Human Cloning Isn't As Scary As It Sounds

1218 words - 5 pages

none noneHuman Cloning Isn't as Scary as It SoundsThe recent news of the successful cloning of an adult sheep--in which thesheep's DNA was inserted into an unfertilized sheep egg to produce a lambwith identical DNA--has generated an outpouring of ethical concerns. Theseconcerns are not about Dolly, the now famous sheep, nor even about theconsiderable impact cloning may have on the animal breeding industry, butrather about the possibility of cloning humans. For the most part, however,the ethical concerns being raised are exaggerated and misplaced, becausethey are based on erroneous views about what genes are and what they cando. The danger, therefore, lies not in the power of the technology, but in themisunderstanding of its significance.Producing a clone of a human being would not amount to creating a 'carboncopy'--an automaton of the sort familiar from science fiction. It would bemore like producing a delayed identical twin. And just as identical twins aretwo separate people--biologically, psychologically, morally and legally,though not genetically--so a clone is a separate person from his or hernon-contemporaneous twin. To think otherwise is to embrace a belief ingenetic determinism--the view that genes determine everything about us,and that environmental factors or the random events in human developmentare utterly insignificant. The overwhelming consensus among geneticists isthat genetic determinism is false.As geneticists have come to understand the ways in which genes operate,they have also become aware of the myriad ways in which the environmentaffects their 'expression.' The genetic contribution to the simplest physicaltraits, such as height and hair color, is significantly mediated byenvironmental factors. And the genetic contribution to the traits we valuemost deeply, from intelligence to compassion, is conceded by even the mostenthusiastic genetic researchers to be limited and indirect. Indeed, we needonly appeal to our ordinary experience with identical twins--that they aredifferent people despite their similarities--to appreciate that geneticdeterminism is false.Furthermore, because of the extra steps involved, cloning will probablyalways be riskier--that is, less likely to result in a live birth--than in vitrofertilization (IVF) and embryo transfer. (It took more than 275 attemptsbefore the researchers were able to obtain a successful sheep clone. Whilecloning methods may improve, we should note that even standard IVFtechniques typically have a success rate of less than 20 percent.) So whywould anyone go to the trouble of cloning?There are, of course, a few reasons people might go to the trouble, and soit's worth pondering what they think they might accomplish, and what sortof ethical quandaries they might engender. Consider the hypotheticalexample of the couple who wants to replace a child who has died. Thecouple doesn't seek to have another child the ordinary way because they feelthat cloning would enable them to reproduce, as it...

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