I have oft asserted that the embryonic stem cell debate is not the far end of the instrumental use of unborn humans, but the launching pad. Once the principle is established that early embryos can be used as a natural resource, it won’t be long until gestated nascent human life is also targeted.
I believe that most bioethicists and biotechnologists know this, but aren’t candid about the prospect because of the political harm that would inflict on the brave new world project. For example, in 2002 the Stanford bioethicist Henry T. Greely, who served on a California bioethics board was challenged when he appeared at a neuroethics conference about the commission’s recommended 14-day maximum limit for doing research on cloned embryos—which is now California law. As reported in my book Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World, a transcript of the event showed Greely stating that the limit was political and not meant to be permanent:
That qualification was driven, I think it’s fair to say, largely by two things: a very strong desire to have a unanimous report and the fact that it was fairly straightforward albeit very conservative place to stop, at least for now, based on our current state of knowledge. Before cells begin to differentiate in their functions, it seems very hard for anyone to argue that there is the remotest chance that sentience exists in that small ball of cells...But fourteen days was a good, easy, clear stopping point for now, based on our current understanding. We did not mean that fourteen days would always be the limit; that limit could be changed in the future based on new understandings that would likely come from neuroscience. [See, Neuroethics: Mapping the Field: Conference Proceedings, New York, NY The Dana Foundation, 2002), May 13-14.]And of course, a few bioethicists have already called explicitly for fetal farming.
I bring this up because fetal farming research is ongoing in animals. The latest report involves using embryonic pancreatic tissue—not embryonic stem cells—taken from pigs to treat diabetes in monkeys. From the story:
By transplanting embryonic pancreatic tissue from pigs to monkeys, Israeli researchers report that they were able to reverse the primates’ insulin deficiency. The key, the researchers say, is the embryonic tissue’s ability to grow into a new pancreas that uses blood vessels from the host animal. The host blood vessels are not subject to the dangerous immune reaction that has always dogged xenotransplants of mature pancreatic material...While this study involves inter-species transplantation, it would be far more logical to use tissues from aborted fetuses or even aborted cloned fetuses intentionally generated for the purpose of transplantation to achieve the same end in humans. In this regard, note that it was necessary to wait until the 6th week to harvest the tissue.
In an earlier study, the researchers found evidence that semiformed pancreatic tissue taken from pig embryos at 42 days of gestation appeared to offer the best combination of characteristics for xenotransplantation. According to Reisner, if they’re harvested too early, there may not be enough partially differentiated pancreatic cells. But if taken too late, the tissues’ ability to grow into a new organ is diminished, perhaps because they contain too few stem cells, while their ability to cause immune rejection increases.
If and when an artificial womb is created, and if and when scientists figure out how to clone human beings and gestate them beyond the first few days of development—the apparent current state of the technology—the pressure will be on to permit this research to proceed. And the arguments in its favor will be the same as those made today about ESCR and early human cloning research: A developed embryo or fetus isn’t a “person;” the embryo/fetus will never be born so what does it matter; the embryo/fetus value isn’t as important as Uncle Charlie whose Parkinson’s we can cure,” etc.
Believe me, if I get this, so do “the scientists” and their enablers in bioethics and Big Biotech. Indeed, I believe that they have no intention of ever permitting any reasonable permanent ethical parameters to be established that would limit the areas of research where this field can go. (They will sometimes agree to limit that which cannot yet be done technologically, but as Greely’s comment reflects, those restrictions are always subject to change.) Moreover, it is worth noting that cloned fetal farming has been explicitly legalized by statute in New Jersey.
Since “the scientists” won ‘t engage in self restraint, it is and will be up to society to set those standards for them through democratic processes. Of course, if that happens, the next step will be lawsuits filed to establish a constitutional right to conduct scientific research.