Human Cloning and Human Dignity

Two years into his first Presidential term, George W. Bush formed a council of scientist, ethicists, doctors, lawyers, and other intellectuals to debate the rising concerns of human cloning. Given six months to deliberate, this council approached the issue in an organized, professional manner, reaching policy decisions and providing explicit rational for each choice.  While this approach to bioethical policy creation was not new (the report explicitly mentions the “National Bioethics Advisory Commissions…report on the subject of cloning-to-produce-children in 1997” (2)), the historical and topical context of Bush’s Council is a comprehensive dive into the ethical considerations of a developing technology with immense implications. The President’s Council on Bioethics’ report provides a scientific and ethical approach to a topic of increasing prevalence, providing new information and a surprising amount of pre-established ethical reasoning.

To first understand this report, one must look at the Presidency of George W. Bush. Without delving into his politics, it is commonly agreed that Bush saw himself as a leader of a Christian nation in a complex world. Whether it was his creation of ‘Jesus Day’ while he was the governor of Texas (Goodstein) or his referral to the war on terror as a “crusade” (Archives), Bush’s traditional view of religion is widely accepted public knowledge. This perspective adds a great deal of complexity to understanding this report; while religions have repeatedly grappled with the morality of reproductive technology, these arguments are usually based in interpretations of biblical parables rather than intense scientific reasoning. Yet, even among this group of ‘secular’ scientist and doctors, a shared idea of morality begins to form between religious rulings and those of the Council. One of the most prevalent examples of this link is in the Council’s ethical considerations of the “child to be” (xxvii).

Early in the report, the Council establishes terms to describe different forms of cloning. Of these forms, the two most debated are cloning-for-biomedical research, described as “production of a cloned human embryo, formed for the (proximate) purpose of using it in research or for extracting its stem cells” (55), and cloning-to-produce-children, defined as “production of a cloned human embryo, formed for the (proximate) purpose of initiating a pregnancy” (54). This distinction at first glance seems like a harsh departure from literature such as Donum Vitae, which explicitly states that “the human being must be respected as a person from the very first instant of his existence” (Shannon, 147), yet I argue that this divide instead represents a merging of scientific and religious ideology. After the group’s deliberation, they formed majority and minority opinions, differing on their views of cloning for biomedical research. Yet, both groups adamantly agreed on a “ban on cloning-to-produce children” (xxxv), sighting issues with the wellbeing of the child and how in “transgressing the natural boundaries between generations, cloning could strain the social ties between them” (xxix). Anyone familiar with Donum Vitae can immediately identify the shared argument of a muddling of ‘social ties’, due to an upheaval of the natural order of the creation of life. This fear of societal issues is explicitly mentioned as an ethical consideration in the report, as these academics join with the Catholic Church in pondering the implications “for all of society” (7). An even more obvious connection between the Church’s rulings and the Council’s pondering appears in their shared view of procreation and the natural order. Donum Vitae‘s extended title references “Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation” (Shannon, 140), suggesting that the act of procreation has as much relevance in debates on reproductive technology as pregnancy and childbirth. This idea is directly shared with the Council, who question how cloning for children would “challenge the basic nature of human procreation and the meaning of having children” (7). Much like how Bush was a modern leader with firm religious roots, the ethical considerations of this Council contain many parallels to the religious rulings of the Catholic Church.

Despite the wide range of connections between Vitae and the report, the scientific writing of the Council clearly presents the different paths each group took in arriving at these conclusions. An early distinction is the specific definition the Council uses of when an embryo can be used for research, “strictly limited to the first fourteen days of development—a point near when the primitive streak is formed and before organ differentiation occurs” (xxxii). A departure from the Church’s definitive stance of life at conception, the scientific background of the Council allows them to  present firm reasoning on how they differentiate human from zygote. Additionally, the report gives primary information on the processes involved in cloning, with full diagrams on natural and cloned reproduction on page 61 , and a diagram on the collection of stem cells on page 68. It is in these diagrams and definitions that the most apparent difference between Donum Vitae and this report emerge. While Vitae’s stated purpose is to provide “some specific replies to the main questions being asked” (Shannon, 140) on the general topic of reproductive technology, it is ultimately a list of rulings by the Church, and the reasoning behind said rulings. The report instead presents itself as “an ethical inquiry” (i), with the purpose to provide a “worthy contribution to public understanding of this momentous question [of cloning]” (ix). This report was first provided directly to the President of the United States, a man with immense political power, to best educate him and the public on the scientific and ethical considerations of the specific reproductive technology of cloning. As such, despite providing policy recommendations, this report does not lay down ultimate rulings, but rather gives council to a man capable of such rulings. This report and its authors can thereby be interpreted as a modern form of the king’s advisors, noted academics gathered to give an educated perspective on an issue, and this principle is echoed in each diagram and explanation throughout the report.

One final point is the exact considerations and issues that the report grapples with. While Vitae is concerned with the child to be, the Council shares that concern with the “conflict of competing sets of concerns and priorities, each in the service of vital human goods” (16), with goods referring to the medical advances that cloned-biological research could provide. In framing the argument as a tug-of-war between bioethics and the advancement of medical science, the Council looks to reach a middle ground between the two issues. It is easy to see how the Council reaches “full agreement that cloning-to-produce-children is not only unsafe but also morally unacceptable, and ought not to be attempted” (xxix), yet cloning’s use in biomedical research presents a complicated moral quandary of potential life versus established life. In my midterm, I wrote on how Vitae limits the positive rights of the parents to preserve the negative rights of the fetus through rulings such as the “child’s right to be conceived and brought into the world in marriage and from marriage” (Shannon, 159). In this way, the President’s Council on Bioethics acts a mirror image, reducing the negative rights of the cloned zygote, fetus, human, or whatever you define it as to increase the positive rights of people who are suffering. It is therefore understandable how the disagreement between the Majority and Minority opinions originates not in the permissibility of cloning-for-biological-research, but on the “regulation of the use of cloned embryos for biomedical research” (xxxviii). In this gray area the majority recommends a “four year moratorium” (xxxv), with a federally-funded review of the practices of said biological research, while the minority calls for no such moratorium, and only for less defined ‘regulations’. Much like each question we’ve discussed in class, and at all levels of education and academic expertise, issues of reproductive  technology are debated not for definitive answers, but to increase the reasonings with which we comprise our perspectives. This report represents a pure form of these debates, presenting two respectively researched and debated recommendations for the purpose of advisory to the President, and the nation as a whole. The report acts as a meditation on conception, scientific and religious ethics, and the value of life, both pre and post birth. While the lack of a unanimous answer to these questions may seem like a failure on the part of the Council, it is instead a perfect indication on the incredibly complex and varied topic of reproductive technology.

Works Cited:

Bush, George W. “Remarks by the President Upon Arrival.” National Archives and Records Administration. September 16, 2001. Accessed April 07, 2019.

Goodstein, Laurie. “Bush’s ‘Jesus Day’ Is Called a First Amendment Violation.” The New York Times. August 06, 2000. Accessed April 07, 2019.

Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry. Report. July 2002. Accessed April 7, 2019.

Shannon, Thomas A, et al. “Religion and Artificial Reproduction: An Inquiry into the Vatican ‘Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Human Reproduction.’” The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review, vol. 53, no. 1, 1989, pp. 141–175. Emory University Library, Canvas, doi:10.1353/tho.1989.0058.

16 Replies to “Human Cloning and Human Dignity”

  1. Hi Josh,

    Thanks for a well-rounded blog post that incorporates outside opinions and information helpful to understanding this week’s theme. Reading this report on cloning intended for a U.S. President provided a new perspective to technology we’ve been studying in the class so far. I am intrigued by your discussion of positive and negative rights. Admittedly I do not know much about this concept, but after a quick search, I agree with your point that the President’s Council on Bioethics limits negative rights on a cloned zygote, etc. in order to allow humans positive rights with respect to using cloning for biomedical research. I find it interesting, however, that the Council produced more flexible views on using clones for research that could then permit people to have children via nontraditional means. One cannot predict future scientific findings before they occur, so limiting topics of research cannot guarantee that information gained from using cloning won’t go towards reproductive purposes. How different is this from using cloning for producing children? Again, where is the line? Questions of information use also relate to Rayna Rapp’s work we read a few weeks ago. Having knowledge and using such knowledge to enact change and disrupt natural functions are two different dilemmas.

    In her work, Prainsack mentions that even today, restrictions on cloning research vary between states and countries (Prainsack 2006, 179). It would be interesting to consider a new climate in which the United States prohibited cloning research and use while other nearby countries, such as Canada or Mexico, permitted it. In such a case, the United States would have to allow for the use of cloning in other societies and respond accordingly. Could cloning someday take the shape of a type of medical tourism?

  2. Hi Josh,

    Thank you for your blogpost. As someone from Texas, I grew up aware of who Bush was and what his religious background was. I thought you summarized the different purposes and big limitation to cloning very well. But I am curious, why did you put the word ‘secular’ in ” marks?

    I think you’re absolutely right to say a unanimous answer for questions about cloning is not a failure but rather an indication of the complexity of the topic. I would be interested in see if a council in 2019 would come to similar or the same conclusions as of the one back then. As Elisabeth mentioned in her response, other countries allow for the use of cloning. Would U.S. politicians feel the need to also this in the States so that American can technologically keep up with other nations?

  3. Thanks for a great post, Josh. I appreciated that you mentioned Bush’s religious beliefs because it does have much to do with his policies and views on certain bioethical issues. As you mentioned, many of the discussions that the Council had centered around humanity and natural order. The parallels between the rulings in Donum Vitae and the report can be explained by Bush’s religious views and his ideas of what it means to be a human in society. Further, I agree with you that the report does not explicitly lay out any rules but instead is used to educate others, specifically the President. Cloning is a fairly new technology and many parts of the procedure and its effects must be considered carefully. It would be interesting to see how perceptions of cloning change as scientists become more educated on the procedure and different Presidents are elected.

  4. Thanks for an insightful post Josh, I first want to reiterate that Bush’s political views as President are contingent upon his religious views regarding certain topics such as cloning and artificial reproduction. I liked how you noted the difference between this policy brief and Donum Vitae, which is that Donum was more of a set of rules set forth to a people while the policy brief is simply a means of education for Bush to make the most educated decision he can. I also liked your sentence regarding the tug-of-war that is occurring between bioethics and medical research. While I don’t think there is a true middle-ground, these are the two big players in this debate, and it is possible to extract good ideas from both. Another aspect of your post I enjoyed was your concluding paragraph where you spoke of artificial reproductive technology being a means to a greater understanding of the field rather than simply trying to search for hard-to-find, definitive answers. The issue of cloning will be an interesting issue to monitor in the future as scientists, users, and lawmakers will all become more and more educated as time and research goes on.

  5. Thanks to all the bloggers for this week! The blogs were great summaries of the readings and included analysis that I mostly found myself agreeing with.

    I agree that the distinction between the Council’s deliberations and the ideologies in Donum Vitae can be seen as a merging of scientific and religious ideology and that the examples given demonstrate that ideologies are not always single-minded. Not cloning to produce children due to the argument of social ties, yet allowing biomedical research to be done on a cloned human embryo and allowing that human embryo to be cloned purely for the purpose of research also leads back to the identity of the fetus. Is the fetus to be considered a separate entity from the mother? If so, then the fetus cannot be used in biomedical research as the fetus has rights. If the fetus is not a separate entity, then research can be done freely. The transgression of social ties, on the part of Donum Vitae, seems to consider both the fetus and the parents. In the case of the Council, I see the consideration as not wanting to step out of the boundaries of the biomedical which will occur if social issues are considered.

    I found myself agreeing with Breitowitz as well, and I found that his analogy can be applied to reproductive technology outside of cloning as well. Religious texts do not include all that is available to people today, and the idea that God has given us the gifts of knowledge in order to seek our own solutions is a way to consider reproductive technologies, rather than that humans are stepping outside our own boundaries and taking on the role of God.

    Prainsack’s article once again emphasizes that the nation of Israel is pro-reproductive technology, as well as pro-natalist. I found that the promotion of science and technology by Jewish beliefs emphasizes the pro-reproductive technology, and how the usage of these technologies is not done without great thought or consideration of the religion and culture of Israel.

  6. Josh,

    Thank you for a terrific post, well done. I like how you jumped right into your analysis of the reading. I personally had no idea that George W. Bush formed such a council regarding the issue of human cloning and found this very interesting to learn about. The well rounded council that Bush formed reminds me of the last question on our midterm essay and how I too elected to pick a well-rounded council of different professionals to provide various perspectives on the matter.

    Furthermore, I like how you explored the background of President Bush in order to allow us to truly visualize his mindset and the decision making framework he had. I cannot imagine a case in which Bush’s ideology did not have a major impact on that of the council. Additionally, a line you stated that struck with me was, “I argue that this divide instead represents a merging of scientific and religious ideology,” while describing the distinction between Donum Vitae and the council’s report. I found this statement very intriguing because finally we are seeing a merging of science and religion. I feel as if throughout this course the two have really opposed each other in the sense that different religious ideologies have gone against forward thinking scientific mindsets and breakthroughs, thus I found this quite exciting.

    Overall great work.

  7. Thanks for your post. I think you did a good job of giving an outline of the reading. Like my fellow peers I also appreciate that you brought in the background knowledge surrounding this reading and especially how it was written for Bush, who was a fairly religious conservative. Having this type of knowledge is always important when reading anything. I think because of this, the council’s presentation could’ve been slightly biased. None the less, I can’t agree more with you about how the councils non-decision wasn’t a failure, but rather an embodiment of the complexity of the topic and reproductive technology. What I really appreciated about your blog post was the way you went about this reading. I myself while reading was taking it at service level and not much more, but you were able to dig much deeper and come up with much more than I did.

  8. Hi Josh, thank you for the comprehensive summary and commentary on the readings. I appreciate how you compared the national bioethics committee report on cloning to the ideals in Donum vitae, because of the religious association of Bush’s presidency. I thought the conclusions reached by the council were rather unsurprising. I think the idea of cloning to produce new human like, at least in the united states, is widely thought of as unacceptable. However, I thought it was rather surprising that cloning is acceptable for research or extracting stem cells. Although the window to perform these medical interventions for scientific reasons is small, I agree with your point that it contradicts Donum Vitae’s stance on not tampering with the fetus upon conception.
    I thought the article by Breitowitz did a good job of incorporating Jewish religion into the cloning debate in an objective manner. For many of the arguments or and against cloning, he provided a counter argument. I thought an interesting point that touched on the differences between judaism and christianity in terms of opinions of reproductive techniques was the way in how they interpreted Genesis. Of course we have seen this before in the reading several week ago by Dr. Seeman, but I thought the concept of Adam I in the first chapter versus Adam II in the second chapter highlighted possible reasonings for the different interpretations of the texts. Adam I is created with in the eyes of god and in majestic terms by being able to make moral judgement and create alongside of god. However Adam II calls for man to be submissive to the power of god and wonders of the universe. We must consider these conflicting paradigms when exploring these readings, and forming our own opinions on the readings.

  9. Hi Josh,

    Thank you for a very comprehensive and interesting blog post. Admittedly, I did not know much about cloning and the policies that surround it, and Bush’s religious influence on these policies. By including this background information in your post, I feel that I was better able to get a comprehensive understanding of the bioethical policy report considering cloning. In school, we are taught that the government of the United States is to remain secular by separating Church and State. However, given religious and political biases that are present and heightened in controversial topics, it is very difficult for this to be the case. After reading this weeks articles, I was really intrigued in comparing the report that was presented to Bush that claims that cloning to produce children is morally wrong versus the cloning discourse that is present in Israel.

    The Christian view is that the “sanctity of human life” and the moral considerations surrounding it would be violated through cloning. These moral reservations are based in the fear that cloning would lead to a slippery slope through he belief that no person should have the power to “play God”. Jewish law states that embryos outside of the womb are not considered human, and do not need high levels of protection, and that born life is given priority over embryos. One of the most interesting provisions of Jewish law that I found interesting was their interpretation of ‘interference’ of God’s work. It is believed that “if done in a responsible manner, is seen as a virtue rather than a sinful activity” (Prainsack, 33). This made me think back to the interpretations of the Genesis creation stories. It is interesting how the emphasis on following the directive to procreate interprets moral actions.

  10. I’m glad that you included a short anecdote about George W. Bush’s presidency and ideologies. I think it’s important to consider his preconceptions and the image that he had to uphold for his constituents. His emphasis on religion definitely had an effect on his creation of the board. I understand the decision of the board to separate cloning for science vs cloning for reproduction. The importance of social kinship values and “the natural order” are stressed in their arguments against cloning not for scientific research. Finally, I also like the point you made about how “the President’s Council on Bioethics acts [as] a mirror image, reducing the negative rights of the cloned zygote, fetus, human, or whatever…to increase the positive rights of people who are suffering.” I never considered the juxtaposition of Donum Vitae’s underlying effects and the council’s decisions.

  11. Hi Josh, thanks for providing a comprehensive overview of this week’s readings. Like the others mentioned, I appreciated that you added a bit of background on Bush’s religious views. As a Methodist, Bush is unlikely to favor cloning any way and come close to views of the Donum Vitae. Therefore, it is interesting that the council he put together would come to the same conclusions albeit with different reasonings behind it, with the exception of stem cell research. A part of me has to wonder about the bias – whether of the members of the council and how they were selected or if perhaps the majority came together to ensure their words of advisement to President Bush would be well received. But like Abhinay said, I also liked that you pointed out the juxtaposition that comes with the reasoning. It was something that I hadn’t noticed on my own but makes sense with a secular vs. religious comparison.
    It is interesting to me just how different the Jewish and the Christian perspectives on cloning is. I think that there are moral, yet not religious, reasons that cloning could be opposed, such as its potential to lead to a rise of eugenics. I do agree that the lack of a unanimous answer is not necessarily a failure, as morals and religious views are both greatly personal and impossible to summarize simply.

  12. Thank you for the post! I appreciate how you included some historical background and context of Bush’s presidency. I had little understanding of his political history and the potential influence it had on American communities. I also knew very little about cloning before reading these papers. Although it seems to be a common method in literature about cloning and stem cells, the evident split between reproductive and therapeutic use of this technology is an important distinction to make, and I believe it puts the conversation in two very different realms that occasionally overlap. Although a simple and somewhat obvious difference, I felt that the conversations held in each discourse were segregated.

    Not only does this distinction make it clear to all involved in the ethical debate that the two are different entities, it allows for regulation of one realm and freedom of the other, without placing (or lifting) the same restraints on both ideas. This enables those heavily invested in one side of the conversation – such as a researchers looking to therapeutically cure diseases with stem cells – to make scientific progress and help living human beings, while limiting the accessibility of an average person cloning another human being to replace a loved one or provide genetic material for a sibling. The distinction between the two is thus essential and incorporated into these writings. I wonder if both sides of this conversation are brought up when stem cell research or cloning are discussed in the media, or if that connection is not made and the discussion is thus segregated in public discourse?

  13. Great post, Josh! I really liked how your post focused on the tensions between the “secular” science side of the issue and the more religious, moral implications of the topic presented to the committee. As we’ve been saying this semester, there is no clear divide between these two “sides” of any issue related to bioethical debate; there is no way to truly separate opinions on these topics into an objective scientific view and a moral religious view. The two are inextricably linked because at its heart, reproductive technology is both a moral and a scientific topic, and questions and debates surrounding it must account for human moral and possibly religious bias. There is no “true neutral” when it comes to viewpoints on reproductive technology and cloning in particular. Breitowitz echoed this sentiment in his article when he referenced the two ways that people could potentially react to cloning being a medical practice that works on a learning curve that could potentially cause human suffering as it “works out the kinks”, as it were. He writes that in regards to this question, “Some might counter that the same argument was raised against in vitro fertilization and that in all technologies there is a learning curve; that is how science progresses. Yet from the standpoint of ethics and religion, this argument is hardly sufficient” (335). Realistically there would be no way to separate the ethical, moral, and potentially religious implications from the scientific implications of the downfalls of cloning “learning curve” that we agree must be endured in order to perfect cloning as a medical and reproductive technology. Because of this, it seems to me that legislation and public perception on cloning as a reproductive technology for humans will be at somewhat of a standstill until we can come to a decision that satisfies the relentless forward push of scientific progress as well as the moral, ethical, and religious sensibilities that people inevitably have regarding such technology.

  14. Absolutely fantastic blog post Josh! I found the report to be very interesting as well especially considering the political and national context at the time. In your discussion I think bringing up Donum Vitae is smart as a lot of parallels can be drawn, but as you pointed out this article is more of a Privy Council type recommendation more so than a policy declaration as with Vitae; so, I have to wonder if that difference in impact changes the balance of the report. Notably, since the report doesn’t have to be 100% internally consistent, do you think that the 7 policy recommendations and their subsequent reasonings are more reflective of the real world?

    I personally feel that the article was rather comprehensive in terms of context and options for helping to navigate such a complex issue and even in all of its complexity you managed to convey both the importance and the nuance of the issue. Thanks for the post!

  15. Hi Josh!

    Your comment “In framing the argument as a tug-of-war between bioethics and the advancement of medical science, the Council looks to reach a middle ground between the two issues” resonated with the Prainsack reading to me. She writes about how the biomedicalization of society and the accompanying business structure associated with healthcare oft lends credibility to the social science arguments about ethics. The juxtaposition with the stereotype of medicalization as profiteering contrasts with the “good-intentions” of social scientists and ethicists. This seems to be a common narrative, a duality that needs to mitigated to reach an optimal compromise, and is a prime example of what Kleinman argued in our readings last week. Here, bioethics is at odds with the cultural construction of medical practice and is trying to limit research and technological development in order to maintain equity and equality in society and prevent hairy future eventualities.

    I’d love to hear if you think this duality framework is correct and if the inclusion of an anthropological perspective would make a difference in how to formulate regulations that will affect a body politic of the future.

    Thanks !


  16. Thank you for your interesting blog post. I liked the background information from Bush’s presidency. I agreed with Eleni’s comment; it is often difficult to separate our personal biases, whether religious or political in nature, from our arguments even though we are raised in a culture that values secular arguments.

    The traditional Christian view on cloning is quite negative; these Christians tend to believe that human life and the purity of conception is violated by cloning. This is again seen as humans overstepping their bounds since reproduction is, as Donum Vitae stated, both a gift from God and a natural process. Cloning is viewed to alter the “natural” course of life. As we have seen with many other reproductive technologies, Jewish law seems to have an opposite viewpoint. In this culture, embryos outside of the womb are not considered human so therefore do not need protective laws.

    I also really liked Jeffrey’s blog post in particular: he brought up a great number of pertinent questions that show how truly complex the topic is. Leaving the usual question of “Where do we draw the line?” aside, we can also argue that cloning, unlike many of the other ARTs that we have discussed, is a procedure that we don’t yet know the consequences of, both biologically and socially. We have not yet perfected the procedure to ensure the safety of all parties involved, and we have a long way to go before cloning ever becomes a commonly used commercial option.

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