This module explores the intricacies of human cloning technology. The two major readings for this week cover two separate approaches to this topic: a very formalized review of the ethics of cloning from an American committee for the purpose of legal recommendation and a less formal, but wonderfully rich account based on Jewish ethics. Reading both of these was very helpful in order to see a depth of response and the raising of different issues. There were topics covered in both that were not covered in the other, simply due to the intention of the writing and the cultural context of the document. The other readings which I focus much less on, revolve around who should be empowered to make ethical decisions in our society.
Human Cloning and Human Dignity by Leon Kass
In this lengthy, but digestible work, Leon Kass and other members of the President’s Council on Bioethics lay out in a very explicit way the entire concept and ethical debacle of cloning, from its history to its scientific uses to policy recommendations. It could be- and probably is- considered an American roadmap to cloning. Though it provides a number of policy recommendations for each use of embryos, the document provides a wide range of both pros and cons to each. This made the article overwhelming in a way because it was constantly switching sides, and I felt like my moral compass took a small (but fascinating!) beating in reading so many consecutive, well-developed arguments. In reading through such an immense and morally murky subject, I found the abundant discussions of terminology, context, and cases to be extremely helpful.
Ultimately, the council unanimously agreed on very little except that the act of cloning-to-produce-children should be prohibited due to technological underdevelopment and inherent moral issues. To clarify, “underdevelopment” meaning that when this was written in 2002, there was a 90% failure rate among offspring produced through cloning (Kass 20). It led me to wonder if in today’s world (17 years later), where genetically-edited humans have already been accomplished, great technological strides have been made, and use of biotechnology has become much more entrenched in society, a council would come to the same conclusions. This reading really emphasized the ethical gauntlet that cloning creates. The dilemmas that most provoked me were issues of individuality, how far we should go to help those who are ill, and how allowable the manipulation of some human beings to help others is. This was a wonderful, though morally taxing, read, especially when followed by the subsequent reading.
“What’s So Bad about Human Cloning?” by Yitzchok Breitowitz
In this article Breitowitz confronts the issues of human cloning through the lens of the Jewish faith. In this work, the author introduces us to the construct of technology and man in the Jewish tradition, then continues to address the benefits and subsequently the many issues he finds with cloning. He, first, richly describes the tensions between humans’ autonomy in making the world in the image of God and being submissive to the “wonder of the Divine” (Breitowitz 327). He justifies the autonomous use of biomedical technology by, first, describing that the Torah fully supports medical intervention, then continuing by saying that “we are, as it were, collaborative partners with the Divine in improving the world, in conquering illness, and in trying to make the world better for others” (326). Then, he shows how in Genesis Chapter 2 men were made from dust and charged with the preservation of world order. The author deftly shows how the Jewish faith in a modern society must “walk a tightrope, to achieve a precarious balance between two alternative, but complementary visions of human beings…” (328).
I found Breitowitz’s analysis of this tightrope very balanced indeed. The author is supportive of cloning for the opportunities it provides parents to viably reproduce and the benefits it has for organ and tissue donation to help those in need. Keeping his practicality about him, he then turns his attention to the allocation of this technology, which he determines is, in itself, an ethical dilemma. There is not yet a fair way to determine eligibility and equal access to either reproductive cloning or cloning for the intention of donor products; neither a market, nor lottery system make any ethical sense. He emphasized that with the advent of eugenic technology, reproductive cloning becomes hazardous moral ground when considering some people value some genetics and types of lives more than others. The other section of this work I greatly appreciated was the analysis of the psychological burden of being a clone. I personally feel that uniqueness and individuality are an inherent part of the human identity (at least in the American culture) and that that quality of a unique human should be preserved. I’m also entirely aware that I am a product of my own culture and that the “individuality, autonomy, and self-expression” he mentions are fundamental rights that should be afforded, uninhibited, to all (336). Ultimately, he beautifully wove the Jewish narrative with a modern discourse on cloning.
My favorite part of this article was his brief discussion of predetermination of behavior based on genetics versus autonomy and free will. Will clones be their “own” person with their “own X-factor,” as he calls it (337)? He believes they will, stating that a clone of Hitler could become another Mother Teresa (338). Although I’m a believer in choices and the relevance of environmental factors, I think the tension created between genetics and autonomy is endlessly fascinating.
Considering Both Sides
I truly enjoyed reading from two totally opposite cultures. Both articles were cognizant of the benefits and problems of cloning and, in my opinion, not too forceful with any one view. Though less comprehensive, I favored Breitowitz’s article due to its straightforward, coherent writing style; I felt less battered at the end of it with the same amount of provocation. Both viewpoints really emphasized the same themes of what good cloning could do for the world, the limits vs. expanse of human technology, and the impact on society as a whole. I think the main contrast is that America’s ethical mode of thinking seems to be determined in a more legal way, compared to the Jewish culture, which relies upon its ancient texts to be contextualized in a modern environment.
-“Reflections on Public Bioethics: A View from the Trenches” : This article offers a frank, in-depth look at the President’s Council on Bioethics, including the details to how they were chosen, what tasks they were charged with, and the projects they undertook.
-“The New Conservatives in Bioethics: Who are they and what do they seek?” : An intriguing look at the “new conservative” bioethicists who in this author’s opinion cloud logic with emotion in order to oppose all forms of biotechnology.
-“Not Just for Experts: The Public Debate about Reprogenetics in Germany.” : This reading covers the link between ethics and policy in the German culture. The author describes how the two American “camps” of thinking (techno-optimists vs. techno-skeptics) are much more convoluted in Germany, due to its tragic history of employing eugenics at a large-scale.
– Leon R. Kass, Human Cloning and Human Dignity (President’s Council on Bioethics, 2002).
– Yitzchok Breitowitz, “What’s So Bad about Human Cloning?” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal (2004): 325-341.
-Leon Kass, Reflections on Public Bioethics: A View from the Trenches,” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 15 (2005): 221 -250.
-Ruth Macklin, “The New Conservatives in Bioethics: Who are they and what do they seek?” Hastings Center Report 36 (January-February 2006), pp.34-43.
-Kathrin Braun, “Not Just for Experts: The Public Debate about Reprogenetics in Germany.” Hastings Center Report 35 (2005): 42-49.