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Cosmetics from human skin and other uses of organic robots

By Selwyn Duke
web posted October 3, 2005

Something truly outrageous has recently come to light, but it hasn't gotten much play in the effluent-stream media. This something is the stomach-turning revelation that a Chinese cosmetics company is using, get this, human skin to make beauty products.

So, now you can smooth away those wrinkles with the essence of political dissident.

According to Guardian Unlimited,

"Agents for the firm have told would-be customers it is developing collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments from skin taken from prisoners after they have been shot. The agents say some of the company's products have been exported to the UK, and that the use of skin from condemned convicts is ‘traditional' and nothing to ‘make such a big fuss about'"

Ahh, spoken like a true, soulless communist. Or, is it Nazi? Or, pagan perhaps? Just check "all of the above." And this is the civilization that is supposed to be a paragon of spiritual evolution, with its vaunted eastern mysticism, ancient religions, ascetic monks, and martial-arts, mind-control masters?

I suppose this is the Zen of Human Body Part Trafficking.

And "traditional" . . . that's an interesting way to put it. I'm sure that some of the multiculturalists among us who eschew "ethnocentrism" may be swayed by that argument, but it cuts no ice with the sane. You see, for eons civilizations embraced "traditions" such as human sacrifice, cannibalism, headhunting and slavery which, like this dark practice, bore the commonality of being "uses" of human beings.

But you don't use human beings. You don't use them as objects of pleasure, like little girls trapped in brothels in the Far East or women who are seduced with syrupy lies. You don't use them to achieve some selfish end through emotional manipulation in relationships.

And you certainly don't use them as body part factories or survival tools. It's like we're living in The Matrix.

Of course, this is nothing new for China. This is the nation that has murdered perpetrators of minor offenses so that their organs could be sold to deep-pocketed recipients. And China is not alone. In Zimbabwe and other Third World countries, there have been allegations that children have been killed for the purposes of harvesting their body parts.

Now, this is easy to condemn, unless, that is, you're a kindred spirit of the officials quoted in Guardian Unlimited, who appeared to be more worried about health concerns than moral ones. But something occurs to me. Perhaps such a coldly utilitarian mind-set is not as foreign to our shores as we may fancy. No, perhaps not at all. Think embryonic stem cell research.

"C'mon, Duke, that's crazy," say you? Let's analyze it.

The centerpiece-argument of the scoffers would be the assertion that the aborted beings were in such a nascent state that they weren't yet human. Now, some religious folks will say that our souls are implanted in us upon conception, thenceforth making us children of God. But they are not usually the ones who need to be convinced. Therefore, let's approach the matter from the secular/scientific standpoint, from the perspective that states that we are merely physical beings.

So, what makes us human? What differentiates us from other creatures on the planet?
Is it our appearance or intelligence? Sure, but there is something far deeper: our genes.

After all, from a material standpoint, there is nothing more basic than our genes. Our genes bestow upon us our human form and intelligence; the genes come first, the form and intellect afterwards as a result. Call the fruits of fertilization what you will, a baby, a zygote, an "unviable tissue mass," the fact remains that the being's genes tell you what he is. If the being possesses the genes of a dog, he develops the physical form of a dog; he will not somehow, magically, mature into a man. And if he has the genes of a human, he develops the physical form of a human being; he won't become a donkey. The worst he'll end up as is an ACLU member.

Now, if at conception is present the very thing that determines our humanity, how can it be said that the conceived being is not human?

Secondly, if we are to say that this is not so and that what resides within the womb does not become human until some later stage, at what point would that be? Truth be known, it doesn't really matter, but pick any month you wish. Let's say the fifth month for argument's sake. Okay, then I put it to you: what week of that month? What day of that week? What hour of that day and minute of that hour? Then, what second of that minute and what nano-second of that second?

This places the issue in perspective. For, regardless of what month is chosen, what one is saying is that somehow, some way, inexplicably, without any perceptible physical change in a purely physical being, the "it" transitions from its indeterminate status to that of a human in the blink of an eye. One is saying that one nano-second the being is not human but suddenly is so the next nano-second.

Next, what of the contention that a certain degree or type of physical development makes the being human? Well, what would that development be? Certainly not the growth of some appendage. After all, we would never entertain the notion that a soldier who loses his limbs in battle is no longer human. Is it the initiation of brainwaves or a heartbeat? No, because we wouldn't suppose that someone who was brain-dead was no longer human, nor would we claim that a person who had his heartbeat stopped during an operation ceased to be human for the duration of the interruption.

Now to the matter of stem cells. Obviously, we are disgusted by what the Chinese are doing because they are both taking body parts from unwilling individuals and murdering them in the process. On the other hand, organ donation is different. If the body part is donated willingly and if the action will do more good than harm, it's morally licit to use that body part.

Embryonic stem cell research fails the test on both counts. The cells must be removed from the human being while still alive, and in the process the person dies. Moreover, needless to say, the child has no ability to give consent.

And as for the mother? Many would say that she can give consent because the being inside the womb is part of the mother's body. But that "it" that dwells within her has a completely different set of genes, those things that makes us human.

And here's just a little more food for thought. So sophisticated is modern DNA testing, that DNA from any part of a woman's body can be definitively identified as hers. The technology is so reliable and conclusive that it is recognized by the law as a genetic fingerprint, and it has been used to solve many a crime. For, if there is a match, there is no question that the sample belongs to the person to whom it is matched.. However, if the above woman were pregnant and the DNA of the "it" inside her womb was tested, the technician would just as definitively identify the material as belonging to a different person altogether. And a different person is not only different, he's also a person.

Of course, some will roll their eyes and say we're just talking about a few cells, as they echo that cavalier Chinese businessman's sentiment that it's nothing to "make such a big fuss about." Well, how about if we endeavored to formulate a beauty treatment and put just a few cells of the skin torn from the flesh of his executed countrymen in it? Just a few, that's all. Would you then be sufficiently inured to the idea to feel comfortable lathering it all over your face?

Numerous peoples have laid claim to being the very flower of civilization, but few have passed muster. For, if there is anything that separates the seraphic from the savage, the beneficent from the barbaric, the divine from the debauched, it is a genuine and unwavering respect for life.

And mankind had been advancing in this regard. The Aztecs sacrificed thousands to Quetzlcoatl in bloody rituals, the Fijians lived amidst brutality, and the Romans used men for blood-sport. But Christianity changed that. As these societies became Christianized, they became civilized, and they left their pagan "traditions" behind.

Sadly, with our culture of death – with abortion, teenagers throwing babies in dumpsters and our growing affinity for euthanasia – we are going in the opposite direction. But humans shouldn't be sacrificed on any altar, and that includes the altars of convenience, beauty and health. We learned long ago that we must not sacrifice others, but sacrifice for others. And that's a tradition worth bequeathing to our children.

Selwyn Duke lives in Westchester County, New York. He is a tennis professional, internet entrepreneur, and writer whose works have appeared on various sites on the Internet, including Intellectual Conservative and Mensnet. A large number of his works can be found at his site www.SelwynDuke.com.

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