Leading ethicist says embryos are human life, should not be cloned

A well-respected medical ethicist from one of Canada’s leading universities says Canada must not legalize embryonic cloning for any purpose, including therapeutic purposes.

Margaret Somerville, founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University in Montreal, makes her case from a purely academic and secular perspective in a comment published in the National Post last week, called “The ethics of stem cells.”

In her article, Somerville says Canada’s Assisted Human Reproduction Act “reflects the view that to create embryos other than by sexual reproduction and other than to help people have children is inherently wrong.”

While Somerville does not seem to disagree with the creation of embryos for in vitro fertilization, she states that embryos are indeed human life that should be respected.

Somerville comments on how the debate is developing in Canada, the United States and Britain. The reader benefits from the scholar’s clear explanation about embryonic stem-cell research and therapeutic cloning. She also differentiates from principle-based ethical analysis and utilitarian-based ethical analysis.

Scientists, many of whom are sold on utilitarian-based ethical analysis, try to downplay the issue of human life in stem-cell research. They instead refer to the embryo as a “clump of cells” or as “potential human life,” Somerville says, “despite the fact that they are, given the right conditions, human life with the potential to go on living for years and years, just like all of us.

“The strongest argument for using ‘spare’ IVF embryos is that nothing is lost by their use,” she continues. “But the same logic applies (broadly) to dying people. And yet, all of us would be appalled at the idea of terminating their lives so we could harvest their tissues or organs in order to save others,” she says, in reference to the common utilitarian argument that embryonic stem-cell research is valid in an effort to find cures that could save people’s lives.

“We maintain respect for their lives and do not use them simply as products,” she said.

“This last point hints at a broader reason to be very careful about how we treat embryos – the precedents we could set that would be open to the application to the rest of us,” she warns.

“While some observers disagree with any use of embryos for scientific research, the overall position taken by the Assisted Human Reproduction Act seeks to maintain respect for human life and its transmission,” she says in her conclusion. “We must ensure that such respect endures.”

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