Ethics

Should we ban human cloning?

cloning1

I recently wrote a paper for a Moral Reasoning course in defense of human cloning. The concept of human cloning seems a bit frightening to me, but I don’t think that’s altogether rational.

Let me first define human cloning by the current hypothetical techniques for doing so.  Human cloning is the creation of a human being, or human tissues, using 100% of the nuclear genetic material from a donor.  You have to know a little bit about biology to fully understand this, but essentially the process means that instead of having two parents — each donating 50% of their genetic code, randomly — only one parent donates complete DNA, making the child, or clone, a genetic duplicate of the parent.

To examine the issue of human cloning, let’s consider the following benefits — why would we even consider cloning humans in the first place?  I won’t lay out the entire list of benefits, but instead present the four general categories of benefit:

  • To create donor organs or tissues (rather than new people) for therapy to cure diseases;
  • To create donor tissues to prevent aging and prolong lifespan;
  • As an alternate means of reproduction;
  • To learn more about genetics through the process of studying and implementing cloning in practice.

There are a number of objections and fears about cloning, as well:

  • The fear that cloned humans will lack individuality, or infringe upon the uniqueness of the donor.
  • The fear that cloned humans will experience social hardships;
  • The fear that genetic diversity will be reduced, threatening humanity as a species;
  • The fear that cloning will result in the manufacturing and marketing of human beings;
  • The religious objection that human cloning is playing God;
  • The objection that until a human is cloned, the risk to the clone is uncertain, making it unethical to attempt cloning.

…to which offer the following points:

  • On concerns about individuality: Reasearch into human cloning may also allow A cloned human will be no less an individual than monozygotic (or identical) twins are individuals.  Identical twins share 100% of their genetic material, and occur in nature.  They do not lack individuality.  What’s more, they are further separated in time than identical twins, and more likely to be raised in different environments, making their individuality potentially greater than that of natural twins.
  • On concerns about social norms: A cloned human may appear to lack the “normal” structure of a family.  It has also been suggested that the fact that clones effectively have three parents — a genetic mother and father (the same parents as the original donor), and a direct parent (the donor).  They may also have adoptive parents who are none of these three.  While the social dynamic of a cloned person’s family may be unusual or difficult to assimilate, it is not much different than cases of adopted children, children born to surrogate mothers, or children born to single parents (to widows, or by in-vitro fertilization).  The law allows these situations to arise, and it can be argued that cloning presents little difference.
  • On concerns about genetic diversity: The argument here is simple.  Unless the genetic diversity of the human race dwindles so much that there are fewer than 1000 genetically unique individuals, we have little cause for concern about the survival of the human race as a whole.
  • On the manufacturing of human beings: The idea that we’ll end up with designer babies if cloning is allowed is a slippery-slope argument.  We can easily restrict these things without banning cloning entirely.  Yes, cloning opens these things up as a possibility, but so do most forms of genetic manipulation.  The cloning of human beings still requires surrogate mothers, which prevents visions of clone factories from appearing.  In societies that do not allow the sale of human beings anyways, this may not be much of a concern.
  • On religious concerns: I do have respect for religion, but in democratic societies where government is secular, this cannot be a driving principle.  While certain groups may decline to participate in cloning, religious principles are not grounds for legal restriction.
  • On the ethics of even trying: This, I think, is one of the biggest problems.  When creating the first human clone, we run the risk of producing a person who will suffer some hardships — they may experience medical problems, age unexpectedly quickly, or have trouble integrating into society if their origin is known publicly, especially when clones are uncommon.  It’s also possible that failed attempts at cloning may produce deformed, disabled or short-lived humans who will undergo unneccessary suffering.  The fact that we cannot be certain of the risks in cloning a human until we clone a human successfully.  The best counter-argument against these concerns is that the process must not be done hastily, and must see success in other animals first.  We may wish to clone other primates, and eventually chimpanzees (who are the animals most similar to humans, genetically), before attempting to clone a human being.  Only with repeated success in other animals will this concern start to fade.

I’m not convinced that an outright ban on human clothing is justifiable.  I think there are certainly valid ethical concerns, but the result should be regulation and care, rather than a reluctance to even try.

What do you think… should we ban cloning?  Did I fail to address any key concerns?

8 Comments

  1. I’m still reading about this issue, however ethically I’m sure that it’s not OK and wonder about the generation that might be the outcome of such process.

    On the other hand, I wonder from the scientific point of view about how a clonned person might live?

    Reply
  2. Colin Temple Author

    But why is it not OK, ethically? What, specifically, is the harm? That’s the part about this that’s difficult to pin down. I had similar reactions early on, but I have a hard time finding a solid ethical reason to forge laws in prohibition of cloning.

    Reply
  3. It seems to me that at least some of our decisions are made on the premise that ‘because we can, we do’ – a claim we make on the ‘rights’ we believe we have. Scientists in particular seem to be motivated by this ‘let’s see how far we can go and then some’!

    There is a part of me that loves and celebrates creative pursuit, which I believe can become egoic pursuit if we are not mindful. The difference, as I see it, is that while the former is driven by love (the all-pervading, unified force of life), the latter is driven by the sense of a separate self that places it’s personal interests above the interests of others.

    In the end, it is not so much the action i.e. cloning that matters, it is the motivation behind it that does.

    Reply
  4. Colin Temple Author

    Perhaps, but I did suggest four good reasons TO clone: to cure diseases, to prolong life, to provide an alternate means of reproduction and to learn more about genetics.

    So if those are the motivations, which are all generally altruistic in nature, what’s wrong with it, then?

    Yes, we tend to push the boundaries of science. Those who have done so have brought us pretty far. We should always be mindful of the consequences, or potential consequences, of our actions. That’s what this post is about — considering the options. I would never suggest that we run into this kind of thing without that important process.

    However, I don’t see a good enough reason why cloning ought to be deemed unethical.

    Reply
  5. You have mentioned four wonderful objectives/goals. Whether they necessarily provide good reasons for cloning is another matter. Perhaps they do.

    I believe that good objectives must become the personal motivations for each individual contemplating cloning (or any other decision/action for that matter) as well as the other people involved in its execution, failing which, the same decision/action may be made for reasons that could be considered ‘unethical’.

    Reply
  6. Colin Temple Author

    But is there something about the action that makes it unethical?

    You could clone unethically, sure. But that’s true of any action.

    For example, there is nothing unethical about making a salad with sesame seed dressing. That’s not an unethical practice. There is potential for harm to come from it, in the case that someone consuming the salad is allergic to sesame seeds. And if you’re making the salad specifically for someone with the knowledge that they are allergic to sesame seeds, then you are doing something unethical, and probably guilty of (attempted) murder.

    But that’s an unethical action. The salad, the dressing, and the technologies that produce them are not unethical.

    So, yes, cloning for the wrong reasons can certainly be unethical, but in general I don’t think that banning it because it could be used unethically is enough. To be consistent with our laws we’d also have to ban all guns, lawnmowers, baseball bats, pillows and sesame seeds.

    If someone’s going to clone themselves and kill off the offspring to harvest their organs and prolong their own life, they’re already doing something illegal. Murder is already illegal. There’s no need for us to ban the cloning process because that’s not the process that caused the harm.

    Another question I must ask, which you hinted at — if two people do the exact same thing, one because they wanted to save the world, and one because they wanted to progress their own career — is there an ethical difference? It would seem that your answer would be “yes”, but I’m not sure that it’s enough to worry about in all situations.

    What if both of them clone a baby human? Both babies are given to adoptive parents. Both babies grow up to be happy children and happy adults. Both of them go to university and become brilliant philosophers. Is there really an ethical difference between both of their conceptions?

    Is there an ethical difference between the conception of a baby as a result of planned parenthood, versus one who was conceived accidentally by parents equally capable of caring for their child, but who had not intended to have a child at that time?

    Reply
  7. Hi Colin! I’d love to respond to your questions but before I do, perhaps I should make sure I understand what you mean by ‘ethical’ and ‘unethical’. Could you define/explain? Ta!

    Reply
  8. Colin Temple Author

    Oh, that’s a tricky one. I’m using them synonymously with moral and immoral — that is, things that can generally be judged to be good or bad, right or wrong.

    Now, I’m not a big fan of objective or absolute morality, so we’re going to have to deal with a fairly general definition for the time being, lest we find ourselves dragging out the entire history of ethics.

    If you’re uncomfortable with that, I suppose I could ask what logically makes human cloning seem like something that ought to be allowed or banned, and whether, in your opinion, by whatever ethical system you favour, the practice ought to be allowed or banned.

    Reply

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