Genetic engineering and cloning have played important roles in agriculture for many generations. Bananas and seedless grapes, for example, are, quite literally, living genetic clones (Krock, 2001). Prior to the last decade of the 20th Century, human cloning was purely a subject of science fiction, but by the dawn of the 21st Century, researchers had already cloned several mammals successfully.
In 1978, medical science had progressed to the point of in vitro fertilization, producing Louise Brown, the first "test-tube baby," conceived in a laboratory and implanted into her mother's womb. By 1997, British researcher Ian Wimut implanted sheep embryos, cloned from the DNA nucleus in an adult sheep's mammary gland, into thirteen female sheep, one of whom became pregnant, eventually delivering a female yew, named "Dolly" (Krock, 2001). Three years later, scientists working at Advanced
Cell Technology in Massachusetts managed to impregnate a cow with an embryo cloned from a single frozen skin cell of a dead Southeast Asian ox called a guar. Noah, the world's first living interspecies clone was born alive, but died two days later from a common bacterial infection that is generally fatal to livestock infants (Soares, 2002).
The Clinton administration imposed legislative funding limits to ongoing cloning research in 1997, recommending absolute prohibition of research into human cloning, primarily out of the fear that scientists would eventually attempt to clone a complete human being. Many scientists believe that these research restrictions unnecessarily interfere with valuable scientific advances in the treatment of disease. According to them, the only justifiable issue for government prohibition is the premature attempt actual human cloning before the related technology is developed to the point that human cloning could be achieved in an ethically responsible and safe manner. In the meantime, cloning science may very well hold the key to the eventual elimination and treatment of a wide range of debilitating illnesses and the results of accidental trauma (Wheelwright, Mar/02).
Responsible scientists agree that the technology of genetic cloning is not sufficiently developed to attempt cloning a human being at any time in the immediate future. So far, even where mammalian embryos have been cloned successfully in laboratories, they invariably suffer from genetic mutations and fatal complications that make the idea of cloning a human being impossible at the current time. One irony of prohibiting cloning research is that it excludes reputable and responsible scientists from developing many other beneficial medical applications of cloning technology; meanwhile, unscrupulous and irresponsible scientific entrepreneurs may persist in their quest to clone person in pursuit of personal fame or fortune (Krock, 2001).
According to MIT biomedical researcher Rudolph Jaenisch, the federal prohibition of all human cloning under the Clinton administration was a "terrible decision," because it included cloning technology-based medical research along with research into the actual cloning of a human beings (Krock, 2001). Typically, a lack of understanding of new biomedical research issues leads to pointlessly harsh public response and support for excessive legislation. Modern fertility clinics, for example, now routinely employ advances in the science of in vitro fertilization to allow thousands of otherwise infertile couples to enjoy the pleasure of raising their own biological children. Prior to the successful birth of Louise Brown in 1978, opposition to in vitro fertilization (or so-called test tube babies") was as heated as is the modern debate over the ethical issues of human cloning (Ramsey, 1972).
Other concerns include the unethical use of cloning technology in a revival of the philosophy of Eugenics, originally inspired by the work of Charles Darwin toward the end of the 19th Century. In the period between the two world wars, the United States Supreme
Court actually upheld a Virginia mandatory sterilization statute and within three years, more than half the states had enacted laws requiring the involuntary sterilization of the mentally retarded, epileptics, criminals and other so-called "undesirables" (Kaku, 1997).
Critics of modern cloning science fear its corruption and implementation in conjunction with a resurgence of a modern Eugenics movement.
Beneficial Potential Applications:
The potential medical benefits of cloning-based technology will likely eliminate virtually all forms of genetic disease and offer unparalleled success in treatments of an incredible array of human illnesses such as Alzheimer's, Cystic Fibrosis, Diabetes,
Parkinson's Disease, Sickle Cell Anemia and Tay-Sachs Disease (Horgan, 1997).
Likewise, advances in embryonic stem cell research offers potential to cure traumatic spinal paralyses, such as that of actor Christopher Reeve, one of the nation's foremost activists in this area since his paralyzing injury in 1995. Similarly, former First Lady,
Nancy Reagan has recently reversed her former position against the development of stem cell and cloning research, in the aftermath of her husband's decade-long battle with Alzheimer's Disease.
In addition to offering cures for so many debilitating human diseases, cloning technology also represents an answer to the prayers of the many thousands of patients who die every year while waiting for suitable donor organs for life saving transplantation surgery. Without ever attempting to "clone" an actual person, scientists will eventually be able to take a single adult (or somatic) tissue cell from patients in desperate need of donor organs and by inserting it into embryonic stem cell nuclei, grow a replacement organ, such as a kidney or liver. Unlike donor organ transplants, these tissue auto-grafts completely eliminate any need for tissue matching, as well as the potential catastrophic complications of tissue rejection, simply because the new organs are developed from the recipients own genetic material (Kaku, 1997).
Opponents of developing any cloning technology have voiced their concerns and their fears of science fiction types of future scenarios, characterized by cloning experiments gone horribly wrong and horror film images of "takeovers" by hordes of cloned human beings. Princeton University molecular biologists points out that the uninformed neglect the actual reality that human "clones" already live among us, without any apparent problems: namely, identical twins (Krock, 2001).
The essential flaw in the reasoning of hard-core opponents to continuation of cloning-based technology is that the myriad wonderful and medically beneficial applications involve "cloning" only immature embryonic tissue, which is never developed beyond the point of being cultured genetic material in a petri dish. In any case, the ability to clone an entire human being is likely several years, if not decades away, owing to our current lack of understanding of various very complicated elements of crucial molecular processes that regulate gene expression in fetal development (Soares, 2002).
Until such time as biomedical scientists understand and master all of the complicated issues that make cloning human beings completely impossible to attempt in any ethically responsible manner for the time being, no researcher working within mainstream academia or medicine would ever make any attempt to do so. Even the most ambitious proponents of the genetic sciences support legislation to prohibit premature and irresponsible experimentation into human cloning (Krock, 2001). They are merely opposed to prohibitive legislation that restricts valuable medical research using cloning technology in the treatment of disease.
Eventually, scientists will likely develop the necessary understanding of the various molecular processes that preclude any responsible attempt to clone a human being, presently. Once all the biological principles and mechanisms are sufficiently understood to warrant human cloning, even this most extreme application of genetic engineering represents more beneficial uses than fearsome scenarios of human "clones" run amuck.
Speaking from personal experience, I had the tragic recent misfortune of losing my own beloved infant child at the age of two months. In the future, medical science will be able to offer parents who lose children to illness and accidental tragedy to clone their departed offspring by preserving only a minute tissue sample. Granted, nothing could ever entirely replace a lost child or completely heal the heart of any parent unfortunate enough to lose an infant child. On the other hand, being able to clone a lost child would go farther toward emotional healing than (even) raising healthy subsequent children.
Even where the issue is cloning human offspring in other circumstances besides the tragic loss of a child, in principle, there is nothing more dangerous or "unnatural" about doing so than in using the established and accepted modern techniques of in vitro fertilization (which once caused very similar fears and apprehension) for assisting infertile couples have their own biological children. Cloning would enable a single woman to give birth to her own biological child without the necessity of sperm banks and the mixing of her genes with those of an complete stranger (Krock, 2001).
Ultimately, one must remember that bioethics encompasses issues of human decisions and choices to implement scientific knowledge in ways that are beneficial rather than destructive to society and that mere knowledge by itself is never dangerous to human welfare. The relatively recent American history of Eugenics resulted in the completely unethical forced sterilization of thousands of unfortunate people deemed "undesirable" in the first half of the 20th Century, without any modern understanding of molecular biology.
Conversely, the potential of bioengineering and cloning science represent some of the most breathtaking…