The debate on human cloning is probably like none other, touching science, ethics and the law together and at such vitality. The miracle of producing man from man has aroused the interest of many, some hell bent on making it a reality, some more conservative in approach. This article analysis both sides and provides a third perspective.
To formulate an answer to the above question, there is a need to understand the concept of cloning. Cloning is a process of production of one or more plants or animals possessing the same genetic structure as another plant or animal. Cloning can be done in two essential formats:
Embryo cloning – wherein the duplication takes place at the embryo stage of reproduction, and not after cell differentiation. The cell from the embryo that possesses the DNA material of the animal is planted in another embryo. Thus, both the embryos now have the same genetic structure. Hence, the two individuals formed from the two embryos will have the same genetic structure. They will thus be clones of one another.
Adult cloning – involves similar planting of the cell into an embryo. The difference lies in the fact that in this case, the DNA material is obtained from a formed individual, and not from another embryo. The individual that takes birth by this process will be a clone of the individual whose DNA material was used, inasmuch as they will have the same genetic structure. In 1997, this process produced the sheep Dolly, which was produced in the Roslin Institute in Roslin, Scotland.
There is a general misconception that cloned individuals are identical in very way, their thoughts are alike, and they have equal abilities and disabilities. It is not so. Physically though, the two will be identical. All genetic qualities of two persons will be the same. If the DNA of the donor had a defect, by which he was suffering from a genetic disease like Tay Sachs or diabetes, then the same will surface in the cloned individual. Other attributes which have a genetic origin, like height, skin colour, etc will also be the same. However, attributes acquired by DNA donor which are not genetic is nature will not be transferred. A clone of Sachin Tendulkar will not possess the same batting prowess as Sachin. But he could acquire skills to becoming a rocket scientist, something Sachin may not be able to do.
The DNA or Deoxyribonucleic Acid is the genetic code of all individuals. Its structure is a helix. Purine and pyramidine bases are stacked across the two strands forming the helix, creating the impression of a spiral staircase. It is the order of these bases that keep varying from individual to individual. Hence, what genetically identical individuals refer to is that the order of the purine and pyramidine bases is identical.
Nature itself is the greatest cloning agent. In about one of every 75 human conceptions, the fertilised ovum splits for some unknown reason and produces monozygotic (identical) twins. Each has a genetic makeup identical to the other. In cloning, this same operation is done intentionally in a laboratory.
Human cloning, if it ever occurs, will involve two either of the two processes:
The first way involves splitting an embryo into several halves and creating many new individuals from that embryo. The second method of cloning a human involves taking cells from an already existing human being and cloning them, in turn creating other individuals that are identical to that particular person.
Human Cloning – The benefits:
One of the most appealing benefits of human cloning is the availability of spare organs by transgenicity. Scientists are attempting to create transgenic pigs that have human genes. Their heart, liver or kidneys might be useable as organ transplants in humans. This would save many lives; thousands of people die each year waiting for available human organs. Once achieved, transgenic animals could be cloned to produce as many organs as are needed.
Researchers have produced transgenic animals. These are genetically altered, typically in order to produce human hormones or proteins in its milk. These materials can be separated from the milk and used to heal humans. Cloning would produce as many genetically altered animals as are needed. The alternative is to simply allow them to mate; this would produce many offspring that had lost the inserted human gene and thus would be unable to produce the medication.
Human cloning could be used to reverse heart attacks. Scientists believe that they may be able to treat heart attack victims by cloning their healthy heart cells and injecting them into the areas of the heart that have been damaged. Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States and several other industrialised countries.
Embryonic stem cells can be grown to produce organs or tissues to repair or replace damaged ones. Skin for burn victims, brain cells for the brain damaged, spinal cord cells for quadriplegics and paraplegics, hearts, lungs, livers, and kidneys could be produced. By combining this technology with human cloning technology it may be possible to produce needed tissue for suffering people that will be free of rejection by their immune systems. Conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, heart failure, degenerative joint disease and other problems may be made curable.
The average person carries 8 defective genes inside them. These defective genes allow people to become sick when they would otherwise remain healthy. With human cloning and its technology it may be possible to ensure that we no longer suffer because of our defective genes.
A lot many genetic disorders caused by the presence of the gene causing that disorder could be avoided in offsprings by cloning, by making sure that there is no expression of that particular gene.
We may learn how to switch cells on and off through cloning and thus be able to cure cancer. Scientists still do not know exactly how cells differentiate into specific kinds of tissue, nor to they understand why cancerous cells lose their differentiation. Cloning, at long last, may be the key to understanding differentiation and cancer.
These are only a handful of the various benefits that can be achieved by the process of human cloning. One must keep in mind, that human cloning is not only about producing identical individuals. There are a lot many more aspects attached to it, which my some day render a perfect world, genetically speaking.
Human cloning – A Critique:
The strongest argument against cloning is that it deprives the human race if it’s genetic diversity. If all were to have the same genetic structure, then after a certain point if time, we will have to inbreed. Any disease of genetic origin could wipe out the entire race. The human race would lose its capacity to adapt and evolve.
An aspect that is looked upon as a benefit is the procuring of spare organs by means of cloning individuals. This is appalling. It is an act of utmost selfishness that for the sake of providing an organ of a diseased patient, another should be obtained by the process of cloning, and should be robbed of its identity of a human being by taking away his organs. Our society has grave objections to murder, but we somehow don’t seem to mind producing thousands of identical individuals for the sake of their organs. Yet many medical ethicists and philosophers argue that because the unborn have not developed certain higher brain functions, human foetuses and embryos are not full-fledged persons with rights. Thus, if cloning is perfected, it is possible ethicists would approve the use of adult DNA to produce clones with stunted mental function that would provide body parts for their parent/twins. Unlike automobiles, blenders and computers, human beings are not commodities. We are more than the sum total of our parts.
There is also grave contravention of human sanctity and dignity under the guise of therapeutic cloning. This type of cloning involves using the DNA material of a person to produce an embryo, which is then planted into a womb and allowed to mature till the time it reaches the stage of cell differentiation, where the cells get divided according to function as blood cells, neurons, muscle cells, etc. Once the stage is reached, the stem cells can be extracted and grown in the laboratory. Now, if a person is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, his defective neurons could be replaced by those obtained from his clone, and since the DNA material is the same, there can be no question of rejection of the new cells. The researchers in this field distance themselves from cloning babies. However, the embryo from which these stem cells were taken will never grow to be a human being. is killed in the process.
The process of cloning Dolly the sheep involved an egg from an ewe, and a cell from another ewe. At no stage of the experiment was there the need of the sperm of a ram. If the technique were perfected in humans, there would be no need for males at all in the process of reproduction. They would be rendered useless and could be done away with. Now we wouldn’t want that, would we?
Some people have expressed concern about the effects that cloning would have on relationships. For example, a child born from an adult DNA cloning from his father would be, in effect, a delayed twin of one of his parents. That has never happened before and may lead to emotional difficulties.
Some scientists believe that because of the knowledge obtained by studying the aspect of cloning, it may be possible someday to reverse the ageing process. The direct consequence of this would be ecological disbalance. Population explosion would cause irreparable environmental disbalance.
There are also certain religious objections to cloning. It is proclaimed that the child born from the process of cloning will have no soul. An individual is incorporated with a soul when the sperm goes into the egg. But here since there is no sperm involved in reproduction, the child is born soulless. The speculation on this issue is endless, as the soul is an immeasurable entity.
It must also be kept in mind that the technique of human cloning unless perfected may not deliver all that is promised as accurately as claimed. Flaws in procedure may cause loss of varying extents initially, which may be enough to make the high parties think in retrospect.
The initial argument of cloning depriving the human race of its capacity to adapt is a very rare possibility, as never can cloning be accepted as the conventional method of reproduction. Other arguments are based on extremely radical situations, very difficult of conception at this point of time. The only argument of the above that holds substantial value realistically is that regarding the production of cloned individuals for the sake of their organs and the extraction of stem cells from maturing embryos. An individual produced or in the process of production by cloning will have its own identity, and must be conferred with all the human and legal rights as other persons. There cannot be a differentiation on the basis of who is a clone and who is not.
Different governments have reacted differently to the issue of human cloning.
The Federal Parliament of the Government of USA, in its last sitting week of the year, passed legislation to prohibit cloning whole human beings and to prohibit placing human cells into animal eggs or placing a combination of animal and human cells into a human uterus. The offences carry heavy penalties.
However, the legislation does not prohibit the usage of transferring nuclear material from a somatic cell to a human egg, forming the embryo. This is called the Dolly process, which ironically, will be the standard procedure of human cloning, if ever we are to clone humans. Another problem in the legislation is the undefined term ‘whole human being’. There is no indication as to when a person can be categorised as a whole human being, at birth, at the foetal stage or at the zygote stage. This flaw could prove detrimental at the time of prosecution, should such a situation arise.
Yet another flaw, one even more severe, is that the government supports therapeutic cloning, the intent of which was to produce tissues and organs. Whole organs develop only within a maturing foetus. So it would seem the government is supporting not only cloning human embryos but also their implantation in a woman and later abortion to obtain organs from the foetus. This is a reiteration of a point made above, and simply cannot be done without contravening the cannons of morality and human rights and ethics.
Japan’s parliament has enacted legislation that makes the cloning of humans a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison or a fine of $90,000. The law, which prohibits creating human embryos by inserting somatic cells into an unfertilised egg, is the first in Japan that penalises a specific kind of research. The bill forbids what it says is an act that “could have a serious impact on human dignity, the biological safety of the human body and maintenance of order in society.” The law also bans mixing human and animal cells to create hybrid embryos and forbids implanting hybrid embryos into human or animal mothers.
The British Labour Party, currently in government, was of the view that research in the field of cloned human embryos must be allowed. The government sought to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, 1990, and sought to put forth its proposals to allow human cloning. The UK government last week reaffirmed its policy that human reproductive cloning is ethically unacceptable by retaining a ban on this type of procedure. A new expert advisory group has been set up, however, to assess the potential benefits of cloning techniques for therapeutic purposes.
Canada tried to ban cloning. In 1997, Ottawa ignored many of the recommendations of the National Task Force on Reproductive Technology and placed a sweeping ban on cloning in all of its forms. Bill C-47 proposed a criminal prohibition of cloning – both replicating an existing person and dividing an embryo in two, a process otherwise known as twinning. And that proposed up to 10 years imprisonment and $500,000 fines. But the bill never saw its way to final reading. It died when the Liberal government that tabled it called an election.
Italy’s government proposed medical guidelines that would allow the use of stem cells from aborted foetus, umbilical cords and adults in research to cure diseases but not from cloned embryos. The Italian parliament just ended its term without turning the guidelines into law.
The Israeli government is of the firm opinion that human cloning is illegal. The parliament passed a law last year completely banning any cloning experiments on human beings, which is a criminal offence.
Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Moldova, Norway, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Macedonia and Turkey have signed an agreement banning human cloning in their respective states. Representatives from 19 members of the Council of Europe signed a protocol that would commit their countries to ban by law “any intervention seeking to create human beings genetically identical to another human being, whether living or dead.” It rules out any exception to the ban, even in the case of a completely sterile couple.
The Indian Council of Medical Research has called for enacting a law banning human cloning in India, in its ethical guidelines on biomedical research involving human subjects. These guidelines, prepared under the chairmanship of former Supreme Court justice M N Venkatachalaiah, are also called “ICMR Code”.
The objective pursued by this article is recognition of the fact that the debate on cloning has not as much to do with science or ethics as much as it has to do with sociology and nature. If cloning allows us to remedy our children from genetic defects, what stops us from inducing other changes, or increasing or decreasing their various mental or physical capacities? How many parents could resist the urge, if the doctor told them that their son could be altered in such a manner that he goes on to be the brightest kid in school? Wouldn’t everybody want the best? Why wouldn’t we want our future world leaders to attain the same principles and psyche as Mahatma Gandhi or Winston Churchill? Hospitals would turn into Human McDonald’s, heralding customised baby production. Let’s see. I would want for my boy the legs of Carl Lewis, the build of Hrithik Roshan, the face of Leonardo DiCaprio and the calibre of Isaac Newton. The permutations and combinations are endless!
The result would be perfect individuals, and an attempt to create a perfect society. Expansion in quality of the human race would increase at a disproportionate rate to the earth’s already diminishing capacity to respond.
Competition is a natural phenomenon very intricately associated with the balance the life of the human species on one hand, and the rest of the species on the other, a balance so intense, that it can maintained only naturally. If nature has arranged it in such way that only one in thousands emerges as a genius, such as Newton and Einstein, there is a reason for this sparing attitude.
The balance can only be maintained by allowing nature to take its own course in matters where it has traditionally been allowed to do so. An army of Newtons could do as much harm as they could do good. Clones will no doubt possess the capacity that we want them to possess. But if must not forget that they are individual entities. Albert Einstein was a genius at physics. That any child whose DNA is modified in such a way so as to ape Einstein will confer the child with similar mental capacities is no debate. However, Einstein was also a male chauvinist, a quality undesirable no doubt, but a part of his psyche nevertheless. The point expressed here, is that along with the qualities which are genetically induced, there is nothing that would make them immune from being exposed to, or prevent them from inculcating, attitudes and behaviour considered undesirable, unsocial or even illegal. This, coupled with their enhanced capacity could create maniacs, ‘geniuses gone wrong’, for whom the world could cause few problems.
Another glaring discrepancy is lies in the stricter imposition of the Darwinian principle of the survival of the fittest. The law in itself is clear that those who are fit continue to survive and perpetuate their kind, and the weak get eliminated. In human society this is not the case. We have the best, the good, the average and the failures living together. Competition is what classifies people in the above categories. People work. Some work harder than others and emerge winners. Some fool around and then live their lives in repentance. This has been the format of segregation since the birth of civilisation. If any other means is used for such segregation, it is natural corollary that all attempts would be targeted to achieve as many ‘bests’ as possible. It is only human nature to obtain the best as easily as possible. Why strive to acquire when you can be born with it? Why struggle, when you can be a natural? At this point, let us spare a thought for those who are not so gifted, or those who despite of disabilities are struggling to excel. Will it not be injustice to deny them the fruits of their labour by simply conferring onto persons all calibre, all the ability that it has taken the struggler years to achieve and perfect? This is not only a matter or justice, but also more significantly a matter of social disbalance and natural disharmony. The competition, the struggle and the achievement of fruit are all natural processes that are an overt manifestation of the laws of nature. Tampering with these would surely herald contravention to these laws.
Contingencies of such origin would pose great problems that will ultimately question the wisdom of allowing cloning in the first place. But by then it would be too late.
The solution would seem to be legal barriers on the degree of genetic manipulation. Such medical devices should be legally restricted to be solely corrective in nature. But for how long can we resist a goldmine?
Human cloning excites people today not as much for the benefits it holds, but because they have never seen anything like it. The benefits do hold considerable merit. But then we are seeing ten minutes into the future. The crux of this article is that the human will is gullible enough to allow natural disbalance to occur while satisfying themselves with the merits it beholds. But it will be helpless against this very phenomenon it helped create, when the time comes to address the demerits. The case of the atomic bomb holds a similar analogy.
The only solution lies in nipping the issue in the bud. Surely corrective cloning which may render benefits to many would be welcome by all, but leaving the door ajar would only instigate others to take the initiative to open it further.
This is not to derogate genetic research in any manner. But when it comes to production of whole human beings, let us comply with the good old night out in the back seat. We cannot play God. Every human that comes into this world brings with him his own destiny, scripted by the God Almighty himself. Let us not seek to alter our destinies. Let us not play God. Let us not play with forces we do not understand. Let us not mess with nature.
You can email R. Aditya Narayan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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