Human Reproductive Cloning

Human reproductive cloning has the potential to revolutionize medical and biological fields of study. Although in its current, infant form, it is still very difficult to successfully produce a clone, the majority never forming or being born with defects, it may someday be safe and successful. Assuming that cloning technology can be made safe and effective for human reproduction, and that certain interpretations of genetic determinism prove false, there do not appear to be any good religious, ethical, or practical arguments for banning human reproductive cloning.

The term “genetic determinism” has often been applied to different concepts by various individuals. A well-accepted concept in biology for which it has been applied is to the mapping of a single gene to a single phenotype. This often gets extended by opponents to cloning to claim that all physical and behavioural phenotypes are determined solely by genes. This is generally not accepted by those in medical and biological fields of study, but is often used as a straw man argument against cloning. While the first usage of “genetic determinism” is well-established through studies of hereditary diseases, the latter usage is not, and can be assumed to be false.

There are generally three types of arguments against cloning: religious, ethical, and practical arguments. Provided that the previously-mentioned assumptions are made (cloning is safe, and genetic determinism is false), most of these arguments are no longer applicable. For example, a common religious argument is that reproductive cloning removes the “mystery” of life in the more literal sense that we would be able to tell how the child will look and act as it grows up. This “mystery” will remain intact, however, if genetic determinism is false. There are also several practical arguments which employ current facts about the lack of safety and effectiveness in reproductive cloning. While these are currently good arguments, they would not be if cloning technology became successful and safe.

With respect to ethical concerns against safe human reproductive cloning, a commonly-used argument among opponents is that the idea just doesn’t sit well with them, that their gut feeling is that cloning is wrong, or that it is grotesque and offensive. They claim that ethical concerns such as this, which are difficult to put into words, express themselves through emotional responses. Their emotional response to cloning is compared to the repulsion they feel toward cannibalism, for example.

A reply to the argument given above would be that, just because a concept like cloning makes us uncomfortable doesn’t mean that it is wrong. Emotions and gut-feelings can often be influenced (in an almost Pavlovian way) by media, such as films or television, which depict the likes of Frankenstein’s monster. These emotions may also be founded on incorrect facts pushed by the media, such as believing in genetic determinism because a film depicts clones as identical in every way, as in Multiplicity (1996), The 6th Day (2000), and the more recent Star Wars films. It should also be noted that rituals like cannibalism, though repulsive to most developed societies, was and is still an accepted tradition in parts of the world. Because of the arbitrary nature of these emotions, w e shouldn’t let them become involved in this issue.

A religious argument against human reproductive cloning appeals to the belief that cloning interferes with God’s plans, that it goes against the proper way to produce offspring. One need only point out the various socially-accepted infertility treatments, such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF), as counterarguments to this belief in a proper method for producing offspring. Opponents may then claim that they are also against IVF, that God will choose how one’s life is to play out, and that one shouldn’t interfere. This would seem to spell the end for all medicine, however- something that opponents are unlikely to support.

A practical argument against human reproductive cloning claims that it would significantly alter the world demographic, and destroy our idea of a two parent family. In countries like India, where male offspring are preferred and female fetuses are commonly aborted, human cloning would allow families to choose to have only male children, skewing the population toward a larger male demographic. These arguments assume that cloning will be done on a large scale, something that isn’t likely to be seen for decades. It may actually be beneficial to population control to be able to choose the gender of your offspring, and in places where the wrong gender will be aborted, this will remove the need for abortions, which may be seen as a positive. Because large-scale cloning may one day become a reality, however, it will become important for society to talk about the issue and decide what restrictions on mass-cloning, if any, should be imposed by the government to prevent consequences seen as negative.

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