Cloning is the process of producing one or more individual animals or plants, whole or in part, that are genetically similar to the original one. Various types of cloning can be undertaken on plants or animals. Human cloning can either be reproductive or therapeutic.
Human reproductive cloning, sometimes known as DNA cloning, theoretically involves producing genetic copies of an existing person while therapeutic cloning is performed for the purpose of medical treatment either to replace a missing organ or to create cells for persons with certain medical conditions (Semb, 2005, 745). The two types of cloning differ in the procedure involved and the objective of the process.
In reproductive cloning, material that contains genes is extracted from a donor and implanted into an egg from which the genetic substance (nucleus) has been removed so that the egg appears as if it has been fertilized. The egg could then develop into a person with similar genetic material as the donor of the genetic material when inserted into the uterus (Robertson, 2010, 200).
Therapeutic cloning, sometimes referred to as somatic cell nuclear transfer, generally begins with a process similar to reproductive cloning, however, rather than insert the “fertilized” egg into the human uterus, it is stimulated with a shock and begins dividing. It can grow into a piece of human tissue or a complete organ for transplant, depending on the types of cells used (Mackinnon, 2000, 45).
Animal cloning has drawn raging ethical debates across all divides. Most of these debates primarily focus on the creation, treatment, and destruction of animal (or human) embryos, which to some amount to murder since the embryos are considered to have life. Debates have also focused on the legitimacy of an offspring obtained through cloning.
Ethical issues on cloning
The cloning debate has involved scientists, lawmakers, religious leaders, philosophers and international organizations, but has not always ended amicably. The general agreement among opponents of the debate is that reproductive cloning- with the objective of producing a human genetic copy offspring- is unethical.
Part of this debate arises from the high failure rates (more than 90%) of the embryos produced and implanted into the uterus. Indeed, Dr. Ian Wilmut, the man who cloned Dolly the sheep, the first successfully cloned animal, attested that reproductive cloning involved a high failure rate (Wilmut et al, 2002, pp. 83).
Of the 277 “fertilized” embryos he fertilized, a mere 29 were implanted into the embryo of the surrogate mother and just one developed successfully. Wilmut concluded that similar experiments using human cells would be utterly unacceptable.
Both reproductive and therapeutic debates have reignited pro-life movements, whose main agenda regards the rights and status of the embryo in early stages of life. Due to the high failure rates involved in reproductive cloning, ethical concerns have revolved on the fact that cloning amounts to murder.
The basic assertion is that human life is sacrosanct, combined with the belief that human life begins when an egg is fertilized. In the case of reproductive cloning, the egg is already fertilized and its failure to develop into a complete animal amounts to murder. In the US alone, it is estimated that more than 400,000 embryos have been destroyed in cloning procedures (Wilmut & Jaenisch, 2001, pp. 2552).
A second ethical debate surrounding human cloning is drawn from health implications of animals produced through cloning. Dolly herself died only after six and a half years, although sheep are known to live for more than ten years. She had developed a lung infection that is normally associated with older sheep, as well as premature arthritis.
As a result, some cloning professionals have posited that cloned humans might suffer from numerous medical conditions at a very age and might suffer from senility at the age of 20. In addition, they might require hip replacement surgeries in their teenage years.
The ethical considerations of human cloning abound, and even if these debates were to be amicably resolved, many questions would still remain unanswered. For instance, on what grounds would the cloned children be prohibited, and what would their relationship with the genetic material donor be?
This is in consideration that the cloned child would have similar genetic material as the donor, and would be an exact copy of its donor. Would the child experience life as other children, or as a genetic prisoner who owes his/her existence to the donor? These and other questions currently preoccupy the minds of bioethicists and scientists as they grapple with the idea of reproductive cloning (Heinemann and Honnefelder, 2002, 539).
Therapeutic cloning has received comparatively less concerns on the ethics of the process as compared to reproductive cloning (Holm, 2002, 501). This is partly due to the medical benefits associated with the process.
If a cloning is successful and perfectly matched, replacement organs can be easily accessible to sick and dying people. This would save uncountable lives and increase the life expectancy of others(Green, 2002, pp. 550).
Besides, there would be no risk of rejection of the transplants because the organs DNA will match the patients DNA for it has been grown compared to organs donated by a second party. Consequently, there would be no immune system rejection problems.
Therapeutic cloning, just like all other types of cloning, has been subject to a number of ethical debates. First, the removal of cells from an embryo and then leaving it to die is unethical regardless of whether these cells are used for a beneficial purpose. The clone and kill policy is simply unethical.
Once the stem cell has been removed, the donor embryo is killed. In other words, innocent human beings are being killed deliberately in order to extend the life of persons whose life expectancy cannot even be determined. The moral consequence of compromising one’s life does not and cannot surpass probable medical benefits in the future.
A second concern is the source of eggs used in the cloning process, and the process used to obtain them. Currently, most eggs, or ovum, are obtained from women.
These eggs are produced in excess during IVF treatments. Although the procedure is insignificantly invasive, it puts the life of the women at risk in addition to increasing the risk of contracting some medical conditions such as ovarian hyperstimulation disorder, and in very rare situations, even death.
Although cloning has some beneficial outcomes, it needs to be regulated to prevent underworld doctors from engaging into practices that are considered unethical, including human cloning. Human cloning goes against fundamental societal norms and cannot simply be tolerated in any context.
Green, R.M. (2002). Benefiting from ‘Evil’; an incipient moral problem in human stem cell research. Bioethics, 16(6), 544-556
Heinemann, T., and Honnefelder, L. (2002). Principles of Ethical Decision Making regarding Embryonic Stem Cell Research. Bioethics, 16(6), 530-543
Holm, S. (2002). Going to the Roots of the Stem Cell Controversy. Bioethics, 16(6), 493-507
Mackinnon, B. (2000). Human Cloning, Scientific Ethics and Public Policy. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Robertson, J. A. (2010). Embryo Stem Cell Research: Ten Years of Controversy. The Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics, 38(2), 191–203.
Semb, H. (2005). Human embryonic stem cells: origin, properties and applications. APMIS, 113(11–12), 743–50.
Wilmut, I., and Jaenisch, R. (2001). Don’t Clone Humans! : Policy Forum: Developmental Biology. Science, 291, 2552
Wilmut I., Dinnyes, A., de Sousa, P., and King, T. (2002). Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer: Recent Progress and Challenges. Cloning and Stem Cells, 4 (1), 2002:81-90.