Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning


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On July 31, , the U. This bill, which Rep. Bart Stupak D-MI and I wrote, is designed to ban human cloning for both "research" and "reproductive" purposes.

Are Scientists Playing God? It Depends on Your Religion

On Sunday, November 25, , scientists at Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, Massachusetts announced that they had created the first human embryo clones for the purpose of destructive research. It is now more important than ever to ban human cloning. The bill does not ban scientifically and medically useful cloning practices such as the cloning of DNA fragments molecular cloning , the duplication of tissue or cells in culture cell cloning , or whole-organism or embryo cloning of non-human animals.

Nor does the bill ban laboratory practices such as parthenogenesis or "twinning. While most cloning advocates want to create cloned embryos for embryonic stem cell research and oppose the creation of clones who would be implanted and carried to term , others are racing to produce the world's first cloned human baby. Indeed, scientists such as Panos Zavos and Severino Antinori stated in mid that they expected to begin implanting cloned human embryos into women within the next several months. They were enthusiastic about pursuing such a feat despite the serious genetic problems encountered in animal cloning, the known risks to the mother, and the great potential for serious birth defects.

Ninety-five to ninety-seven percent of animal cloning attempts still end in failure, and the scientists who cloned Dolly failed times before they succeeded in producing a single live-born clone of an adult sheep. Most scientific experts believe that attempts to clone humans will result in even higher failure rates. Scientists such as Ian Wilmut who produced Dolly and Rudolf Jaenisch of MIT have concluded that the most likely cause of abnormal development in cloned animals is faulty reprogramming of the genome.

When the nucleus of a somatic cell is introduced into an enucleated egg, the DNA in the nucleus has to be "reprogrammed" in order for a human being to develop fully. If this reprogramming of the nuclear DNA does not go exactly right, abnormal gene expression of one or some of the more than 30, genes can result. Fortunately, the majority of Congress is outspokenly opposed to human cloning for reproductive purposes. However, as evidenced in Senator Daschle's move to delay consideration of H. However, this type of human cloning is also grossly unethical for at least three reasons.

First, research cloning can only be justified by the utilitarian calculus that prizes the lives of the millions of people who could potentially be treated or cured as a result of the research over the lives of the embryos who would be destroyed in order for the research to proceed. However, it is never ethical to sacrifice one human life for the real or potential benefit of others. Second, it is unethical to view a human being--regardless of its age--as a means to an end. Even supporters of embryonic stem cell research and other embryo research have long been opposed to the "special creation of embryos solely for the purpose of research.

To evade this criticism, proponents are now beginning to claim that human cloning for purposes of research does not create human embryos, but only "activated cells. As one scientist from Johns Hopkins stated in his recent testimony before the Senate, research cloning should be called "nuclear transplantation," not "cloning.

Third, research cloning will undoubtedly lead to a new exploitation of women. In order to manufacture enough cloned embryos to create a sufficient number of viable stem cell lines, scientists will need to obtain massive quantities of women's eggs. The Washington Post reported recently that the side effects of the injections are abdominal pain and nausea; in 3 to 5 percent of cases hyperstimulation of the ovaries occurs, causing severe abdominal pain, and on rare occasions surgery is required which may leave the patient infertile.

But the treatment also increases the height of healthy children. Some parents of healthy children who are unhappy with their stature typically boys ask why it should make a difference whether a child is short because of a hormone deficiency or because his parents happen to be short. Whatever the cause, the social consequences are the same. In the face of this argument some doctors began prescribing hormone treatments for children whose short stature was unrelated to any medical problem.

By such "off-label" use accounted for 40 percent of human-growth-hormone prescriptions. Although it is legal to prescribe drugs for purposes not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, pharmaceutical companies cannot promote such use. This concession raises a large question about the ethics of enhancement: If hormone treatments need not be limited to those with hormone deficiencies, why should they be available only to very short children?

Why shouldn't all shorter-than-average children be able to seek treatment? And what about a child of average height who wants to be taller so that he can make the basketball team? Some oppose height enhancement on the grounds that it is collectively self-defeating; as some become taller, others become shorter relative to the norm. Except in Lake Wobegon, not every child can be above average. As the unenhanced began to feel shorter, they, too, might seek treatment, leading to a hormonal arms race that left everyone worse off, especially those who couldn't afford to buy their way up from shortness.

But the arms-race objection is not decisive on its own. Like the fairness objection to bioengineered muscles and memory, it leaves unexamined the attitudes and dispositions that prompt the drive for enhancement. If we were bothered only by the injustice of adding shortness to the problems of the poor, we could remedy that unfairness by publicly subsidizing height enhancements. As for the relative height deprivation suffered by innocent bystanders, we could compensate them by taxing those who buy their way to greater height.

The real question is whether we want to live in a society where parents feel compelled to spend a fortune to make perfectly healthy kids a few inches taller. Sex selection. Perhaps the most inevitable nonmedical use of bioengineering is sex selection. For centuries parents have been trying to choose the sex of their children. Today biotech succeeds where folk remedies failed. One technique for sex selection arose with prenatal tests using amniocentesis and ultrasound. These medical technologies were developed to detect genetic abnormalities such as spina bifida and Down syndrome.

But they can also reveal the sex of the fetus—allowing for the abortion of a fetus of an undesired sex. Even among those who favor abortion rights, few advocate abortion simply because the parents do not want a girl. Nevertheless, in traditional societies with a powerful cultural preference for boys, this practice has become widespread. Sex selection need not involve abortion, however. For couples undergoing in vitro fertilization IVF , it is possible to choose the sex of the child before the fertilized egg is implanted in the womb.

One method makes use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis PGD , a procedure developed to screen for genetic diseases. Several eggs are fertilized in a petri dish and grown to the eight-cell stage about three days. At that point the embryos are tested to determine their sex. Those of the desired sex are implanted; the others are typically discarded. Although few couples are likely to undergo the difficulty and expense of IVF simply to choose the sex of their child, embryo screening is a highly reliable means of sex selection.

The Ethics of Cloning-to-Produce-Children

And as our genetic knowledge increases, it may be possible to use PGD to cull embryos carrying undesired genes, such as those associated with obesity, height, and skin color. The science-fiction movie Gattaca depicts a future in which parents routinely screen embryos for sex, height, immunity to disease, and even IQ. There is something troubling about the Gattaca scenario, but it is not easy to identify what exactly is wrong with screening embryos to choose the sex of our children.

One line of objection draws on arguments familiar from the abortion debate. Those who believe that an embryo is a person reject embryo screening for the same reasons they reject abortion. If an eight-cell embryo growing in a petri dish is morally equivalent to a fully developed human being, then discarding it is no better than aborting a fetus, and both practices are equivalent to infanticide. Whatever its merits, however, this "pro-life" objection is not an argument against sex selection as such.

The latest technology poses the question of sex selection unclouded by the matter of an embryo's moral status. X-bearing sperm, which produce girls, carry more DNA than Y-bearing sperm, which produce boys; a device called a flow cytometer can separate them. The process, called MicroSort, has a high rate of success. If sex selection by sperm sorting is objectionable, it must be for reasons that go beyond the debate about the moral status of the embryo.

One such reason is that sex selection is an instrument of sex discrimination—typically against girls, as illustrated by the chilling sex ratios in India and China. Some speculate that societies with substantially more men than women will be less stable, more violent, and more prone to crime or war. These are legitimate worries—but the sperm-sorting company has a clever way of addressing them. It offers MicroSort only to couples who want to choose the sex of a child for purposes of "family balancing. But customers may not use the technology to stock up on children of the same sex, or even to choose the sex of their firstborn child.

So far the majority of MicroSort clients have chosen girls. Under restrictions of this kind, do any ethical issues remain that should give us pause? The case of MicroSort helps us isolate the moral objections that would persist if muscle-enhancement, memory-enhancement, and height-enhancement technologies were safe and available to all. It is commonly said that genetic enhancements undermine our humanity by threatening our capacity to act freely, to succeed by our own efforts, and to consider ourselves responsible—worthy of praise or blame—for the things we do and for the way we are.

It is one thing to hit seventy home runs as the result of disciplined training and effort, and something else, something less, to hit them with the help of steroids or genetically enhanced muscles. Of course, the roles of effort and enhancement will be a matter of degree. But as the role of enhancement increases, our admiration for the achievement fades—or, rather, our admiration for the achievement shifts from the player to his pharmacist. This suggests that our moral response to enhancement is a response to the diminished agency of the person whose achievement is enhanced.

Though there is much to be said for this argument, I do not think the main problem with enhancement and genetic engineering is that they undermine effort and erode human agency. The deeper danger is that they represent a kind of hyperagency—a Promethean aspiration to remake nature, including human nature, to serve our purposes and satisfy our desires. The problem is not the drift to mechanism but the drive to mastery.

And what the drive to mastery misses and may even destroy is an appreciation of the gifted character of human powers and achievements. To acknowledge the giftedness of life is to recognize that our talents and powers are not wholly our own doing, despite the effort we expend to develop and to exercise them. It is also to recognize that not everything in the world is open to whatever use we may desire or devise.

Appreciating the gifted quality of life constrains the Promethean project and conduces to a certain humility. It is in part a religious sensibility. But its resonance reaches beyond religion. It is difficult to account for what we admire about human activity and achievement without drawing upon some version of this idea. Consider two types of athletic achievement. We appreciate players like Pete Rose, who are not blessed with great natural gifts but who manage, through striving, grit, and determination, to excel in their sport. But we also admire players like Joe DiMaggio, who display natural gifts with grace and effortlessness.

Now, suppose we learned that both players took performance-enhancing drugs. Whose turn to drugs would we find more deeply disillusioning?


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Which aspect of the athletic ideal—effort or gift—would be more deeply offended? Some might say effort: the problem with drugs is that they provide a shortcut, a way to win without striving. But striving is not the point of sports; excellence is. And excellence consists at least partly in the display of natural talents and gifts that are no doing of the athlete who possesses them. This is an uncomfortable fact for democratic societies.

We want to believe that success, in sports and in life, is something we earn, not something we inherit. Natural gifts, and the admiration they inspire, embarrass the meritocratic faith; they cast doubt on the conviction that praise and rewards flow from effort alone. In the face of this embarrassment we inflate the moral significance of striving, and depreciate giftedness.

This distortion can be seen, for example, in network-television coverage of the Olympics, which focuses less on the feats the athletes perform than on heartrending stories of the hardships they have overcome and the struggles they have waged to triumph over an injury or a difficult upbringing or political turmoil in their native land. But effort isn't everything. No one believes that a mediocre basketball player who works and trains even harder than Michael Jordan deserves greater acclaim or a bigger contract.

The real problem with genetically altered athletes is that they corrupt athletic competition as a human activity that honors the cultivation and display of natural talents. From this standpoint, enhancement can be seen as the ultimate expression of the ethic of effort and willfulness—a kind of high-tech striving.

The ethic of willfulness and the biotechnological powers it now enlists are arrayed against the claims of giftedness. The ethic of giftedness, under siege in sports, persists in the practice of parenting. But here, too, bioengineering and genetic enhancement threaten to dislodge it. To appreciate children as gifts is to accept them as they come, not as objects of our design or products of our will or instruments of our ambition. Parental love is not contingent on the talents and attributes a child happens to have.

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We choose our friends and spouses at least partly on the basis of qualities we find attractive. But we do not choose our children. Their qualities are unpredictable, and even the most conscientious parents cannot be held wholly responsible for the kind of children they have. That is why parenthood, more than other human relationships, teaches what the theologian William F. May calls an "openness to the unbidden. May's resonant phrase helps us see that the deepest moral objection to enhancement lies less in the perfection it seeks than in the human disposition it expresses and promotes.

The problem is not that parents usurp the autonomy of a child they design. The problem lies in the hubris of the designing parents, in their drive to master the mystery of birth. Even if this disposition did not make parents tyrants to their children, it would disfigure the relation between parent and child, and deprive the parent of the humility and enlarged human sympathies that an openness to the unbidden can cultivate.

To appreciate children as gifts or blessings is not, of course, to be passive in the face of illness or disease. Medical intervention to cure or prevent illness or restore the injured to health does not desecrate nature but honors it. Healing sickness or injury does not override a child's natural capacities but permits them to flourish. Nor does the sense of life as a gift mean that parents must shrink from shaping and directing the development of their child.


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Just as athletes and artists have an obligation to cultivate their talents, so parents have an obligation to cultivate their children, to help them discover and develop their talents and gifts. As May points out, parents give their children two kinds of love: accepting love and transforming love. Accepting love affirms the being of the child, whereas transforming love seeks the well-being of the child.

Each aspect corrects the excesses of the other, he writes: "Attachment becomes too quietistic if it slackens into mere acceptance of the child as he is. These days, however, overly ambitious parents are prone to get carried away with transforming love—promoting and demanding all manner of accomplishments from their children, seeking perfection. Transforming love, without accepting love, badgers and finally rejects. The mandate to mold our children, to cultivate and improve them, complicates the case against enhancement. We usually admire parents who seek the best for their children, who spare no effort to help them achieve happiness and success.

Some parents confer advantages on their children by enrolling them in expensive schools, hiring private tutors, sending them to tennis camp, providing them with piano lessons, ballet lessons, swimming lessons, SAT-prep courses, and so on. If it is permissible and even admirable for parents to help their children in these ways, why isn't it equally admirable for parents to use whatever genetic technologies may emerge provided they are safe to enhance their children's intelligence, musical ability, or athletic prowess?

The defenders of enhancement are right to this extent: improving children through genetic engineering is similar in spirit to the heavily managed, high-pressure child-rearing that is now common. But this similarity does not vindicate genetic enhancement.

PCBE: Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry -- Full Report

On the contrary, it highlights a problem with the trend toward hyperparenting. One conspicuous example of this trend is sports-crazed parents bent on making champions of their children. Another is the frenzied drive of overbearing parents to mold and manage their children's academic careers. As the pressure for performance increases, so does the need to help distractible children concentrate on the task at hand.

This may be why diagnoses of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder have increased so sharply. Lawrence Diller, a pediatrician and the author of Running on Ritalin , estimates that five to six percent of American children under eighteen a total of four to five million kids are currently prescribed Ritalin, Adderall, and other stimulants, the treatment of choice for ADHD. Stimulants counteract hyperactivity by making it easier to focus and sustain attention. The number of Ritalin prescriptions for children and adolescents has tripled over the past decade, but not all users suffer from attention disorders or hyperactivity.

High school and college students have learned that prescription stimulants improve concentration for those with normal attention spans, and some buy or borrow their classmates' drugs to enhance their performance on the SAT or other exams. Since stimulants work for both medical and nonmedical purposes, they raise the same moral questions posed by other technologies of enhancement. However those questions are resolved, the debate reveals the cultural distance we have traveled since the debate over marijuana, LSD, and other drugs a generation ago.

Unlike the drugs of the s and s, Ritalin and Adderall are not for checking out but for buckling down, not for beholding the world and taking it in but for molding the world and fitting in. We used to speak of nonmedical drug use as "recreational. The steroids and stimulants that figure in the enhancement debate are not a source of recreation but a bid for compliance—a way of answering a competitive society's demand to improve our performance and perfect our nature.

This demand for performance and perfection animates the impulse to rail against the given. It is the deepest source of the moral trouble with enhancement. Some see a clear line between genetic enhancement and other ways that people seek improvement in their children and themselves. Genetic manipulation seems somehow worse—more intrusive, more sinister—than other ways of enhancing performance and seeking success. But morally speaking, the difference is less significant than it seems.

Bioengineering gives us reason to question the low-tech, high-pressure child-rearing practices we commonly accept. The hyperparenting familiar in our time represents an anxious excess of mastery and dominion that misses the sense of life as a gift. This draws it disturbingly close to eugenics. The shadow of eugenics hangs over today's debates about genetic engineering and enhancement. Critics of genetic engineering argue that human cloning, enhancement, and the quest for designer children are nothing more than "privatized" or "free-market" eugenics.

Defenders of enhancement reply that genetic choices freely made are not really eugenic—at least not in the pejorative sense. To remove the coercion, they argue, is to remove the very thing that makes eugenic policies repugnant. Sorting out the lesson of eugenics is another way of wrestling with the ethics of enhancement.

The Nazis gave eugenics a bad name. But what, precisely, was wrong with it? Was the old eugenics objectionable only insofar as it was coercive? Or is there something inherently wrong with the resolve to deliberately design our progeny's traits? James Watson, the biologist who, with Francis Crick, discovered the structure of DNA, sees nothing wrong with genetic engineering and enhancement, provided they are freely chosen rather than state-imposed.

And yet Watson's language contains more than a whiff of the old eugenic sensibility. A lot of people would like to say, 'Well, poverty, things like that. So I'd like to get rid of that, to help the lower 10 percent. When his remark provoked an uproar, he replied that he was not singling out gays but asserting a principle: women should be free to abort fetuses for any reason of genetic preference—for example, if the child would be dyslexic, or lacking musical talent, or too short to play basketball. Watson's scenarios are clearly objectionable to those for whom all abortion is an unspeakable crime.

But for those who do not subscribe to the pro-life position, these scenarios raise a hard question: If it is morally troubling to contemplate abortion to avoid a gay child or a dyslexic one, doesn't this suggest that something is wrong with acting on any eugenic preference, even when no state coercion is involved? Consider the market in eggs and sperm. The advent of artificial insemination allows prospective parents to shop for gametes with the genetic traits they desire in their offspring. It is a less predictable way to design children than cloning or pre-implantation genetic screening, but it offers a good example of a procreative practice in which the old eugenics meets the new consumerism.

A few years ago some Ivy League newspapers ran an ad seeking an egg from a woman who was at least five feet ten inches tall and athletic, had no major family medical problems, and had a combined SAT score of or above. On what grounds, if any, is the egg market morally objectionable? Since no one is forced to buy or sell, it cannot be wrong for reasons of coercion. Some might worry that hefty prices would exploit poor women by presenting them with an offer they couldn't refuse. But the designer eggs that fetch the highest prices are likely to be sought from the privileged, not the poor.

If the market for premium eggs gives us moral qualms, this, too, shows that concerns about eugenics are not put to rest by freedom of choice. A tale of two sperm banks helps explain why. The Repository for Germinal Choice, one of America's first sperm banks, was not a commercial enterprise.

Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning
Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning
Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning
Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning
Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning
Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning
Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning Why We Shouldnt Clone Around: An Essay on the Ethics of Human Cloning

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