The idea of human cloning has come out of science fiction into reality. And yet, while funds seem to be available and some scientists are eager to move ahead, with the excuse that cloning could solve many diseases and human shortcomings, cloning is far from ideal and therefore there is vehement opposition among lawmakers and scientists about the morality and ethics of cloning.
Sharon Begley’s article makes four major points: First, gene therapy is not only here, it is the wave of the future, especially for those who want something “special” that mere intercourse may not be able to provide; (2) Most scientists are opposed to human genetics, or cloning, but there are divisions within the scientific community; (3) some scientists are making an end-run around the opposition, using “tricks”; and (4) cloning, at least for the foreseeable future, is for the rich, the “haves”.
POINT ONE: SOONER OR LATER IT WILL HAPPEN ANYWAY
As Sharon Begley points out “It is only a matter of time…..Genetic engineers are preparing to cross what has long been an ethical Rubicon” (Begley 262). Yet, we know that some sort of cloning works. It produced Dolly in Scotland, and cattle in Japan and chickens in Italy. But, the Human Genome project, based only on reading Begley’s article, is far from reliable. Yet. Of course, the idea of cloning is appealing to many who are suffering debilitating or fatal diseases, expecting, or hoping, that the infusion of other cells can cure them or prolong their lives and make them less painful and more carefree. As Begley points out genes that literally self-destruct in a man’s body can rid him of prostate cancer. “The man, unlike his ancestors, will not die of the cancer. And…his sons will beat prostate cancer, too”. So there is hope. But, the problem is that it will come later, rather than sooner. Even over-zealous scientists predict that human genome projects will not succeed overnight.
My position: While there are always those daring people who want to fly untested planes, drive untested cars, and even volunteer for untested medications, the fact that MAYBE sometime in the future (and we’re not even sure how long into the future) the Human Genome project will be without error and will have a nearly 100% success rate, I am solidly against unauthorized, un-supervised and frivolous “races” to be the first to do human cloning successfully.
POINT TWO: FEAR AND SKEPTICISM OF SCIENTISTS
Given that there is no certainty of immediate success and that there could be catastrophic human disasters, many scientists are leery of a go-ahead at this time. For one thing, despite the eventual production of Dolly, the sheep, it took some 100 trials with failure before Dolly emerged healthy. Is the public willing to deal with human failures? The fact remains that many people think it is something that scientists…are going to use in the wrong way. The fears that even reputable scientists have discussed include the potential to create a vast army of identical clones, each produced to some pre-set specification. Thus, we are facing multiple dilemmas: the imperfect technology of cloning today which can (and does) cause abnormalities more often than not plus the ethical and moral question about “who is in charge” of “genetic engineering” and to what ultimate purpose.
Moreover, some scientists are afraid. Their fear is that human cloning is far from imperfect, and that errors in cloning could cause some severe mistakes creating monsters. The negative impact of cloning humans was forcefully provided by the head of the Roslin team that cloned Dolly, the sheep. At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Philadelphia in February, 1998, Dr. Ian Wilmut was one of the speakers. “When faced with the prospect of colleagues racing to bring forth a cloned human infant, he was appalled.”
(Zabludoff 3). He noted that, first of all, “the limits of current technology simply do not allow the attempt to get one successful birth; many babies would have to die in failed procedures”. It is such fear coupled with the urging of others to go ahead and do what will be an eventuality, anyway, that causes major concerns in the legal, scientific, and federal governments, here and in other countries.
My position: If scientists are doubtful and even afraid, what are we lay people supposed to think? Until there is a healthy consensus in the scientific community to proceed, I say STOP!
POINT THREE: “TRICKS’ ALREADY BEING USED BY SOME
Bagley states that some scientists are using “tricks” to circumvent the legality of cloning. “There may be ways, for instance, to design a baby’s genes without violating the principle of informed consent” (Bagley 263).
While Bagley’s article deals principally with engineering perfect babies (at a high financial cost) there are also other “tricks” inherent in the human genome project, using animal and tube research as excuses to go further.
My position: Boundaries must be established. Society has to draw a line in the sands of humanity and say: this far, and no farther. We have had enough of double-breasted turkeys, beefalo steaks, and the attempts to create life where no life has existed before. Yes, in vitro fertilization works, but this again is just a trick to allow society’s approval to move into full cloning.
POINT FOUR: IT’S ONLY THE RICH WHO CAN AFFORD IT
“Only society’s ‘haves’ will control their genetic traits” (Bagley 264). As with all new medications and scientific processes, it is the rich who can afford it and will therefore benefit first. Not only is this unfair (after all, disease, or genetic problems do not look at bank accounts before they strike), but the likelihood is that HMOs will deny any sort of genetic engineering since it is, to use their term, “experimental” and therefore not covered by their contracts with their memberships. Any society where the rich benefit, and the poor continue to suffer may well end up like Louis and Marie Antoinette, at the mercy of angry mobs.
POINT ONE: HOW LONG IS THE FUTURE AWAY FROM CLONING?
My response: Eventually, but not now. Yes, there are many who say that human cloning can cure disease, keep it from being passed on to our children. But, no one is sure how long it will take until the human cloning project is nearly perfect.
There is another concern I have: I know the movies have played it up from time to time: Some mad scientist cloning an army of perfect human specimens. Is that what our future holds? What’s to keep some frustrated scientist from going ahead and experimenting? The result could be Quasimodos by the hundreds. I remember reading in history books about the Nazis trying to create the “perfect” Aryan, not merely by killing of millions of “defectives, Jews, gypsies and others, but by force-breeding German blond Aryan women to create the “perfect” Aryan child. Yes, believe it or not, I think this could happen again.
There are already scientists who think they have found a way around moral, ethical, and even legal objections. The fact remains that we know all too little to approve human cloning. The Congress continues to press for legislation to ban federal funding of human cloning research. In other words, once stringent laws are formally passed, human cloning will be a crime. But there surely is a moral urgency to find ways of preventing our passing on disease or defects to our children. Everyone is in favor of that, so it seems. But, Bagley quotes Sheldon Krimsky of Tufts university: “‘We know where to start.’ The harder question is this:” do we know where to stop?”.
Bagley, Sharon: “Designer Babies” from Humans, Inc: Rethinking and Retailing Reproduction
Russo, Enzo: Genetic Engineering: Dreams and Nightmares, W.H. Freeman, 1995, p. 205
Zabludoff, Marc: “Fear and Longing” DISCOVER Magazine, M
 Bagley, Sharon: “Designer Babies” from Humans, Inc: Rethinking and Retailing Reproduction
 Begley, 262
 Zabludoff, Marc: “Fear and Longing” DISCOVER Magazine, May 1998, p. 3
 Bagley, 264