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ETHICAL ISSUES OF HUMAN CLONING


In 1997 a stunning technological achievement, the birth of Dolly, which many thought impossible, came from a barn. Despite Dolly’s innocent looks, some feared that she is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who has come to steal humankind’s individuality and autonomy (1). It is interesting that while the scientific paper that described her creation identified her as 6LL3, the newspapers identified her as Dolly. They gave her a name to emphasize that she is a unique individual, as our name does for us. Dolly has forced us, scientists and public alike, to rethink basic ideas about life, about the meaning of individuality, personal identity, the importance of our genes in defining our personal identity, the meaning of families and finally to redefine our reproductive liberty (2, 3).

Dolly’s presence challenges our innate desire to regard ourselves as metaphysically special as possessing a unique, mysterious spark of something that cannot be reduced, measured or worst of all copied (1). This aggrandizing self-perception lies behind President Clinton’s statement that “every human life is unique, born of a miracle that reaches beyond laboratory science”. Still, cloning (now of an animal and later of a human), carries an unsettling message, one that all good copies carry: namely that originals are not quite as special or mysterious as we thought them to be (1).

Although cloning is not the most pressing issue facing our health care system or indeed facing our religious or political leaders, the way we confront cloning will provide a measure of our maturity in addressing all the critical issues at the intersection between the research community and the society, as together we confront the awesome truths and capabilities that modern research can yield (4).

PUBLIC REACTION
Once Dolly’s birth and existence was announced, most people, responding to the idea of cloning at a fundamental level and, without having read a single article about cloning or morality, except what they obtained from the media, found the idea of cloning deeply troubling and repugnant. Three quarters of Americans disapprove of it, 40% would put a temporary halt and 46% favor making it a crime to clone human beings (1).

Another USA poll showed a similar strong opposition: 58% said that cloning was morally wrong and 63% said that it was against God’s will; many were angry, feeling that the basic sanctity of human life was under attack.

The reaction in other parts of the world was similar; cloning was described as unthinkable (France) or unacceptable (Germany). The Council of Europe, citing threats to the dignity and identity of human beings, amended one of its human rights conventions to ban cloning.

People responding from a more fundamental level seem to believe that cloning has crossed a line that makes it a taboo like incest and cannibalism (4). Recently public feelings and fears against cloning were reawakened when Richard Seed, a Harvard physicist/biologist proposed to start a for-profit company that would clone human beings for rich clients. He told the National Public Radio that “cloning and reprogramming of DNA are the first serious steps in becoming one with God” - what a wasteful way of trying to become one with God. Unfortunately, such arrogant and provocative comments encourage the public to believe that human beings cannot be trusted with such awesome power and to call for political action and control (3). Similarly most religious thinkers find cloning of humans wrong in and of itself (intrinsically wrong) under any conceivable circumstances (5). In a front-page editorial the Vatican’s L’Observatore Romano warned that cloning could lead humanity down a “tunnel of madness”.

CLONING OF ANIMALS
While people react negatively to cloning of humans, in an almost international consensus they agree that cloning of animals is good and should continue.

This support for animal cloning might be understandable and expected. Many consider the creation, destruction and manipulation of animals to be a God-given right. Given the other things we do to animals, creating copies of them hardly seems evil. Furthermore using science to choose or replicate the genes of animals for the benefit of humans is an occasion of praise and not a condemnation, when compared to the production of replicas of persons (3).

FEARS AND MISCONCEPTIONS
Without any clear idea of what cloning of a person actually entails, the public’s dominant image is that of a wholesale copying of existing or already dead individuals (Adolf Hitler, Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Michael Jordan, Bill Clinton etc.). This opens the door to scenarios of arrogance, power and abuse in which children become products or commodities rather than persons to be loved and allowed to mature by themselves (3).

Already we can imagine the creation of cloned humans who would not have the right to choose their own destiny and would be used as a source of transplant organs, or become slaves or a member of clone armies of various “delta” or “epsilon” sub-beings (6,7). In short we are afraid that cloning technology might be used to limit individual freedom and welfare (1). It is a disturbing and for some of us fearful thought that if women can reproduce easily by cloning they may not need a man around.

CLONING APPLICATIONS

  1. Therapeutic cloning
    1. Procreative cloning
    2. Other therapeutic applications
  2. Reproductive or ego-centric cloning

Procreative cloning
There is a widespread impression that the only motives for cloning are vicious and that people who desire cloning must be corrupt or misguided (1). However, we should not forget that some applications of cloning such as procreative cloning have broad implications.

Procreative liberty - i.e. the freedom to decide whether to have offspring, is a deeply accepted moral value that underlies many of our social practices. We regard such liberty to be an important part of personal liberty and to have a great value for the person. Therefore a strong argument can be made that the moral right to reproduce includes non-coital or assisted means of reproduction (3).

Among the least controversial aspects of cloning must be to relieve the suffering of infertile couples or couples who are at risk of transmitting a severe genetic disease, or those who cannot or do not wish to conceive a child (8,9). If we support the reproductive efforts of infertile couples without cloning (as we do by accepting in vitro fertilization techniques), the addition of cloning would just be another option for those anxious to become parents.

If a couple knew that their “natural” children ran the risk of inheriting hemophilia or cystic fibrosis, access to cloning would mean the difference between passing a defective gene or giving birth to a healthy child (9).

Similarly a woman with one embryo, produced during in vitro fertilization, has only a 10 to 20% chance of becoming pregnant. If that embryo could be cloned and converted to two, four or eight embryos the likelihood of successful pregnancy would increase significantly (9).

Finally, using embryo splitting, one embryo could be tested to ascertain its health and genetic status (and then destroyed) before the remaining clone is planted in the mother’s uterus (10).

Other Useful Applications of Cloning
Cloning at the level of human molecules or cells, or animal cloning, promise a great future for science and humanity (11), therefore it would verge on the immoral, if we don’t attempt to find out what cloning might achieve (4). Thus the study of cloning may yield deep insights into such puzzles as diseases of the spinal cord, heart muscle, brain tissue (6) and the findings may be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or severe heart failure.

Cloning may give us a greater insight into the aging process, and allow us, for example, to determine how much is due to cell aging and whether or not it is reversible. Such research may also increase our understanding of the origin of the cancer process (2), which would have tremendous therapeutic implications.

Nuclear transfer techniques are useful in the creation of animal models for the study of genetic diseases or to permit the use of animal organs for transplantation into humans (2).

Embryonic stem cell research could lead to therapies for Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes and show us how to prevent birth defects.

If scientists could control the process by which stem cells “switch on” to form different tissues, they might be able to grow heart cells to rebuild disease-ravaged hearts, insulin producing cells for diabetics, or brain cells for victims of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease (12).

Eventually, using cloning, we may reach the stage when every newborn child would begin life with its own “body repair kit”, namely, an unlimited supply of embryonic or stem cells that, under appropriate circumstances, can develop into blood, bone, muscle or any of the body’s dozen of different systems (11); these could be transplanted without the fear of rejection.

Reproductive or Ego-Centered Cloning
Whereas parents or individuals, who seek procreative cloning for logistical reasons, want any child who is biologically related to one of them, parents - or individuals, who want a specific child and no other, raise serious questions about their motivations (13).

Thus the megalomaniac will want to be remembered after s/he is gone by producing a living monument believing in the most popular of the misconceptions about cloning that one can get an adult copy of oneself (1).

The entrepreneur parent or he who sees his life as failure may want to make up for his inadequacy through clone by raising a brilliant scientist, a great physicist or a famous athlete thus directing or even forcing the child into a predetermined career.

The public’s imagination runs riot thinking that one can produce an army of clones programmed to certain tasks such as soldiers killing without emotion, or slaves doing tasks that we do not want to do ourselves.

This category would include those who will seek cloning as a way to cheat death, by perpetuating themselves, or reproducing a dying child or any other dying or dead beloved person. Thus cloning would appeal to those who cannot accept the fact of death and, attempting to perpetuate himself or herself, would realize the dream of reincarnation (13). This is a misconception because cloning does not promises you a second chance at life - you do not reproduce yourself - you just produce a delayed twin sibling who would be raised in a different environment; you just give another soul a chance at your life (6).

Similarly parents, who lose a child, may turn to cloning to replicate the priceless dying or dead child, trying in this way to avoid this singular human tragedy (14). This is done more for their own comfort and to satisfy their own emotional ends (1). Again, the parent will not be getting the same child but a delayed twin. It is as though those parents, who have identical twins, will have less pain when one of the twins dies, because its twin sibling is still alive.

ETHICAL/SPIRITUAL ISSUES
In the last 10 years a number of movies has been made on the drama of cloning. However, it was the creation of Dolly that forced us to think about this new power more seriously in a wider way and with strong public participation. Cloning is yet another example of how ethics and law continuously strive to keep up with scientific research and development (15).

The scientific community must handle the ethical issues of cloning with great sensitivity because, at present, no other issue has greater potential to undermine public confidence in science and especially in the biotechnology industry. Any mishandling of these ethical problems may dry up research findings completely (16).

Under the title “ethical aspects of cloning” one can consider the following issues:

  • Do no harm
  • Individuality and human uniqueness
  • Rights to our own individual genes and fear of their manipulation
  • Personal identity and respect for human persons
  • Human dignity
  • Commitment to a flourishing family, and freedom and autonomy in procreation

I will address sanctity of human life under Cloning and Spirituality/Religion.

Do no Harm
Modern ethics are characterized by four main principles a) confidentiality b) do no harm c) respect of autonomy and d) the principle of justice. The first two concepts stem from the Hippocratic oath.

The principle, do no harm, may have some application to cloning at these early stages, because morally we are obligated not to inflict harm on children created through human cloning (5). Based on the clinical obligation to do no harm or to impose the risk of harm, the USA National Bioethics Advisory Committee’s (NBAC) (5) concluded that “at this time it is morally unacceptable for anyone in the public or private sector, whether on a research or clinical setting, to attempt to create a child using somatic cells nuclear transfer … because current scientific information indicates that this technique is not safe to be used in humans at this time”. (5)

However, advances since then indicate that all safety issues will be resolved soon, and I believe that we are obliged to address all the ethical and social issues that will emerge assuming that a safe technique of cloning will become available soon.

Individuality and Uniqueness
A central ethical issue in cloning is that of creating persons yet depriving them of their uniqueness. The President’s Commission (NBAC) noted the presence of “moral concerns, particularly psychological, associated with a possibly diminished sense of individuality and personal autonomy”. The idea of turning out replicas of persons is deeply unsettling because it appears to contradict the concept of respect for the individual person that undergirds our moral and legal system and permeates our entire society.

The media has given particular attention to the supposed danger to individuality and uniqueness. This concern about losing our uniqueness and even our individual identities derives from our anxiety over the clones as copies (1). The media promoted, almost excessively, the belief that human value or human dignity is a fixed unity attached to our genetic pattern (17). This attitude derives from the widespread belief in genetic determinism, that is to say our personalities and our behaviours are genetically determined, whether this is toward violence, a tendency to adultery or happiness etc.

President Clinton also reflected our anxieties about uniqueness and copying when he said “My own view is that human cloning would have to raise deep concerns, given our most cherished concepts of faith and humanity”. And he continued saying “Each human life is unique, born of a miracle that reaches beyond laboratory science. I believe we must respect this profound gift and resist the sinful temptation to replicate ourselves” (1). Once deprived of their uniqueness, human beings will be devalued and be treated interchangeably, thus posing a vital risk to our humanity.

In the early 1970’s, Hans Jones, commenting on the possibility of cloning an individual because of some characteristics that s/he possesses, argued that cloning is always a crime against the clone because we are depriving the new individual of the existential right to certain subjective terms of being - particularly the right to ignorance of facts about his/her origin. Jones supposes that the advance knowledge of what the donor has or has not accomplished will extinguish spontaneity and the possibility of becoming him/herself (1). Thus the later born “twin” will lack individuality or the freedom to create his or her own identity because of confusion about or expectations aroused by having the same DNA as another person.

It is in the diversity of people that we find much interest and enthusiasm (9). Cloning tends to depersonalize and reduce human beings to valued cells, tissues and organs and, in so doing, diminishes or loses the sentiment of awe. According to Einstein science and religion are rooted in the sense of awe and wonder towards the cosmos and the persons who live within it. If awe is diminished, science will become lifeless and religion will be deformed (15).

Human Dignity
The most important feature of the Western culture is a belief in individual human dignity; that people have the moral right and responsibility to confront for themselves the most fundamental questions about the meaning and value of their own lives (10). Emanuel Kant says that human dignity demands that an individual should never be thought as a means but always as an end. The existence of human copies is interpreted not only as an assault on individuality but on the very essence of human dignity and on the corresponding attitude of respectful awe for the individual (1,18). Creating a human life for the sole purpose of producing therapeutic material clearly would not respect the dignity of the created file (4).

Respect for Family
The practice of cloning is of particular concern to those who believe in the moral significance of the family, in the meaning of parenthood and in the central role of the family in the life of the entire community (15,19). The President’s Commission noted “moral concerns about a possible degeneration in the quality of parenting and family life” aroused by the advent of cloning and by the moral/relational issues and new child-rearing responsibilities, related to cloning.

Others fear that parents who choose their child’s genome through somatic-cell cloning will view the child as a commodity or an object to serve their own ends (8).

CLONING AND SPIRITUALITY
Any discovery that touches upon human creation is not simply an act of scientific creation but also a matter of morality and spirituality as well.

When President Clinton convened the National Bioethics Advisory Committee (NBAC) to examine policy options on human cloning he cited not only matters of morality but also of spirituality. The language he used on this occasion suggests that certain aspects of cloning cannot be subsumed completely under policies of ethics but must evoke deeper and substantive matters of human nature, identity and meaning (15).

The committee gave serious consideration to the input of religious leaders on human cloning, because they (the spiritual leaders) significantly shape the moral positions taken by many US citizens on new technological developments (15).

Some religious leaders hold that cloning humans is wrong in and of itself (i.e. intrinsically wrong) under any conceivable circumstance. They believe that this activity would violate human dignity, the natural law, natural order or some other fundamental principle of value; indeed the perception of this violation often is expressed in language of repugnance and revulsion (15). Others hold that cloning is wrong in most cases but not in all, seeing it as either morally neutral or full of moral difficulties but not intrinsically wrong (15).

THE FUTURE
The pathological motivation of anyone who would want to clone a human being, and the fear of “out of control” scientists, who may be crossing some horrendous boundaries makes both the public and politicians demand an outright ban on cloning. However, legislation can outlaw a technique it cannot repeal biology. I believe that even the outlawing of the technique will fail. It is too simple to replicate (human) cells. No amount of regulation can stop it (6).

Even if governments institute an outright ban on human cloning it will not be easy to police what goes on in private laboratories that don’t receive public money. The same impasse occurred 20 years ago with in vitro fertilization. When Scottish scientists doing this research were subjected to intense criticism, they took their work underground, and continued it in seclusion until they had perfected the technology (9). This technology of IVF now is accepted by the general public and by all religious leaders.

One danger of a total ban is that potentially useful work on human tissue at the level of molecules and cells, or animal cloning may be brought to a halt by those whose main target is to stop the cloning of a human person (20).

I believe that it would be unwise to rush into legislation that would turn out to be too restrictive of both valuable research and of new forms of infertility treatment.

The report of the President’s Commission, called for a five-year moratorium on human cloning to allow time for further reflection and deliberation. This “time out” would give the public an opportunity to debate the daunting social, ethical, spiritual and legal implications of cloning. I support this recommendation (this recommendation was not eventually submitted to Congress because of strong objections by the scientific community who feared that such a law may impede further research) as long as we identify a mechanism that can prevent premature experimentation while permitting reasonable investigation when the facts change and the technique becomes easy and safe (14).

While scientists and ethicists deliberate these issues we should make a simultaneous effort on public education concerning both the benefits and risks of human cloning.

The public should be presented with both sides of the argument and be informed about biomedical developments and technologies, especially in the field of genetics; such instruction would allow the public to develop a collective bioethical conscience, and make choices between what is permissible and what is not (13). Laws passed in this area will ultimately be effective only if they are rooted in the consent of individuals and if that consent is based on realistic assessment of both scientific possibilities and social pitfalls of cloning.

In the end, we may be forced to admit reluctantly that science cannot be controlled and that human cloning is inevitable (1). In the past all efforts to limit and regulate technological progress has failed. Even if laws were in place to forbid cloning, clinics would crop up. There is no way to stop it.

If this prediction proves to be true, one day the medical community and the society will have to address the care of and respect for people created by cloning techniques. We should begin that discussion now. We must ensure that people created by these new methods are afforded the same rights and privileges as other human beings. Despite their opposition to cloning all religious scholars agree that a child created through cloning would still be created in the image of God and have the same dignity and status in human community as other children.

In conclusion I believe that a cooling-off period of 3 to 5 years is a good idea. I oppose a total ban and I support a temporary ban of cloning of human beings, that would allow research to continue on all other aspects of cloning that may benefit the human race.


By Dimitrios G. Oreopoulos


References

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  3. Robertson, JA: Liberty, identity and human cloning. Texas Law Review. 76: 1371-1456, 1998.
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  14. Annas GJ: Why we should ban human cloning. The New England Journal of Medicine. 339(2): 122-125, 1998.
  15. Campbell CS. Prophesy and policy. Hastings Center Report. 27(5): 15-17, 1997.
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  20. A) U.S. government to fund controversial stem cell research. CNN, Internet. January 19, 1999. OR
    B) First principles of cloning. Editorial. The Lancet. 353(9147): 81, 1999.