Ethical Issues Associated With Human Cloning

Dolly's remains are exhibited at the Museum of Scotland.

Dolly's remains are exhibited at the Museum of Scotland. (Wikimedia Image)

In the movie “The Sixth Day”, a clone of Adam Gibson (Arnold Schwarzenegger) takes over his family and professional role forcing the original character to prove his authenticity in the year 2015.

The movie could not be far from reality especially when experiments to produce human clones are being done clandestinely across the globe.

Cloning debate gained momentum since Dolly, the first cloned mammal, walked over the earth in 1996. The birth of Dolly opened the possibility that humans can be also be cloned using the same technique. Today, scientific cloning is yet to go mainstream mainly because it’s a difficult and expensive procedure and till now the clones produced have not been able to live long enough.

While animal cloning is quite acceptable in the society, we are yet to accept the fact that some time in future human clones will be greeting us in neighborhood parks.

Human cloning is possible through various methods. Embryo cloning, one of the methods, involves production of identical twins artificially. A few cells extracted from a fertilized embryo can be induced to develop into a duplicate embryo having DNA identical to its parent embryo. This technique has been used successfully on animals.

Another method is through removal of DNA from an ovum and replacing it with the DNA of an adult. The fertilized ovum is implanted in a womb and an identical or human clone can be produced. However, studies done on animals show that this technique can result in severe genetic defects in the newborn. Due to these side effects, this technique is banned in several countries but an Italian embryologist claimed to have developed a human clone through this procedure.

Several ethical issues of human cloning crop up through the years. Some people would like to have a clone to have a biological insurance to extract organs from in case their original ones fail or damaged. In this scenario, the existence of a clone just to save the original human being or to act as a replacement for him strongly questions human morality.

While a human clone’s right to identity is jeopardized, questions are raised on his right to inheritance, choice of a life partner, and other crucial life matters.

The safety of cloned humans is also questioned. While most attempts to clone mammals have failed, several of the clones born suffer from debilitating conditions and die prematurely. Moreover, we still don’t know how cloning impacts the brain and other vital organs in the body.

Therapeutic cloning, another technique, differs from reproductive cloning in a way that no offspring is given birth to. Only stem cells are extracted from the pre-embryo for the purpose of developing organs or tissues that can replace the damaged organs of the original DNA donor. The process eliminates the need to wait for the right donor and since the DNA is exactly the same, there are no complications in organ transplantation..

However, many decry such a procedure since the human embryo is destroyed in the extraction of stem cells. They feel that since embryo is equivalent to a human being, he should have rights equal to those of normal humans and killing him just to save the life of another person is simply unjust.

The stem cell proponents, however, claim that the stage at which the stem cells are being extracted is a very nascent stage and the embryo does not have brain to have awareness of the self and also lacks a thought process. They feel it can only be termed as human when it’s aware of the environment and has sensory capabilities, organs and limbs.

Time will tell whether humans are going to accept human cloning technology or not. But many scientists are unstoppable in developing perfect techniques on human cloning and stem cell production.