On February 27, 1997, it was reported that scientists produced the first clone of an adult sheep, attracting international attention and raising questions on the morality of cloning. Within days, the public had called for ethics inquires and new laws banning cloning. Issues are now raised over the potentially destructive side of this scientific frontier. Many people are morally opposed to the possible consequences of women being able to give birth to themselves, or scientists seeking to clone “genetically superior” humans.
Others argue that the positive effects of cloning will outweigh the negative. The issue over whether cloning humans is ethical is receiving more and more attention as scientists successfully experiment with cloning and gene therapy, coming closer to making human clones a reality. An ethical basis for the rejection or acceptance of cloning in science can be based around several different theories of morality. Interestingly, those supporting a Utilitarian approach, seeking the greatest good for the greatest number, can be found on both sides of the issue.
Some advocates of cloning argue that allowing society to benefit from cloned organs, for example, will outweigh the detrimental consequences of that may result from the abuse of cloning technology by a few scientists. At the same time, those adamantly against cloning argue that denying some individuals their right to a cloned child or organ is necessary to protect society from the negative affects this technology will have on humanity in general. Another common ethical approach to cloning is based on Kant’s principles of autonomy and self-determination.
Those supporting this theory often believe that in many cases the individual has a right to benefit from cloning if they chose. However, some have argued that cloning objectifies humanity or treats life as a means to an end. Kant’s ideas of autonomy can then also be used against cloning. In the specific arguments given on both sides of the issue that follow, both of these moral philosophies are apparent. In understanding why some chose to reject or accept the practice of cloning, basic knowledge how cloning is achieved becomes helpful.
Some reject cloning because they believe humans are “playing God”, others claim that scientists do not “create life” by cloning any more than they would in the practice of in vitro fertilization. According to the American Heritage College Dictionary, cloning is “to reproduce or propagate asexually”. This is obviously not the traditional form of human reproduction. There are three basic methods of cloning: separating the embryo and making twins with the same genetic make-up, taking a cell from a fertilized ovum when the cell begins to split and replace it in another female’s ovum, or nuclear transplantation (Travis).
The famous cloning of an adult ewe, who’s offspring was named Dolly, was accomplished through the second method by Dr. Ian Wilmut and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland (World Book). Dolly was “born” by taking genetic material from cells in the mammary glands of a 6 year-old ewe and putting the acquired cells into an unfertilized ovum. Out of 277 tries, researchers eventually produced only 29 embryos that survived longer than 6 days, of these 29, all died before birth except Dolly (Travis).
In the 10 March 1998 issue of Time, J. Madeleine Nash explains how a clone of an adult ewe is “born” from nuclear transplantation. First, a cell is taken from the udder of an adult ewe and placed in a culture with very low concentrations of nutrients. As the cells starve, they stop dividing and switch off their active genes, and go into hibernation. An unfertilized egg is then taken from another adult ewe and the egg’s nucleus, along with its DNA, is sucked out, leaving an empty egg cell that still has the cellular machinery to produce an embryo.
The empty egg and the culture of starved cells are then placed next to each other. Then an electronic pulse causes the egg and the cells to fuse together and a second burst is given to jump-start the cell division. Six days later, the embryo is implanted in the uterus of another ewe. The result of this process will be the birth of a baby sheep, having identical genes as the first sheep from which the cells were extracted from the udder. Although scientists understand most of the cloning process, exactly how the adult DNA changes once inside the egg still remains a mystery. (Nash)
Those who support cloning argue that cloning can benefit humanity by contributing to medical and psychological studies, allowing infertile mothers to have biological children, or creating needed organs. Medical researchers may be able to utilize cloned genes to diagnosis genetic diseases. Through cloning, scientists can create hundreds of identical genes and use a trial and error method in experimentation. Using cloned genes in medical research could facilitate a cure for currently “uncurable” biological diseases (Alberta). Others argue that cloning would be useful in solving the nature vs. nurture debate.
Psychologists could monitor the effect of the environment on genetically identical subjects and discover how much of their personality was predetermined. The usefulness of this information is questionable however, as most scientists already agree that personality is influenced by both environmental and genetic factors and can study separated identical twins. The exact ratio of environmental to genetic influence on personality would remain hard to calculate. The option to adopt or use another woman’s eggs is not a solution for many infertile women who are determined to have a child that is biologically their own.
Should these women have the option of creating a clone? Scientists are already pursuing this possibly profitable frontier, which increases the urgency of action for those protesting human cloning. Another benefit that may come from cloning is the prospect of cloning human organs perfectly matched to their recipients. There are approximately 50,000 people on the National Waiting List for an organ transplant, and of this number, only 20,000 will actually receive a transplant (Stearn). Also, cloning organs does not necessitate the creation of a new human being.
Scientists are now isolating human embryonic stem cells, which have the capacity to become any tissue in the body (Wilmut). With this technology cloning could make it possible to grow tissue and organs from a patient’s own cells, overcoming problems of rejection (New Scientist). On the other side of the debate, some of those who advocate the ban on cloning argue that cloning is immoral and against God’s will. Many people feel that scientists should not have the power to “play God’ under any circumstances and are appalled with the notion that scientists are creating life through cloning.
E. V. Kontorovich said in his National Review article, “Cloning would take the humanity out of human reproduction. ” His view is that cloning humans leads to genetically designed children. In an article by Leon R. Kass, the “perversities of cloning” include a troubled psychic identity for the child, turning procreation into manufacturing, and egotistically seeking to make others into one’s own image instead of accepting them as they are born (Kass). Supporters of these claims often support an international ban on cloning that is upheld in every way possible, and like Kass, take a Utilitarian standpoint on the issue.
The fears of those advocating a ban on cloning seem to have some validity. Human decency has been ignored in the past in the name of scientific advancement, and will most likely be ignored again. It seems as if many of our world leaders from the past would have grossly abused powerful (and therefore dangerous) technology like cloning, which leads one to believe that future leaders are capable of the same abuse. However, the likelihood of successfully preventing all human cloning must also be considered.
Clinton announced in May 1997 that human clones should not be born and was warmly applauded. However, he went on to say that the proposed ban was only for 5 years and that nuclear transfer experiments could continue without government money (U. S. News). This partial ban was later rejected by Congress, and while there are increasing efforts to ban cloning, the Federal government has not yet approved a law on the subject. In an article on cloning presented by the National Bioethics Advisory Commission in 1997, a variety of ethical considerations are addressed from both sides of the issue.
Their thoughtful analysis (which must be viewed in light of recent developments in cloning, as scientists’ experimentation with and information about cloning has increased drastically) specifically discusses the safety of cloning, its possible harms to the family, the individual and to society, and issues of cloning for eugenic “improvements” or commodifying human beings. They add to the debate the argument that cloning may not be dramatically new given other assisted reproductive technologies, and that there may be exceptional cases where cloning is permissible.
In their conclusion, the NBAC decides that cloning is unethical but views most of the harms predicted by opponents of cloning as unfounded. In conclusion, my research has led me to believe humans will be cloned in the near future. Worldwide control of human cloning would likely be both hard to implement and impermanent. The ethical dilemma surrounding the issue of cloning then becomes very important. As with most science or technology, cloning is a tool humans can use to bring about either harmful or beneficial ends.
In my opinion, cloning in itself is neither moral or immoral, but it can be utilized both ethically and unethically. I particularly see benefits that could come from the cloning of organs, and see dangers that could come from cloning that is not carefully controlled. It is possible that cloning will become more accepted as it is better understood. This is often the case with what initially seems just “unnatural”. However, I am still very wary of the additional power being able to create or manipulate life brings to a species that has been so consistently destructive in the past.