Should Human Cloning be Legalized?
The ability to reproduce human beings without sexual reproduction is no longer only an idea to be explored in sci-fi movies and books. After over forty years of research and development, human cloning is quickly becoming a reality. Cloning captured the publics attention when Scottish scientists startled the world in July of 1996 when they announced the birth of a sheep named Dolly. The scientists cloned Dolly from the nucleus of an adult mammary cell and a sheep egg. Ever since that miraculous event occurred, people have been pondering the possibility of cloning humans. What would a clone be like? The person and the clone of the person share the same genetic structure, which means the clone will look the exact same as the original. Their physical nature would be nearly identical but what about their personality? Many feel that human cloning should be illegal because it is a way for scientists to play god, but there are others who think cloning needs to be legalized to help save lives.
The extent to which human cloning should be restricted has been of major concern for legislators and researchers as well as for society as a whole. At what point does the development of a human embryo through asexual means become unethical? What consequences may arise as a result of cloning human embryos? Do these embryos have rights? We need to distinguish the difference between the cloning of cells and tissues from the cloning of human beings through somatic nuclear transplantation. The creation of policies that clearly define the terms of cloning to minimize loopholes and address the urgent need for a mechanism to regulate, rather than ban, human cloning for the purpose of research is imperative.
The closely related issue of stem-cell research complicates the politics of cloning. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that many scientists believe may someday cure many of our worst diseases and injuries. Stem cells can be manipulated and grown into any type of cell. Scientists hope they can use stem cells to treat various types of diseases. For example, stem cells could be used to create new heart cells to replace those damaged by a heart attack. While there has been some promising research on stem cells harvested from adults, most scientists say there is greater promise in embryonic cells and that cloned embryos may be a key resource in this effort. Until recently, this research was barred from receiving federal funding.
Many question why there is need to clone human embryos. There are many legitimate reasons for investigating cloning. Embryologists believe that the research could help improve the lives of further generations. Cancer research is possibly the most important reason for embryo cloning. Oncologists believe that embryonic study will advance the understanding of the rapid growth of cancer cells. Cancer cells develop at approximately the same phenomenal rate as the embryonic cells do. By researching the embryonic cell growth, scientists may be able to determine how to stop it, and consequently stop cancer growth in turn. Doctors hope that by being able to study the multiple embryos developed through cloning, they can determine what causes spontaneous abortions. Contraceptive specialists also believe that if they can determine how an embryo knows where to implant itself, then they can develop a contraceptive that would prevent embryos from implanting in the uterus (Watson 66). Cloning is just another tool that will make it possible for some infertile couples to have the biological child they could not otherwise have, and will enable some not-infertile parents to better satisfy their reproductive preferences as well (Bostrom 1).
Ethical concerns over human cloning play a very large role in hindering the adoption of various types of legislation. Anti-abortion organizations have entered the debate by voicing their opinions about human cloning and research. They claim that by allowing research to take place on human embryos, Congress would be giving approval for the destruction of life (Rover 351). Religious groups feel similarly in that cloning is taking the work of God into the hands of humans. Some feel that cloning would take away any individuality and autonomy that would normally be experienced by an individual conceived sexually. Objectification becomes a matter of concern because of the way in which the clone is produced or conceived (Robertson 120). To many this would be a devastating blow to their self-fulfillment. Cloning would deprive any human of their own perception of uniqueness.
The rapid development of the technology for cloning has led to moral debates around the world on whether or not to ban creating human clones. Since March 1997, committees in both the House and the Senate have heard testimony on the now very real possibility of human cloning. Nearly all who testified agreed that initial attempts would bring horrific results, including spontaneous abortions, deformed children and grave dangers to the women who carried the first clones. With the exception of a few fringe cloning advocates, there is near universal consensus that cloning human beings with the intention of bringing them to birth ought not to be tried
The question of legalizing cloning is entangled in the politics of abortion. Pro-life Republicans feel that embryos should be treated as human lives, while the pro-choice Democrats see them as collections of cells that only have moral status if pregnant women choose to give them one. With the advancement of clone technology three states: California, Rhode Island, and Michigan have already prohibited the cloning of humans. California and Rhode Island both have a 5-year moratorium that expires automatically unless extended. Michigan has passed a permanent ban on human cloning with criminal penalties, including 10 years in prison. “Everybody who thought it would proceed slowly and could be stopped was wrong (Shapiro 195).” Many feel that the politicians from the three states acted prematurely in that there was not proper research completed on human cloning. The stakes, interests and complexity of the new genetics transcend the long-simmering abortion standoff. Nevertheless, even if a ban on human cloning is achieved, it will remain precarious. Such controversial research is likely to go ahead in other countries, and if it is shown to be medically and economically successful, the floodgates of advocacy and protest from the biotech industry will be only that much more powerful.
Internationally there have been laws passed similar to the laws passed in the state legislations of California and Rhode Island. The State Duma, the lower house of Russian parliament has already proposed a bill, which would put a five-year ban on human cloning, and would prohibit imports or exports of clone human embryos. However, this bill would not prohibit the cloning of animals or other organism. Many lawmakers believe that this five-year ban, which was proposed in November 2001, on human would help take a balanced decision on social practicality as well as ethical acceptability of human cloning. At the same time, the bill that has been proposed by Russias State Duma would not close access to the development and mastering of new cloning technologies for medicine and veterinary sciences. Israel passed a similar law in 1998 to ban human cloning for the next five years to allow time for an advisory committee to examine the moral and social issues involved. In January 1998, the Council of Europes Nations signed an agreement prohibiting human cloning. The protocol drawn up commits the countries to introduce laws to prohibit any intervention seeking to create human beings genetically identical to another human being, whether living or dead. The countries involved in the signing of the bill were Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Moldova, Norway, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Macedonia and Turkey. However, it is important to understand that only 19 of the 40 member nations of the Council of Europe signed the agreement, and that two of Europe’s biggest countries, including Germany and the UK did not sign the agreement.
There now appears to be a race to see who can clone the first human. However, before that happens there are many questions that need to be answered. As for now, before scientists go any further with cloning, there should be more research done to answer those many questions and a lot more debates over the moral and ethical aspects of human cloning. The end of liberalism and conservatism, as we know them seems likely. There will be new coalitions, new divides. Politicians are populists. They tend to go with the flow of public opinion on things like human cloning which in turn is often swung by media debate. In the end, an America that often flees hard choices will have to make a very difficult one: between the new science, with its remarkable powers and unforeseen dangers, and with tradition with its humbling demands and veil-shrouded mysteries.
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