The week's news of actor Angelina Jolie's pre-emptive double mastectomy has shown that science can improve human wellbeing with the use of highly specialised surgical techniques. Jolie went through the operation in order to reduce her chances of contracting breast cancer from around 87 per cent to 5 per cent.
In recent days, we also heard that scientists have provedit is possible to increase our wellbeing by turning skin cells into embryos that can be used to create tissue cells for transplant operations. This act of human cloning would lead to the cure of a range of debilitating afflictions including Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and spinal cord injuries.
We can marvel at Jolie's short-term pain for long-term gain, and hope that we would have the courage to do likewise in comparable circumstances. But while hers was an entirely rational choice towards saving her life, there are instances where we would baulk at making a rational choice to save our life.
An example might be eating human flesh in the absence of other food sources, which is considered taboo. The same can be said for human cloning. We could create a super race of human beings if we cloned intelligent people and sterilised imbeciles. But we wouldn't. There are certain actions that are considered uncivilised because to do them is to undermine civilisation and our collective human rights.
Many would contend that it hardly undermines civilisation to simply reprogram human skin cells to become embryonic stem cells to produce tissue for transplants — especially if the rest of the embryo is is be destroyed — if the intention is to save human life or eliminate chronic suffering. It's said that the risks can be managed.
Others would argue that this is a form of NIMBYism that threatens what we all share in order to satisfy our own private needs, even if it is the ultimate need to save a life.
the cloning of human beings ... [for] tissue transplantation or for any other purpose whatsoever, cannot under any circumstances be justified or tolerated by any society, because it is a serious violation of fundamental human rights and is contrary to the principle of equality of human beings as it permits a eugenic and racist selection of the human race, it offends against human dignity and it requires experimentation on humans.
There is nothing wrong with the aspiration of eugenics to ensure desirable qualities in human beings, but not at the cost of our humanity. Angelina Jolie's use of science in such a courageous manner enhanced her dignity and inspired others to do likewise. But even judicious use of a cloning technique would threaten to undermine it.