Ethical Issues In Human Cloning

Genetic engineering comes with its own set of risks and potential hazards. It is not only a sensitive issue in terms of its potential impact on human society, it also has several political and social repercussions, which we may have to take into account before we proceed. Every scientific tool is a double edged sword, and unless used carefull   Playing With Fire !? Ever seen a three year old child play with fire ?
Ethical Issues in Human Cloning
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While scientists have already achieved considerable success in dealing with cloning techniques, there are still too many unresolved knots in our understanding of its consequences. The question we need to ask is whether we are prepared enough to deal with the risks inherent in cloning humans. More importantly, do we understand those risks enough to make a judgment?


Playing With Fire !?

Ever seen a three year old child play with fire ?

Human cloning in the hands of present scientists is something comparable to a child playing with fire, primarily because of the fact that in spite of some spectacular successes,

we still know far less about it than we need to know before we could confidently stand and claim that we are sure what we are entering into.

Ignorance, and the risks of the unknown are the primary reasons behind the opposition to cloning, but there are also issues beyond them. Human cloning, has the potential to change the whole social and family fabric of the human society as we know it today, apart from converting reproduction as an industry and humans into products - issues that are bound to raise eyebrows and the question as to whether the results of our adventures are worth the risks involved.

Broadly speaking, the ethical issues can be divided into arguments for and against it. The opposition to cloning comes from the various kind of risks that are perceived, while arguments in favor tend to play down those risks.

Ethical Issues Leading to Opposition to Cloning

1. RISK TO THE HEALTH OF CLONED EMBRYO / CHILD: In spite of the somewhat spectacular success of cloning experiments in the last decade, it is still premature to say that human cloning is free from risk to the health of cloned individuals. Genetic mutation is a common phenomenon, and cloning cannot get rid of them. The process of cloning can also involve injuries to the genes and lead to significant health hazards in the newborn, an issue that is bound to have severe ethical connotations.

2. RISK TO THE PSYCHOLOGICAL HEALTH OF CLONED INDIVIDUAL: The society is likely to have an abnormal attitude towards the clones. It will be very difficult to allow them an atmosphere that does not pose psychological challenges on them. The clones may also face a differential treatment during their upbringing, and depending upon the circumstances of their cloning, they may face pressures very different from normal children.

3. RISK TO INDEPENDENCE & RIGHTS OF CLONE: A clone of a successful player may face the pressure of becoming equally successful in the same sport. Joel Feinburg calls this a 'denial of an open future', where the clone will be forced into a future that others think is fit for her, instead of allowing her to be master of her own destiny, as the basic right of every individual.

3. RISK TO SOCIAL & FAMILY FABRIC: Family is still the basic social unit of all human societies, and it is primarily based on male - female partnership leading to common parenthood and a bond with their offspring around which all human relationships are woven. If cloning becomes popular, the family, as we know it today, may disappear altogether. Instead, we may just have families of clones, with elder clones taking care of their younger siblings. The homogeneity of their genetic characteristics may redefine all existing human

loyalties and pose its own dynamics on our society with absolutely unimaginable consequences.

4. RISK OF CONVERSION OF REPRODUCTION TO AN INDUSTRY: The availability of an option by which any number of individuals can be cloned is bound to invite commercial players in to using it as an opportunity for profit. Cloning of a Miss World or a supermodel in a highly sophisticated factory, in hundreds, or even thousands, is not an impossibility. Same may happen with genius intellectuals, excellent managers, exceptionally gifted artists and even obedient submissive labor. Such an industry, apart from raising numerous ethical issues and questions will probably change the human society in every way we know it today.

5. RISK TO THE GENETIC POOL: Genetic mutations are usually silent. With time, they accumulate, and with cloning, most of them will be preserved for eternity. As a result, the genetic pool available will gradually deteriorate, and will become more and more vulnerable to degeneration and cancers. If cloning becomes a norm, the incidence of cancers is likely to significantly rise, as would genetic defects and premature degenerative diseases.

6. RISK OF LOSS OF HUMAN DIGNITY: Supposing a scenario where several clones are around and available, the human being will no more remain a unique person, vested with his own characteristics - a situation that may lead to a loss of respect and dignity of each of those clones.

Arguments in Favour of Cloning

It is not as if cloning is totally devoid of any support. Cloning provides the most efficient answer to challenges like infertility and reproductive problems. It also provides a way in which the individual, or at least his genetic makeup, can be kept alive for all times to come.

However, the strongest argument in favor of cloning comes from the fact that many of the fears that are currently associated with cloning may actually be too farfetched. The supporters of cloning claim that 'genetic determinism', or the role of genes in the final expression of an individual is actually far less than is taken for granted in current ethical debates. They argue that a human being is a product of genes as well as environment, and hence even two clones are unlikely to be totally identical. Even if the physical characteristics are similar, there would be enormous differences in the individuals because of different environmental impacts, and differences in the way they respond to it.

Let us go Slow on it

In conclusion, one can revert back to the analogy of child and fire. If the early humans never played with fire, the human civilization would have never got this far, and yet, it is prudent to teach a child about the risks of fire before we actually allow her to handle it.

Cloning is just too important a tool to be thrown away forever, but it would be wise to go slow and not burn our fingers while playing with it.

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