If a rogue scientist is to be believed, the stuff of science fiction has become fact. Dr Panos Zavos, an American fertility expert, claims that a cloned embryo has been implanted in an American woman. He says he is waiting to see if the embryo will successfully implant in the woman. Several other claims at cloning from around the world during the past twelve months have also been made, but none have yet been independently confirmed however.
If this latest claim proves to be a false call, eventually a human clone will be produced. But should they? Cloning raises a number of questions.
A major issue is that of safety. Many people applaud the success of Dolly the sheep. Yet it took 276 failed attempts before Dolly finally made it on the scene. That is a 0.36 per cent success rate. How many embryos will be lost, and how much fetal wastage will occur before we arrive at an acceptable success rate for human cloning?
Also, cloning in the past has led to a high amount of mutations and other problems, such as aging problems and the transmission of rare genetic diseases. Recently, a review of all the world’s cloned animals suggests that every animal clone thus far produced is genetically and physically defective. This is not safe science.
But on a more fundamental level, what of questions about human relationships and identity? One of the fundamental ethical principles of medicine is to respect the autonomy of the individual. Yet the autonomy and rights of the cloned person get off to a bad start from the very beginning. Indeed, how will the clone and the original relate to each other, and be treated by friends and loved ones?
Even parents will have an awkward relationship to the clone. Ethicist Leon Kass puts it this way: “The new life will constantly be scrutinized in relation to that of the older copy. The child is likely to ever be a curiosity, ever a potential source of déjà vu.”
Moreover, what exactly is a clone? Is he or she a child or a sibling to the donor? Will it be the donor’s to do as he/she pleases? Is the clone just property of the donor, or of the scientific community that brought it into existence? How will knowledge of a clone’s beginnings affect the clone?
Is the donor a mother, father, guardian, sibling, representative or what? As ethicist Nicholas Tonti-Filippini says, “Cloning is asexual reproduction – suitable for worms and amoeba. The origin of a new human being warrants a context of dignified human love that only spouses can provide through their love-making.”
Many argue that cloning is justified to ease the pain of parents with a dying child. But this reduces the child to an object, a commodity. Indeed, the issue of cloning raises the question of designer children – creating children specially designed for the purposes and uses of others. We will be genetically engineering people without their consent.
The institution of marriage, already straining to the point of breaking, will further be assaulted with cloning. Same-sex unions, IVP, surrogacy and other attempts to redefine families have already altered the social landscape. One of the main reasons for marriage in the past was conception and raising of children. Cloning undermines all such rationale for marriage.
And there is another issue that needs to be raised. Biotechnology is big business. Many groups and industries have a vested interest in seeing human cloning proceed at full pace. There is money to be made. The ‘spare parts’ industry alone could generate huge incomes.
Scientists have recently manufactured headless mice and headless tadpoles at the University of Texas and the University of Bath (England). The only reason for this is for the use of the organs. Recently the world’s first cloned pigs were hailed as a potential source of organs for humans. And humans could be next. As Princeton biologist Lee Silver has said, “It would certainly be possible to produce bodies without a forebrain. These human bodies without any semblance of consciousness would not be considered persons, and thus it would be perfectly legal to keep them ‘alive’ as a future source of organs”.
Australian bioethicist Peter Singer agrees, arguing that cloned foetuses are acceptable: “You would have to terminate the process before consciousness occurs, at some time in the last third of pregnancy, or somehow prevent the brain from forming while keeping the rest of the organism going. I don’t really have a problem with that.”
We have already opened the door too far with the new reproductive technologies. The Brave New World implications of human cloning should be all too apparent.
In sum, are we playing God with cloning? Are there certain things we should not interfere with? Are we trying to make man in man’s image? Is immortality the highest good to be sought after by any means? Do the ends justify the means? Or in this case, do the ends justify the genes?