting and harvesting of tissue would be allowed.

Human cloning’s slippery slope will not stop until the U.S. Senate passes Senator Brownback’s complete ban on human cloning. In the meantime, surely almost everyone can agree that proposals like those in New Jersey and Delaware demean the humanity of women and children alike. The Council’s report can be found at http://bioethicsprint.bioethics.gov/background/bppinterim.html.

Mr. Doerflinger is the deputy director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.