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Debate: Ban on human reproductive cloning

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Revision as of 06:29, 22 April 2008

Should human cloning be banned ? Should reproductive human cloning always be prohibited?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Rob Weekes. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.

Contents

Background and Context of Debate:

The cloning of ‘Dolly’ the sheep in 1997 by Ian Wilmut and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh generated a spontaneous worldwide reaction. Dr. Richard Seed, an American geneticist, claimed he would be able to clone human beings within a year. A Korean doctor was reported to have created, and killed, the first human clone. President Clinton ordered research into the ethics of human cloning, which subsequently became the Shapiro Report. The United States has imposed a moratorium on human cloning and a ban on federal funding of cloning research, that will be reviewed every five years. One bill to make human cloning lawful and another demanding its prohibition were both rejected by Congress in 1999. The British government claimed that existing legislation regulating embryo research banned human cloning, but a strict interpretation of the statute would suggest that cloning remains lawful in Britain. Germany, Switzerland and several American states have passed laws expressly forbidding human cloning, whereas Canada and Ireland have no relevant legislation at present. The opposition of international organisations towards human cloning seems clear. The European Parliament, the Council of Europe, UNESCO and the WHO have all passed resolutions asserting that human cloning is both morally and legally wrong. There is a clear distinction between ‘reproductive cloning’ and ‘therapeutic cloning’. Reproductive cloning relates to the use of the technology with the intention to produce a foetus identical to its parent. The technique used to produce Dolly is known as ‘nuclear transfer’, whereby the nucleus from a somatic cell was fused with an unfertilised egg from which the nucleus had been removed. This method of procreation is ‘asexual’, as it does not require one person of each sex in order to produce a child. A single mother or a lesbian couple, for example, could produce a child genetically related to them both, without the necessity for a male gamete.Therapeutic cloning is generally referred to the formation of artificial organs that have DNA compatibility with the patients which suffer from their organs malfunction.However,the arguments given below will solely based on the reproductive cloning.


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Safe for living creations: Does human cloning produce living forms that are normal and safe?

Yes

Cloning technology is unsafe for the resulting life. The nuclear transfer technique that produced Dolly required 277 embryos, from which only one healthy and viable sheep was produced. The other foetuses were hideously deformed and either died or were aborted. Moreover, Ian Wilmut and other commentators have noted that we cannot know whether clones will suffer from premature ageing as a result of their elderly genes. There are also fears that the reprogramming of the nucleus of a somatic cell in order to trigger the cell division that leads to the cloning of an individual may result in a significantly increased risk of cancer.


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No

Cloning is in this respect no different from any other new medical technology. Research is required on embryos in order to quantify and reduce the risk of the procedures. Embryo research is permitted in Britain until the fourteenth day of embryo development. Many other Western countries are also actively engaged in embryo research. The thousands of ‘spare’ embryos generated each year by IVF procedures and destroyed could be used to the good purpose of human cloning research.


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Playing God? Is human cloning playing God?

Yes

Cloning is playing God. It is not merely intervention in the body’s natural processes, but the creation of a new and wholly unnatural process of asexual reproduction. Clerics within the Catholic, Moslem and Jewish faiths have all expressed their opposition to human cloning.However, this objection to cloning is not specifically theological. David Hume, the eighteenth-century Scottish moral philosopher, warned us to heed our feelings as much as our logical reasoning. Leon R. Kass of the University of Chicago has stated in relation to human cloning, that mere failure to produce scientific reasons against the technology, does not mean we should deny our strong and instinctive reactions to it. As he states, there is a "wisdom in repugnance".




No

This argument assumes that we know God’s intentions. Evidently, there is no biblical statement on the ethics of human cloning. Who is to say that it is not God’s will that we clone ourselves ? At least one Hindu writer has indicated that Hindu thought embraces IVF and other assisted reproduction technology (ART). Moreover, every time that a doctor performs life-saving surgery or administers drugs he is changing the destiny of the patient and could be thus seen as usurping the role of God. Furthermore, we should be very wary of banning something without being able to say why it is wrong. That way lie all sorts irrational superstition, repression, fundamentalism and extremism.




Family integrity: Does human cloning harm the integrity of the family?

Yes

Reproductive cloning harms the integrity of the family: Single people will be able to produce offspring without even the physical presence of a partner. Once born, the child will be denied the love of one parent, most probably the father. Several theologians have recognised that a child is a symbolic expression of the mutual love of its parents, and their hope for the future. This sign of love is lost when a child’s life begins in a laboratory.

Cloning treats children as objects: Children will be manufactured by an expensive technological process that is subject to quality control. The gulf between an artisan and an artefact is immense. Individuals will be able to have a child for the sake of having children, or as a symbol of status, rather than because they desire to conceive, love and raise another human being. Cloning will not only allow, but actually encourage, the commodification of people.




No

This argument is wholly unsuited to the modern age. Society freely allows single people to reproduce sexually, whether by accident or design. Existing lawful practices such as sperm donation allow deliberate procreation without knowledge of the identity of the father. Surely it is preferable for a mother to know the genetic heritage of her offspring, rather than accept sperm from an unknown and random donor? Moreover, reproductive cloning will allow lesbian couples to have children genetically related to them both. It might be better for the welfare of the child for it to be born into a happy relationship, but the high rates of single parenthood and divorce suggest that this is not always possible.

The decision making and the effort that will be required to clone a human suggests that the child will be highly valued by its parent or parents: Furthermore, we should not pretend that every child conceived by sexual procreation is born to wholly well-intentioned parents. The desire to have ‘a son and heir’ is common around the world but does not concern the welfare of the future child. Similarly, children are often conceived out of marital custom, in order to consolidate a relationship, or even in order to gain free accommodation from local housing authorities. Finally, many children are not intended at all, but are born as a result of unplanned pregnancies. There would be no fear of ‘accidental cloning’ that could bring a child to a parent who was unprepared, or unwilling, to love it.




Human dignity: Is human cloning contrary to the notion of human dignity?

Yes

Reproductive cloning is contrary to human dignity: ‘Donum Vitae’, the declaration of the Catholic church in relation to the new reproductive technologies, holds that procreation outside the conjugal union is morally wrong. Many secular organisations, such as the WHO and UNESCO have issued statements that similarly find cloning violates human dignity. Assisted reproductive technologies might all be seen as challenges to human dignity, including IVF and sperm donation. However, human cloning is a completely artificial form of reproduction, which leaves no trace of the dignity of human procreation.




No

Why is sexual procreation more "dignified" than scientific procreation? It is difficult to understand why the act of sexual intercourse that leads to sexual procreation is any more ‘dignified’ or respectable than a reasoned decision by an adult to have a child, that is assisted by modern science. The thousands of children given life through IVF therapy do not suffer a lack of dignity as a consequence of their method of procreation. The Catholic church regards every embryo from the moment of existence as a living person. This position is not shared by most Western governments, and it would deny not only cloning, but IVF and all the medical knowledge and benefits that have accrued from embryo research.




Eugenics: Will cloning lead to an unethical eugenics movement?

Yes

Cloning will lead to eugenics, or the artificial manipulation and control of the characteristics of people. An American geneticist, Dr. Dan Brock, has already identified a trend towards ‘new and benign eugenics’ that is perpetrated by developments in biotechnology. When people are able to clone themselves they will be able to choose which type of person shall be born. This seems uncomfortably close to the Nazi concept of breeding a race of Aryan superhumans, whilst eliminating those individuals whose characteristics they considered unhealthy. The ‘Boys from Brazil’ scenario of clones of Hitler, the baby farms of ‘Brave New World’, or even the cloning or armies of identical and disposable soldiers, might soon be a very real prospect.




No

There is much more danger of eugenics associated with developments in gene therapy and genetic testing and screening, rather than human cloning. The notion of clones of Hitler is frankly preposterous. Psychologists have shown that nurture is at least as important as genes in determining personality. It would be impossible to produce another Hitler, or Elvis, or whomever, by cloning or any other ART. Clones (people with identical genes) would by no means be identical in every respect. You only need to look at identical twins (who are genetic clones of each other) to see how wrong that assumption is, and how different the personalities, preferences, and skills of people with identical genes can be.The idea of breeding huge fighting forces is also confined to the realm of science fiction. The necessity of thousands of willing mothers, the nine month gestation process, and the many years rearing this child towards adulthood, means that cloning would hardly be an efficient technique for any mad dictator to raise an army. And there is no reason, in any case, to suppose that a clone would be any more willing or effective a soldier than any other human being - clones (like twins) are just as conscious and free as everyone else.




Individualism: Will individualism be undermined by cloning?

Yes

Cloning will lead to a diminished sense of identity and individuality for the resultant child. Instead of being considered as a unique individual, the child will be a copy of his parent, and be expected to share the same traits and interests, such that his life will no longer be his own. This is an unacceptable infringement of the liberty and autonomy that we grant to every human person. The confusion of the offspring is likely to be compounded by the fact that his ‘parent’, from whom he is cloned, will be genetically his twin brother or sister. There is no way of knowing how children will react to having such a confused genetic heritage.




No

Individualism will be maintained despite cloning, as "clones" will develop their own unique identities: Children produced by reproductive cloning will be ‘clones’ but not ‘copies’ of their parents: Different environmental factors, nurture, and the process of gestation mean that children will not be emotionally or mentally identical to the people from whom they are cloned. Furthermore, this objection would apply to all identical twins. A small proportion of identical twins do indeed suffer from psychological problems related to feelings of a lack of individuality. However, cloned children would in fact be in a better position than these monozygotic twins, as the clones will be many years younger than their genetic twins, which are of course their parents. They will not be daily compared to a physically identical individual, as there will be a gap between their ages, and hence psychological and physical characteristics, of tens of years.





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Yes

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No

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Natural diversity: Will cloning lower the level of genetic diversity and variation in the human population?

Yes

Cloning will lead to a lack of diversity amongst the human population. The natural process of evolution will be halted, and as such humankind will be denied development, and may be rendered more susceptible to disease.




No

Any reduction in the diversity of the human gene pool will be so limited as to be virtually non-existent: The expense and time necessary for successful human cloning should mean that it will only be used to the benefit of the small minority of people who require the technology. The pleasure of procreation through sexual intercourse does not suggest that whole populations will prefer to reproduce asexually through cloning. The only significant lack of diversity which can be expected will be in women who suffer from a severe mitochondrial disease. They will be able to use cloning by nuclear transfer in order to avoid passing on the disease which is carried in their egg cells to any offspring. This elimination of harmful genetic traits from the gene pool is no different from the eradication of infectious disease, such as small pox, and should be welcomed.




Value of cloning: Is human cloning unnecessary and without good value to the advancement of humanity?

Yes

Human reproductive cloning is unnecessary: The development of in vitro fertilisation and the practice of sperm donation allows heterosexual couples to reproduce where one partner is sterile. Moreover, merely 300 babies are adopted each year in the United Kingdom. It might be better for potential parents to give their love to existing babies rather than attempt to bring their own offspring into an already crowded world.




No

The desire to have one’s own child and to nurture it is wholly natural: The longing for a child genetically related to oneself existed long before biotechnology, but it is only recently that medicine has been able to satisfy it. In vitro fertilisation remains an imperfect technology. Couples typically submit to four cycles of costly treatment before producing a child. Evidently, the technique does not assist homosexual couples, couples where both partners lack gametes, or where the female partner suffers from a mitochondrial disease. Cloning would allow a child to be born to all these couples.




References:

Motions:

  • This House Would Ban Human Cloning
  • This House Would Not Make a Mini-Me
  • This House Would Not Reproduce Itself

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