The purpose of this research paper is to provide an informative analysis of the cloning of human beings. A precursory examination reveals moral and legal implications associated with the topic. While evaluating this topic from a pro and con perspective, the research paper will not assume a particular position. The primary resources will be scholastic journals with the majority being written within the last ten years.
While cloning involves several distinct processes, it is essentially the recreation of a biological entity. It should be noted that asexual reproduction does occur in plants and single-celled organisms. Also, there are natural clones in humans and other mammals that occurs when a fertilized egg splits (National Human Genome Research Institute, 2015). The three primary types of cloning includes gene, reproductive, and therapeutic. The reproduction of genes of DNA is known as gene cloning. Reproduction cloning entails duplicating the genetic makeup of an animal. Finally, therapeutic cloning involves the reproduction of embryonic stem cells (National Human Genome Research Institute, 2015).
Human cloning has long been the topic of many polarizing debates. According to Birnbacher (2005), critics of human cloning consider a potential risk, the threat to man’s dignity. At a more granular level there is concern about risks to children who are genetically cloned. Beyond dignity there is the risk of instrumentalization. Kant provided a detailed understanding of instrumentalization in the second formula of his Categorical imperative. He purports that individuals should be an end to themselves as opposed to a means to achieve a process. Therefore, one scenario where instrumentalization could be questioned is when the life of the clone and original overlap. The cloned child could become primarily oriented to serve the needs of the original. This could create ethical dilemmas where the duplicated clone may not fulfill their own potential (Birnbacher, 2005).
Advocates of human cloning may argue that environment has equal or possibly even greater influence over the behaviors of cloned children. It does appear that a consensus concerning the causative relationship between genetic make-up and environment may not be quickly resolved. Another potentially divisive issue based on ethical interpretation is at what point the child becomes fully human. If a child is being cloned then prior to completion, they are only considered an intentional object. As such any violation could at best be considered symbolic (Birnbacher, 2005).
In final analysis possibly the most dangerous and humiliating factor related to human cloning is the manipulation of genes to produce interspecies hybrids. For example, creating a hybrid that has the partial genetic makeup of a man and dog. One ethical implication is that human dignity and ethical consideration regarding cloning should primarily focus on interspecies hybrids (Birnbacher, 2005).
Another ethical claim of critics to human cloning is that there are social implications to consider. The genetic duplication of human beings especially children, could unequivocally change a natural process into a manufacturing process. The National Bioethics Advisory Commission as cited in Strong (2005) purport that in such a process parents could become less emotionally connected to children. This could certainly lead to undesirable abuses. Further, this could also provide opportunities for totalitarian regimes (i.e. Hitler) or deceitful individuals to further their immoral cause.
However, according to Strong (2005), while an unethical application of cloning is possible there are also ethical applications. One such application is the ability to assist infertile couples in the process of having a child. This application in the purest sense would not necessarily be considered unethical. Implicit within the article is that the creation of a child solely to bring a family joy is both ethical and noble.
In other words the focus would not be genetic manipulation to shape the child in a particular way. Therefore, the author purports the authorization of cloning for specific instances (i.e. infertile parents) (Strong, 2005). The enforcement of such a policy would need to take place through the formation of a broad (i.e. national governing body). This governing body would subsequently disseminate policies/procedures to State and local entities.
Finally, Strong dismisses the idea of teleological arguments as being plausible. The teleological or telos perspective is the belief that human beings have a normative essence associated with purpose. This normative essence becomes at risk or unfulfilled within the process of cloning. Even within the context of secular bioethics there is scarce mention of telos, which could indicate its insignificance in the overall conversation (Strong, 2005).
Human cloning (i.e. asexual reproduction) is often viewed as unoriginal. As such, some researchers purport that there are no unique characteristics of the cloned children. However, according to Dr. N.M. Morales (2009), the scientific and medical community view human cloning as an inevitable reality. Therefore his report argues for the preemptive structuring of the social sciences and psychology to inform the healthcare system. Specific information required from the social sciences and psychology is the development of standards of behavior. The researcher believes that this approach is both refreshing and linear. In fact it could be argued that an acknowledgement of change is a precursor to the proposing of solutions (Morales, 2009).
Standards of behavior will be useful for parents seeking to cultivate and develop children birthed through genetic manipulation. The report further argues that the genetic clone while retaining some of the donor’s traits will have some uniqueness. This argument is in opposition to the viewpoint that genetic cloning diminishes and prevents the authentic traits of clones from emerging (Morales, 2009). Often politicians are influenced by public perception of human or genetic cloning. Currently the clonophobia that exists in some circles, has even caused some politicians to publically oppose human cloning. Critics purport that there are psychological concerns such as identity and gender formation, as well as social, emotional, and cognitive development (Morales, 2009).
In summation 21st century biotechnology, infertility, and other scientific developments affirm the potential opportunities available through cloning. This is not to mitigate the concerns of critics, rather it is to acknowledge the reality of the present global society. The notion of time, meaning of life, and concept of creation, are systemically shifting at present time. Dwyer (1999), McCarthy (1999) and Simpson (2007) as cited in Morales (2009), all purport the potential value of human reproductive cloning. One caveat regarding biotechnology is the mitigation of risks associated with technological advances. Such conversation and proposal of safety measures has shifted the view of public opinion. This reality is reflected in the fact that society is becoming more open to the further development of biotechnology (Morales, 2009).
Finally, from a broader perspective themes of dignity and uniqueness can be analyzed. Currently the field of psychology has presented scarce evidence of clones sharing the same intelligence and personality features of the original. In previous tests conducted on monozygotic twins, there is an acknowledgement of shared traits (i.e. intelligence and personality). However, in studies where twins were raised in different physical environments there were distinct trait factors. Therefore, it could be further argued that cloning does not significantly threaten uniqueness from occurring.
The primary key terms that have been discussed thus far include genetic identity, harm to individuals, human cloning, and reproductive technology. Critics to cloning contend that there are significant risks of violating the dignity of human pre-embryos. In contrast, supporters have argued for the allowance of cloning due to proposed benefits. Such benefits include the ability to give infertile individuals the experience of child birth. John A Robertson is an advocate of the latter position, which is pro-cloning.
One scenario worth mentioning is the situation where twins are born as a result of cloning. In this instance there are some critics who propose that psychological harm could subsequently occur. However, Robertson and other advocates of cloning suggest that this is a weak argument at best. According to advocates, the psychological harm that could occur from being born a cloned twin cannot justifiably be considered harm (Roberts, 1996).
Another proposed scenario is that genetically older siblings may interpret cloning as an indication that they are insufficient. Potential psychological factors could include low self-esteem and possibly bouts of depression. However, there’s insufficient evidence to validate the fact that those with duplicate gene identities will experience such psychological issues (Roberts, 1996). This does not eliminate the role of the environment or the importance of a healthy upbringing for children. It simply provides a case for the ethical permissibility of cloning. This is based on the consideration of cloning as permissible under very specific circumstances. In other words in instances where infertility or social good is not the focus, cloning should not be considered.
May 6, 2013 was a pivotal and historical date. It represented a medical achievement that critics of cloning have dreaded for years. On May 6th there was the successful cloning of a human embryonic stem cell. Naturally this reignited the much polarized debate on human cloning from an ethical perspective. In fact David King of Human Genetics Alert as cited in Harris (2014) renewed a call for an international ban on human cloning.
Historically this response by a critic of cloning is not unique. On July 5th, 1996 “Dolly” became the first sheep cloned using a single cell from an adult mammal. This was a significant shift from previous cloning experiments using embryo cells. By the time the BBC published the article Dolly was already seven months old. The process involved scientists in Scotland inserting DNA from an adult sheep into an egg. Subsequently that now fertilized egg was placed into the surrogate mother. The results showed the birthing of an animal that was considered a genetic duplicate of the adult sheep (BBC, 1997).
However, the results were astonishing as various politicians sought to stem the tide of cloning research. For example in the United States former President Bill Clinton called for an ethical investigation. Additionally Clinton citing unanimous consent from the medical and scientific communities placed a moratorium on cloning research. In 2001, former president George W. Bush reiterated the government’s staunch opposition to human cloning. Also, the European Parliament not to be outdone established legislation prohibiting further human cloning research (Harris, 2014).
Subsequently the Council of Europe adopted an Article (1) in 1998 to address the cloning of humans. In Article one (sub-point one) it specifically prohibits the copying of genetic traits for the purpose of creating human beings. In sub-point two, it defines the term human being as those that are “genetically identical. Harris believes that the UNESCO International Bioethics Committee responded too quickly. According to Harris, within the public rush to judgment there were many positive factors and benefits overlooked. As such the recommendation of the report moving forward is the use of an evidence-based appraisal versus irrationality (Harris, 2014).
Harris (2014) subsequently provides an assessment of the long-standing arguments critics use to oppose cloning. As previously mentioned one risk according to critics is the threat to individuality. This threat is something that appears in numerous articles and reports. In essence critics are arguing for the maintenance of “genetic identity.” However, Harris (2014) that genetic variation in human beings is minimal. This is based on the belief that the human traits (i.e. personality, emotion) are what make an individual unique.
The second argument of critics regarding human cloning is that human cloning requires the right to know the progenitor. Harris (2014) would argue that this position would subsequently mandate paternity testing in every instance. Currently there is a significant nonpaternity rate that varies based on demographics. Nonpaternity involves instances of births where youth are being raised by parents likely not genetically linked.
Therefore if this second argument is maintained then the author proposes that authorities should disrupt all normal nonpaternal families and insist upon mandatory paternity testing. Otherwise, it would not be an impartial mandate if it only targeted those children that were birthed using human cloning or genetic manipulation techniques (Harris, 2014). Clearly advocates of this argument would be hesitant to insist upon such an extreme social measure. There would undoubtedly be public outcry for the enforcement of such a practice.
Additionally, the Harris (2014) argues that cloning is the only process that preserves human genomes. In all other forms of reproduction including sex, the result is a varied genome. Further, consideration should be given to the fact that humanity is already familiar with cloning based on the existence of identical twins. Statistics reveal that this natural cloning occurs in approximately one out of every two hundred and seventy births or three per one thousand. Despite the health risks for both mother and children there are also common instances of triplets and quadruplets. Yet this has not prevented the process of multiple births occurring using the same genome (Harris, 2014).
Another poignant yet revealing statistic is the acceptance of In vitro fertilization (IVF). Although this has caused the rate of identical twins to almost triple (one in every forty to eighty births) it has not been socially opposed. In other words some of the same arguments that have been presented as ethical reasons not to clone humans has not been addressed in the administering of IVF. Statistically since 1978 worldwide, there has been in excess of five million children birthed through use of IVF (Harris, 2014).
Another potential benefit of cloning is that it is medically safer in that it offers genetic predictability. Unlike the random gamble associated with normative reproduction, cloning mitigates the risk of undesirable traits. In fact, statistics reveal that there are approximately 7.9 million children born with birth defects. This represents approximately six percent of annual births worldwide.
In fact Harris (2014) argues that with the resultant risk of birth defects, sexually transmitted diseases, destroyed embryos, and other factors, children born from sexual intercourse are at greater risk than those born from cloning. As such Harris purports that if natural births required prior approval by a regulatory body, the rejection of the process would be almost inevitable.
The collective research reveal a polarizing debate that will undoubtedly persist for many years. However, just because there will not be a seamless transition from the current method of reproducing humans to cloning does not indicate an absolute rejection. In fact biotechnology has withstood the accusations of critics for approximately twenty years or more. This is based on a precursory examination of debates occurring since Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1996. Yet even with the public outcry from different critics it appears that cloning continues.
On May 6th, 2013 with the cloning of a human embryonic stem cell mankind took another innovative step. With this step there is the potential for human cloning to provide a less risky means of reproduction. Additionally, there are benefits that go beyond the reproducing of humans. The cloning of embryonic stem cells can one day assist in the mitigation of disease and disability (Harris, 2014). Given the emergent nature of this topic further research would need to take place to ascertain the value. However, the mere possibility is at least worth considering.
If the real opposition to cloning concerns the ethics and dignity of the cloned children then evidence from multiple quoted researchers should offer reassurance. What should also be noted is the fact that supporters of cloning are not naïve in suggesting that unlimited application be considered. Although there may be some outliers who believe in uninhibited use of cloning techniques most would appear to support the use of moderation. In other words there should be standardized and approved metrics for determining when cloning is beneficial.
There should also be continued examination to ensure that cloning does not create greater psychological, mental, and emotional risks. Even if cloning does eventually become a standard process it should be a modality of choice and not an imperative. In other words sexual reproduction likely will continue throughout the lifetime of mankind. Also, due to ethical or religious reasons certain individuals may continue to oppose cloning. Such individuals should not be forced to modify their ethical position solely based on the perceived and even realized benefits.
However, at the same time those individuals that do truly see the benefits should also not be hindered from considering cloning. A universal ban on cloning does not mitigate the potential benefits. In fact, if there were to be a universal ban on cloning then based on researched information it could create other socio-ethical issues such as the nonpaternal family raising children not genetically theirs. With In vitro fertilization it has become clear that mankind is looking at technological methods for achieving what previously could not have been accomplished.
According to PBS in 1966 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) established standards for research related to IVF. In other words there were federal grants supporting the use of technology to create children. Subsequently in 1968 there was documented success of IVF. This was a result of Edwards (a researcher seeking to implant infertile women) and Patrick Steptoe (gynecologist) joining forces (PBS, 2013). In other words although there was inevitably initial resistance to IVF procedures, the public’s opinion eventually shifted as more information became available. This led to political actions including federal grants that funded further research. Finally, when two minds within the medical field came together with the same goal, assisting infertile women success was achieved.
BBC. (1997, February 22). 1997: Dolly the sheep is cloned. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/22/newsid_4245000/4245877.stm
Birnbacher, D. (2005). Human cloning and human dignity. Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 10(1), 50-55.
Harris, J. (2014, January). Time to Exorcise the Cloning Demon. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 23(1), 53-62.
Morales, N. M. (2009). Psychological aspects of human cloning and genetic manipulation: the identity and uniqueness of human beings. Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 19(1), 43-50.
National Human Genome Research Institute. (2015, March 31). Cloning. Retrieved from https://www.genome.gov/25020028
PBS. (2013). Timeline: The History of In Vitro Fertilization. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/timeline/babies/
Roberts, M. A. (1996, October). Human Cloning: A Case of No Harm Done? The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 21(5), 537-554.
Strong, C. (2005). The ethics of human reproductive cloning. Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 10(1), 45-49.
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