Did You Know?... in 1997, Dolly the sheep became the first mammal to be successfully cloned. The cloning required an astonishing 277 trials that produced only 29 embryos, among which only one birth survived.
The rapid advancements in science and technology over the last couple of decades has meant that mankind is exploring newer frontiers and challenging long-held beliefs and notions. One such field is cloning. Creating exact copies or cloning human beings has always fired the human imagination. This desire has manifested itself in various art and entertainment depicting cloned humans. The successful cloning of Dolly in 1997 further fueled talk about the possibility of human cloning. Over the years, cloning has come to mean an artificial and identical genetic copy of an existing life form.
To explain in a scientific way, cloning means replacing the egg nucleus of an organism with the donor's nucleus. This nucleus contains unique genes of the donor. The procedure involves removing the nucleus of a somatic cell and inserting it into an enucleated or unfertilized egg cell. Unlike natural reproduction, wherein the egg contains a combination of genetic material, this egg which grows into an embryo contains only the donor's gene.
Theoretically, this might seem fairly straightforward. However, a high failure rate along with prevalence of high deformity and disability rates in cloned animals, strongly suggests cloning might not be applicable to humans.
The Ethical Issues
Yes, cloning does have its share of advantages. Not only does cloning help homosexual and sterile couples to have biological offspring, but also helps in in-depth research, for example; in the case of motor neuron disease. Embryonic stem cells can be cloned to produce tissues or organs to replace or repair the damaged ones. Human cloning could allow parents who have lost a child a chance to redress their loss using the DNA of their deceased child.
On the flip side though, cloning presents us with certain issues like the kind of life a cloned individual will lead. Would he live like a unique individual or would he have to live like a genetic prisoner? Should parents choose the traits of a future child as is possible with cloning? These and other such issues present an ethical and moral dilemma for scientists and experts alike who see cloning as a potential danger to human identity. Here are some of the major ethical issues of cloning.
Religious Belief and Control
Cloning goes against the basic belief of certain religions that only God has created life and its various forms in nature. Humans cannot act as God. Even when genetically identical twins are born, their embryo splits spontaneously or randomly to give a new unique genetic combination. Cloning involves a controlled split of the embryo to produce a tailor-made genetic make up. Ethically, it is wrong for any human to have control over the genetic make up of any other individual. More so, the cloned individual would be generated for specific purposes. This in essence is wrong wherein the purpose of an individual's life should be more than just satisfying someone else's needs.
Relationships and Individuality
Cloning creates a new human, yet strips him off his individuality. A man, along with his clone can never be dignified as a single identity. The uniqueness attributed to humans from God might be at stake. The replication of an individual is a major blow to his most distinct feature - his identity. Another fact is that we are unsure how the cloned individual might react and behave with regards to his family and parents. Furthermore, if the cloned individual is cloned from his grandparents and not his parents, would he/she be considered a sibling? How would he/she react? How would the parents and family regard the cloned individual? When we are unsure about the implications or consequences of such situations, it is ethically wrong to subject any individual to such tests as fellow human beings.
Physicians and doctors have a moral obligation to ensure and translate the safety of any medical procedure to his/her patients. As of now, no one can guarantee that the child born due to cloning would be a healthy one. As indicated earlier, the high failure rate in cloning mammals and other species is completely unacceptable when it comes to cloning humans. Moreover, in case of a failed cloning attempt, putting down mammals or other species in itself is distressing. Translating the same in case of human clones is ethically and medically unjustifiable, as well as criminal.
Legal and Other Issues
Besides the above mentioned issues, there are other issues which may seem technical as of now, but can arise out of lack of knowledge or unforeseeable circumstances.
Altering Gene Pool
If cloning becomes widespread, the genetic diversity of humans will go down. This would result in the decrease in immunity of humans against diseases. Thus making humans susceptible to epidemics and unknown diseases. Some advocate human cloning as ethically unacceptable because it is seen as a threat to the entire human evolution. Though this issue is slightly hypothetical, it still can pose a potential threat to all humanity. Along with reducing generic diversity, there are risks of transmitting degenerative diseases from the donor human to the clone. Trans-genetic manipulation, where genetic material from one species is artificially inserted into another species, if applied to humans, would lead to transfer of diseases from other species. Thus, large-scale cloning might prove to be a serious blow to the entire human race in future.
Illegal Cloning and Clones
Cloning could have legal implications as well. A cloned child having multiple donors might complicate parental right issues as well as inheritance and marital eligibility issues. Another view held by many experts, suggests that there is a possibility of clones being developed without the concerned individual's consent. This will definitely create legal issues not to mention violation of medical as well as moral ethics. Many people are also concerned that clones would be produced with a specific need and purpose in mind and such cloned individuals would be traded or sold, amounting to human trafficking which is illegal.
At the other end of spectrum are some experts who are of the opinion that the embryo does not require any particular moral consideration. They say that, at the stage when an embryo is cloned, it is just a bunch of cells that contain DNA, which are not very different from the millions of skin cells that we shed everyday. The embryonic cells at that stage cannot be considered equivalent to a human being because it does not have thoughts, self-awareness, memory, awareness of its environment, sensory organs, internal organs, legs, arms, and so on. They think that the embryo attains human identity or individuality much later during gestation, perhaps at the point when the brain develops so that it becomes aware of itself.
In view of the highly debatable aspects about cloning and weighing in on the pros and cons of this process, UNESCO passed a non-binding United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning, in March 2005, which states: Practices which are contrary to human dignity, such as reproductive cloning of human beings, shall not be permitted. In the United States there are no federal laws that ban cloning completely, yet 13 states have banned reproductive cloning. Although many countries have banned cloning, many countries allow therapeutic cloning, a system in which the stem cells are extracted from the pre-embryo, with the intention of generating a whole organ or tissue, so that it can be transplanted back into the person who gave the DNA.
Since human cloning raises some serious concerns, it would be highly irresponsible to pursue this method, without giving it a serious thought. New issues are bound to crop up with advances in this field, and only time can decide its fate. Until the benefits are discussed by society to outweigh the harm, it would be inappropriate to participate in cloning of humans.