Euthenasia Essay Research Paper The Issue of

Euthenasia Essay, Research Paper

The Issue of Human Cloning

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 the genetic

contribution to the traits we value most deeply, from intelligence to

compassion, is conceded by even the most enthusiastic genetic

researchers to be limited and indirect. 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


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 who 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


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, that genetic

determinism is not only false, but 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,

unengineered 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 will not

be resolved by any determination we make regarding the specific

acceptability of cloning.


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