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Everybody Must Get Cloned
Ideological objections do not hold up

by David J. Triggle


The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 1.


In contrast to the Dylan original, “Everybody Must Get Cloned” seems unlikely to serve as a national anthem for this decade. This failure reflects yet another triumph for metaphoric morality over significant science and human health.

In reality, the human cloning debate has less to do with a race of look-alikes, a team of super-athletes, or even replacement cells and genes than it does with the far broader clash of cultures that, particularly in the United States, includes abortion, assisted suicide, birth control and family planning, evolution, religion in public spaces, and sex education. On one side, James D. Watson, Nobel laureate and author of The Double Helix, asks, “If we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we?”1 On the other side, Leon Kass, head of the President’s Council on Bioethics, claims that “We can see all too clearly where the train is headed, and we do not like its destination.”2

Both Kass and Francis Fukuyama subscribe to a thesis that “there is a natural functioning to the whole organism that has been determined by the requirements of the species’ evolutionary history, one that is not simply an arbitrary social construction.”3 On first reading this thesis appears plausible, even resonant, but it is transparently false. Humankind has been interfering with its evolutionary history ever since striding out of Africa: antibiotics, artificial insemination, Caesarian birth, contraception, in vitro fertilization, radiation therapy, sanitation and clean water, and surgery are just a handful of the roadblocks that we have thrown in the way of “natural functioning.” Presumably, neither Kass nor Fukuyama want to ban all of these now widely accepted and publicly demanded practices . . . or do they?

Indeed, according to physicist Stephen Hawking, we may need extensive genetic modification simply to stay competitive with emerging intelligent machines and computers. “We must follow this road if we want biological systems to remain superior to electronic ones.”4

Cloning and its attendant issues deserve a hearing independent of any argument that the technology and its uses are, no matter what the apparent benefit or value, the final “slippery slope” for humankind. But this is not the hearing provided by the Kass-led President’s Council on Bioethics, whose report is now available.5 The commission argued unanimously to ban reproductive cloning, but split sharply on research cloning, where a majority favored a four-year moratorium while expressing support in principle for cloning for purposes of biomedical research. Cynics may say this decision was politically crafted so as to follow—or at least not directly contradict—the views of Kass and President Bush, who have announced their opposition to any form of cloning.6,7

To be sure, there are excellent scientific and technological reasons not to practice reproductive cloning at this time. It is inefficient; it is likely (and perhaps even certain at the present state of the technology) to be dangerous to the clone, with the production of physical abnormalities and/or a shortened life span associated with aberrant gene expression and regulation8; finally, the use of any clone for “spare parts” is likely not to meet with approval by the clone. In any event, the Brave New World scenario of creating defined worker groups, usually of the militant or menial classes, through cloning is much more readily achieved through societal conditioning and programming. For example, fundamentalist religions have no difficulty in producing religious zealots and suicide bombers; the United States has been extremely successful in creating a new underclass through the application of punitive drug laws directed almost exclusively against urban minorities. As for asexual reproduction, it is no fun; furthermore, Muller’s ratchet hypothesis argues that sex purges the system of deleterious mutations.9 However, if gene loss from the Y chromosome continues at its historic rate, men will become extinct over the next five to ten million years: asexual cloning may then become necessary.10 Ironically, this consideration should commend cloning to the fundamentalist religions that see sex as a dirty, sinful, and nasty prerequisite for procreation.

Meanwhile, the only arguments that can be advanced against research cloning are blatantly ideological. One extreme position holds that all embryonic stem cell research or use involves the destruction of human life, and thus must be banned because it sacrifices one individual for the sake of the treatment of another individual’s disease. Clearly, such a position would also ban abortion under any circumstance including rape and incest. Others argue that the use of “spare” embryos left over from fertility clinics is appropriate, but refuse to countenance the deliberate construction of embryos solely for research purposes. This is the same moral trap President Bush walked into on August 9, 2001, when he stated, “I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be allowed for research on these existing stem cell lines, where the life and death decision has already been made.” If it is immoral to create the stem cells in the first place, then surely it must be immoral to use them no matter how laudable the purpose. Additionally, why the distinction between the two kinds of embryos? As Michael Sandel, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, observed, “Opponents of research cloning cannot have it both ways. They cannot endorse the creation and use of excess embryos from fertility clinics and at the same time complain that creating embryos for regenerative medicine is exploitative.”11

Another argument holds that only federal funds should be withheld from research cloning programs. If it is immoral for federal funds to be used to develop new cell lines, why is it moral for private funds to be used? Nothing in recent months suggests that the private sector is more moral than the public sector.

For anti-cloning ideologues, the debate ultimately turns upon our definitions of life and its value. President Bush himself observed, “I also believe that life is a sacred gift from

our creator. I worry about a culture that devalues life. . . .” Religious leaders have not been reticent in sharing God’s views on life and its meaning. Georgetown University professor Edmund Pellegrino sums up the position of many conservative Protestant and Catholic groups in these words: “Upon conception, the biological and ontological individuality of a human being is established.”12

Reasonable as the proposed four-year moratorium on research cloning may appear at first reading, since the opposition to cloning is dominantly if not exclusively theologically based, nothing is likely to change during the moratorium period. Hence, the moratorium serves little useful purpose: no secular-religious compromise is likely ever to be reached on this subject, since by definition dogma does not change. Furthermore, any decision to ban the use of federal funds for these purposes is foolish, since it will leave this critical area solely in the hands of for-profit fertility clinics13 and the private biotechnology industry.14 This, of all the new technologies, is not one to leave to Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Those who favor doing so as a “market approach” cannot have read Adam Smith: had they done so they, would not have missed his observation, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in some conspiracy against the public. . . .”15 Far better that we have a governmental statutory authority, along the lines of Britain’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, set the tone.16

In setting proper standards for cloning research, the non-dogmatic, non-ideological criterion should be to protect sentient life expressed in a suitably complex multicellular structure. The small collection of cells constituting the blastocyst is clearly not sentient. Therefore, ideological considerations aside, there should be no principled objection to the continued study of research cloning with human embryonic stem cells. Of course, patients are the ultimate bottom line. Daniel Perry estimates that as many as 12.5 million Americans suffer diseases or disorders that might be aided by stem cell research.17 This number is likely to increase with our aging population. They will not be a silent majority.


Notes

1. J.D. Watson, in “Engineering The Human Germline, A Symposium” (www.ess.ucla.edu/huge), published as Engineering the Human Germline: An Exploration of the Science and Ethics of Altering the Genes We Pass to Our Children, G. Stock and J. Campbell, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

2. Leon R. Kass, “Preventing a Brave New World: Why We Should Ban Human Cloning Now,” The New Republic, May 17, 2001; “The Wisdom of Repugnance,” The New Republic, June 2, 1997, pp. 17–26.

3. Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2001).

4. N.P. Walsh, “Alter Our DNA or Robots Will Take Over, Warns Hawking,” The Observer (London), September 2, 2001.

5. http://www.bioethics.gov/cloningreport/

6. Ironically, at the very time that the Commission was announcing its proposed moratorium, two very important papers concerning therapeutic applications of clonal technology appeared. The first is J.-H. Kim, J.M. Auerbach, J. A. Rodriguez-Gomez et al., “Dopamine Neurons Derived from Embryonic Stem Cells Function in an Animal Model of Parkinson’s Disease,” Nature 418 (2002): 50–56.

7. The second: Y. Jang, B.N. Jahagirdar, R.L. Reinhardt et al., “Pluripotency of Mesenchymal Stem Cells Derived from Adult Marrow,” Nature 418 (2002): 41–49.

8. D. Humphereys, K. Eggan, H. Akutsu, et al. “Abnormal Gene Expression in Cloned Mice Derived from Embryonic Stem Cell and Cumulus Cell Nuclei,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 99 (2002): 12889–12894.

9. H.J. Muller, Mutation Research 1: 2–9, 1964. See also discussion in Olivia Judson, Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2002).

10. D. Fox, “The Descent of Man,” New Scientist, August 24, 2002: 28–33.

11. M.J. Sandel, “The Anti-Cloning Conundrum,” New York Times, May 28, 2002.

12. E.D. Pellegrino, National Bioethics Advisory Commission, Ethical Issues in Human Stem Cell Research, volume 3, Religious Perspectives, 2000.

13. Ronald Green, The Human Embryo Research Debates: Bioethics in the Vortex of Controversy (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2001).

14. D.J. Triggle, “Stemming the Tide,” Pharmaceutical News 8 (2001):1 (from which portions of this article have been adapted ).

15. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, ed. E. Cannan (New York: Modern Library, 1994), orig. ed. 1776.

16. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority,  http://www.hfea.gov.uk

17. D. Perry, “Patients’ Voices: the Powerful Sound in the Stem Cell Debate,” Science 287 (1999): 1423.


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