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The Ethical Downside of Cloning

For the first time the cloning of a whole human being seems really possible. It is absolutely necessary to consider the harm that can be done and move to curb abuses. Also, it is important to understand some of the theory underlying the desire to build a better human. The Ethical Downside of Cloning With recent developments in the cloning of the first whole mammal with Dolly the Sheep, for the first time the cloning a whole human being seems really possible. For years, clones have been the subject of popular fiction, but the technology was lacking.

Now the ethics of doing so must be carefully considered. While almost all world health and religious bodies are coming out in opposition to the idea, it must be accepted that someone somewhere will try it. Thus, it is absolutely necessary to consider the harm that can be done and move to curb abuses. What immediately springs to mind for most people with the possibility of cloning whole people is the ideas of creating supermen or a master race which dominated the Nazis. But the theories of eugenics from which they operated were also touted in America and the rest of the Western world.

Thus, it is important to understand some of the theory underlying the desire to build a better human. Eugenics is concerned with the social direction of human evolution. A distinction is made between positive and negative eugenics. Positive eugenics aims to increase reproduction of individuals who have traits, such as high intelligence and physical strength or fitness, which are considered to be valuable to society. Negative eugenics seeks to decrease reproduction among people believed to be inferior or below average mentally and physically (Glass).

Cloning for better humanity, then, is normally associated with positive eugenics. Overall, since the Nazi experience, eugenics as a movement has been largely discredited, but the ideas still linger and many of the same arguments for cloning humans are used today, but with protests that they are not related to the abuses of the Eugenics proponents of the 1920s and 30s. The goal of eugenics was to create a superior human being, and with this creation, to in time create a superior human race. The First International Congress for Eugenics was held in 1912 in London.

Rather than being a fringe movement, it was hailed by a number of luminaries of the day. For example, Charles Darwin’s son presided, while Winston Churchill led the British delegation. Among the Americans present were the presidents of Harvard and Stanford universities and Alexander Graham Bell. The Germans present advocated “racial hygiene,” which later became Nazi policy. According to historian Stefan Kuhl, German eugenecists enjoyed a special relationship with their counterparts from the United States (“Nazi Eugenic”).

The beliefs of these groups contain elements that are still being brought up in discussions of cloning humans. They included trust that selective breeding and choice of genetic traits is an effective means of improving the overall quality of the human species, the conviction that heredity directly determines physical, physiological, personality, and mental traits in adults, and a belief in the inherent inferiority of some races and social classes and superiority of others (Allen).

In the early Thirties, it was believed that the race, indeed the world, needed to be purified of those elements of humanity that would bring the breeding pool down. To that end, the crippled, the mentally deficient, sufferers of hereditary diseases, and those thought to be racially inferior were to be stopped from breeding. Forced sterilization was one means of accomplishing this goal. Euthanasia, the killing of people for the greater good, was also a means of purging the world of inferior people.

Germany adopted a sterilization law in 1933, which made people with such hereditary disabilities as Huntington’s Corea, feeble-mindedness, blindness and deafness, grave bodily deformity, and hereditary alcoholism subject to forced sterilization for the good of the people (Lifton 301). Today many of these same subjects are being addressed with therapeutic abortions and genetics counseling. In America, breeding for a better race was supported.

For example, the Pioneer Fund, an American eugenics foundation, proposed that American pilots should be encouraged to have more children by paying them stipends. They believed that pilots of the U. S. Army are especially valuable, that they should procreate and not inferior members of American people (“Nazi Eugenic”). This idea of creating a group of better soldiers has been one of the theoretical uses of cloning also. Parallel to the arguments today, in the 1920s and 30s, many scientists enthusiastically thought that they could and should apply genetics and population science to political issues.

Even without the possibility of actually creating human beings, they saw the potential for controlling where humanity would go and what kind of people should be allowed to be made (“Nazi Eugenic”). A related problem is that what traits a culture values are not fixed. They change with the nature of the economy and technology, as well as with fashion. Two hundred years ago, society would have favored the cloning of men with strong backs and women who were built for childbearing since those were the physical types needed to open a new land.

With the rise of industrialism and later high technology, brainpower became more valuable. With cloning, potentially it would be up to some kind of population engineers like the eugenicists to determine what kind of people should be allowed to take over humanity (Kluger and Thompson). There are two general possibilities in today’s society for cloning abuses: first is the abuse, which would be fostered by groups or governments and second is the abuses, which would be done by individuals for their own personal reasons. The examples of the Eugenics Movements and the Nazi policies fall into the former category.

Because of the horrors already displayed there and the evil attached to them, the chances of wide scale governmental cloning are less likely. Already, most of the major world health organizations and a number of governments have moved to ban such cloning in order to prevent a reoccurrence of the kind of wrongheaded thinking which would use cloning to build armies or create a super-race. For example, France and Germany have called for total bans on human cloning, citing the precedents of the Nazi past the dangers of abuse of the process (Thomasson).

Germany, in fact, has a ban on cloning in place. In the United States, there are bills pending in both houses of Congress to ban cloning, and a new National Bio-ethics Advisory Commission is currently examining cloning’s moral and legal implications. Various states have also proposed legislation banning further testing or research into human cloning (Stolberg). In addition, the World Health Organization, a part of the United Nations, has called for a total ban, as has the Vatican (“Vatican”).

President Clinton took independent action pending the passage of legislation to ban any efforts to clone humans with federally funded research, and also asked privately funded scientists to abide by a voluntary moratorium for at least 90 days (Kenen). Individual abuses of cloning, however, also have social ramifications. The issue of experimentation is not dead in human cloning. While one aspect of cloning is the desire to create superior human beings, another expressed desire is to create potential suppliers of spare parts. One of the large questions is whether clones would be treated as fully human or as a means to someone else’s end.

Some experts suggest that cloning would be justified to replace a dead child or to help save someone dying of an incurable disease through organ or marrow transplant (Sharp and Sharn). For example, parents might decide to clone a child with a fatal disease in order to help save the first child. While such cloning for harvest of a one-of-a-kind organ such as a heart is not considered likely to be allowed, the possibility exists. Even if an organ such as a kidney, however, is harvested, to take it from another child created for that purpose is to arguably abuse it.

Again, the issue of whether the child is fully human with all the same rights is at issue. Also involved in that case is how the child will be treated. Would it forever be a second class sibling, cared for but not loved as a true child? (Kluger and Thompson). Indeed, the issue of the division of humanity into the natural and the unnatural is a great concern. It is entirely possible that there would be the creation of a new and stigmatized social class of “The Clones” (Herbert, Sheler, and Watson). Another danger is the sort of “homemade eugenics” where families decide the traits and capacities they want in their children.

Genetic analysis of embryos may give parents the opportunity to select the “best” of their fertilized embryos, whatever their definition of best, and destroying the rest (Kevles). Such designer children would potentially skew the entire development of humanity. Also, there are a number of groups already looking upon cloning as a way to further their own agendas. Under the flag of defending reproductive rights, certain gay rights advocates are pushing the idea of cloning as a means of preserving homosexuality in a general population which might otherwise decide to eliminate it.

Also, cloning has been recognized as giving women complete control over reproduction, possibly eliminating the need for men all together (Manning). Essentially clones are twins to their DNA donors. As such, the possibility is raised that adults who clone themselves set themselves up to be fathers or mothers to their twins. This raises a host of questions. There is, after all, the possibility that much of the cloning to be done will be for purposes of ego. Generally, it is expected that either adults will attempt to clone themselves so that they may have immortality in a sense.

This is also possible with the idea that someone of great intelligence or ability should be preserved for a second round. For example, the common metaphor is should we not create as many Einstein’s as possible. But there is little agreement as to how much of the success of great thinkers is attributable to genetics and how much to environment, the era when they live, and factors included in their individual raising. Even if genetics were a major factor, ethicists say that diversity is the main factor in our population that leads to the rise of great men in any field (Kluger and Thompson).

One of the dangers of cloning is that it exactly threatens this diversity. Nevertheless, clones would not be exact copies of their donors. Indeed, even if society desired a hundred Einsteins, there is no guarantee that the clones would find the same path to physics or even become more than ordinary citizens (Herbert, Sheler, and Watson). Another ethical concern is the unknown ramifications for the clones themselves. It is known that over a lifetime, DNA can degrade within a person, causing changes in the sequence as continued replication takes a toll.

Where cloning takes place with adult DNA, it is not yet known whether this would affect the life span of the child created (Herbert, Sheler, and Watson). Also at issue is the possibility that clones would be more subject to disease, and indeed that humanity itself might have greater susceptibility if cloning were to become widespread. Science has long known that when living things share the exact same genetic structure, they become much more vulnerable to viral diseases. Sexual reproduction with its combining of the genes of both parents helps keep the immune system vital and holds communicable diseases at bay.

With the increase in killer viruses, this is of major concern (Kenen). If cloning takes place before sufficient animal studies are undertaken, then there is a risk to the clone that is another reason for not allowing the procedure until more is known. Another disturbing possibility with cloning is the control of the source of the DNA. Since everyone gives off cells all the time naturally, as in lost hairs or skin cells, it is conceivable that a person could be cloned without their knowledge or consent. Each cell given off contains a full complement of DNA.

Even such things as blood samples or a trip to the dentist could be the source for such activity. While such action would be essentially criminal, there is no way to stop it from a scientific standpoint. Such “drive-by” cloning could allow people to fulfill a number of fantasies for the unscrupulous. The commercial value of an athletic pedigree or a well known singing voice, or the ability to have children of otherwise impossible parents would make such cloning attractive to certain segments of society who prey on others for money (Herbert, Sheler, and Watson).

Similarly, it is theoretically possible to clone the dead. While there are more problems with this technologically, if the cells were taken soon after death, the DNA might be harvested and frozen for later use. The social and ramifications of this are not pleasant, and the effects on any child so produced might well be psychologically scarring (Herbert, Sheler, and Watson). Thus, human cloning has a number of ethical pitfalls. It has been shown through human history that there are many people, individually, in groups, or as governments, who wish to control the future of humanity through its biology.

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