My research paper: ban human cloning

After many hours, I’ve finished my masterpiece (well, something like that). I figured I might as well publish it on the Web; I worked too hard on it to have it be read by my professor only. Heh… it’ll probably end up plagiarized by some desperate college student some day… oh well.

It’s a proposal paper; a common-sense sort of approach to why human cloning should be banned. Its appeal is to people to whom you can’t just say: “Don’t be silly. Human life begins at conception.” Oh, for the days when the Church and state were not at odds…

Without further ado, here it is.

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Human cloning should be banned

The issue of human cloning is a matter of great consequence. Worldwide acceptance or rejection of the cloning of human life, whether for therapeutic reasons or in order to reproduce, is being decided in the present day. As recently as October, researchers such as Douglas Melton of Harvard University have been seeking permission to clone human embryos for research purposes (CNN.com). Governments around the world must soon decide whether and under what circumstances to allow or forbid human cloning. A hasty or incorrect decision could lead to accidents or atrocities committed in the name of research.

The concept of human cloning burst into public awareness when a Scottish team of researchers led by Ian Wilmut announced on February 27, 1997 that they had successfully cloned a sheep, using only a single cell from an adult sheep. According to a report made by the U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics, entitled Human Cloning and Human Dignity, Cloning animals was not new; amphibians had been cloned in the 1950’s, and using an embryo as the donor cell had yielded clones of mammals. However, this was the first time a mammal had been cloned using a single adult cell as the donor cell (69).

The discovery led to worldwide debate on the possibilities and implications of human cloning. As mentioned, human cloning is generally divided into two categories: therapeutic, which would involve the cloning of human embryos for purposes of research, or reproductive, which would attempt to bring a cloned human embryo all the way to birth. While cloning embryos has been demonstrated to be possible, it is unknown, and so far doubtful, whether a cloned embryo can be successfully brought to birth. A cult group called the “Raelians” claimed in 2002 to have done so, but their claims have been dismissed as false (Shuster 518).

Perhaps the most prolific of debates has been the United Nations’ deliberation on a proposed total ban on human cloning. The UN voted on November 19, 2004 to drop the proposal, which had been supported heavily by the United States, and delay a decision until February 2005, with efforts to work out a compromise in the intervening time (Reuters).

Though the UN has avoided making a decision, a globally approved solution to the problem of whether to ban human cloning is indeed possible. Such a solution would be similar to agreements among nations banning certain weapons of mass destruction. Since the ethical issue of research work on human life is a matter not isolated and contained within one country or another, the worldwide community should be in consensus on its permissibility. Unity is key to an effective policy on cloning.

My proposal is that the governments of all nations should enact a total ban on human cloning, whether therapeutic or reproductive, until more evaluations can be made of the unresolved questions related to cloning. The ban should be enforced with penalties that would make it impossible to publish or profit from research done on cloned embryos or research into reproductive cloning. This could be effected in a number of ways, but I believe the best way would be for countries to issue a joint statement on the reasons not to pursue human cloning at present, together with passage of cloning bans in each country.

The most obvious body to handle such an issue is the United Nations, but as mentioned, the UN has avoided commitment for or against a cloning ban. Additionally, the majority of the member nations wish to keep options open for therapeutic cloning (Reuters). As such, a worldwide ban is not possible at this point. At the same time, most governments do not want to rush into cloning research. Therefore, my proposal is for something of a moratorium, totally banning human cloning until further study of the subject can be done. It would be a temporary measure of five or ten years, and when it expires, participating nations can vote on whether to extend it, enact a permanent ban, or drop the idea of a ban altogether.

If such a ban is passed, countries that have already given permission to scientists to conduct research in therapeutic human cloning should shut down those studies and reimburse the institutions in charge of them. So far, only Great Britain and Korea have given such permission (Reproductive BioMedicine Online 371).

The majority of the opposition to a ban on human cloning comes from people who believe that therapeutic cloning will lead to cures for diseases. They support the cloning of human embryos for embryonic stem cell research. For example, the late actor Christopher Reeve was a prolific supporter of such research as a means to cure conditions like the paralysis he suffered (Oransky 1750).

Thus, the questions surrounding human cloning and embryonic stem cell research are largely the same. Supporters of each hope that eventually, stem cells can be inserted into damaged regions of a mature body, and regenerate the damaged cells. In the debate over human cloning, however, an additional issue is that human embryos would be created for the sole purpose of harvesting stem cells and thus destroying them, while most proponents of embryonic stem cell research would have researchers use embryos already existing at in vitro fertilization clinics.

Moreover, for all the attention given to it in recent years, embryonic stem cell research doesn’t guarantee a cure to anything; supporters can only claim that it has massive potential. That may be, but so far, embryonic stem cell research has not yielded any medical breakthroughs. In fact, research on stem cells from other sources is the only stem cell research that has yielded scientific gains. In an experiment in Seoul that has garnered surprisingly little attention in America, a woman who had been paralyzed for nearly twenty years was able to walk again after therapy with stem cells from umbilical cord samples (Agence France-Presse). Research on stem cells from adults and umbilical cords requires neither cloning of any sort nor the destruction of the donor. Why focus on morally questionable research with an uncertain outcome?

The other main argument in favor of human cloning is for reproductive cloning, which would involve bringing a child to birth without need for the normal means of conception.

The problems with this method, however, include the grave risks associated with attempting to bring a cloned human embryo to birth. At present, it cannot be done. Even

the process of cloning Dolly was not smooth. According to Ted Peters’ book Playing God, only 29 out of 277 embryos survived beyond six days. 62 percent of the fetuses were lost after fourteen days, compared with 6 percent in natural mating. Five cloned lambs were born, but all died except one: Dolly (162). Furthermore, there is absolutely no way to know whether after birth, a cloned human would be free of any defects or problems as a result of being cloned. Wilmut, the head of the project, himself opposes human reproductive cloning (159).

Putting aside the risks for the moment, we can consider the wide range of proposals that have been made regarding the uses for reproductive human cloning. Probably the most popular one would allow for infertile or same-sex couples to have a child sharing their genetic material. However, this argument shows a narrow view of both morality and possible consequences.

The moral problem comes first from the risks already mentioned. Though a mother-to-be and donor can assent to the risks involved in attempting to give birth to a cloned child, the child himself cannot give such assent. Suppose a cloned man is born with defects from the cloning process. As stated by the President’s Council on Bioethics, while the person may express assent to his existence, it does not free the parents from culpability for doing harm to him, any more than if the defects were due to drug or alcohol use during the pregnancy (93).

Next, we must consider the consequences. Even if at some point in the future human cloning is discovered to be completely safe, then allowing cloning in order to have children could have unpredictable societal impact. If a same-sex couple has the

right to bear a child related to them, why not a couple of brother and sister? Why not a single person who wants a family but not a spouse, or even a union of three or more adults? If a surrogate mother were available (which would be necessary in male same-sex couples), anyone could have a cloned child. Some form of child-bearing family with one man and one woman has been the basic unit of any lasting society, including our own. Human reproductive cloning may erode and even eventually destroy that foundation; the results are, at best, unpredictable.

Another proposal involves allowing grieving parents to “replace” a loved one who has died. However, this notion is misguided in that a clone would not necessarily be the same person that they remember, due to unavoidable uncertainties in growth and upbringing.

Proponents of cloning have also put forth the idea that cloned humans could be grown in order to provide organs for transplant; this would ensure a supply of organs big enough to meet demand. This proposal is unlikely to gain approval, however. It is akin to having children and raising them for the sole purpose of harvesting their organs, and nobody would approve of such a practice, no matter the noble intent.

Additionally, while therapeutic cloning generally has much support, reproductive cloning does not; it is disapproved of by the majority of the world’s nations.

The first main reason to ban human cloning is that the risks associated with it are too great. As demonstrated, it was almost impossible to successfully clone a lamb. With that in mind, how can we know that medical services developed with cloned embryos will work with grown humans? Moreover, the risks rule out any attempts at reproductive cloning – even if it were done with decent goals in mind, at this point, it is guaranteed to fail, making conditions worse for couples unable to conceive.

Additionally, there is a genuine slippery-slope danger involved with reproductive cloning. If it becomes possible to bring a cloned human to birth, it would almost certainly be possible for future parents to go to clinics (whether illicit or not) and select the gender and genetic traits they would like their children to have. Thus, having children would become more of a matter of manufacture than procreation.

Another reason to ban or at least delay cloning research is that it is enormously ethically questionable. There is no reason to make and destroy embryos for therapeutic research when adult stem cells are in ready supply, and actually yield results. At this point, the only reason I could see to use embryonic stem cells is that there is money to be made in manufacturing them.

However, the most important reason to ban human cloning research is that it’s a matter of prudence. In spite of repeated assertions by proponents of stem cell research and human cloning that an embryo is not a human life, the truth is that nobody knows for certain whether it is or not.

How can we know at what point human life begins? Opinions on the matter vary widely. The most conservative position is that the life of a human being begins at conception; for example, the Catholic Church, probably the most conservative organization in matters of human life, holds this position. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Because it should be treated as a person from conception, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed like every other human being” (558). Great Britain defines the beginning of human life as the point at which a blastocyst

(an embryo further along in development) implants in the uterine wall (Fischbach 1369). Others argue that life begins at birth.

But no matter the variety of opinions, the fact remains that we simply don’t know. We don’t know if an embryo equipped with a mouth and our language would speak to us. However one defines human life, we ultimately do not know if that life is present in an embryo. It may be that we will never know.

This uncertainty leads to the question of prudence. Since we don’t know whether the embryo is a human life, there are two alternatives. The first is that it is not, and what we do to it is of no moral consequence. The second is that it is human life, which would make every blastocyst destroyed for its stem cells, every accident of cloning, and every embryo terminated in any way an atrocity akin to Nazi research on beings they considered not to be equal human life.

As such, until the matter can be decided, it would be entirely imprudent to rush forward with research into therapeutic or reproductive human cloning. If we commit to cloning and an embryo is human life, we are guilty of reckless endangerment of human life in reproductive cloning, and manufacturing humans to kill for therapeutic research. If we ban cloning and an embryo is not human life, we will have lost only a shadowy promise of potential insistently put forward by its proponents. We may gain innumerable benefits from pursuing morally acceptable research that has already allowed the paralyzed to walk.

The issue of human cloning is a complicated one. By itself, this is no problem; humanity can handle complicated issues. However, the issue is also a young one. President Clinton was the first American president to have to deal with human cloning, in 1996 (Fischbach 1367). Much is at stake, and in order to proceed, I believe we must be aware of exactly what we’re doing. We are not. Too much uncertainty exists to make human cloning safe and tolerable: uncertainty of whether reproductive cloning could indeed be fruitful, and whether it would lead to genetic selection in children; uncertainty whether therapeutic research will even yield results, and whether it would do so at the cost of human life. Therefore I believe we must approach the matter cautiously, and avoid rushing in irresponsibly. The cost of a wrong decision, especially one made with undue haste, would be worse than any atrocity in human history.

Works Cited

Agence France-Presse. “Paralyzed woman walks again after stem cell therapy.” ChannelNewsAsia. 28 Nov. 2004. 29 Nov. 2004.

Arieff, Irwin. “U.S.-led push for cloning ban crumbles.” Reuters. 20 Nov. 2004. 28 Nov. 2004.

Associated Press. “Permission sought for stem cell cloning.” CNN.com. 13 Oct. 2004. Cable News Network. 28 Nov. 2004.

Fischbach, Gerald D. and Ruth L. Fischbach. “Stem cells: science, policy, and ethics.” Journal of Clinical Investigation 114.10 (2004): 1364-1371.

Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Washington: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Publishing, 2000.

Oransky, Ivan. “Christopher Reeve.” The Lancet 364.9447 (2004): 1750.

Peters, Ted. Playing God. New York: Routledge, 2003.

President’s Council on Bioethics. Human Cloning and Human Dignity – The Report of the President’s Council on Bioethics. New York: PublicAffairs, 2002.

Reproductive BioMedicine Online. “First licence for therapeutic cloning issued in UK.” Reproductive BioMedicine Online 9.4 (2004): 371.

Shuster, Evelyne. “Human Cloning: Category, Dignity, and the Role of Bioethics.” BioEthics 17.5-6 (2003): 517-527.

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