The specific objective of this major essay is to clarify and summarise the controversial debate concerning the ethical decency of embryonic cloning for therapeutic purposes. This is the form of cloning that is supposedly beneficial to a barrage of medical applications. We will identify the key opposing ethical perspectives such as those of the justification of embryonic research based on the normative theory of consequentialism. This paper will also probe into the relatively brief history of the debate while gauging the particular stumbling blocks of disagreement which bioethicists have arrived at. The topical aspects of therapeutic cloning will be closely studied by weighing the pros and cons and gaining a greater understanding of the present scenario.
Formally speaking, embryonic cloning is a technique used by researchers and animal breeders to split a single embryo into two or more embryos that will all have the same genetic information. Some more extreme forms of Embryonic or Therapeutic cloning involve the deliberate creation of an identical twin to be destroyed before implantation in order to make replacement tissues. However, these identical twins are usually only six day old embryos, a minuscule collection of cells without a nervous system. Therapeutically, the notion of cloning is medically significant because cloned individuals at the embryonic stage “share the same immune characteristics as each other” (Harris 26). The possibility of cloning an individual at the embryo stage allows one clone to be used as a cell tissue and organ bank for the other.
Embryonic cloning has a history of significant developments and discoveries that have occurred only in the past ten or twenty years. In the nineteen eighties and early nineteen nineties, sophisticated foetal and embryological research was banned by the United States Reagan and Bush administrations due to pressure from pro-life factions of the Republican party. However, these regulations against research into the controversial field were relaxed considerably with the inception of the more pro-choice Clinton administration. In October 1994, Robert J. Stillman shocked the world with the news of his successful “cloning of seventeen flawed human embryos at George Washington Medical Center” (Dyson & Harris 276) in the United States. Events such as this have continued to spark furious debate over the past few years. In December 1998, Professor Lee Bo-Yeon of Korea created and killed the first human clone, much to the dismay of numerous pressure groups. In July this year, scientists of the United Kingdom began to publicly exploit a loophole in the Governments ruling of the rejection of spare-part cloning research. The loophole allows the researchers to continue with experiments by importing stem cells from cloned embryos which have been created and destroyed in another country.
There is a rather surprising amount of medical benefits arising from therapeutic cloning research which have to be weighed before we assess where the debate is currently at. Doctors lay well founded expectations that by being able to study the multiple embryos developed through cloning, the causes of disastrous spontaneous abortions can be determined and much human loss can be averted. A greatly viable application lies in the field of clinical contraceptives. Leading contraceptive specialists perceive that if they can determine the manner in which an embryo knows where to implant itself, a contraceptive can be developed which will prevent embryos from implanting in the uterine wall. An additionally important branch of therapeutic cloning research is embryonic stem cell development. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can “evolve into almost any type of cell” (Lord 28) within the human body. These cells are not attacked by a persons immune system because of their rapid maturation and undifferentiated status. Many doctors have reason to believe that these stem cells could be used to replace damaged cell tissue in adult humans with brain and nervous system damage. Because of the large amount of cells needed, human embryo cloning will aid the eventual implantation of those cells significantly. Cancer investigation is probably the most crucial reason for research into therapeutic cloning. Oncologists believe that embryonic study will advance the understanding of the rapid cell growth of cancer. Cancer cells develop at roughly the same extraordinary speed as embryonic cells. By studying the embryonic cell growth, scientists may be able to determine how to stop it and, in turn, also stop cancer growth. Genetic embryo screenings is a branch of cloning research which is already becoming increasingly effective and precise within hospitals in England. Parents who have a history of genetically inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis can now use an embryo screening to determine if their child has received the faulty gene. The more medically questionable use of cloned embryos is for spare parts. By freezing cloned embryos, it is possible to later thaw and implant one into the uterine wall for the development of an identical child. This foetus would then be able to provide any organs or bone marrow transplants to save the life of the original child without the necessity of being carried to a nine months full term. This last application definitely begins to raise the question of what moral status an embryo should have, if any at all.
The paramount controversy lies in the distinct disagreement as to whether we can classify human embryos as people; or more precisely human beings. One of the larger problems in this debate is an equal lack of knowledge on both sides. If one says the word embryo, people conceive an image of an extremely small baby. Heads, arms and eyes are usually imagined; this is completely incorrect. As mentioned previously, the embryo appears as a tiny bowl of cells when seen with the naked eye. The cells have not begun to change yet, there is no nervous system. On the other hand, after a development period of precisely fourteen days the formation of the nervous system, including the brain, is begun via the closure of the neural tube. This process is complete after the eighteenth day of development. The debate here lies within the question of whether embryonic cells, even before the fourteenth day, deserve the same moral standing as fully developed persons. As is the case with the abortion debate, we are trying to define where life begins by using different paradigms which clash rather violently; scientific versus religious, anthropocentric versus ecocentric and political versus the masses. Pressure groups against therapeutic cloning take insignificant events and sensationalise them in order to sway the argument. An array of people now maintain that cloning can inadvertently kill the clone; this originated from the incident that a cow cloned with DNA from an adult cell may have died because of errors in its DNAs genetic reprogramming. Small details and incidents within the therapeutic cloning lead to startling accusations and supposed factual estimates.
There is a barrage of groups and sectors of the global community that constantly share their drastic ethical perspectives on the therapeutic cloning debate. The religious community vigorously opposes all human cloning procedures. The doctrines of such religions as Catholicism, Judaism and Buddhism firmly believe in the notion of the human soul. It is the inner spiritual self which is believed to be born from the very first second of conception. Mostly all religions believe that the act of murder is incorrect; not only destroying another human being, but his or her soul. Cloning research involves killing embryos which, to these religions, means the murder of a soul. To the religious community, cloning in itself is a violation of natural processes which should not be interfered with because they are made possible by a supreme being. The scientific community is divided on the ethical implications of cloning research. “One hundred bioethicists, scientists and legal scholars in America have signed a statement declaring therapeutic cloning as unethical and scientifically unnecessary” (Nicholls 1). But many biologists believe that further embryonic research will be based on the normative theory of consequentialism. This theory allows for the actions of research to be taken in accordance with the desirable goal of human satisfaction, happiness or pleasure; “the greatest good for the greatest number.” (Preston 41).
In conclusion, we can clearly see that significant steps must be taken to allow for the divergent communities of the world to reach common ground on the topic of embryonic cloning research. There are a few guidelines and regulations for cloning research which have been layed out by some governments but they are not sufficiently effective to stop the actions that, to many, seem unethical and even grotesque. Limitations which are put in place by governments can only apply to government funded experiments; currently there are no laws prohibiting any of the above procedures in privately funded research settings. At the present stage, the debate may continue and the controversies may prosper, but human embryo cloning will go on in any manner as long as no worldwide bans exist. Thoroughly continuing the review of both popular and academic literature may lead the developed nations to gain a proficient understanding of the realistic positive and negative possibilities of therapeutic cloning in the near future. This will, in time, generate the global legislations giving much needed ethical and humane boundaries to a field which is yet to be conquered.
Works Referenced & Consulted
Dyson, A. & Harris J. Eds. “Experiments on embryos” London, New York: Routledge, 1990.
Harris, J. Chapter 1: “The Art of the Possible”, in Clones, Genes and Immortality, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Hyde, Margaret O. & Hyde, Lawrence E. “Cloning and the new genetics” Hillside, N.J., U.S.A.: Enslow Publishers, 1984.
Lord, B. I., Potten, C. S., Cole, R. J. “Stem cells and tissue homeostasis”, Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Nicholls, Mark, “MATCH, (Movement Against The Cloning of Humans)”, in The Tide is Turning, http://www.match.inweb.co.uk/, July 9th, 1999.
Pence, Gregory E. “Who’s afraid of human cloning?”, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, c1998.
Preston, Noel. “Understanding ethics”, Leichhardt, N.S.W.: Federation Press, 1996.
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