Human has been and remains a topic of both scientific and political consideration. Debate over its legality and funding should be seen as important. After all, human lives lie in the balance. Furthermore, some would note that many religions and cultures stand against cloning, regardless of efficacy or safety. For example, Islam “privileges—even mandates—biological descent and inheritance. Preserving the “origins” of each child, meaning his or her relationships to a known biological mother and father, is considered not only an ideal in Islam, but a moral imperative “(Inhorn 2006: 95). Certainly, some religious or cultural groups will remain firmly against personal use of cloning technology, similarly to some technologies that are already available. But permitting limited and highly regulated cloning research does not—and should not—require a particular group to take advantage of cloning as a reproductive option or adopt any other technologies that result from cloning research.
The debate over permitting and funding human cloning technologies obviously extends far beyond individuals’ rights to choose or refuse to use human cloning for reproduction. While this discussion and ensuing recommendations places strictly personal opinion on the backburner, it still hopefully relies on logical arguments that seem reasonable. The first portion of this article focuses on scientific concerns with cloning and the second half focuses on moral and ethical concerns frequently raised in debates over cloning, which I might argue is actually at the heart of many peoples’ decisions about whether or not cloning should be allowed and funded.
A major scientific concern is the high morbidity rates of mammal clone morbidity. As noted in a publication from President Bush’s panel on bioethics, “more than 90 percent of attempts to initiate a clonal pregnancy do not result in successful live birth” (Kass 2002: xxv). Firstly, the permitting and funding of human cloning research does not have to mean that researchers are immediately able to attempt a cloned human birth, but rather that they should take as many precautions as possible when deciding how to attempt the first human clone birth. Even so, it is important to recognize that practices like IVF do not rely on a single fertilized egg cell to result in pregnancy.
In addition to the concerns with morbidity rates, there would likely be, currently, a high rate of transplant rejection once the cells are placed back into a human for fetus development. I would raise a similar counterargument to the one regarding morbidity rates. If a human is to ever be successfully cloned, then research that will focus on creating safe transplant and birth methods through new technologies tested on other animals must progress.
A final scientific issue I will discuss is the concern surrounding the fate of embryos that could be used for only research purposes. Especially for people who consider termination of a fetus of any age to be murder and sinful, the fact that “all extractions of stem cells from human embryos, cloned or not, involve the destruction of these embryos” is an obvious problem (xxvii). If this is the major concern, then legislation can be put into place that restricts the use of embryos for stem cell research and stops funds for any groups who are engaging in human embryo destruction for research purposes. It is likely possible to make major advancements in cloning technology and methods by using other animals, and there are now methods for stem cell creation that do not require the use of embryos.
As a last note on strictly scientific research regulations, I would not disagree that “The ethical and policy issues regarding cloning-for-biomedical-research deserve to be considered in the context of all human embryo research. Regulatory mechanisms… should be part of a larger regulatory program governing all research involving human embryos” and there should be “appropriate institutions to advise and shape federal policy in this arena” (222-223). It is essential to repeatedly examine institutions and their research practices to maintain safety and respect for human life. Obviously, these previous scientific arguments alone are not sufficient when addressing the larger landscape of human cloning and approval of human cloning technologies. I would propose, in fact, that the limitations on and concerns about human cloning may be more deeply rooted in protecting human and cultural identity and dignity. As an example, an Israeli committee, when faced with the potential need for legislation banning cloning, maintained that “consensus existed in the committee that cloning per se did not pose any problems; the only problem was with scientific experimentation on humans. …the committee concluded there was no need for any new law. Nevertheless, once the law had been proposed, it was not feasible to simply ignore it” (Prainsack 2006: 191). It seems that addressing issues of treatment of cloned individuals is critical and foundational in the debate over human cloning.
Lack of or confusion about individuality and identity is one major argument against human cloning. This argument can be generally summed up as “cloned children may experience serious problems of identity both because each will be genetically virtually identical to a human being … and because [their lives are] shadowed by constant comparisons to the life of the “original (Kass xxvii). Ensuring individuality and opportunity for a person, whether cloned or otherwise, is important. But what is missing in this argument is the fact that the actual physical act of cloning—the literal scientific procedure—is not actually the cause of any specific expectation on a cloned individual. Rather, a cloned child’s upbringing is what will actually determine its character and degree of individual choice. Dignified relationships with family can be maintained regardless of the method of conception in many cultures, as is evidenced by the successful implementation of IVF not only in the United States, but in many other countries such as Israel.
Issues of kinship and family relations are also frequently cited by those opposing cloning research. Kinship is no doubt important to discuss, both because of the importance of strong and supportive relationships between the cloned person and others, as well as the necessity of understanding citizens’ cultural beliefs. Discussions of reproduction are frequently “intimately linked” with those of culture and production of culture (Kahn 2000: 88). If the dominant cultural groups feel that permitting research into human cloning is inconsistent with their beliefs about reproduction of family, then there may be massive public pushback that is damaging towards future research opportunities. Having said that, a slow rollout of policies permitting more and more direct human cloning is likely to mitigate much of this risk, especially since many people with diverse cultural backgrounds, including Jewish individuals with strong emphasis on the role of family and motherhood, believe that family and kinship roles can be preserved even while cloning humans (Broyde 2005: 299). It seems possible to slowly begin approving and funding groups with the goal of eventual human reproduction through cloning without destroying the public’s diverse ideas of kinship.
Furthermore, on a less obvious level, parents can already select sperm and egg donors for children. Not only can future parents select donors with obviously attractive characteristics, (physical or otherwise), but they can also pre-screen the embryos before implantation or perform genetic tests on the donors to select for or against certain traits in their children. Other advancements in genetic screening and editing are beginning to provide even more control over traits and genes in future children. If this is permitted, then it seems logical that cloning should not be prevented due to fears of genetic selection.
Now that many of the main debates surrounding cloning have been analyzed in depth, it is possible to make policy and funding recommendations. It should be permissible to study human cloning. It would seem to me that, in general, moral qualms with reproductive cloning are not substantially backed with strong and deep arguments, so long as individuals are able to choose whether or not to use cloning, and scientific advancements through non-human studies will likely facilitate safe human clone births. Furthermore, funding from the United States government will allow the government to hold recipients of grants and other money highly accountable in ensuring safe cloning studies and practices.
In addition to the previous discussions about scientific and ethical concerns, there are other reasons that regulated cloning research is not merely “allowable” but also potentially beneficial. By understanding more about cloning cells, future technologies such as well-adapted, personalized organs may become a reality, even without the sacrificing of a human life to attain them. These recommendations, however, come with warnings and important future examinations. For example, once scientific progress is sufficient to actually produce a human safely, there will need to be careful consideration including policy in place to protect cloned individuals, even before they’re actually reproduced. There is no room for a “guinea pig” human that is likely to be born with significant defects or to be unnecessarily seen as an anomaly in society and not respected. The first humans born through cloning must not only be treated with as much respect as another human, but it is imperative that they are born into a supportive family and community that will provide a sense of kinship: “The human mind operates through a few general mechanisms that give humans the flexibility to create and learn a wide array of behaviors and to shape their behavior by reference to diverse cultural ideas, beliefs, and values (not just a cost-benefit utilitarian logic focused only on reproductive maximization)” (McKinnon and Silverman 2005: 127). Kinship is important in not only fostering a sense of belonging, but also shapes an individual’s perspective and beliefs. This is critical for an individual born out of cloning reproduction. Furthermore, while seemingly unlikely in large countries like the United States, it is worth ensuring that genetic diversity remains high and incestuous relationships are prevented. Questions of access to cloning technology will need to be considered, and human cloning should not be seen as a luxury only available to the most affluent.
By no means am I suggesting that labs should be permitted to create a human clone immediately after legislative and funding adjustments. Rather, legislation should continue to change in small increments and adapt as research progresses. In addition, the state of cloning must be continually audited, and legislators should be ready to adapt laws to potentially unforeseen consequences of the research, (something that will likely prove very difficult). Throughout this entire process, the public must be educated about cloning and dignified treatment of cloned individuals. They must be reminded that just because a child looks the same as a donor does not mean that it will or should behave like the donor. Stigma must be mitigated wherever possible in an effort to reduce maltreatment of cloned individuals.
Barbara Prainsack, “Negotiating Life: The Regulation of Human Cloning and Embryonic Stem Cell Research in Israel.” Social Studies of Science 2006: 173-205.
Leon R. Kass, Human Cloning and Human Dignity (President’s Council on Bioethics, 2002).
Marcia Inhorn, He Won’t Be My Son: Middle Eastern Men’s Discourses of Gamete Donation.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 20 (2006): 94-120.
Michael Broyde, “Cloning People: A Jewish View.” Connecticut Law Review 30: 2503-2535.
Susan Martha Kahn, Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel (Duke University Press, 2000).
Susan McKinnon, “On Kinship and Marriage: A Critique of the Genetic and Gender Calculus of Evolutionary Psychology,” In S. McKinnon and S. Silverman editors, Complexities: Beyond Nature and Nurture, 106-131 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).