A vote in the U.S. Senate on additional federal taxpayer funding for human embryonic stem cell research apparently will be delayed until after Congress takes its August summer recess. That'll give U.S. senators time to go to the movies to check out "The Island."
But why see a movie that garnered such mixed reviews and a disappointing opening weekend box office? Because amidst the film's frantic action, "The Island" takes a look at the morality of human cloning.
Sure, along the way, the film requires the moviegoer to keep flipping the on-off switch in one's brain. Hit the off switch for the big, loud special effects that stretch credibility. Flip it back on for various points made about cloning.
Still, given the vast leaps being made in science and the current debate in Congress, this movie set fourteen years from now has an immediate feel even with its sci-fi trimmings.
In "The Island," individuals living in a highly regulated, closed environment believe they survived a contamination. They long to win a lottery allowing them to live on a paradise-like island. But they turn out to be human clones, and a trip to the island actually means a death sentence, as the original person, or sponsor, in the real world needs something from the clone, perhaps the baby growing inside a female clone or a new heart. A couple of clones get wise, escape, and the chase and debate are on.
One character declares: "Everyone wants to live forever. It's the new American dream." Who can argue with such a statement today? Earlier this year, Vatican officials took note and criticized a "religion of health" in affluent societies.
What would you sacrifice or pay for an extra sixty or seventy years of life, or to cure the most challenging diseases?
Contrary to some politicians who attack prescription drug companies, for example, I have enormous respect for the doctors, innovators, investors and businesses seeking to improve and save lives. They deserve praise and thanks. But there are moral and ethical lines not to be crossed even while trying to cure disease. The most obvious being that you don't murder some people in order to save others.
When it comes to human embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, the questions have shifted dangerously from "What would you sacrifice?" to "Who would you sacrifice?"
During the movie, we hear some familiar terms and arguments used to justify the creation and destruction of humans to serve health. The clones are referred to as "products," and treated as such manipulated and destroyed att will, without a second thought. The eugenics laws in the film, which were broken by the clone manufacturer, deemed cloning legal if the clones never achieved consciousness, if they did not feel or think. One character declares that clones don't have souls. And think of all the good being done thee lives saved and diseases cured.
The parallels to what's going on today are obvious. Human embryonic stem cell research and "therapeutic cloning" hold tremendous potential for cures one day, supporters argue. And we're not really killing human beings, they continue, who can feel or think when the embryos are destroyed. It's chilling.
But the science is clear that at the moment of conception, a genetically whole human life exists. Yet, as evidenced by more than 42 million abortions between 1973 and 2002, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, many people possess a strikingly limited grasp of life. In "The Island," the people apparently were okay with cloning as long as the clones were in a vegetative state. Sounds familiar.
Even the film's director, Michael Bay, seems to miss or is unwilling to fully acknowledge the real world parallels of "The Island." USA Today recently quoted Bay asking, "Whose life is more valuable," clone or sponsor? He went on: "A lot of sci-fi movies are much ado about nothing. At least this has a human element of it." The article continued: "But the movie doesn't take a hard line against stem-cell research." Bay declares: "These stem-cell researchers, they could cure a lot of stuff they're just not being allowed tto." Bay not only fails to understand that no limits exist on human embryonic stem cell research with private dollars and that federal funding exists in limited cases, but he apparently cannot clearly think through a central theme in his own film. Again, perhaps it's that feeling, thinking, vegetative state thing.
In the end, it comes down to the soul. If each person is created and endowed with a soul by God, then we have no right to take innocent life. But if there is no God, then mankind is pretty much free to do whatever we want while practicing a religion of health. Science certainly would face no moral or ethical boundaries. Anything can be rationalized in the race to live longest, no matter who pays the price.
Raymond J. Keating is a columnist with Newsday, and a regular columnist for OrthodoxyToday.org. He can be reached at email@example.com.