On Wednesday, a panel of four experts met at UTM’s Matthews Auditorium to debate the question “Cloning and Stem Cell Research: Is it Ethical?”
Brought together by the Roman Catholic Student Association and the Muslim Student Association of UTM, the debate featured Muslim and Catholic scholars, as well as controversial figures representing the Raelians, a group which has claimed to have cloned humans.
Speaking from an Islamic perspective was Dr. Munir El-Kassem, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario, and the holder of a Masters degree in Medical Genetics. Representing the Roman Catholic view was Friar Tom Lynch, a lecturer in Moral Theology at the St. Augustine’s Seminary, the dean of studies at the Toronto School of Theology and doctoral candidate.
Fellow panelists were Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, a PhD and President of ClonAid, and His Holiness Rael, who attended wearing a ceremonial raiment. Dr. Boisselier is also appointed as a Raelian Bishop.
His Holiness Rael is the leader of the Raelian movement which believes that Rael, a former journalist and race car driver, was contacted in 1973 by an extraterrestrial being by the name of Yaweh of the Elohim race. His Holiness is also the founder of ClonAid.
From the Raelian movement official Web site the supposed direct quote by Mr. Yaweh can be found: “‘We were the ones who made all life on earth, we now reveal how to realise your potential and achieve global peace.’ ” His Holiness also conducts “sensual meditation” seminars.
Dr. El-Kassem explained that stem cell research, from an Islamic perspective, is permissible, but the manner in which they are procured needs to be regulated. Due to the probabilities involved in IVF (in vitro fertilization), many ova must be fertilized; the excess ova which are otherwise discarded of, Dr. El-Kassem asserts, are allowed to be used.
Dr. El-Kassem laid out “cloning for reproductive purposes is prohibited,” yet for therapeutic purposes, such as harvesting stem cells, it is allowed.
Dr. Boisselier, an atheist, stated “Just because there are people doing crazy things doesn’t mean the research should stop.”
While her claims to 13 successfully and healthily cloned babies have never been substantiated, ClonAid continues to pledge it’s cloning services stating on its Web site. Citing historical precedence such as slavery laws, Fr. Lynch noted “It’s a different to be human beings versus persons. This matter isn’t just about rights, it’s about responsibilities.”
His Holiness Rael began his statement by conveying his personal feeling of “I feel like I’m traveling in time.”
According to His Holiness Rael, “‘ethic’ is a religious word, it has nothing to do with science. Different religions have different ethics. Some people are allowed to eat pork and drink, others are forbidden by their God. Some have one wife, some have four. Good. Perfect. No Problem. But this is my choice, I choose to be atheist.”
His Holiness championed cloning as a method that could eradicate such “birth defects” physical or mental, and that the process will further evolve so that a fetus may mature in an artificial womb.
In reply to His Holiness’ speech, Dr. El-Kassem retorted “I would invite Rael to continue his research. 2/3 of your speech was a call to be atheist.”
To further her already ambitious goals of human cloning, Dr. Boisselier explained that “consciousness is an electric connection and we can recreate it, manipulate it . . . transfer it from one body to another so we can have eternal life.”
To the claims set forth by Dr. Boisselier and His Holiness, Fr. Lynch stated “Science does not exist in of itself. Science without ethics is immensely dangerous.”
Fr. Lynch questioned His Holiness’ claim that “Elohim” meant “those who came from above” in Hebrew. Fr. Lynch asked “How much Hebrew did you study? Did you ever study Hebrew?,” to which His Holiness replied “No. They taught me everything.”
As to why Dr. Boisselier had refused to publish her work, Dr. Boisselier stated “I intended to release the info nine days later. I could see the madness of the world in the few days after.” She also plead the moral case of not wanting to publicize the families that underwent the cloning process and subjecting them to the media.
The event certainly kept crowd members interested. Jay Nicols of Student Center Events said “It was entertaining and definitely worth the time and door price. The priest’s facial expressions were great.”
Nida Shams, a first year student and SAC Board of Director for the 2004-2005 school year said “Boisselier showed too much drama, it seemed as if she was begging for sympathy with constant use of the word ‘baby.’ Rael is my inspiration for my next halloween costume. And it was nice to see unity between religions on this campus.”
Another student wondered “Why does the Raelian symbol look exactly like a Star of David?”