In science fiction stories, the same elements are often found. Tales of robots or aliens, societies in space or underground, and travel through time and space are often encountered. Science fiction, as is appropriate, often deals with advances in science and technology, some of which have begun to move into the realm of nonfiction.
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Human cloning is one of these advancing sciences that is becoming more and more likely. Cloning is the exact replication of an animal or person using that organism’s DNA, whether for the purpose of reproduction, research, or medical treatment. Human cloning, while a fascinating subject in the world of science fiction and a potentially exciting development in the existing scientific community, carries with it various ethical discussions. The various aspects of human cloning, including the fate of the embryo, the purpose of conception, the future of the clone, and compliance with God’s plan,
There are two main types of human cloning: reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. Reproductive cloning is the cloning of a human being solely for the purpose of reproduction. Therapeutic cloning is the cloning of a human being in order to harvest the stem cells from the embryo. These two variations are very similar in how they are begun, and mainly differ in the fate of the embryo.
Both main types of cloning begin in the same way. One of the most common methods of cloning is somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT. In SCNT, the chromosomes are removed from an egg to create an enucleated egg. A somatic cell is then taken from the donor to be cloned, and its nucleus is placed into the egg in the place of the old nucleus. The egg is then stimulated in order to promote cell division. This forms a blastocyst which is placed into the uterus to implant and develop. If all goes well, the blastocyst will then mature into an embryo. (Aspects) This maturation into an embryo is the fork in the road where the two main types of cloning begin to separate.
The main difference here is in what happens to the embryo. In reproductive cloning, the embryo is allowed to develop, mature into a fetus, and eventually be born. Reproductive cloning would, obviously, be done for reproductive purposes. In therapeutic cloning, stem cells are harvested from the embryo, destroying it. These stem cells are then used for various types of research or medical procedures. Therapeutic cloning would be done in order to help or heal other people or animals. For these embryos, their future is hinged upon the purpose they were conceived for.
In therapeutic cloning, the embryo is ultimately destroyed by the process of harvesting stem cells. While this may not seem like an issue to some, believing that the embryo is not a person at this early stage, there is logical support that it is, in fact, a living human being with a soul. Some believe that the Supreme Court statement of viability made in Roe v. Wade holds true. This is a statement that the point at which the fetus gains personhood is the same as the point at which the fetus possesses the capability to live outside the womb on its own. The point of viability is not universal, however. In differing locations where the medical technologies may vary, the point of viability will adjust according to the circumstances. Thus viability is not so much a measurement of personhood as a measurement of location and dependency, and so the argument falls apart. Another popular ‘beginning of personhood’ is the point at which the fetus’s brain begins to function. However, while the brain usually begins to function at about forty-five days gestation, the fact remains that the embryo possesses all the capacities for full brain activity from the point of conception. While these critical moments of personhood are popularly believed, they do not hold up under a solid argument.
There are various other proposed decisive moments of personhood, but they all have similar problems. There is the point at which the embryo can experience sensations, but the experience of harm does not nullify the reality of harm. There is the first sensed movement of the fetus, but the existence of a person does not depend on others’ awareness of it. Birth is also a moment at which some prefer to confer personhood, but this is also simply a matter of location. Finally, implantation is a proposed decisive moment. This is the point at which the embryo produces hormones that establish its presence in the womb. Similar to the argument against the decisive moment of quickening, personhood does not depend upon others’ awareness. The most reasonable moment of personhood seems to be the moment of conception, as the development of a human does not have a break that affects the fetus’ personhood. (Moral) In addition, due to the issues with the various arguments for the later moments of personhood, the surest option would be the earliest.
If we accept the moment of conception as the defining moment of personhood, the problem arises that therapeutic cloning requires the destroying of a person. Ending the life of an innocent embryo at any stage in gestation would be the same as ending the life of an innocent human at any point in their life. This is clearly wrong, as the murder of another human is a crime. Therapeutic cloning requires the termination of the embryo and is thus the murder of an innocent human being, and a crime.
Apart from the killing of an innocent human being, the question is raised of the purpose for therapeutic cloning and its effect on how embryos are valued. Therapeutic cloning is carried out in order to harvest stem cells from the cloned embryo. These stem cells can be used to engineer replacement cells, tissues, and organs for the nucleus donor. (Sourcebook) While this can be seen as a very useful practice, the issue remains of the personhood of the embryo. In therapeutic cloning, a human is produced solely to be killed and used for the benefit of another human. This places a value on the life of the embryo and causes it to be seen more as a commodity. Eventually, embryonic stem cell production could become an industry, and one that would produce and destroy tens and hundreds of human lives on a daily basis. The effects of therapeutic cloning are very destructive, though they are disguised by the outward medical benefits.
In regard to an embryonic stem cell industry, the outcome is dependent on society. A profitable industry need not ever come into existence. Perhaps therapeutic cloning would only become an extreme measure in life-threatening medical cases. The fact remains, however, that one human is being killed for another. Upon examination, this scenario is analogous to the famous trolley problem. If a trolley was running down a track, out of control, about to hit and kill three people, would you pull a lever in order to divert the trolley to hit and kill only one person? How about as a surgeon? If you had five patients who would all die without organ transplants and one perfectly healthy person with functioning organs, would you kill the healthy person in order to save the five patients? The harvesting of stem cells from one embryo in order to benefit others is one such problem. The idea of a stem cell industry should be examined carefully from every angle.
Reproductive cloning, on the other hand, may present as harmless at first glance. In reproductive cloning, the embryo is allowed to grow and develop and ideally results in a healthy baby. As it does not involve the purposeful destruction of the embryo, it appears to be beneficial to all parties involved. Once the facts are considered, however, various problems come to light. In addition, the prospect of a child who is a genetic duplicate of a preexisting human raises various ethical debates about the clone’s role in society. While reproductive cloning does not purposefully harm the embryo physically, it can prove detrimental in other ways.
As evidenced by the cloning of Dolly the sheep, cloning has many risks associated with it. In February 1997, after 276 failed attempts, a lamb was successfully cloned from a six-year-old Finn Dorset ewe. This lamb was given the name Dolly. Dolly only lived eight years, until she had to be put down due to a virus-induced lung tumor. While this infection was not believed to have any relation to Dolly’s status of clone, she is also believed to have developed arthritis at a remarkably young age due to the age of the donor cells. In addition, many other cloned animals have died before or soon after birth or have been born with various deformities. (Biotechnology) The risks of death and malformation are not ones to be taken lightly, especially in human cloning.
Whether or not the harm is purposeful, it is hard to avoid the fact that many embryos are harmed or destroyed by this process of reproductive cloning. In Meng’s 1997 experiment, only two out of fifty-three blastocysts survived until birth. (Aspects) With this knowledge, how can it be ethical to continue to clone embryos? Once the harm being done becomes apparent, it becomes purposeful, in a disconnected way. The benefits must be weighed carefully against the losses when it comes to the destruction of human life, even if it is not a desired or planned outcome.
Another main issue with reproductive cloning is that of the complicated relationships produced by the production of a clone. In the process of reproductive cloning, the resulting embryo is genetically identical to the donor. This presents a unique situation in regard to the relationship between the donor and the clone. Because a genetic parent is someone who donates genetic material, the donor is the clone’s genetic mother or father. But because the clone and the donor share the exact same genetic material, they are identical twins. (Eden) Depending on the age of both the donor and the clone, the societal relationship may end up being that of parent-child, siblings, or something completely different. This unconventional relationship could have various negative repercussions in society and possibly suffer as a result. The future relationships of the clone should be carefully considered before this option is entertained.
In addition, there is the element of comparison between the donor and the clone. Regardless of age, the clone and the donor will always be compared to each other, both in accomplishments and in failures. While this element may not be harmful in and of itself, the way it is handled can have a great impact on the happiness and self-image of either the clone or the donor. This is similar to the comparison between identical twins, but there is a greater danger of emotional harm when the donor has previously acquired the wisdom needed to get them to where they currently are. In addition, it must not be assumed that every donor will handle this element of comparison in a mature and appropriate way. The aspect of competition can also be the beginning to mistreatment. If the donor perceives the clone to be surpassing him or her in a particular aspect, the motivation can arise to neglect the clone in certain areas. As a result, the clone may be harmed or ignored, or denied facilities that would be extremely beneficial to them. While some may believe that society would eventually adapt to the donor-clone relationship and treat both parties appropriately, adaptation will not be achieved in an instant. Along the way, it is inevitable that relationships would suffer and the people involved would also suffer physical or emotional harm. The element of comparison is not altogether healthy, and it can have a detrimental effect on both the clone and the donor.
After having considered the moral side of the issue, it is necessary to consider the various points of religious contention. The primary theological debate when it comes to cloning, specifically reproductive cloning, is the question, Are we playing God? Nancy Duff suggests that to play God is to attempt to usurp God’s place by replacing his creation with human manufacture. (Beyond) This question has many different aspects, all of which are certainly worth debating.
The first element of discussion considers God’s methods. Cloning is not the method of reproduction that God created. In Leviticus 18, God specifically instructs us not to marry close blood relatives. Who is a closer blood relative than yourself? God intended for a man and a woman with two different sets of DNA to come together in order to create a child. This also has a bearing on God’s construction of the family unit. When a man and a woman get married and have children, a family is formed. God intended for children to be raised by two parents, not one. With reproductive cloning, single people would clone themselves and raise that clone as their own child. This is not a wholly beneficial position for the cloned child, as the lack of a second, different parent can have a detrimental effect on the child. The lack of a concrete family unit can have adverse effects on society, as well. There is an observed correlation between faulty family structure and the rise of criminal activity. (Human) Ideally, God’s method of multiplying the human race provides children with two different parents, equipped and prepared to raise their children together.
The other matter has to do with the spiritual life of a clone. When a human is created by God, it is created in His image and supplied with a soul. Does God separately bestow a soul upon each embryo as it is conceived, or does the clone simply gain its spiritual identity from the donor? Would God give a soul to a cloned embryo, one that He did not create? The Bible does not address this issue, and so we cannot know for sure if a clone would have a soul. (Human) This presents a choice to those making the choice to clone a human. If you were out hunting in the woods with a friend and lost sight of them, would you shoot at a rustling in the bushes? Not if you stopped to think, for that very rustling may be your wayward companion. Similarly, the creation of a human without the knowledge of its spiritual future is a very risky matter.
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