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Cloning (1240 words)

Of Humans Issue
The recent news of the successful cloning of an adult sheep-in which the sheep’s
DNA was inserted into an unfertilized sheep egg to produce a lamb with identical
DNA-has generated an outpouring of ethical concerns. These concerns are not
about Dolly, the now famous sheep, nor even about the considerable impact
cloning may have on the animal breeding industry, but rather about the
possibility of cloning humans. For the most part, however, the ethical concerns
being raised are exaggerated and misplaced, because they are based on erroneous
views about what genes are and what they can do. The danger, therefore, lies not
in the power of the technology, but in the misunderstanding of its significance.

Producing a clone of a human being would not amount to creating a “carbon
copy”-an automaton of the sort familiar from science fiction. It would be
more like producing a delayed identical twin. And just as identical twins are
two separate people-biologically, psychologically, morally and legally, though
not genetically so a clone is a separate person from his or her
non-contemporaneous twin. To think otherwise is to embrace a belief in genetic
determinism-the view that genes determine everything about us, and that
environmental factors or the random events in human development are utterly
insignificant. The overwhelming consensus among geneticists is that genetic
determinism is false. As geneticists have come to understand the ways in which
genes operate, they have also become aware of the myriad ways in which the
environment affects their “expression.” The genetic contribution to
the simplest physical traits, such as height and hair color, is significantly
mediated by environmental factors. And even even the most enthusiastic genetic
researchers to be limited and indirect concede the genetic contribution to the
traits we value most deeply, from intelligence to compassion. Indeed, we need
only appeal to our ordinary experience with identical twins-that they are
different people despite their similarities-to appreciate that genetic
determinism is false. Furthermore, because of the extra steps involved, cloning
will probably always be riskier-that is, less likely to result in a live
birth-than in vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo transfer. (It took more than
275 attempts before the researchers were able to obtain a successful sheep
clone. While cloning methods may improve, we should note that even standard IVF
techniques typically have a success rate of less than 20 percent.) So why would
anyone go to the trouble of cloning? There are, of course, a few reasons people
might go to the trouble, and so it’s worth pondering what they think they might
accomplish, and what sort of ethical quandaries they might engender. Consider
the hypothetical example of the couple who wants to replace a child who has
died. The couple doesn’t seek to have another child the ordinary way because
they feel that cloning would enable them to reproduce, as it were, the lost
child. But the unavoidable truth is that they would be producing an entirely
different person, a delayed identical twin of that child. Once they understood
that, it is unlikely they would persist. But suppose they were to persist? Of
course we can’t deny that possibility. But a couple so persistent in refusing to
acknowledge the genetic facts is not likely to be daunted by ethical
considerations or legal restrictions either. If our fear is that there could be
many couples with that sort of psychology, then we have a great deal more than
cloning to worry about. Another disturbing possibility is the person who wants a
clone in order to have acceptable “spare parts” in case he or she
needs an organ transplant later in life. But regardless of the reason that
someone has a clone produced, the result would nevertheless be a human being
with all the rights and protections that accompany that status. It truly would
be a disaster if the results of human cloning were seen as less than fully
human. But there is certainly no moral justification for and little social
danger of that happening; after all, we do not accord lesser status to children
who have been created through IVF or embryo transfer. There are other
possibilities we could spin out. Suppose a couple wants a “designer
child”-a clone of Cindy Crawford or Elizabeth Taylor-because they want a
daughter whom will grow up to be as attractive as those women. Indeed, suppose
someone wants a clone, never mind of whom, simply to enjoy the notoriety of
having one. We cannot rule out such cases as impossible. Some people produce
children for all sorts of frivolous or contemptible reasons. But we must
remember that cloning is not as easy as going to a video store or as engaging as
the traditional way of making babies. Given the physical and emotional burdens
that cloning would involve, it is likely that such cases would be exceedingly
rare. But if that is so, why object to a ban on human cloning? What is wrong
with placing a legal barrier in the path of those with desires perverse enough
or delusions recalcitrant enough to seek cloning despite its limited potential
and formidable costs? For one thing, these are just the people that a legal ban
would be least likely to deter. But more important, a legal barrier might well
make cloning appear more promising than it is to a much larger group of people.

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If there were significant interest in applying this technology to human beings,
it would indicate a failure to educate people that genetic determinism is
profoundly mistaken. Under those circumstances as well, however, a ban on human
cloning would not only be ineffective but also most likely counterproductive.

Ineffective because, as others have pointed out, the technology does not seem to
require sophisticated and highly visible laboratory facilities; cloning could
easily go underground. Counterproductive because a ban might encourage people to
believe that there is a scientific basis for some of the popular fears
associated with human cloning-that there is something to genetic determinism
after all. There is a consensus among both geneticists and those writing on
ethical, legal and social aspects of genetic research. Genetic determinism is
not only false, but also pernicious; it invokes memories of pseudo-scientific
racist and eugenic programs premised on the belief that what we value in people
is entirely dependent on their genetic endowment or the color of their skin.

Though most members of our society now eschew racial determinism, our culture
still assumes that genes contain a person’s destiny. It would be unfortunate if,
by treating cloning as a terribly dangerous technology, we encouraged this
cultural myth, even as we intrude on the broad freedom our society grants people
regarding reproduction. We should remember that most of us believe people should
be allowed to decide with whom to reproduce, when to reproduce and how many
children they should have. We do not criticize a woman who takes a fertility
drug so that she can influence when she has children-or even how many. Why,
then, would we object if a woman decides to give birth to a child who is, in
effect, a non-contemporaneous identical twin of someone else? By arguing against
a ban, I am not claiming that there are no serious ethical concerns to the
manipulation of human genes. Indeed there are. For example, if it turned out
that certain desirable traits regarding intellectual abilities or character
could be realized through the manipulation of human genes, which of these
enhancements, if any, should be available? But such questions are about genetic
engineering, which is a different issue than cloning. Cloning is a crude method
of trait selection: It simply takes a pre-existing, un-engineered genetic
combination of traits and replicates it. I do not wish to dismiss the ethical
concerns people have raised regarding the broad range of assisted reproductive
technologies. But we should acknowledge that those concerns would not be
resolved by any determination we make regarding the specific acceptability of


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