Tuesday, 2 August 2011

What Lay People Should Know about Cloning – Fear Fuelled Objections (opinion) [Part 2]

by Zad Datu

Preceeding linked article (Read first!):
What Lay People Should Know about Cloning – Animal Reproductive Cloning
What Lay People Should Know about Cloning – Other Types of Cloning

Return to [Part 1 (of 2)]

The “Doing Harm” Logic
Let’s forget about the “creating life, hence playing god” argument.

Shouldn’t morality be based on whether or not the act does harm onto others?

Whether it is direct harm or indirect, whether it is long term or short, whether it is physical, emotional or psychological, whether it is to just one person or an entire population, the basis of immoral or unethical behaviour should be based on how the act does harm to others. An act in the legal scale as animal cruelty, man slaughter and polluting the environment to something to the scale of relationship such as cheating on one’s partner and even in a conversational scale such as using foul words, being rude and calling each other names have its unethical and immoral acceptance in this principle. Of course there are exceptions such as harming the guilty in order to protect the innocent, or physically harming someone for the sake of his or her survival. Morality based solely on the preference of the majority, the higher authority, the feared, traditions and laws is undoubtedly unreasonable. Human sacrifice, slavery, the burying of baby girls, racism and hatred towards homosexuality are just some of the many past practices – some still present – resulted from unreasonable based systems of morality.

Let’s start off with therapeutic cloning. The process requires creating a genetic embryonic replica of somebody, then later killing it. For some, such an act sound immoral. Yes, the living human embryos created are fated to be killed, but they are not capable of experiencing pain and suffering anymore than the live grasses we step on everyday and once in a while violently slicing them off with rotating blades powered by fuelled engines, as both plants and embryos do not have nerve cells. Human embryos show signs of neural folds indicating the beginning of the development of neural tube formation 19 days after fertilisation, whereas embryos are killed as the stem cells are removed which is only extractable in the blastocyst stage, which is in the day 4 or 5 after fertilisation.

Grasses, trees and plants are living beings, but never do we hear objections on the ethics of the abuse and massacre of these creatures because they are not capable of suffering. Imagine there being an NGO with the objective to end plant cruelty. Silly isn’t it? An NGO with the objective to end the cruelty against balls of brainless and nerveless cells too would be just as silly. The ethical issues raised on chopping down too many trees has got nothing to do with the non-existing pain and suffering of plants, but rather how this would affect the environment hence affecting the daily lives and survival of the human population, whom are capable of experiencing suffering.

This is the basic idea behind why there are no objections behind reproductive cloning of plants, but there are against that of animals and human. The topic in question here is the success rate and how safe the cloning techniques are. Aside from concerns of the cruelty towards animals involved in the cloning process, opponents are also concerned about the food safeties resulting from farm animal clone products.

Then, there is the argument on the value of human life. Therapeutic cloning will serve medical purposes, but no human life should be killed out of his or her will for the benefit for another, which I completely agree with. But firstly, human embryos are not humans – they are embryos. Just as plant seeds are not plants – they are seeds. Cushing a single seed is not equivalent to cutting down a whole tree, just as grinding coffee beans is not equivalent to deforestation. Yes, seeds and embryos have the potential of becoming fully developed plants and humans, but they are not fully developed plants and humans. Same goes with each and every one of your sperms or ova. Even if to kill human embryos is to disrespecting the value of human life, it doesn’t seem to apply practically to our lives.

The inconsistency of the “human life value” argument can also be revealed when compared to IVF. The process includes the in vitro insemination of the mother’s ova retrieved via a minor surgical procedure, by sperms retrieved from the father normally by ejaculation. Then the embryos are either cultured if they are meant to be freshly transferred into the mother’s uterus two to six days after insemination, or frozen (embryo cryopreservation) if they are meant to be transferred much later where they are thawed before the transfer. But before the transfer, out of the culture, the embryos undergo selection via laboratory grading methods to optimise pregnancy rates. If killing embryo against its will is equal to killing a human again his or her will, are freezing embryos and selecting embryos to be transferred against their will equal to freezing humans and selecting which to live and which not to against their will?

Lastly, commonly more than one embryo are transferred into the mother depending on her age and health factors as well as number of embryos available while expecting only one embryo to develop into a foetus to finally be born as a healthy baby. This process obviously includes the expectation of some transferred embryos, and yet IVF raises only few ethical issues while therapeutic cloning is extremely controversial and is banned in many countries. And the funny thing is that some of these countries which bans therapeutic cloning legalises IVF as well as abortion.

I understand that there are many more and stronger arguments and rebuttals against the killing of embryos which address how we consider a human to be a person. But this would be presented for the real debates in the succeeding article.

For now, let’s just assume that the cloning techniques are safe and reliable. In what way does human cloning do harm to others? And if human cloning does harm, in what way does AI and IVF does any less harm than human cloning? Certainly doesn’t seem like it, but keep in mind that morality should not just be based on reasoning alone. Morality should be based on educated rational reasoning. Ignorant reasoning will result in bad moral understanding. So maybe I am being ignorant towards the possible negative outcome of human cloning. Allow me to look into the possibilities brought upon opponents of human cloning.

Some argue that cloning to produce children may complicate a family, especially in relationship issues. Just imagine a couple with a son who is a clone of the father, and a daughter who is a clone of the mother. The siblings would not have any genetic relation to each other, and as the son and daughter reach their 20s, perhaps, they will be a splitting image as when the parents met and fell in love. Will the siblings find attraction towards each other as their parents did at their age? Or even worst, how would a parent feel when he or she finds himself or herself looking at a splitting image of his or her lover at the age they met? One may ask “How will the family ever work out?”

Ian Wilmut himself points out a possible negative implication of human cloning. If a parent were to clone a figure such as Einstein, Mozart, Beethoven, or any other genius public figure as their child, pressure may be placed upon the child by the parents to meet their expectations. The truth is that these kinds of pressure by parents occur all the time even without cloning. This is not an unnatural occurrence. Even if this does occurs with clones, it is not a question of how the child was conceived but rather the attitude of the parents towards their child.

As of the case of a son being a splitting image of the father at the same age, or a daughter to mother, this too occurs naturally all the time, yet it is innocuous. Even if a close family friend notices the extreme resemblance between the clone child and the parent, the friend probably would never figure out the truth behind the strong resemblance unless the friend was told so or witnessed a DNA test between the two. The friend would probably think it is just another case strong resemblance.

50 cents and son

On top of that, there already are families where there are no genetic relation between siblings as well as between parents and children through adoption, families with children who are from a previous marriage or from previous mirages of both parents, and there are also polygamous families. With these odd and unnatural genetic relations in families already seeming innocuous, families with clones as children should not seem so out of place. Sons will be sons and daughters will be daughters to parents regardless of their genetics.

So that’s it! There’s nothing wrong with human cloning, right?

No. I’m afraid I’m not finished yet… There still are more to look at.

Negative Possibilities on the Human Population
Greater divergence of social classes may be in threat due to human cloning with the addition of genetic modification. A social class of the genetically modified and the non-modified social classes may exist, dividing further the upper class and the lower – the wealthy and the poor – those who can afford genetic modification and those who can’t. Such speculated society my cause all sorts of tension and problems as artistically portrayed in one of my favourite science fiction movies Gattaca (1997), which introduces a form of discrimination worst than racism they called genoism – the discrimination against one’s genes. Aside from that, some simply fear against the kinds of eerie mutants and freaks which may be amongst us just like those straight out of science fiction tales as a result.

But this concern for genetic engineered clones is primarily the fear of eugenics, in which the most infamous example is the Nazi Germany’s principle of racial hygiene to improve the Aryan race which involved the mass sterilising of over 40,000 and the massacre of 70,000 people labelled as Lebensunwertes Leben – the ‘life unworthy of life’ which included but not limited to criminals, degenerates, dissidents, feeble-minded, homosexuals, idles, the insane and the weak.

Another possible concern contrasting to genetic modification and eugenics is the decrease of gene diversity in the human population. In organisms which reproduce only asexually, the population will have no gene diversity. If all the individuals in a population are genetically identical, and a virus which the sets of genes do not have the immunity against plagues them, the entire population will be wiped off from existence. This is the advantage of sexual reproduction as it is the source of gene diversity. Survival is the very reason sexual reproduction evolved. If asexual reproduction starts taking over sexual reproduction in the human population, the consequence may be negative towards our survival.

One last point which I can raise on the ethics of artificial reproduction of humans as a whole is that it would perhaps be somewhat selfish and inconsiderate to the society to chose artificial reproduction over adopting those who are readily available and in need for adoption when reproduction through sexual intercourse fails. There are already almost 7 billion humans in this planet! Do we need more? With overpopulation, balance is in risk. There won’t be enough drinking water, food, and adequate sanitation for the entire population. The fact that we know the implications behind overpopulation, it would be arguably irresponsibly unethical or immoral to allow it happen or especially when the power to prevent it is in our hands, choosing artificial sexual reproduction over adoption would just worsen the situation. Unlike the “creating life” and the “value of human life” argument, this statement applies to our practical lives.

Once again, education moral reasoning comes into play – in broader terms, one could argue that if one knows of the negative implications of a situation at risk which may affect oneself, one’s loved ones, or one’s local or the global community, which one has the power or can take measures to prevent, it would be irresponsibly unethical to stand by and chooses not to prevent it. It would be even more irresponsibly unethical and immoral to knowingly take actions, intentionally or not, which could worsen the situation at risk. To intentionally choose to remain ignorant towards the actions which could worsen the situation as an excuse too would be an irresponsible act.

Actually, these last three farfetched negative possibilities of human cloning can be the artistic yet scientific and practical representation of playing god. But this is not a conclusion stating that human cloning is unethical and immoral or not. These are just the few practical points that can be put forth against human cloning.

Anyway, most of these aren’t the real debates discussed currently. The scientific debates mostly question the safety, success rate and reliability of the current cloning techniques. Is animal cloning animal cruelty? When does human life begin? What are the rebuttals towards “embryos are not people”? Is human cloning is to use humans as guinea pigs? Is human cloning banned, and has it been performed? This is where this article shall end and where the next article will begin.

Succeeding linked article – coming soon:
What Lay People Should Know about Cloning – Ethical and Legal Issues (technical) [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3]
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