Our readings this week focus on the ethics and morality of cloning and embryonic stem cell research. Our first reading is written by President Bush’s Council on Bioethics consisting of 18 members in various disciplines from physicians to ethicists, where they weigh in cloning to produce children and biomedical research. The second reading is from Yitzchok Breitowitz, a Rabbi, who argues for two benefits of human cloning- one being “a response to infertility, and the other is a way to generate genetically compatible tissues for transplantation” (333). “Negotiating Life” was written by Barbara Prainsack, a political scientist currently on the National Bioethics Council advising the Austrian federal government, and delves into cloning in Israel.
The President’s Council on Bioethics came to a conclusive decision to ban cloning to produce children (spoiler!). This is a viewpoint that the majority of the American public holds and a priori for me prior to reading for this week. I wanted to stress on this spoiler, as this viewpoint is very different from the following readings and something I want readers to keep in mind as we all develop our opinions on this topic. The reasoning behind this assertion is that there are “high rates of morbidity and mortality in the cloning of other mammals” and thus the cloning process would be “extremely unsafe” (Kass, 2002). Even if the cloning of other mammals were to be perfected, it would be not only difficult but also unethical to determine whether or not “cloning-to-produce children can become safe, now or in the future” (Kass, 2002). If you consider the fact that humans share the majority of their genome with other mammals and the fact that we already engage in embryonic stem cell research, would it really be “unsafe” to clone humans if we perfected the practice in other mammals? Where do we draw the line?
Cloning to produce children would diminish the uniqueness among all people and could motivate the discrimination of clones. I see this in another light, as cloning could motivate the discrimination of people born normally if these clones were able to undergo “beneficial” genetic modifications (because why not, cloning is already astronomically expensive, might as well get a “better” clone). Clones could receive a decreased quality of life, as they are burdened by expectations or mistakes in the cloning process. They could also be exploited as test subjects, not unlike the way we experiment on rats (Kass, 2002).
The Council was split on the policy recommendation for cloning for biomedical research, with the majority supporting a four-year ban and the minority supporting the regulation of cloned embryos for biomedical research. The reasoning behind the majority consensus was that it would provide time to develop a system of national regulation for embryonic stem cell research, while some believed that cloning for biomedical research could never be ethically pursued (too late now, I suppose) (Kass, 2002). The minority recommendation supports the regulation of cloned embryos, which allows for the research of cloning for biomedical purposes without significant delay, which would help benefit patients and families whose suffering such research may help alleviate (Kass, 2002).
I expected an article titled “What’s So Bad About Human Cloning?” to be a biased push towards the legalization of cloning for reproduction and research. Although the author seemed to favor cloning as opposed to a complete ban on it, he did provide evidence and anecdotes to support his claims. Breitowitz presented his reasoning in a logical fashion and I agreed with much of it. He starts off his article by touching on the different religious approaches to medicine, providing a clever analogy of how rejecting medical intervention because God will heal me is like rejecting food because God will feed me (Breitowitz , 328-329). This reminded me of Tom Cruise in the movie A Few Good Men, where he rebuttals the claim that the Marines don’t practice “Code Reds” because of it not written in the manual by asking if Marines eat at all because the mess hall was also not in the manual. Breitowitz adds that we as humans are created in the image of God (326) and that “wisdom and skill and knowledge” are gifts that God provides us (328) to develop not only solutions for our problems but also to fulfill our Commandments (330).
The Rabbi then moves on to reproductive cloning, which he seems to be a fan of. After glossing over the Catholic Church’s position on the topic, he moves on to a hypothetical scenario where cloning could provide a child for a man who is incapable of producing sperm and how it could provide a child that is on some level a genetic product of both the mother and the father (Breitowitz, 331). In addition, he touches on “cloning” in the instance of using a stem cell to regenerate tissues for transplant, all of which I agree with. I don’t agree with his follow up point that cloning a child with even a “primary purpose” to save another child’s life is not immoral and that there is a “mitzvah for one child” to save another’s life (Breitowitz, 332). Creating another life for the sole purpose of helping a life survive is not devoting love and affection for the cloned child-it’s using a person just like how one would use a machine. I also find it contradictive that Breitowitz mentions Kant and how he believes that “it is not moral to use one human being as a guinea pig for the potential benefit of another human being” when he claims that it is moral to have or clone a child for the primary purpose of harvesting their bone marrow, albeit to save a life (335). That’s my opinion, what did y’all think about Breitowitz’s claim here? Tying this into the Kass reading, how and where do we draw the line for cloning to benefit our own lives? Will we be able to raise these clones as children or will we just see them as a method to save ourselves (donation of a kidney, bone marrow, maybe even heart transplants!)?
Breitowitz raises the question of accessibility even if cloning was made commercially available with the added question of possible eugenics. Who would get access to this technology-would it be privatized or run by the government? If you could have genetic manipulation during cloning, would these children be superior to “normal” egg and sperm children? He also touches on the morality of cloning, as there is a psychological burden to being a clone. Although there are such things as epigenetics that influence the development of a clone, they may still feel that they are living a life that has been already lived (Breitowitz, 336). The psychological burden reminds me of Jerome in the movie Gattaca, who was designed to be the best human but just wasn’t. In addition, the clone may feel disconnected from their parents and have no genetic diversity. Do you guys think that clones will have this psychological burden, or will they go on to become their own people?
After brief introductions on regulations and ethical considerations on cloning, Barbara Prainsack dives into the Jewish interpretations of the Bible and how those interpretations shape viewpoints on reproductive technologies, including IVF and cloning. Prainsack also notes that the debate in Western countries is partially due to bad terminology, as her interview with a Rabbi revealed that “the chances for viability of an ‘embryo’ created through research cloning are close to zero” and that it would be misleading to call that an embryo at all (183). This is supported by four major assertions. First, embryos outside of the uterus are not regarded as human life and thus don’t deserve the same levels of protection as humans enjoy (Prainsack, 181). This would explain the viewpoints of adultery we discussed last week, where some Rabbis viewed that an egg fertilized outside of the uterus would not be considered adultery. Secondly, human life is given priority over human life development, which is very different from the view of the Catholic Church in Donum Vitae (Prainsack, 181). Third, altering God’s creation in a responsible manner is viewed as a virtue as opposed to a sin (Prainsack, 181). Lastly, procreation is regarded as binding for male Jews (Prainsack, 181). How did y’all interpret these viewpoints? Do they hold merit and if not, why not? Overall, I found Prainsack to not delve into her own viewpoints on the issues that she tackles, but rather providing the viewpoints of the people she interviewed. Whether or not she simply used excerpts from interviews to convey her own viewpoints, I’m not too sure about. What’s certain is that she provides considerations on cloning from the Jewish perspective. In terms of cloning itself, it seems that the general consensus is that it is morally permissible.
The current problems with cloning itself due to potential implications and unsafe procedures is the main reason why there is a ban on human cloning. This follows in line with Rabbi Breitowitz’s train of thought, in that “God creates something out of nothing and humans create something out of something”, which is different from the Catholic Church’s view that humans shouldn’t interfere with the “natural” process of procreation (Prainsack, 183). Like we’ve touched on many times in class, Orthodox Jews focus on the legal portions of the Bible as opposed to drawing on interpretations (Prainsack, 174). Therefore, the ban on human reproductive cloning for this time being focuses on unsafe procedures and unawareness of potential implications, which would cause too much collateral damage for a reproductive technology whose consequences are not fully grasped (Prainsack, 182).
If I could use one quote from the passage to describe this reading, it would be this:
“Cloning per se did not pose any problems; the only problem was with scientific experimentation on humans. Since Israel had introduced consistent guidelines concerning experimentation on human beings as well as on animals, the committee concluded there was no need for any new law” (Prainsack, 191).
It seems that the limitations and concerns on human cloning are more rooted in the preservation of human and cultural identity. For me, it almost seems that the treatment of cloned individuals is foundational in the controversy surrounding human cloning.
I found it curious that there is a “halachic prohibition to use sperm for other than procreation purposes” but there was no such prohibition on ova-in fact, “surplus IVF embryos and embryos created through somatic cell nuclear transfer for research purposes is ethically permissible” (Prainsack, 181). Why do we have this difference, and why would it be ethically permissible to even use more embryos than necessary for the purposes of research? I personally found this paragraph very intriguing and am curious about the discussion in class related to this topic (maybe?).
Leon R. Kass, Human Cloning and Human Dignity: The Report of the President’s Council on Bioethics. (2002).
Yitzchok Breitowitz, “What’s So Bad about Human Cloning?” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal (2004): 325-341.
Barbara Prainsack, “Negotiating Life: The Regulation of Human Cloning and
Embryonic Stem Cell Research in Israel.” Social Studies of Science 2006: 173-205.