Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Human cloning - part 2

What about cloning humans? Surely, God is the author of life – but God often acts through human agency. People feed the hungry and heal the hurting, acting as God's hands, feet, and voice. Since the groundbreaking genetic research of Austrian monk Gregor Mendel in 1866, humans have assisted in the creation of plants and animals, shaping their genetic makeup through selective breeding and more recently through genetic modification. That work culminated in the birth of the first cloned animal, the sheep Dolly, four years ago. Why not clone humans?

Four major arguments in support of cloning humans have been advanced.

First, cloning offers people a form of immortality as they “live on” through a genetically identical clone. As already implied, this argument is specious. Clones will not, cannot, be imitations of the original. In no way could a clone ever embody the consciousness of its parent because it would never have the same experiences or make all of the same choices. Eternal life requires the persistence of personality, not simply a similar or even identical physical body. (Identical physical bodies are highly unlikely because of the effect of diet, climate and other factors on physiological development.)

Second, cloning offers childless couples another option for having a child. Current options include pregnancy through natural means, in vitro fertilization, various fertility drugs, adoption, etc. This argument has the greatest prima facie cogency of the four, though it is seriously flawed.

A child produced through cloning would not be the product of the couple’s love but a shadow of the partner or person who donated the DNA. The clone is more accurately described as a sibling of the DNA donor than as the donor’s child. Couples desperate to have a child, and those who intentionally or unintentionally pressure couples to have a child need to remember that having a child is not the summum bonum, the supreme good. Human relationships should be founded upon mutual love and commitment rather than a need to produce progeny.

Some cloning advocates suggest that the use of a fertility drug that results in multiple births when a fertilized egg splits several times before development begins is in fact a form of cloning. That analysis is incorrect. The significant difference between such multiple births and cloning is that the fertilized egg has received half of its DNA from the mother, half from the father. This situation is far more analogous to the birth, through entirely natural processes, of identical twins or triplets, than to intentional cloning.

Third, cloning advocates contend that cloning offers couples who have suffered the death of a child, or whose child has a terminal disease, the hope of being able to recreate their deceased or dying child. This concept is akin to suggesting to bereaved parents that they can “always have another,” words intended to comfort. In fact, bereaved parents rightly hear in that message loud, albeit unintended, notes of cruelty. A new son or daughter, cloned or otherwise, can in no way replace, physically or emotionally, one who has died.

Fourth, cloning offers the hope of becoming a form of eugenics as people seek to improve the human race by choosing which people to replicate based on intelligence, beauty, strength, etc. Narcissistic, self-cloning is simply a subset of cloning for eugenic reasons: the donor has decided that clones of him or her self will make the world a better place.

Not surprisingly, despots like Hitler have seen great potential in eugenics (remember the movie, The Boys from Brazil?). Conversely, novelists like Aldous Huxley in Brave New World and many ethicists are more fearful, recognizing that desirable traits may include minimum intelligence and a proclivity for tedious, highly repetitive work making clones like worker bees in a hive, existing only to support a ruling class.

Who decides what are desirable traits? Who decides the right percentage of the population that should have each trait? God, no respecter of persons, has created all people to be of equal value. Eugenics, however practiced, inherently presumes that some people are more valuable than others.

Although the cost and difficulty of cloning place any possibility of wide scale eugenics far in the future, twentieth century experiments with centrally planned economies as in the former Soviet Union conclusively demonstrate that humans lack both the wisdom and foresight to effectively manage any eugenics program. Sin, apparently endemic to the human condition, also dramatically limits our ability to enter optimistically into any eugenics program. Only the truly arrogant can believe that humans have the wisdom and the right to play God.

The third post in this three-part series presents the arguments against cloning humans.

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