[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]
Through their pursuit of knowledge and solutions, scientists sometimes have adopted unorthodox methods that have clashed with the moral objectives of religious organisations. The aim of recorded information in the Bible is to influence and manipulate human behaviour and to this end it is very effective. However, science is seen to conflict with current religious doctrines in many issues, especially surrounding the sanctity of human life, in all its forms.
Take embryonic research, for example, the scientific rational is that human embryos are the source of stem cells that have the ability to develop into any form of human tissue. This type of research is required to further scientific understanding by creating cell lines in order to investigate human disease and its treatment, specifically where stem cells could regenerate lost tissue. Embryonic research could be socially beneficial, especially to those who may have need for tissue replacement as a consequence of spinal injuries or organ damage. Replacing this tissue with the patients own would resolve problems associated with rejection, resolving the need for an individual to take immuno suppressant drugs for the rest of their lives.
In the UK, only recently, in 2002, has it become legally permitted to clone human embryos. Surprisingly, according to a survey conducted by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), many people are unaware that human embryonic cloning has now been given legal sanction. From those surveyed only 25 per cent were aware that it is legal to clone human embryonic cells in Britain whereas 47 per cent believed it was illegal. The majority of people believed that the government would not possibly sanction this kind of controversial research.
Government and charity-funded bodies are largely responsible for financing the scientific research that occurs in the UK. Scientific proposals are submitted to these organisations, it is then refereed and scrutinised by a board of experts. If it meets the criteria proposed by the board it becomes funded. Fortunately, research that is unethical or thought to be of a poor standard does not survive this procedure. Generally speaking, controversies in embryonic research are therefore unlikely to occur.
The moral objectives to embryonic cloning are in regards to the destruction of embryos as they have the potential to develop into humans. In addition, there may be the temptation to create genetically manipulated foetuses. The Church and Society Council objected to some proposals on ethical grounds. They were in agreement that embryos surplus to in vitro fertilisation could be used for stem cell treatment providing this remains within a 14 day limit but were opposed to the deliberate creation of embryos for research or to create cell lines to treat disease. They were also against the creation of genetically manipulated embryos, such as parthenogenetic human embryos, human-animal hybrids, chimeric embryos and human embryos that have been made non-viable. Their main arguments were relating to the long-term uncertainty of such experiments and the lack of ethical controls. Nearly all of these procedures, however, are permitted in the embryos of model animals. Ethical human rights are not extended to other animals in the same way.
It seems likely though, that in the future ordinary cells may be manipulated to behave like stem cells and therefore it is possible that future research would involve very little, if any, embryonic cloning consequently preventing the need to address the ethical issues.
When considering the arguments against human cloning on religious grounds there seems to be an consensus that these advances in science would not be considered in the Bible. Curiously however, and as mentioned in a previous post, the book of Genesis [2.21] describes a process not dissimilar to human cloning, whereby God creates a female human from a man’s rib. Somatic or stem cells derived from skeletal tissue are used to create another being that would be genetically identical. Therefore, perhaps, rather than denounce human cloning the Bible portrays the process as a crucial element to continue human life on earth.