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People struggle with the conceptualisations of abnormality/normality, disability, and the ability of the human body. In the development of this debate, the main question that emerges is how (ab) normality and (dis)ability are constructed. Normality refers to “constituting, conforming to, not deviating from or differing from the common type or standard, regular or usual” (Davis 24).
Conceptualisation of abnormality and normality in relation to interpretation of the perceived normality of performance of the human body drives developments in the medical body of knowledge. Historically, the goal of ‘medicalisation’ has been to enhance the correction of perceived physical or biological abnormalities to conform to normality. In every aspect of human life, the concept of normality is explored.
For instance, in literary works such as novels, authors “create and bolter the image of normalcy through comparisons, deconstructions and processing of abnormal vs. normal images of human experiences (Davis 44). People are born with differences in terms of their physical and biological constitution of their bodies. For instance, at birth, some people can hear while others cannot hear. Others are born infertile while others are born fertile.
What do people then consider as normal? In the case of infertility, is it mandatory for people to sire children for them to uphold conformance to the perception of normality? In the debate on ability and disabilities, another important theoretical question is whether perceptions of what is normal and abnormal are adequate grounds for prescription of certain medical interventions to enhance conformance to perceived normality.
For instance, does cloning of human beings lead to correction of dis (ability) concerns in terms of fertility. This paper discusses this question with reference to an article titled “World’s first GM babies born” appearing in the Daily Mail Online within the paradigms of freedom of choice, (ab) normality, and (dis) ability developed in the lectures.
Overview of the article
Genetic modification of human beings is a topic that attracts heavy debates on both ethics and appropriateness of conducting such a medical endeavour in the name of ensuring that people otherwise deemed infertile are given an opportunity to have children carrying their own DNA makeup. From a very young age, people learn to identify, categorise, and name bodies (and body-subjects) that do not (appear to) conform to the norm.
In doing so, they constitute such bodies (and body-subjects) as abnormal. In this article, Hanlon explores these ideas through analysis of ethics behind the process of genetic modification of the human cell to create ‘identical’ or a ‘direct copy’ of an individual. The arguments presented by the author raises the question on the rights and freedom of choice for individuals in matters of assisted reproduction.
According to Hanlon (Par. 2), 30 babies were born following various cloning experimentations in the United States. Among these babies, two passed tests proving that they contain genes derived from two women and one man. “Fifteen of the children were born in the past three years as a result of one experimental program at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St Barnabas in New Jersey” (Hanlon Par.3).
All these babies are reported as having been born to various women who have challenges in conceiving. The inheritance of genes from two women and one man means that the genes are incorporated into the germ line and can subsequently be transmitted to the babies’ offspring in the future through normal sexual reproduction.
This replicates the concerns of eugenics in which researchers struggled to ensure that defective classes of people disappeared within one generation (Davis 37). If cloning can lead to emergence of superior human race, then it implies that science can help in eradication of abnormality- departure from norm (Davis 40).Under sexual reproduction, babies inherit genetic characteristics from only two parents.
What does the assisted reproduction approach described by Hanlon imply to the understandings of normality and abnormality in methodologies of assisted reproduction? Why is the methodology important? Can people consider infertility as normal and shun from engaging in experimentations that raise questions about the ethics behind the interventions to correct the ‘abnormality’? Seeking responses to these questions forms the focus of the next sections of the paper
Dis (ability) and (Ab) normalcy
The big struggle to create successful technology of human cloning is based on the need to develop a means of assisting people to achieve the normalised desire of reproduction. In this sense, infertility implies a physical deficit, which acts to disadvantage an individual in comparison to other people.
Consequently, cloning is perhaps an important medical intervention, which may help people to nullify the codification that they are biologically inferior. “The concept of norm, unlike that of an ideal, implies that the majority of the population must or should somehow be part of the norm” (Davis 29). This aspect suggests that in the understanding of normality and abnormality with reference to fertility, there exist a concept of body normality upon which assisted reproduction is referred and the majority of the pupation embraces the approach.
The roles of the assisted reproduction entail rehabilitating the body of the person considered as infertile to ensure that it conforms to the normality condition. In this extent, the normality perception of a fertile person is not referred from the condition of the physical body, rather it is referred from the end result- whether the person is able to conceive or not.
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This aspect suggests that in case an infertile person and fertile person are in a position to get babies sharing their DNA, then the terms ‘infertile’ and ‘fertile’ as used to describe normality and abnormality loses meaning so that mass embracement of cloning leads to the nullification of perceptions of (ab) normality with reference to fertility.
Although cloning is perhaps an important beginning point for resolution of the dilemma on (Ab) normality and dis (ability) in the discussion fertility and infertility, another challenge is introduced following the arguments that cloning may have effects of alteration of performance of the babies in comparison to how people born through sexual means perform.
One of the arguments advanced to support this line of thought is that people do not only posses physical bodies, but also moral standards, spirit, and thoughts coupled with peculiar code of behaviours that differentiate them from animals (Leifer 163).
This suggests that cloning has the effect of making “people’s identities become defined by irrepressible indentificatory physical qualities that can be measured” (Davis 32). People are rational beings, and thus they have the capacity to expresses emotions, which implies that the definition of human being supersedes the physical body. The query arising here is the implication of cloning in case ‘people’ produced due to the procedure fail to possess personality, but only the physical body.
The most likely response to the query above is that the perception of dis (ability) and ab (normality) will be reinforced. The cloned people will suffer from certain deficiencies that are considered vital to have for a ‘normal’ human being such as personality, morality, and spirit among others.
This argument suggests that a cloned ‘person’ will simply be a shell having no soul. In this context, cloning encompasses a technology, which only values the physical matter aspects of human beings. The argument here is that in the quest to demystify certain aspects of human nature considered as either normal or abnormal, the solutions proposed lead to the establishment of new dimensions of interpretations coupled with reinforcement of the dis (ability) and (ab) normality stereotypes.
People learn to make classifications of identity, and bodies at a very young age (Sullivan 1). They learn to segregate “bodies that do not (appear to) conform to norm: in doing so, they constitute such bodies (and body-subjects) as abnormal, as aberrant, as other” (Sullivan 1). This means that people grow with preconceived understanding of what constitutes normality and abnormality. For instance, it is natural that people hear, see, and talk. It is also considered natural that children are born through sexual means.
These suggests although cloned children may behave and live ‘normally’ like children born through sexual reproduction, the cloned children may be considered as abnormal. In case they depict some characteristics that are opposed to the traits of majority of the children born normally, then such characteristics are likely to be normalised and considered as associated with the manner in which they were produced. Supposing, for instance, cloned children turn out to be consistent smokers.
Considering that the traits of the children would be passed to the offspring, assuming that paradigms of genetics apply to this behaviour, then any child who people are unsure of how he or she was produced would be considered either cloned or born of a cloned parent even if it may not be the case. This reinforces the paradigms of attribution theory in studying normalcy and abnormality.
Although cloning is developed to ensure that people considered disabled in effect that they cannot get children by sharing their own genetic makeup transcends from the classification of infertile population and fertile population, and thus the cloning process in effect produces other bodily mainstreams amplifying the traditional perceptions of (ab) normality and dis(ability).
Zhou argues, “Babies born through these technologies could face many nightmares after birth, such as handicaps, deformation, premature aging, ethical and moral issues, and unimaginable psychological pressure” (Par.3). The deformations and handicaps likely to be present in the cloned babies take people back to the traditional interpretations of (ab) normality and (dis) ability as constituting biological inferiority.
The psychological perceptions of people on the capacity of cloned babies to measure up to understandings of normal people make the codification of disability a “defective state of society, which disadvantages disabled persons” (Silvers 209) to suffer even further criticism.
Cloned babies are considered as a product of human design meant to satisfy the will of people (Eisenberg 473). Are they then normal or abnormal human beings? The debate here is that a certain way of conception and reproduction is considered as natural and hence normal way of creating life. What if cloning was the natural way of reproductions.
A quick response to this query is that the method would become normalised so that sexual reproduction fits precisely the definition of abnormal way of reproduction. In this sense “the very term that permeates our contemporarily life-the normal-is a configuration that arises in a particular historical moment” (Davis 49). By considering the debate surrounding cloning, the question posed in the lectures on what exactly normalcy is remains as a dilemma.
Normalcy is perhaps well interpreted to mean conformance to what people believe as natural so that all non-conformances are considered abnormal and unnatural. Hence, since cloning is not the natural way of reproduction in human beings, it fails to conform to norm even if the babies born of it exhibit all traits possessed by ‘normal’ babies.
The main query that arises here is what is so wrong with choosing between cloning and going through the process of sexual production if the results are the same? Does the continued pursuit of concepts of normality and abnormality limit the choice and freedom of choice available to people in matters of reproduction?
Cloning presents a theoretical alternative for helping people to procreate as a cure for infertility, which is considered unnatural. It implies that gays, lesbians, or even people who do not have partners will have an alternative for reproducing.
While these arguments are incredibly convincing on why cloning should be incorporated as one of the choices that partners can have at their disposal to resolve their infertility problems, cloning does not resolve the social coupled with environmental factors causing infertility and its related stigma. Considering the perception of normality and abnormality, cloning may introduce abnormalities such as gay or lesbian partners having the ability to procreate.
Several interrogatives arise on what people actually consider as disability or ability and normality or abnormality. With reference to a story published in the Daily Mail Online by Hanlon, this paper argues that these concepts are dependent on what people consider as natural and unnatural. Any trait possessed by an individual perceived as unnatural is treated as a disability and abnormal.
Davis, Lennard. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body, London: Verso, 1995. Print.
Eisenberg, Leon. “Would Cloned Humans Really Be Like Sheep?” New England Journal of Medicine 340:6 (1999): 471-475. Print.
Hanlon, Michael. World’s First GM Babies Born, 2013. Web. <https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-43767/Worlds-GM-babies-born.html>.
Leifer, Richard. “A critique of medical coercive psychiatry and an invitation to dialogue.” Ethical Human Sciences and Services 3.3 (2001):161-173. Print.
Silvers, Anita. “(In) Equality, (Ab) Normality, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Journal of Medical Philosophy 21.2 (1996): 209-224. Print.
Sullivan, Nikki 2013, “Changing bodies, changing selves: lecture 2: Ab/normalcy and Dis/ability”, Week 2 Lecture.
Zhou, Xin. Human cloning is a violation of human ethics and morality, 2012. Web. <http://www.pureinsight.org/node/1373>.