20 April 2023
Human Cloning: Miracle or Misfortune?
From my opinionated statements in class, it is evident that I often default to the “liberal” stances on many of the issues we have touched upon. However, even though I am not religious, I hold the belief common among the Abrahamic faiths that human beings deserve their own plane above the other creatures inhabiting the Earth. In doing so, I tend to favor any and all measures that prioritize human life, and sometimes even human comfort. These two stances, along with my past work in biomedical research for the past four years, combined to help me originally form the opinion that human cloning, like any other biotechnological process, should be allowed with only few restrictions. This week’s readings, though, reshaped my opinion on the matter in a significant way, and I would state that I am no longer pro-clone.
Cloning, the complete one-to-one recreation of an individual, although often viewed as a foreign or far-off concept, has been proven possible and has existed in animals for decades. By supplying an empty egg with a complete genome and implanting the fertilized ovum into a gestational mother, it is possible to create a perfect copy of a desired organism. The process, when publicized, drew both awe and ire from the general public, even when the animal used was as far-removed from humanity as a sheep. This quickly sparked discussion of whether or not the process was possible and/or ethical in humans. The possibilities that could come as a result of human cloning were numerous. A couple or family could choose to recreate a loved one, an institution could regenerate a great thinker, and real human embryos could be used in research to greatly expedite the process of treatment development for debilitating diseases. However, along with these positives come the consequences of high failure rate, large-scale destruction of human life when research on embryos is concluded, and blurring the lines of the human experience.
One of the ripples of this event was the creation of the President’s Council on Bioethics (PCB) under George W. Bush in 2001. The purpose of the council was to advise President Bush on the hotly debated topic from the perspectives of experts in the fields of research, medicine, ethics, and religion (PCB 167). The PCB published a detailed report on its decisions regarding the ethicality and suggested legality of human cloning, with extensive reasoning given for every point made. They came to the consensus that human cloning for the purpose of reproduction should be strictly prohibited, but they were split along the line of whether or not human cloning should be explored for biomedical research (PCB 176-178).
Some members argued that the benefits of human embryo research would far outweigh the use and destruction of human tissue, and their argument fundamentally relied on the assumption that such tissue did not constitute a full human (PCB 1716-177). Along these lines, the minority recommendation was to implement a moratorium on the issue for four years, suspending the ability to pursue human embryo research but emphasizing the importance of scientific advancement (PCB 181-182) However, others viewed the process as completely immoral, and the majority opinion was to ban cloning for research purposes on top of for reproductive goals (PCB 179-181). The majority opinion resonated with me, and I will detail my thoughts following Macklin’s discussion of conservative bioethical thought as a whole.
Michael Broyde, in “Cloning People: A Jewish Law Analysis of the Issues,” (the Breitowitz reading link directed me to this article instead), expressed far different opinions than the PCB. Using Jewish law as a basis for his arguments, he determines that cloning humans either results in a net positive or net neutral outcome (Broyde 505). His main argument stems from the order from God onto the Jewish people to “be fruitful and multiply,” and he advocates for cloning as a method to do so (Broyde 513). The only difference in the positive vs neutral outcomes results from men being the ones to receive this command, so when a woman is cloned, no mitzvah, good deed, is completed (Broyde 513). He then goes on to legitimize a cloned human and differentiate them from a golem by stating that a cloned human is born like any other, justifying this by acknowledging other rabbinical authorities that concur when babies are born through unconventional methods such as IVF or surrogacy (Broyde 522). Broyde speaks relatively highly of human cloning and thinks optimistically of those who would practice it, which is a far cry from the group discussed by Ruth Macklin.
Ruth Macklin, in her article, defines and criticizes a new “conservative” movement within the field of bioethics, highlighting the inconsistencies in the movement’s goals and definitions. She describes these neoconservative bioethicists as a group of commentators on the development of new technologies that have little background in science but instead come from organizations such as news outlets and think tanks (Macklin 36). Their staunch conservative dogma also creates a contradiction; they are along Republican party lines in that they also support big pharma, existing healthcare structures, and biotech development, yet these are the main drivers in pushing alternative reproduction methods (Macklin 36). In recounting their ideologies, Macklin notes that they tend to make grand, sweeping, and poetic claims about the nature of the human experience without using specific arguments or evidence to back up such statements (37). Finally, she points out that, although they tend to advocate for humanity in its purest form, they do not tend to advocate for those who are struggling and could be easily helped by the development of technologies that the movement is against (Macklin 38).
Although Macklin is correct in that their execution is not without flaw, I do believe that there is merit to the neoconservative argument. To be clear, I would only extend it as far as cloning, as I believe that the human experience is not significantly altered with reproductive technologies such as IVF or surrogacy. However, I hold that there is nothing inherently wrong with valuing the natural human experience as a whole or any particular aspect of it. Although it is not generally well-advised to base your opinions off of knee-jerk reactions, the initial shock of imagining two identical human beings coming to be because of laboratory interventions should not be entirely ignored. Although abortion (in the non-medicinal sense), surrogacy, alternative parenting, and other reproductive “technologies” are seen throughout nature in order to fine-tune reproduction and parenthood in both human and animal populations, there is no instance of an organism being completely replicated before humans took up the endeavor in the name of science. The PCB expands upon the unnatural-ness by highlighting potential problems with cloning for reproduction, such as the overshadowing of a genetic replica by the original person as well as dangerously altered family dynamics when loved ones are recreated (173-175).
Even disregarding the naturality of cloning humans, the PCB’s majority decision on cloning solely for research purposes highlights points that should not be overlooked. Although a noble cause, the effects of the process will likely be negative due to their inherent linkage to cloning for reproduction. By using cloning for research, the process would be improved upon, streamlined, and potentially normalized as an option for the non-scientific community. Additionally, even if strict guidelines were placed in certain areas, these could either be ignored or evaded by moving to another less-regulated country. And after working in academic biomedical research for the entirety of my college career, I know that there are researchers that should be trusted only as far as they can be thrown.
Broyde, Michael. “Cloning People: A Jewish Law Analysis of the Issues.” Connecticut Law
Review, vol. 30, no. 2, Winter 1998, pp. 503-536. HeinOnline
Macklin, Ruth. “The New Conservatives in Bioethics: Who Are They and What Do They Seek?”
The Hastings Center Report, vol. 36, no. 1, 2006, pp. 34–43. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3528596.
The President’s Council on Bioethics, Washington, D.C., July 2002, www.bioethics.gov,