Social Analysis of the Benefits and Drawbacks of Genetics and Cloning in our Society

What makes the idea of human cloning so provocative is not the fact that it would be possible to recreate the life of someone else. The biomedical implications that human cloning would affect is the reason why it is such an innovative field of research. Typically society’s popular views on cloning come from science fiction novels or movies that are mostly based on fantasy rather than actuality. Human cloning is possible in today’s times and man will soon enough possess the technology to successfully complete the procedure. The medical and social advancements that genetic research of human cloning would create would ultimately change the lifestyles of almost everyone in the world. In this section I plan on providing a social account of why human cloning is a social issue and what benefits the science would grant to society.
Dolly The Sheep
Dolly The Sheep

What makes human cloning so controversial is the fact that a debatable “human life” is in the hands of the scientists procuring the procedure. It is then possible for a human life to be experimentally grown and created in a laboratory without any form of sexual fertilization. Mammalian cloning became possible with the announcement of the birth of Dolly the sheep in 1997 by Ian Wilmut in Scotland. Dolly was the first clone to be produced from adult mammal cells. She was the only surviving lamb in a litter of 227 attempts but she did survive nonetheless. Ronald Cole-Turner writes in his book on genetics and religion, “The announcement of the birth of Dolly the cloned sheep now means that it is possible to create mammalian embryos, not just by conception (either in vivo or in vitro but by a process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer [see video].”[1] The argument in theology against cloning deals with the topic of this created and technically unfertilized embryo. We can wonder how this embryo differs from normal fertilized embryos and whether or not this difference gives the cells any distinction in human dignity. Interestingly enough immediately after the breakthrough from Wilmut and his team of scientists then President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “denounced any attempts to clone a human be ing.”[2] It was concluded by many ethicists and scientists that human cloning “at that time” would be considered reckless and premature. More experimentation was necessary and a large investigation into the ethics of cloning and genetics was launched and a general consensus of emerged that any attempt at human cloning would be unethical.
It was not until 1998 when James Thompson and John Gearhart isolated human embryonic stem cells that the debate over human cloning again gained fervor. These stem cells have the ability to specialize into type of cell in the human body.[3] Now medical engineers posses the ability to grow any cell necessary for a procedure such as cancer treatment or organ transplants. The debate on cloning then shifted to whether or not cloned embryos should be used for stem cell research. This seemed legitimate because the cloned human embryos were not fertilized naturally and arguably were not willed by God to live. The debate was now whether or not human cloning should be banned completely or if cloning technology could be used for bio-medical advancement only.
Today, two types of human cloning are debated. One, cloning to produce children is generally viewed as unethical but the debate against the consensus view is growing. Secondly, cloning for biomedical research entitles a field of research where cloned embryos would be used to create specialized cells that could be beneficial for medical treatment.
The social consensus on human cloning today is that it is unethical because of the possibility of failure as well as unknown problems. On the other hand many of the arguments in favor of cloning to produce children appeal to the shared social values of our society. The main argument in favor of cloning for childbirth is that it would allow normally infertile couples to create a child who is genetically related to them. One example deals with couples who experience problems related to infertility typically must use in vitro fertilization if they want to produce a child of their own. This procedure requires the removal of eggs from a woman that could possi bly be fertilized in the future. Women typically produce one viable egg that could be fertilized each month. To curb this inefficiency doctors normally give women drugs that induce super-ovulation so many eggs cou ld be received in one procedure. These drugs have been linked to cancer in the future for the women who take them. Gregory Pence writes, “If physicians could remove one egg, produce an embryo, and clone that embryo to create multiple copies, they could avoid having to give women such drugs.”[4] Infertility should not inhibit a couple searching for a child to be able to produce a genetically related offspring. Human cloning would offer a viable and effective method at allowing these unfortunate couples to produce related offspring. While the technology to successfully complete these procedures is certainly not adequate enough today, one day this may be a feasible option for infertility support.
The question as to whether or not to proceed with cloning for biomedical purposes is one that today faces much more debate in our society. Research in this field will almost certainly provide advances in medical treatment for diseases such as Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. On the contrary, our moral obligations must come into consideration when determining the validity of cloning for biomedical purposes. Kass writes, “This research involves the deliberate production, use, and ultimate destruction of cloned human embryos, and that the cloned human embryos produced for research are no different from cloned embryos that could be used in attempts to produce cloned children.”[5] The problem with this research deals with what is owed to this cloned embryo. Questions as to the significance of an embryo in general as a living person, the significance of a cloned embryo in comparison to a naturally fertilized embryo, and the significance of pregnancy as compared to implantation will all be addressed later in this essay in the area designed for a social proposal for change.
Human cloning in its scientific sense can be broken down into two distinct areas of focus. Cloning in terms of human reproduction and cloning in terms of biomedical research. Ultimately, human cloning today must be analyzed in terms of a scientific sense coupled with an ethical rumination. Human cloning for reproductive purposes certainly should not be applicable in today’s times. Firstly, the technology to complete a procedure of this magnitude and difficulty is not adequate enough. Significant testing and trials would be necessary to even prove that human cloning was possible (just because Dolly was cloned does not equate to a successful human trial). More importantly cloning for reproduction places the power of creation into the hands of humans. In my opinion this is a power we should not be able to possess. A more difficult subject is cloning for biomedical purposes. It is human nature for people in a society to feel a sense of obligation to treat and cure those who are sick with disease. With scientific experimentation into cloning for biomedical research a new and improved form of treatment will surface that has the possibility to cure thousands of chronically sick patients. In my opinion these benefits outweigh the costs of killing an undeveloped clump of cells that was never destined to be a child in the first place.
Human cloning is a social issue for the simple reason of the amount of lives that would be affected if it was implemented into society. Medical and ethical issues arise when discussing this controversial topic. Obviously time is necessary to move towards a common shared analysis of this controversial issue but the more research implemented into this field of study the better chance we have as a society to accept a common universal viewpoint.

[1] Waters, Brent, Cole-Turner , Ronald. God and the Embryo: Religious Voices on Stem Cells and Cloning. Georgetown University Press. Washington, D.C. 2003 p. 8
[2] Kass, Leon R. Human Cloning and Human Dignity. Perseus Book Group. New York, NY. 2002. p. 34
[3] Kass, Leon R. Human Cloning and Human Dignity. Perseus Book Group. New York, NY. 2002. p. 37
[4] Pence, Gregory E. Who’s Afraid of Human Cloning. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. Oxford, England. 1998. p.107
[5] Kass, Leon R. Human Cloning and Human Dignity. Perseus Book Group. New York, NY. 2002. p. 131

Next Section : Theolgoical Reflection on Human Cloning in terms of Catholic Social Thought