In the Light of Theosophy

Genomic science is rushing ahead, presenting many problems. On November 25, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), an American firm, announced that it had cloned a human embryo. In simple terms, cloning is the process of creating multiple identical copies of an organism from a single "somatic" cell without sexual reproduction. The news made headlines around the world and drew sharp criticism from many leading experts in the field. Professor Ryuchi Ida, the president of UNESCO's International Bioethics Committee (IBC) says ACT's announcement highlights the attitude of American firms "to put economic and scientific considerations before ethical ones." (Unesco Sources, December 2001)

This attitude [Professor Ida says] is degrading the value of human life. There has been no broad-based discussion in America to find out what people think and how far they are prepared to let the scientists go. This is due to the absolute and sacrosanct freedom of American private enterprise. Yet this public debate needs to take place.

The Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, prepared by the IBC adopted by UNESCO in 1997, clearly outlaws the reproductive cloning of human beings (Article 11). However, it is not binding on nation states. It has also set down an ethical framework for such research. Created by UNESCO in 1993, the IBC is the only global forum dealing with this issue. Its task is to follow the progress of research in the life sciences and its applications, and to expose the ethical issues at stake to ensure that human dignity and freedom are respected and protected from the potential drifts of such research.

There is a "widespread intuitive repulsion about the idea of human cloning," and many feel that the limits of science and scientists should have legal boundaries. An ethical safety net is becoming essential.

ACT scientists say that their intention is not to produce a cloned baby but to devise a way of obtaining embryonic stem cells which can provide a ready supply of replacement tissue that would help in the treatment of degenerative diseases like diabetes, strokes and Parkinson's. Yet many have doubts that experiments will stop there.

The core issue concerning embryonic stem cell research is: When does life begin in the human embryo? Even many scientists now believe that life begins right from the moment of fertilization. The fact that the single fertilized egg has the full roadmap of the form to be morphed within the short-time interval between conception and delivery, itself proves that it does possess both consciousness and life. Depriving the embryos of their potential life or altering the course of their destiny to be used as stem cells violates the natural moral law and destroys the dignity of human life by treating the human being as a material commodity, to be manipulated according to our whims and fancies.

The world Press has commented on the cloning and the consensus is that it is an irresponsible thing to do. The London Times, for instance, commented in a leader:

Philosophically, just how great a good can it be to churn out embryonic human beings merely in order to dissect them for the convenience of fully developed ones? And is it more, or less, morally attractive to produce human freaks—for a clone is a freakish thing—for our own convenience? And if you think it is wrong to let clones be born, then why is it OK to produce them and then "harvest" them at the embryo stage? Anyway, here we are. It is now a dead cert that someone, somewhere, will give birth to a cloned human baby.

There are several weighty considerations ignored by scientific advances in this field. Can human life ever be cloned? Scientists at ACT or elsewhere can at best clone cellular life. For, what after all is it to be human? Scientists consider the physical cell and the physical body as all that matters, but what about the other constituents which go to make up a human being? What about the "spiritual potency in the physical cell" and other non-physical forces at work in the formation of the embryo? What about the soul, without which a mere form can well turn into a Frankenstein's monster?

....physical nature, when left to herselfŠcan produce the first two and the lower animal kingdoms, but when it comes to the turn of man, spiritual, independent and intelligent powers are required for his creation, besides the "coats of skin" and the "Breath of animal Life." The human Monads of preceding Rounds need something higher than purely physical materials to build their personalities with, under the penalty of remaining even below any "Frankenstein" animal. (The Secret Doctrine, II, 56)

The tissues of our objective framework alone are subservient to the analysis and researches of physiological science. The six higher principles in them will evade for ever the hand that is guided by an animus that purposely ignores and rejects the Occult Sciences. (Ibid., I, 134)

John Polanyi, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1986 and presently a professor at the University of Toronto, says, following Linus Pauling, that the concepts of science and conscience are not irreconcilable. "Philosophy, whether we acknowledge it or not, underlies what we do." (New Perspectives Quarterly, Summer 2001)

I feel bound to reflect on the meaning of words [writes Polanyi]. The first such is "science," which comes, of course, from scientia, knowledge. We use it to denote knowledge derived from observation of the outside world. The second word is "conscience," with which I have linked science. Conscience has the same root as science, but is the knowledge we carry within us.

The type of knowing that we call science is inevitably linked to the type we call conscience....It is true that as scientists we try, in the interest of objectivity, to separate these aspects of our being; to separate what we see from what we know....At the same time we know that without our inner compass we cannot hope to navigate the outer world. We have no choice but to bring our science into touch with our conscience....

In their quest for patterns scientists have been sketching nature in recent times to such effect that they have transformed the accepted view of matter, energy, space, life, death and the universe. Through this, they have reshaped the world we live in, extending and enriching human life and, at the same time, furnishing the ultimate machinery of death. There has never before in history been a renaissance that so fundamentally and so speedily transformed the world....

To move with assurance from science to conscience it is necessary to take a closer look at the scientific community. One distinguishing thing is that it is international. But what makes it function as a community is its ethic. It has a shared ideal, which is to put the truth ahead of personal advantage.

In brief, "value judgements" are a part of science. "Commitment to truth," which scientists consider as their motto, is also a commitment to morality. The two cannot be separated. This needs to be emphasized today more than ever before in view of new scientific developments posing serious ethical problems—e.g., the cloning of the human embryo.

Issues of Democracy for November 2001, a journal published by the American Information Resource Centre, Mumbai, is devoted to religious freedom as a universal human right. One of the contributors to the issue, Derek H. Davis, the director of church-state studies at Baylor University, examines the four pillars of international religious freedom: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief; and the Vienna Concluding Document. He also looks at how we must continue to use international treaties to further religious freedom through legislation, education, and a separation of church and state.

The World's Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893 was an important event in world religious history. It set the stage, and the 20th century witnessed unprecedented progress towards the internationalization of religious human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 is a landmark document, recognizing, among other things, several important religious rights. Article 18 is the key text:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Derek Davis comments:

The Declaration vigorously asserts that individual religious differences must be respected. It embraces the political principle that a key role of government is to protect religious choice, not to mandate religious conformity. It took centuries, even millennia, of religious wars and religious persecution for the majority of modern nation-state to come to this position, but the principle is now widely accepted....

Whereas the Declaration imposed a moral obligation upon all signatory nations, later documents went further in creating a legal obligation to comply with its broad principles....Nevertheless, todayıs world is one in which religion still is a source of great conflict, and fundamental principles of religious liberty are often more abused than respected.

This is a sobering reminder that declarations, conventions and other documents do not easily translate into reality. Mere legislation does not suffice. Education is the key for transforming international obligations into reality. This is an important task today when religious persecution continues to be a serious problem and much that goes by the name of religion is really irreligion.

"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise,:" says the Bible's Book of Proverbs. It is advice that biologist Edward O. Wilson of Harvard has taken to heart since his early years, when he grew fascinated by the complex social behaviour of these insects. His latest project, outlined in The future of Life, is a blueprint for protecting the world's wildlife and wild lands. In a dialogue with Discover magazine's associate editor he said:

There are about one million trillion insects alive at any moment. They are responsible for most pollination and are vital for the global circulation of materials and energy through all the land environments. If insects were to disappear, land ecosystems would collapse. If humans were to disappear, those ecosystems would return in a few centuries to near their original healthy condition.

We blundered into the current crisis by a multitude of small, largely unconscious actions. These include hunting as many animals as could be caught, clearing as much land as could be converted into agricultural fields, drawing as much water as could be reached, and other survival practices that, on a short-term basis, have always seemed perfectly logical. (Discover, December 2001)

But the long-term consequences will be disastrous, is the warning sounded repeatedly by biologists and others. We can benefit more by conservation than by exploitation. The fact is that the natural world can get on without man, but man cannot get on without the natural world.

Wilson wrote many years ago:

Insects and other small creatures deserve far more admiration and protection than they get. An ant, worm, or snail is more complicated than any machine devised by man, having been engineered autonomously during millions of years of evolution to survive in environments that are hellish by our standards. Each contains enough genetic information to fill many sets of encyclopedias.

Invertebrates are part of our national heritage. If driven to extinction, they could never be replaced. Instead, we should strive to decipher their biology and age-old history to improve our own chances of survival. We need the creatures more than they need us because they, not we, run the world.

Young children who have witnessed episodes of violence are more likely to miss days of school and get poor grades, researchers report. This academic performance reflects the emotional toll violence takes on children. According to Dr. Hallam Hart of the Albert Einstein Medical Centre in Philadelphia, U.S.A., children with higher exposure to violence exhibit more depression and anxiety than children with lower exposure.

The study revealed that, overall, many young children had witnessed a significant amount of violence. Many showed signs of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. For example, 32 per cent of the children said that they were afraid something bad would happen if they went outside to play, while 61 per cent worried they could get killed or die. One fifth of the children said that sometimes they wished they were dead. And the higher the children's exposure to violence, the greater the effect on their well-being. (The Sunday Times, January 20)

Children are the most vulnerable members of society. The responsibility of adults towards them is great indeed.

Man is not made for justice from his fellow, but for love, which is greater than justice, and by including supersedes justice. Mere justice is an impossibility, a fiction of analysis....Justice to be justice must be much more than justice. Love is the law of our condition, without which we can no more render justice than a man can keep a straight line, walking in the dark.

—George MacDonald

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