Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ohhh! The Humanity (Part 5)

Asexual Ethics

What does it mean to be a 'human'? In this series we are examining our definitions of being human from several viewpoints.

In Part IPart II, Part III, and Part IV we examined the diversity of opinion, basic biology, sexual ethics, and In Vitro reproduction aspects of what it means to be human. The final part in this series looks at the issues with asexual reproduction of humans, focusing on stem cells and cloning as examples of asexual reproduction.

Stem cells dividing.
Stem Cells

Stem cells are cells that can become other cells types. They can be thought of as universal cells. Stem cells come from bone, blood, or umbilical cords.

It is technologically possible for a stem cell to be developed into a fetus. Every stem cell, under the right conditions can become another human being. There are no documented cases of a birth using this method, but its potential exists.

More probable is the development of the stem cell into a part of a human. By creating the proper environment in the lab, the scientists are experimenting with growing individual organs from stem cells. These conditions cause the stem cells not to reproduce a entire human.  The creation of ears, thyroids, and even skin from stem cells are all under research.

Stems cells can become other cell types.
Stem Cells Sources

Stem cells can originate from embryos and adults. Early in this research, retrieving an embryo’s stem cells required destroying the embryo. As mentioned earlier, this destruction was classified as murder and therefore is a sin.

More research has allowed scientists to trigger adult cells to return to an embryonic state, requiring no destruction of an embryo. These adult cells that return to an embryo state could theoretically be grown into adult humans. I was able to find no clear moral statement from a major religion on the morality of these adult cells being converted back into embryonic cells.

Cloning is Confusing

This technology to control the mechanics of what goes on inside a cell, is very confusing morally. As individuals we can choose to see a stem cell as a potential human only requiring some tools to make it start. We can also see these stem cells as just a small piece of someones body that they can choose to use or not. Both are true and false at the same time.

Field of cloned corn.
What about growing a replacement heart instead of growing a human with a stem cell? If a loved one is dieing and a new organ could be grown to save their lives, are we murdering them by saying no to the organ growth? Or are we murdering a new potential human by misusing those stem cells?

Another moral approach would be to consider stem cells as a part of the human they came from. Just as when we scratch ourselves and remove live cells, stem cells are just a piece of our bodies removed for a purpose.

What if we do use one of our cells to grow a copy of ourselves? Cloning a person is often considered immoral from both scientific and religious viewpoints. This simple and often emotional response to cloning misses the fine details of what is actually going on.

Can we clone a heart to replace the bad one inside us? What about heart and lungs? What about heart, lungs, liver and spine? Where does the line between “replacement” and “full human” get drawn? Perhaps we should prohibit the growing of brains? What about part of the brain?

Confusing cloning.
Does a clone have a soul? Do we cause god to attach a soul to clone? If we can force God's hand in this way, then can God not say “no” to giving us souls?

 If God does not put a soul in a clone, then is a clone human?

What rights should a clone have?

Stem Cells and other forms of asexual reproduction are transforming our understanding of the what goes on when humans are developed, opening up medicinal possibilities to extend and create life.


In this series, we have shown that our traditional views of ethics about what defines a human are challenged by a deeper understanding of what we are. The line between “life” and “human” are difficult to pin down with out making assumptions about things we can not prove with evidence.

The “common wisdom” approach to humanness is clearly only partial. As science and technology drives forward, religion will continue to play “catch-up” defining the morality of new unforeseen possibilities.  Like with freedom, the details of how humanity is formed will require us to continually re-examine what we believe.

Be sure to subscribe to this blog in order to follow the explorations.

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