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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)


Air Date: Week of

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CURWOOD: As a homicide detective in St. Louis, writer M.W. Guzy often dealt with life, death, and morality. He's left police work, but finds these themes follow him while commenting on Britain's recent decision to allow limited human cloning.

GUZY: The battle between religion and humanism has moved to the British Parliament, where limited human cloning was recently legalized for the purpose of medical research. There was little practical cause for friction between these two schools of thought until technology entered the picture. Modern advances in the biological sciences have called into question the very nature of existence, thereby giving concrete applications to what had previously been philosophical differences.

British law will not provide for full human cloning. It allows only for the cloning of human embryos for the purpose of harvesting stem cells from them. The artificially-created embryos must be destroyed within 14 days. The stem cells they yield will be used to develop treatments for leukemia, Parkinson's disease, and cancer. Anyone who has seen a loved one suffer from one of these debilitating maladies can appreciate the humanitarian benefit of this effort.

Religious conservatives, however, harbor grave reservations about such research. They argue that scientists are playing God by manufacturing living beings for their own purposes, then terminating the resulting lives at their own convenience. In their view, the lab embryos merit the same concern as the anguished patients who inspired their creation.

The moral quandaries here would drive Solomon to drink. For instance, an argument can be made that these clones were never really conceived because they are the product of only one genetic donor. Technicalities, however, are unlikely to persuade critics. At issue here is the fundamental conception of what it means to be human. Religion views temporal life as a transient state to be endured in hope of eternal salvation. Humanism, on the other hand, seeks to ameliorate the pain of existence by perfecting the world we know. Is it moral to create and then destroy a human embryo in order to relieve the torment of a human being? Regardless of the merits of the debate, the humanists will triumph because of the commercial application of their research. The cure for cancer will come with a hefty price tag. Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted as much when he gushed that approval of the cloning bill "would allow Britain to stay at the forefront of the booming biotechnology industry."

Lurking in the shadows of this bright dawn is the dark prospect of drone organisms bred solely to provide replacement organs. Reflecting on the first man-lunar landing, Norman Mailer observed that "Mankind was no longer willing to share the drudge of the Lord." He felt that our fascination with technological conquest would supplant the ancient reverence that inspires religious fervor. Perhaps. Yet, as we enter the brave new world of better living through fabricated embryos and pirated stem cells, it's only human to feel a certain dread.

(Music up and under: Atomic Babies, "Clones")

CURWOOD: Writer M.W. Guzy is a former homicide detective with the St. Louis Police Department. He comes to us via TomPaine.com.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new ways to provide energy for the world economy without harm to the environment: www.wajones.org; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, for reporting on western issues.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return: The Bush administration warms up to the idea of fighting climate change. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under: XTC, "Stupidly Happy")


ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Educational Foundation of America, for reporting on energy and climate change; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change; the Rockefeller Foundation; and the Turner Foundation.

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood



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