Ethics of Human Cloning in 1971, Nobel Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Ethics of Human Cloning

In 1971, Nobel Prize winning-scientist James Watson wrote an article warning about the growing possibility of a "clonal man." Because of both the moral and social dangers cloning posed to humankind, Watson called for a worldwide ban on any research leading to cloning technology (Watson 8).

Until then, cloning had been largely relegated to the realm of science fiction. Scientific research concerning cloning and in vitro fertilization was obtuse and technical, and hardly written about in the news. Watson, however, was a highly-respected scientist, a Harvard professor famous for his discovery of the double helix structure of the DNA. The article he wrote sparked an intense debate over cloning, a debate that was renewed with the 1996 birth of Dolly the lamb, the first cloned mammal.

The argument no longer centers on whether cloning is possible, but on whether cloning is ethical. This paper examines the ethical arguments of those who advocate the use of cloning technology, in the light of Ronald Dworkin's ethical writings on "the sanctity of life" and John Rawls' "theory of justice."

In the conclusion, this paper argues that because the present state cloning technology violates the intrinsic value of human life, researches involving cloning should be banned.


The first step in current cloning technology is removing the nucleus of an egg cell. This enucleated egg then receives transplanted chromosomes harvested from a donor cell. With the new nucleus, the egg behaves as if it has been fertilized. If the transplant is successful, the egg cells begin to divide. This "fertilized" egg is then implanted as an embryo into a womb, for a normal gestation (McGee 7-8).

This was the technique that resulted in Dolly, who was cloned from the cell of an adult sheep. Though human DNA is much more complex, the technique could conceivably be the basis for cloning humans. Many experts believe that a human could be successfully cloned within the next few decades.

Arguments for Human Cloning

For its proponents, cloning technology represents unprecedented opportunities to cure a myriad of social ills. They cite the possibilities for curing diseases, helping infertile parents and same-sex couples and providing organs for transplant. This section examines these arguments in detail.

Medical Arguments

For writer Ronald Bailey, cloning technology is the foundation for "research that could find cures for cancer, genetic diseases...damaged hearts, livers, and brains" (75). Indeed, physicians and scientists are now using a technique called "somatic cell nuclear transfer," which creates stem cells, the embryonic cells that could be grown into skin, nerve cells, hearts and other necessary organs (Bailey 76).

Cloning technology could represent a breakthrough in the treatment of leukemia, one of the more formidable forms of cancer. Current leukemia treatment relies on bone marrow transplants that must come from a closely-matching donor. Since perfect genetic matches are rare, many leukemia patients die before they can find appropriate donors.

However, the same technology that resets the DNA of an enucleated egg cell can be applied to this case. This time, a skin cell nucleus can be taken from the patient and "programmed" to grow into bone marrow. This process will eliminate a long wait to find a matching donor and also do away with possibilities of rejection (Bailey 76).

Similarly, cells can be "programmed" to grow into organs and tissues. A diabetic, for example, can grow a new pancreas that produces adequate insulin. The cells could also be used to grow or repair tissues that have been destroyed or damaged, either through illness or accidents (Bailey 76-77).

This technology, however, is in its infancy. Researchers still need to experiment further with human eggs to learn how to "reset" and "reprogram" these cells properly.

They could also lead to a discovery of why cancer cells divide uncontrollably. The current attempts to block such research will result in the delays of new treatment. As a result, Bailey charges that people who may otherwise have been saved will die unnecessarily (Bailey 77).

Social Needs

Though still in its infancy, cloning technology represents a new way of reproduction, offering hope for many couples that could not otherwise have children of their own.

Gregory E. Pence, an ethicist and professor of philosophy, cites the hypothetical case of Sarah and Abe Shapiro, a Jewish couple with a four-year-old son named Michael. Abe was killed in a car accident and Michael was declared brain dead, although he was still in a coma. Since pregnancy with Michael had rendered Sarah infertile, she believes she wanted to have one of her eggs enucleated and reinserted with Michael's DNA. In this way, Sarah believes she ensures the continuation of both Michael and Abe's lineage (Pence 91).

In theory, such technology is not a long way off. Cloning technology thus offers another method of reproductive technology for people who want to have children.

Aside from people like Sara and infertile couples, this technology could be a boon for the growing number of same-sex couples who want are either barred from adopting children, or who want to raise genetic children of their own. Though these children will be born through cloning technology, they will be "human being(s) with all of the rights and responsibilities of any other human being" (Bailey 78).

Cloning technology also carries the possibility of making changes to the genomes of embryos. This represents a significant development for parents who are carriers of genetic diseases and risk passing these illnesses on to their offspring. Through cloning, parents could later have the DNA of their embryos repaired. It is thus possible that the next generation of children will not have to worry about illnesses like PKU, cystic fibrosis and Tay-Sachs Disease (Bailey 79).

Moral Arguments

On the matter of cloning, moral arguments usually involve arguments against this technology. For ethicist Gregory Pence, however, it is the attempts to ban cloning that are immoral and unethical.

Following John Stuart Mill's arguments in On Liberty, Pence argues that the "tyranny of the majority" should never be allowed to impose its beliefs on a "dissenting minority." The rule-of-thumb in deciding such matters is the "harm principle." Individuals should be free to commit private acts as long as these acts do not harm other people (Pence 92).

Based on this proposition, Pence argues that cloning is a private activity and as such, should be largely-free from state regulation. Pence criticizes proponents of a ban on cloning for "assum (ing) the worst possible motives in parents" (95). By formulating the hypothetical case of Sarah, Pence illustrates his belief that most people or parents who will take advantage of cloning technology would not do so simply to create "a little slave-child to walk the dog and clean the kitty litter" (96).

Bailey's arguments for the potential medical benefits of cloning technology give rise to another moral argument - the good of the majority. In this utilitarian argument, the needs of the greater segment of society prevail over the needs of the few. Cloning represents potential life-saving treatment for millions of people. Thus, attempts to ban cloning research are immoral and unethical, because such regulations will infringe on the rights of millions of people to life and to good health.

In conclusion, proponents of cloning technology base their arguments on three main areas. The first arguments are medical - cloning represents the potential treatment for a vast number of illnesses. Second, cloning will help fulfill the basic human need for family, for people who are otherwise proscribed from having children of their own.

Finally, attempts to regulate cloning are moral and unethical, because they infringe on individual personal liberties and put the lives of millions at risk.

Arguments Against Human Cloning

For many people, however, the technology of cloning raises the specter of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, a dystopia where clones were created by the state. Though such fears may be far-fetched, people who argue for a ban on cloning research cite several other arguments regarding the dangers of this technology.

A few days after the birth of Dolly was reported, then President Clinton asked the 15 member National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) to hold hearing and formulate the government's policy on cloning. Following the lead of most other European countries, the NBAC concluded its report by calling for a moratorium on federal funding for cloning research.

Potential Medical Problems large part of the NBAC's argument lay in the potential physical harms of somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning. The NBAC pointed to a "universal concern regarding the current safety of attempting to use this technique on human beings" (48). Since there is no compelling case as yet for creating a child in this manner, the use of cloning technology thus represents a violation of the Hippocratic Oath to "first do no harm" (cited in NBAC 48).

Furthermore, while most people know that Dolly was created through cloning, most people do not know that she was the only successful attempt out of 277 tries, a very high failure rate.

Attempting this technology…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Annas, George. "Scientific Discoveries and Cloning: Challenges for Public Policy." Flesh of My Flesh: The Ethics of Cloning Humans. Gregory E. Pence, ed. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998.

Bailey, Ronald. "Cloning is Ethical." Ethics. Brenda Stalcup, ed. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2000.

Garcia, Jorge L.A. "Cloning Humans is Not Ethical." The Ethics of Genetic Engineering. Lisa Yount, ed. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002.

Kass, Leon. "The Wisdom of Repugnance." Flesh of My Flesh: The Ethics of Cloning Humans. Gregory E. Pence, ed. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998.

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