The question of whether humans “should” be cloning other humans is one fraught with moral and ethical implications. Until a few years ago it was a question that dealt with science in the fictional realm, but today it deals with a scientific reality. It is no longer a matter of if humans will be cloned, it is already a scientific discipline in practice. The more pertinent question now, is when will the greater populous become sufficiently educated about the science and technologies of genetics and cloning, and the complicated implications of its reality, so as to intelligently weigh all perspectives of the practice in assuring moral and ethical congruency.
The fact is, human cloning is already practiced on a regular basis, not exactly in the same way that Dolly the sheep was cloned, but cloning all the same. The process is called in vitro cloning. It is an artificial process, but before we discuss that, lets consider cloning in a natural biological setting to establish exactly what the process of cloning entails.
In the nucleus of every living eukaryotic—having DNA enclosed in a cellular nucleus— cell there are two sets of chromosomes. During a process known as mitosis (cell division) the chromosome pairs separate and draw to opposite sides of the nucleus. Ultimately, the nuclear membrane forms between the now independent sets of chromosomes. While this is taking place another transmutation is occurring as well; each chromosomal DNA molecule is undergoing a metamorphosis. The hydrogen bonds holding double stranded DNA molecules together, are broken by helicase enzyme, essentially unzipping the DNA into monostrands. At the same time, DNA polymerase enzymes go to work rebuilding the missing strand complement. Finally the progenitor (original) cell divides resulting in two daughter cells each having its own set of almost exactly identical nucleic chromosome pairs. They are not perfect copies, do to a chemical process known as polymorphism which is the driving force of evolution. Nevertheless, the process just described constitutes biological cloning, plain simple and natural. It’s not a future possibility, its a 3.5 billion year old natural reality.
When we talk about cloning in the artificial sense of it, the element of human control over this otherwise natural biological process comes into play. In vitro cloning is a process whereby, a limited number of ovum gamete cells (eggs) are surgically removed from a females ovaries. The cells are combined with sperm gametes collected from a male of the species and the act of conception is arranged under laboratory conditions. The hopeful result is several viable blastocyst embryos “The goal of in vitro fertilization and embryo culture is to provide high quality embryos which are capable of continued development and result in live births.” (advanced fertility dot com) http://www.advancedfertility.com/blastocy.htm
In vitro fertilization techniques were first developed to increase livestock yields and today the practice is known as animal husbandry. It became and instantly lucrative business and it was only a matter of time before a human application would be exploited. Of course, the name was changed to afford greater palatability to humans considering the option, “in vitro fertilization” becoming the excepted human nomenclature.
So what then is in vitro cloning? The rate of successful pregnancies resulting in live birth, in cases where in vitro fertilization techniques are used, isn’t all that good;only 25-30 percent for females under 35 and 6-10% for females over 40. ( American Pregnancy dot org) http://americanpregnancy.org/infertility/ivf.html To achieve this rate of success, many techniques have been developed to increase the viability of the process. In the usual case, up to 8 viable in vitro embryos are introduced into the mother-to-be’s womb. Only on the rarest of cases do all eight embryos result in live births. If the number of ovum collected from the female is limited there is a method to increase the inventory of viable embryos available for transplant called “in vitro cloning.”
During the initial stage of embryonic development, the original cell divides into 2, then 4, then 8, and so on. All of the cells formed are of the “stem cell” variety and each is capable of further division to produce a unique being. The process of such cloning on a being level is evidenced in natural terms through the formation of identical twins, triplets, quadruplets and so on. In the case of in vitro cloning, a viable embryo is artificially divided under laboratory conditions and then cultured to provide multiple embryos. In fact, in most cases an abundance of viable embryos are developed and frozen for future use in subsequent in vitro fertilization attempts as well as for stem cell experimentation. Human cloning is not a future possibility, it is a realized fact being silently exploited in fertility clinics around the world today. Of course, given the moral and ethical implications, doctors and scientists involved in the practice use great stealth of words in discussing the topic.
Then there is Dolly the sheep, successfully cloned in 1996. In Dolly’s case the scientists involved used a slightly different technique, yet to be performed as far as we know on a human level. In this case, the nucleus of an embryonic sheep cell was totally removed and replaced with the nucleus taken from a cell from an older sheep; in essence a DNA transplant. Because this technique is invasive to the embryonic cellular structure it is much riskier and far less successful than simple in vitro cloning, but it represented a fundamental leap forward in artificial biological cloning and much has been learned from it.
So, do we want to go around cloning complete human beings? Probably not, but great successes have already been achieved with cloning parts of humans. Just a few years ago, the life of a woman with certainly fatal bladder cancer was saved when a new bladder fashioned from stem cells was used to replace hers. Great hope exists for type 1 diabetics, that in the very near future, pancreatic beta cells will become available through cloning. New cloned heart muscle tissue has already been used to repair damaged hearts and provide patients with a new and longer lease on life without heart transplant surgery and life long infusions with anti-rejection drugs.
If we are going to say that human cloning should not be allowed, where do we draw the line and what in reality constitutes a cloned human? With out a doubt, in vitro cloning is cloning pure and simple an this writer doubts any of the people who wrote on the no side of this debate would want to disallow it. No we probably don’t want to allow cloning of humans on any commercial level employing the Dolly method, but that said, there may be great benefit to be arrived at by accomplishing it on a purely scientific research level. For instance, in the event the survival of the human species is put at peril by natural ore even man-made calamity, would it not have been prudent for our species to beforehand have developed artificial means of survival? After all, we already sustain our species through artificial food cultivation methods, medical and medicinal remedies, garments, shelter and so on. In logical rational terms, can these artificial methods promoting human survival be considered any less egregious in terms of ethics and morals. We destroy other species at our wish and whim, not to promote the species of our own, but simply to satisfy the human requirement for sustenance and emotional self gratification.
When one begins to consider all of the extended ramifications of the question in debate here, a myriad of complexities come into play. On the “No” side of it the proposition is quite simple. If your going to stop human cloning then you better be prepared to do so unequivocally and across the board. There isn’t much to consider there, but if one sides with the “yes,” we should allow human cloning side, the proposition becomes one of intelligent debate, of degree and qualification, not any absolute moral determination based on ideological bias of one flavor or another.
In the past two millennia, more human lives have been prematurely terminated by other humans taking moral license to pass judgment, than by any other cause of death. The definitive evidence, therefore, suggest that human moral assessments are more often than not flawed. Maybe its time to apply a little logic and reason to the question. After all, cloning instead of terminating life, be it human or otherwise, simply seeks to promote it.
Every day we are losing one species of life after another on this planet. Currently, bee populations are under great threat, and as one of the wisest humans of all time, Albert Einstein, once pointed out, without bees to pollinate plants, humans would immediately begin to starve in unimaginable numbers. What if the secret to saving the bees was to be learned from cloning experiments performed on humans? Would it be more moral to put the whole human species at peril to placate the moral aspirations of one or another ideological sect, or perpetuate the species through human cloning experimentation?
Human cloning, like it or not, is already a reality. The questions of how and when it is moral and ethical to use the technology are certainly worthy of intelligent debate, but to just say no to human cloning without exception is tantamount to literally throwing out the baby with the bath water.