Artificial Embryos and Clones

In the news recently, there has been talk of the creation of artificial human embryos (Sydney Morning Herald, 2021). Coupled with this, there has been a renewed push for the 14-day limit to be removed on the growth of human beings in labs (Technology Review, 2021). As such, it is an opportune time to look ahead to a time when humans can be grown in artificial wombs and ask how this would affect their purpose in life and the assumptions that form the backbone of the Codist philosophy.


The purpose of life for humans is held by us to be the same as that of all living beings. Simply to continue to exist in some form. As all living things are mortal, this is not possible at an individual level but rather is achieved through the mechanism of reproduction. Reproduction is, in essence, the partial survival of a parent's genome through transmission to their children. This is an imperfect form of immortality from the individual perspective, yet from that of the species, it is very effective. Allowing for effective adaptions to the environment to be passed down and harmful mutations to be suppressed. In conjunction with these benefits, the very process of reproduction involving two separate individuals, generally from distinct families (as we discuss in the Code Chapter 11 - Family), promotes the survival of the resultant children by incentivising the sharing of resources between families.


Children grown outside of a human womb but produced with human zygotes would still be humans and would remain the children of their biological parents. This process is analogous to the current use of a woman as a surrogate in the gestation of a child. This process where physically carrying a child is impossible, or perhaps, in some cases, unappealing, remains a viable method of fulfilling the purpose. The use of an artificial womb would therefore not be problematic in our community.


More troubling is the inference from the development of artificial human embryos. As this 'artificial embryo' was developed from a single human cell, it is not entirely clear what this organism is (assuming that it is, in fact, an organism). If (and it is a big if) this artificial embryo was to mature into a human being, the question would need to be answered as to who its parents were.


I am not a geneticist, so forgive my ignorance, but it seems to me that this child if it were to develop would be a clone of the individual the cells were taken from. Therefore, its parents would be the same as the donor's parents. This is a logical necessity as if the clone or offshoot was genetically identical to the donor, then it would possess approximately 50% of the DNA of each of the donor's parents.


This is important as the responsibility for the welfare of the resultant child would be complex being that the donor would have a responsibility to protect the clone as if they were an identical twin, and the donor's parents would have a responsibility to protect the clone as if it was effectively their child.


This may seem like idle speculation, considering that advancing from the current level of scientific development to that of the hypothetical artificial womb, which is gestationally as capable as that of the human reproductive system, will not be a simple process. It will require significant trial and error each, which will involve the destruction of potentially viable human beings. Who these potential children's parents are is therefore fundamental.


For those of us who hold our children's welfare as the highest expression of our achievement of the purpose of life, the idea that a sample of our or our children's DNA could be used to create another child in a lab who would then suffer and die is unacceptable. There are situations when it is acceptable to kill our children, but simple scientific curiosity is not enough.


As always though, with the moral system on which the code is based, whether it would be right for you to allow this harm to occur to your potential children or not will depend on your assessment of your family’s long-term welfare. For me and my wife, who have been fortunate to be able to have four healthy children from six pregnancies, it would be unjustifiable to allow children of ours, however speculative the process, to be created and destroyed. For a person who was infertile and for whom the advances in reproductive science may be their only chance to have children, the equation might be different.


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Sources

Sydney Morning Herald. (2021, 03 18). Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/national/scientists-create-model-embryos-in-lab-raising-major-ethical-questions-20210317-p57bkc.html


Technology Review. (2019, 09 11). Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/2019/09/11/133089/meet-the-artificial-embryos-being-called-uncanny-and-spectacular/


Technology Review. (2021, 03 16). Retrieved from Technology Review: https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/03/16/1020879/scientists-14-day-limit-stem-cell-human-embryo-research/


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