Book Review: The Brave New World of Therapeutic Cloning. By Eammon Keane.

Jameson Taylor
October 2001
Reproduced with Permission

Eamonn Keane's latest book, The Brave New World of Therapeutic Cloning, addresses the increasingly important topic of research involving human embryos. Keane is president of the Australian-based Population and Environment Research Institute and the author of Population and Development.

The Preface to Therapeutic Cloning was written by David Lord Alton, a member of Great Britain's House of Lords. Alton notes that Keane "frames his discussion of embryo destruction and therapeutic cloning within the context of the violation of inalienable human rights." Ultimately, Keane concludes the conflict over therapeutic cloning is one "between two conflicting anthropologies: one secular and atheistic where at best the human being is regarded as an educated ape; the other predicated on an understanding of the human [person] as created in the image and likeness of an all loving and wise Creator God."

Keane begins by attempting to demonstrate that the human embryo is a human being in development that properly possesses all the dignity and rights enjoyed by all human beings. After a review of the embryo's legal status in the Western world, Keane explores the various links between contemporary attitudes regarding genetic engineering and the 19th century eugenics movement that culminated in the Holocaust. Finally, Keane suggests that the very future of democracy will depend on whether we can revive the faith in "transcendent moral norms" that can provide the only sure ground for the inalienable rights of life and liberty.

The book's review of European legislative initiatives involving cloning is especially interesting. Keane pays particularly close attention to the debate in the United Kingdom - the first country in the world to legalize human cloning. As Keane observes, significant majorities in both the House of Commons and Lords lifted the restrictions on human cloning after virtually no debate. Prime Minister Blair's strong support for the lifting of the ban, suspects Keane, was motivated by financial gain.

"Powerful commercial interests have now become involved in the biotechnology industry," Keane writes. "It is projected that if attempts to produce spare human body parts and other medical treatments via stem cell research are successful, the profits that will accrue to businesses involved in the biotechnology industry will be massive - running into the tens of billions of dollars annually." In defending his push to lift the restrictions on cloning, Prime Minister Blair stated that the biotechnology industry in Europe alone "is expected to be worth over US$100 billion by 2005." Continued Blair, "I want to make it clear: we don't intend to let our leadership fall behind and are prepared to back that commitment with investment."

As Keane notes, quoting ethicist Leon Kass, the reality is that "politicians of all stripes are 'nervous about restraining their genetics industry,''' not least because those who oppose cloning and embryo destruction "would clash with 'big business.'" Not all European leaders, however, are as eager as Blair to use taxpayer money to subsidize the already powerful biotech corporations. Rocco Buttiglione, Italy's European Union Policy Minister (Buttiglione caused an uproar in 2004 when he stated that as a Catholic he believes homosexuality is a sin), is one of a handful of public figures to speak out in favor of legislation that would prohibit embryonic research, stating that "we hope to establish clearly that the embryo's right to life cannot be questioned by multinationals' interest in genetic manipulation."

As discussed by Keane, the debate over therapeutic cloning is one ultimately between a utilitarian ideology and the philosophy of personalism. Utilitarianism distinguishes persons from human beings on the basis of arbitrarily defined conditions of rationality and self-consciousness. Peter Singer, the most infamous propagator of a utilitarian bio-ethics, goes so far as to assert that animals such as chimpanzees, dogs, or pigs possess a "right to life as good as, or better than, retarded or senile humans."

The alternative to Singer's brand of bio-nazism, Keane argues, is best articulated by the Catholic Church's teaching that "the result of human procreation, from the first moment of its existence, must be guaranteed that unconditional respect which is morally due to the human being in his totality and unity as body and spirit." Keane rightly observes that "the ultimate basis of justice and human solidarity is the fact that all human beings 'have the same Creator and are ordered to his glory.'" As important as is the fate of Western democracy and civilization, though, the choice between these two competing anthropologies is nothing less than a choice between eternal life and eternal death. "We can choose life or death," Keane concludes, "but not both."