The ever-expanding world of genetics has caused a ripple in scientific ethics across the globe. What has been made possible now was not fathomable even 10 years ago. As science continues to advance and improve the quality of our lives there are rising ethical concerns regarding where the ethical boundary lies. From the decision to change a child’s eye color and appearance to altering their risk for a deadly disease, new concerns are being raised about the use and practice of genetic modification. One particular area of concern is the growing field of cloning. Cloning could have many purposes in today’s society such as reproductive contexts and its use in biomedical studies. For some methods, there are strong moral objections raised by ethicists and scientists in the field. From claiming inhumane treatment to the undermining of religious values, cloning has become a hot topic. The validity of the advantages and disadvantages associated with cloning can only be understood through its history, by professionals, and by those who have access to it.
The ethics of the use of cloning is heavily contested amongst today’s top scientists and ethicists. Biomedical studies were first done in mammals in 1996 with Dolly the sheep at the Roslin Institute in Scotland, and immediately, questions regarding the ethical implications of the procedure were raised. (Häyry, 2018a) With the introduction of this new field of science, then referred to as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) the world now had to create new precedents for trials people never would have thought would exist.
In 1997 the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) banned cloning and in the years following at least 30 countries did the same. Rather instantaneously, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission started researching the ethical implications of cloning and it was made illegal to use federal funds for human cloning. (Kass et al., 1998) While cloning remains out of reach for most of America, the discourse surrounding the use and participation of cloning can affect us all in the future. Is it unethical for one to clone themselves and what would it mean to have clones present in our society? Who should be able to clone and how will it be regulated?
Approximately 11% of women and 9% of men are infertile in America. (How Common Is Infertility? n.d.) When considering couples who are in a same-sex marriage, the rise of a population who may benefit from cloning emerges. Excluding the possibility of deformities, the arguments against cloning arose from what the Christian church regarded as a threat. Paul Ramsey, an important protestant theologian, saw cloning as having a detrimental impact on the values of morality and procreation. (Häyry, 2018b) His belief arose from the perception that proper procreation came from a male and female coupling. On a different note, Joseph Fletcher, also a protestant theologian, believed that cloning would provide more promise for the future of mankind. He argued that cloning would eliminate the game of chance when it comes to potential genes and would provide a carefully controlled environment to ensure the health of all individuals. (Häyry, 2018b) Much of the debate surrounding cloning resides in the potential it could have in human reproduction. Conservative American ethicist, Leon Kass argued that one of the issues surrounding cloning is the unequal treatment that would be presented to the offspring and the possible resurgence of eugenics. (“The Ethics of Human Cloning,” n.d.) Kass claims the act of cloning for reproduction destroys the genetic blend and thus the responsibility and attachment that both parents would feel. For example, he theorizes that in the event of divorce the parent that served as the clone’s model would be more emotionally connected than the other partner and would cause tension between the parents. In congruence with Kass, social critic James Wilson posits that cloning must be limited as “we do not want families planning to have a movie star, basketball player, or high-energy physicist as an offspring”(“The Ethics of Human Cloning,” n.d.)
More commonly referred to as asexual reproduction, there are examples of cloning throughout the animal kingdom. For example, the marmorkreb is a marbled crayfish that produces an egg that develops without fertilization in a process called parthenogenesis. (“10 Amazing Animals That Clone Themselves,” 2016) While cloning can occur in nature, artificial cloning is much more relevant to our society. The first hybrid human clone was created in 1998 by Advanced Cell Technology. Today somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is bringing new potential to the field of stem cell therapy. Termed therapeutic cloning, it is used as a means to grow cell cultures for human research. Cells produced by a clone in its embryonic form still have the potential to differentiate into any kind of cell which can be extremely beneficial in the field of regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy. However, the process of extracting the cells from the embryo is destructive and effectively makes it inactive. (Nabavizadeh et al., 2016) The differing beliefs regarding the beginning of life are often what is the source of contention between those and therapeutic cloning. Those who believe life begins at conception would regard the use of embryos as unethical and inhumane while others who may believe life is not till birth would think differently.
Molecular cloning differs from reproductive and therapeutic in a few ways. Also known as DNA cloning, gene cloning is used to create multiple copies of segments of DNA or genes. This cloning is different from reproductive and therapeutic because reproductive aims to create an entirely new copy of an animal while therapeutic is used for stem cell production. DNA cloning is more commonly seen in the biomedical fields and by those who work with genetic work. It is extremely helpful when looking at a DNA molecule, to make multiple copies of a gene or protein to work with. Usually, gene cloning begins with a DNA library and the use of a cloning vector to move the desired DNA fragment into a bacterial cell, where scientists utilize the cell’s replication machinery. (Alberts et al., 2002) Completely legal and often used, molecular cloning is seen as having the most potential to be beneficial to society
Cloning is already an integral part of society in ways that may not be immediately recognizable. In the agricultural industry, cloning is referred to as biological copying and is often used to replicate cattle and further propagate the desirable traits of an individual. Leaving the process of natural reproduction can be tedious and may not produce the results that are desired for the industry, whereas cloning livestock will produce the exact copy of the animal that is desired. Cloned livestock has been proven by the FDA to be just as safe as food from naturally reproduced farm animals. (Medicine, 2021) The food and drug administration (FDA) conducted studies that revealed that there was no way to distinguish a traditionally bred animal from a cloned animal, both physically and by their animals’ products.
Other uses of cloning are involved in analyzing the organisms of the past. The ability to use DNA to clone is also being considered as a way to bring back extinct species. (Masci, n.d.) Newly extinct species with fresh tissue samples or a solid genetic sample could be brought back and be given another chance at survival. If perfected, reintroducing extinct species could help flourish the Earth.
As aforementioned the arguments against cloning take a much more moral approach than that of the pros. Negative implications with cloning reside primarily in reproductive cloning. Clones created for reproduction and that have the intent of aging to maturity have been found to have some disorders. The process of cloning can be long and if not done properly or within the proper bounds can cause serious errors in the embryo resulting in an even worse outcome than what might have been sought to be avoided. In the case of Dolly the sheep, Dolly demonstrated premature aging throughout her life and ultimately developed a crippling lung disease that eventually led to her death. (Dolly the Cloned Sheep at 20: How It Happened | Time, n.d.) In other instances, clones have been shown to have brain abnormalities, immune system failure, and other development issues. Most ethicists agree that it was unethical to create a clone knowing they have an increased risk of complications. Many of the concerns regarding cloning are due to its unsafe or unethical methods currently and negate the possibility for the science to have a chance.
Where Is It Legal Now
In the United States, there is currently no federal regulation on reproductive human cloning. Some states have laws that ban the complete use of stem cell testing while others completely lack structure regarding the practice. In 2003, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) investigated the ethical and legal issues associated with cloning. Their findings indicated that it was obtrusive to both accounts based on the procedure being unreliable and the possibility of it negatively impacting society’s perception of itself. (H. Rept. 108-18 – HUMAN CLONING PROHIBITION ACT OF 2003, n.d.) Regardless of this verdict, there is nothing to stop private cooperation or private party from creating a clone. Naturally, this would leave cloning only accessible to those of the upper class. The privatization of cloning could leave more adverse effects on society without proper federal regulation and limit access to common America. Does the greater question lie within who should have access to cloning? In some states across America, an individual’s DNA is not even considered private property but is rather respected in the context of genetic privacy. (News, n.d.) While this initial consideration appears to be well, it calls to question what it means in the context of individual liberty with DNA. Who can decide to have a clone or who is to say that that is unethical and should not be allowed? As of now the FDA has claimed to have legal jurisdiction over the use of cloning but has allowed most of the decisions regarding the practice to be left to the states. States such as Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Michigan, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Virginia have all passed legislation to ban human cloning for all purposes. (The Law and Human Cloning | Knobbe Martens, n.d.)
It can be difficult to decide the true answer to the dilemma of all aspects of cloning. It can be very beneficial for couples who cannot have their children but for some, it can also be interfering with God’s plan. As much as new science is, cloning is a topic that is difficult to maneuver, and making laws about it may step on some toes. However, cloning can be very influential in the future as the practice continues to grow. With the advancement of knowledge in the area, the public perception may change to view it as more favorable. As scientists perfect the way to create clones, the future of medicine and society will be heavily impacted. Though reproductive cloning may be in the distant future, it will be important to allow equal access to everyone. Some scientists doubt the need to clone a human at all and feel that there is “[no] great value or reason for cloning humans.” Ultimately, the ethical nature of the subject will always be up to question and always debated; however, the perception of bodily autonomy will give way to what society believes to be acceptable to allow cloning to make an influential impact on our lives.
The implications of having reproductive clones would have to give rise to a whole new set of laws and moral issues. Who would decide what rights clones get and what would their quality of life look like? Would they need a special form of identification that indicates they are a clone? All questions regarding how the clones will fit into modern society are difficult to answer. Though this is not the first scientific breakthrough to cause a disturbance it will be more influential as time goes on and the issue will not go away. Science will continuously be improved upon and will have the potential to improve lives, it is only up to the public who will have access to this technology.
Alberts, B., Johnson, A., Lewis, J., Raff, M., Roberts, K., & Walter, P. (2002). Isolating, Cloning, and Sequencing DNA. Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th Edition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26837/
Masci, D. (n.d.). 20 years after Dolly the sheep’s debut, Americans remain skeptical of cloning. Pew Research Center. Retrieved October 2, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/22/20-years-after-dolly-the-sheeps-debut-americans-remain-skeptical-of-cloning/
Nabavizadeh, S. L., Mehrabani, D., Vahedi, Z., & Manafi, F. (2016). Cloning: A Review on Bioethics, Legal, Jurisprudence and Regenerative Issues in Iran. World Journal of Plastic Surgery, 5(3), 213–225.